NAB Fighting EchoStar in Congress

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The National Association of Broadcasters will oppose legislation that would allow EchoStar Communications to escape a federal injunction cutting off distant network feeds to 850,000 satellite homes Dec. 1.

EchoStar is hoping that during next week’s post-election lame-duck session, Congress will pass a law that would largely void a permanent injunction and allow the company to continue beaming ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox stations from New York and Los Angeles to customers around the country who can’t obtain the same programming locally with off-air antennas.

Although NAB network affiliates settled with EchoStar, U.S. Judge William P. Dimitrouleas said the law required him to ignore the settlement and impose a nationwide injunction. NAB members had successfully sued EchoStar, claiming that the company sold distant signals to hundreds of thousands of ineligible subscribers and hurt stations’ local ad revenue in the process in violation of federal copyright law.

“We are going to be sending a letter up there, probably tomorrow, opposing any extension on EchoStar,” NAB president David Rehr said Wednesday. “The judge has ruled. Let’s let the law work its will.”

Meanwhile, EchoStar Wednesday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to stay the injunction while courts review Dimitrouleas’ decision to reject the settlement, which would have avoided a cutoff that included EchoStar customers that were legally eligible to receive distant signals. EchoStar has also asked Dimitrouleas to accommodate its business-injury issues by moving the injunction to April 16.

Rehr said that because the vast majority of cut-off EchoStar subscribers will have several options to obtain network programming, the injunction shouldn’t mushroom into a political program on Capitol Hill.

“I would like to think it’s a nonevent,” he added. “We’ll know on Dec. 2.”

EchoStar, Rehr said, would fail to obtain unanimous consent of the House and Senate to pass the bill quickly.

“There are a sufficient number of members who have worked with [EchoStar chairman and CEO] Charlie Ergen in the past who would not want to help him based upon both the case and prior experiences,” Rehr said.

Congress, Rehr added, “will be gone” when the injunction takes effect. “We just have to get through the next week and then I think it takes care of itself.”

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