NCTA, NAB Battle Dish’s HDTV Plan

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The cable and broadcast industries are teaming to undercut an HDTV plan supported by EchoStar Communications Corp. that was included in satellite legislation awaiting a vote in the Senate.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the National Association of Broadcasters in a letter Friday to two Senate leaders complained that EchoStar’s plan was “a government giveaway” that would injure local TV stations and put cable at a competitive disadvantage.

The two-page letter was signed by NCTA president Robert Sachs and NAB president Edward Fritts and addressed to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

The bill (S. 2644) would permit satellite carriers to sell out-of-town HDTV versions of ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox to consumers around the country who can’t get the same programming locally with an off-air antenna. DBS today can import analog versions of the networks to serve a narrow class of subscribers, but broadcasters have accused EchoStar of cheating and sued.

EchoStar, provider of the Dish Network, claims the Senate bill would speed the digital transition because millions of households are unable to receive digital service from their local broadcasters.

NAB members fear that EchoStar’s plan would cost local stations viewership and hurt their advertising revenue. NCTA is concerned that EchoStar could get access to distant digital networks without having to negotiate for the programming and offer out-of-town professional sports events cable systems can’t duplicate.

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