Stevens Pushes Legislation

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Washington— Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said legislation might be necessary to ensure that a potential federal court injunction does not cost hundreds of thousands of EchoStar Communications Corp. subscribers their access to ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox broadcast programming.

“I think there has to be something done to assure that these satellite users in rural areas are not going to be left in limbo if EchoStar loses,” Stevens said in a brief exchange with a Multichannel News reporter last Tuesday.

EchoStar is in legal trouble after court rulings found that the direct-broadcast satellite company sold distant network signals to hundreds of thousands of ineligible customers.

According to a Stevens aide, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) two weeks ago quashed an attempt by Stevens and Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) to pass an amendment designed to protect EchoStar customers from a sudden cutoff.

Reid, the aide said, killed the plan because he didn’t want to aid the Walt Disney Co. and hundreds of ABC affiliates at a time when Democrats were angry over ABC’s docudrama The Path to 9/11, which former President Clinton blasted as unfair and inaccurate in depicting his fight against Islamic terrorists. Calls to Reid’s office were not returned.

In a court filing last Tuesday, EchoStar asked for at least 120 business days to comply if ordered by a federal judge to terminate Big Four network programming to more than 800,000 subscribers largely located in rural areas.

EchoStar is facing a sweeping injunction from a federal judge in south Florida that would bar it from selling ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox programming to a class of subscribers who qualify under federal law to purchase imported network signals because local affiliates can’t be viewed with off-air antennas.

News Corp. — which controls DirecTV, EchoStar’s main rival — is insisting that the scope of the injunction should include all four networks. But EchoStar claimed in the court filing that because 95% of network affiliates have settled, any injunction should be narrow, applying just to the delivery of Fox programming in the 25 markets where Fox owns TV stations.

EchoStar told the court it would need at least four months to help consumers find alternatives for receiving network programming, including purchase of a local TV-signal package in the 165 markets where EchoStar makes that option available.

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