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FCC eyes dual dishes

The FCC will investigate whether EchoStar is violating the "carry one, carry all" requirement of DBS providers by requiring subscribers to buy a second dish to obtain some of their local stations. The NAB and the Association of Local Television Stations filed an emergency petition asking the FCC to forbid the practice, which they say violates the congressional intent to put local stations on equal footing when it comes to DBS carriage rights. Comments are due Jan. 23; replies, Feb. 4.

Farmers back DBS lovebirds

The proposed marriage between EchoStar and Hughes gained some valuable support last week when the American Farm Bureau Federation expressed its support for the $26 billion deal. "The [AFBF] believes that the proposed merger between [Hughes subsidiary] DirecTV and EchoStar will provide great benefits to rural America, making broadband services available to millions of rural residents and expanding local broadcast coverage," wrote AFBF President Bob Stallman to members of Congress. The largest concern is the merger would severely reduce competition in rural markets where satellite TV is the only TV option. AFBF represents more than 5 million farming families.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives' Western Caucus came out against the deal in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft and FCC Chairman Michael Powell. Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), for one, called the merger "unthinkable," and the rest expressed "grave" concerns.

Gemstar appeals EPG ruling

Gemstar, which produces electronic program guides transmitted by broadcasters, last week appealed an FCC decision allowing cable systems to strip TV stations' EPGs. Cable companies, many of which offer their own EPGs, insist they have the right to eliminate competing guides from broadcast signals. If even a few cable systems refuse to carry guide material, set manufacturers will not include the decoding circuitry, Gemstar said, and viewers who rely on over-the-air broadcasting won't have access to guides.

Ventura pushes finance reform

Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is urging members of his state's delegation—Reps. Gil Gutnecht (R), Mark Kennedy (R), Martin Olav Sabo (D) and Collin Peterson (D)—to help force a House vote on campaign-finance reform. "Soft money and so-called 'issue ads' are destroying our political process," he said in a letter. Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) are gathering signatures on a "discharge" petition on their bill, which includes deep discounts for political TV and radio ad time. They are four signatures shy.