NAB Slams EchoStar Carriage Proposal

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Broadcasters are trashing a proposal that would link satellite carriage to a demonstration that local TV stations are meeting local programming quotas.

The content-for-carriage proposal was floated late last year by EchoStar Communications Corp., which urged the Federal Communications Commission to strip carriage rights from stations that failed to provide public affairs and public service programming tailored to local viewers.

EchoStar complained that stations serving as local spigots of national programming should not own the same carriage rights of stations providing local news and information in their home markets.

Earlier this week, the National Association of Broadcasters argued that federal law does not authorize the FCC to deny satellite carriage to an otherwise qualified station based on the content of the station’s programming.

The NAB, in a Jan. 3 FCC filing, said the EchoStar proposal would “eviscerate” provisions in federal law that require carriage of all stations in a market where a satellite carrier has elected to carry even one station.

EchoStar recommended the FCC alter the “carry-one, carry all” regime by interpreting the statutory term “local television broadcast station” to mean a station that provided a minimum amount of programming of local origin.

The NAB labeled EchoStar’s proposal a “trick” that had no basis in law and was designed to allow satellite carriers to “cherry pick” local markets by carrying just the affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox and dropping weaker stations that ran lots of syndicated entertainment programming or catered to Spanish-speaking viewers with nationally produced fare.

“The [FCC] would violate [federal law] if it were, as EchoStar urges, to refuse to enforce the ‘carry one, carry all’ requirement,” NAB said. “The carry-one, carry all mandate applies without regard to the content of the programming carried by the television station.”

EchoStar provides service to more than 10 million subscribers and offers local TV stations in 150 markets. The company, in yet another litigation battle with TV stations, tried to scuttle the 1999 satellite carriage law as a First Amendment violation but lost in federal court.

The NAB told the FCC that Congress knew that when it passed the satellite carriage law, some TV stations did not provide locally originated programming.

The trade group said the fact that Spanish stations carried national programming did not mean the stations were not serving local Spanish-speaking viewers. Spanish programming, whether national or local, has “special importance” to Spanish speakers, the NAB said.

The association added that satellite carriage of all, rather than just a few, qualified local stations would maintain the financial health of local TV stations so that they could continue to serve consumers that chose not to subscriber to “costly cable and satellite service.”

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