No Action on Distant Nets

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The House adjourned last Wednesday until Dec. 5, ensuring that Congress won't disturb the court injunction that requires EchoStar Communications to cut off distant network signals to 850,000 customers.

A federal court ordered EchoStar to stop selling distant feeds of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox programming after determining that EchoStar had broken copyright law by selling the channels to hundreds of thousands of legally ineligible subscribers.

The Senate was expected to adjourn last week and not resume the lame-duck session until Dec. 5.

Congress could come to EchoStar's rescue if enough disconnected subscribers put heat on their lawmakers. Distant network programming is popular because it provides rural viewers with access to network affiliates in New York and Los Angeles. Benefits include out-of-market sporting events and time-shifted primetime and late-night network fare.

It's not clear whether EchoStar's Dish Network customers will create a fuss on Capitol Hill. Since EchoStar provides local TV stations in 170 markets, many of those cut off from distant network signals would be losing a convenience, not a necessity.

In a letter to House colleagues last Wednesday, Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) said EchoStar shouldn't be rewarded for its “blatant disregard” of copyright law and shouldn't be allowed “to use its customers as human shields in the debate on the legality of its operations.”

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) planned to introduce a bill that would assist EchoStar in the dispute, Leahy spokesman David Carle said last Wednesday. In January, Leahy becomes chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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