Washington -- The trade group for independent TV stations
sent six-page letters to congressional leaders last week, blasting a relaxed must-carry
regime for direct-broadcast satellite carriers that elect to provide local signals.
The point-by-point critique came from James Hedlund,
president of the Association of Local Television Stations (ALTV). Hedlund fears that many
of the 250 stations that he represents will be left off EchoStar Communications
Corp.'s local-signal service.
Hedlund insisted that the only way to protect local
stations from discriminatory treatment by DBS carriers like EchoStar was by implementing a
rule that required carriage of all local signals if even one is carried.
EchoStar spokeswoman Karen Watson said her company has
promised to carry all local stations in a market once it attains a reasonable foothold in
that market -- 15 percent.
Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.)
and House Telecommunications Subcommittee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) -- to whom the
ALTV letters were addressed -- have called for must-carry rules for DBS that differ from
the ones imposed on cable operators.
ALTV stated that new networks like UPN and the WB Network
would be harmed by lack of DBS carriage, and it questioned whether EchoStar's claims
that it lacks the capacity to carry all local stations in a market were valid.
The letters said the harm to stations not carried would
grow as EchoStar's service expanded, predicting that a phase-in would never terminate
because EchoStar would seek extensions to avoid full must-carry responsibilities.