Two-Dish Plan Ban Coming To Vote Soon, Upton Says

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A House subcommittee is expected to vote on controversial satellite legislation soon as part of a broader plan to send the bill to the Senate no later than the July 4 recess.

The House bill would give EchoStar Communications Corp. one year to stop the use of two dishes to receive all local TV signals in a market.

The company claims that the provision would force it to discontinue local TV service in 40 markets and drop plans to add another 40 this year.

“I expect (the two dish ban) will be part of the authorization bill,” House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told the National Association of Broadcasters convention last Monday.

The bill also includes provisions requiring the phase-out of the sale of distant networks to consumers that have purchased a local TV signals package.

Upton said he had planned to mark up the bill, a reauthorization of the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999, last Thursday. But, he added, ongoing negotiations caused him to postpone action until April 28.

House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) indicated concern that “should a controversial bill leave the House,” the Senate would block in it favor of a simpler bill extending for five years the right of DBS to sell distant network signals to subscribers that can’t receive the same programming from local network stations with an off-air antenna.

Sensenbrenner said that Senate difficulty with the House SHVIA bill was to be expected.

“A lot of us in the House side feel the Senate is the Committee on Legislative Constipation: Everything goes in, but nothing comes out,” Sensenbrenner cracked.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) expressed support for a simple bill, even though he supports efforts to curb the use of two dishes.

“I’d just like to see a straight, clean reauthorization from the Senate because I think that gives us our best possibilities,” Burns said.

House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), who is working with Sensenbrenner’s panel on the SHVIA bill, expressed confidence the House wouldn’t have trouble passing a bill.

“There are not any major issues that are irreconcilable,” Barton said.

EchoStar, meanwhile, released a statement last Thursday saying it has “heard reports of secret negotiations allegedly designed to freeze the [Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association] and its members out of the SHVIA reauthorization process” and urging Congress to make the SBCA part of the process.

EchoStar also said “more time is needed to develop thoughtful policy and ensure that all parties are heard and that special interests do not control the process.”