Washington— 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 on Dec. 1.
EchoStar hopes that during this 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 its Dish Network 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.
'LET THE LAW WORK’
“We are going to be sending a letter up there … opposing any extension on EchoStar,” NAB president David Rehr said Wednesday. “The judge has ruled. Let’s let the law work its will.”
NAB will also have help from News Corp. — which controls DirecTV Inc., EchoStar’s main direct-broadcast satellite rival. News Corp., which refused to settle with EchoStar, pressed Dimitrouleas to impose the injunction.
DirecTV said in a statement last week that EchoStar subscribers won’t be “overly inconvenienced” by the injunction. It said “virtually every” EchoStar customer who is going to lose distant signals can retain access to network programming by viewing their local affiliates with an off-air antenna, over cable or via EchoStar’s and DirecTV’s local-signal packages.
“Affected customers do have options,” DirecTV said. “As usual, the free market is providing a strong solution to this challenge.”
Meanwhile, EchoStar last Wednesday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to stay the injunction to allow courts to review Dimitrouleas’ decision to reject the settlement. In addition to requiring EchoStar to pay broadcasters $100 million, the settlement 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.
The fate of legally eligible distant-network subscribers has been an ongoing concern of some on Capitol Hill.
“There is going to be a conversation about how the eligible subscribers of distant signal can continue to be served by EchoStar,” said Rep. Rick Boucher, a Democrat with a rural district in southwest Virginia. “It will be a conversation that includes the broadcasters, EchoStar and other interested parties.”
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 problem on Capitol Hill.
“I would like to think it’s a non-event,” he added. “We’ll know on Dec. 2.”
LONG MEMORIES ON HILL
EchoStar, Rehr said, will fail to obtain unanimous House and Senate consent 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.”
EchoStar’s preference is to have Congress codify the settlement before Dec. 1. But Boucher said another option is to move the injunction date forward to give Washington time to produce “a comprehensive legislative solution.”