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Birds Get to Keep Sticks

The House Telecommunications Subcommittee Wednesday reauthorized the bill that gives satellite companies the right to carry local broadcast stations, requiring them to carry all stations in any market where they carry any.

The Satellite Home Viewer Enhancement and Reauthorization Act does not give satellite companies the ability to deliver distant digital signals to customers not yet able to get a digital signal, a change that EchoStar and some others had pushed for, but it does direct the FCC to study the issue of so-called digital white areas and report to Congress by the end of 2005.

Unlike the former law, the reauthorized bill prevents satellite companies from putting some TV stations on a second dish, which smaller broadcasters saw as a way to marginalize them. There can still be two dishes, but all the broadcasters must be on one of them.

An amendment that would have imposed a la carte obligations on satellite and cable was withdrawn, but could be reintroduced at the full-committee markup in two weeks, though Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) afterwards indicated he was leaning toward keeping it out of the bill. "Im not sure it's germane," he said. It would also definitely be controversial, likely enough so to bog down the bill, and others want more hearings on the subject anyway.

Some lawmakers see requiring cable and satellite operators to give subscribers the ability to pick and choose the channels they want as way to respond to public concerns about controling indecent content into the home, as well as a way to hold down cable prices.

"We are particularly pleased the Subcommittee moved decisively to end EchoStar's two-dish practice and rejected an ill-guided proposal to allow distant digital signal importation, “NAB President Eddie Fritts said in a statement."NAB and our local television station members will continue working closely with Members of both the House and Senate as this bill moves through the legislative process." Judiciary will look at its version of the bill next Thursday (there is split jurisdiction, since it involves changes to both the Copyright Act and the Communications Act), then the two versions will be combined into one bill before it goes to the floor. Senate Commerce has a hearing next Tuesday on its simple one-line reauthorization of the existing bill.