TV Stations Battle DBS on Carriage

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More than a dozen U.S. TV stations have filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission, alleging that direct-broadcast satellite carriers have violated mandatory carriage rules that take effect Jan. 1.

Since late September, TV stations have filed 16 complaints against DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp., claiming the DBS carriers have refused to commit to carrying their signals.

On Jan 1., EchoStar's Dish Network and DirecTV are required, upon request, to carry all TV broadcasters in markets where they offer even one station. The DBS carriers are fighting the mandate in federal court, where a decision is pending.

Some of the complaints suggest that DBS carriers are holding the TV stations to an exacting standard, no matter how trivial. Others alleged that their carriage requests were ignored.

For example, Dallas-based Johnson Broadcasting Inc. was rejected by DirecTV on the basis that the TV station sent its must-carry election letter on July 2 — one day late, according to FCC rules.

In the complaint, Johnson said it had a right to send the letter on July 2 because July 1 was a Sunday.

"The [FCC] has rules for how to deal with a deadline that falls on a 'holiday.' July 1, 2001 being a holiday, Johnson Broadcasting's letter was timely when sent on Monday, July 2, 2001," Johnson said in its two-page complaint.

In all, five of the complaints were filed against DirecTV, 11 against EchoStar.

North Pacific International Television, which operates a TV station in Seattle, filed a complaint against EchoStar alleging that the DBS carrier refused to respond to its June 19 must-carry election letter.

"EchoStar's failure to respond is considered a refusal of the carriage request," North Pacific said in the five-page complaint.

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