NAB Eyeing DBS Must-Carry of HDTV

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The National Association of Broadcasters may be expanding its digital
mandatory-carriage horizons beyond the cable industry to include
direct-broadcast satellite carriers DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications
Corp.

In the past, the NAB has been willing to exempt DirecTV and EchoStar by
accepting that their satellites didn't have the capacity to carry every station
in the country in HDTV. But the trade group now believes the capacity-crunch
excuse is bogus, belied by evidence that DBS-channel capacity is growing at a
fast clip.

"There is no real issue as to whether or either EchoStar or DirecTV has, in
absolute terms, the capacity to provide dual carriage or carriage of stations'
HD signals. Clearly, each carrier has such capacity," the NAB said in comments
filed Sept. 26 at the Federal Communications Commission.

The NAB claimed that DirecTV and EchoStar have skirted regulation by making
"Chicken Little" claims of limited capacity when, at least in DirecTV's case,
channel capacity rose from 216 channels in 1998 to 1,312 today due to advances
in compression technology.

"The FCC," the NAB concluded, "should seriously question the nabobs of
negativism who provide DBS-capacity assessments."

Last week, News Corp. and DirecTV parent Hughes Electronics Corp. promised in
a letter to the FCC to carry all 1,600 commercial and public stations in the
country by no later than 2008 if their merger is approved by the end of the
year.

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