Capital Watch

EchoStar Beefs Up Cablevision Offer

Reaching into a seemingly endless supply of ammunition, EchoStar fired off another long-shot effort to please antitrust regulators with a laundry list of concessions to make a Cablevision Systems startup venture the sort of satellite competitor the government says it wants. But it's not likely to help EchoStar's foundering DirecTV takeover.

EchoStar's revisions, in an FCC filing, do go much further than the company had hinted at earlier. For instance, EchoStar would give Cablevision all sorts of satellite frequencies and let the startup share some of EchoStar's facilities.

But the big concession would be to grant Cablevision rights to resell all of EchoStar's programming nationwide, giving consumers the choice of two DBS vendors even if it is the same product.

That arrangement is similar to the rural franchise system DirecTV has carved out for members of the National Rural Telecommunications Co-op (most of whose franchises have been gobbled up by Pegasus Communications).

Relying on Cablevision's Rainbow DBS venture as a prospective competitor has struck regulators as foolish because Cablevision has been in financial trouble, hasn't even launched its satellite and would need $2 billion to $3 billion to really create a rival.

By making it easier for Rainbow, EchoStar said, its proposal is "eliminating all the uncertainties about Rainbow's entry" cited by the FCC.

Saga Exec Joins Radio Board

Saga Communications' Edward Christian was named to the last vacant spot on the NAB's radio board last week. Christian is chief executive of the 67-station group, which also owns seven TV stations, the Illinois Radio Network, the Michigan Radio network and Michigan Farm Radio Network.

He was appointed to one of the 10 seats filled by board chair Ginny Morris; the board's other 25 members are elected by NAB members.

Georgia AM License Threatened

Radio Moultrie Inc. faces revocation of its license to operate WMGA(AM) Moultrie, Ga., after the FCC determined that the company, without permission, turned over control of the station to creditors.

Last week, the commission ordered an agency administrative judge to review the case and decide whether revocation, fines or a cease-and-desist order would be appropriate.

Dixie Broadcasting has been operating the station under a time-brokerage agreement since 1998 when the company agreed to buy WMGA from Radio Moultrie. Things went sour when Radio Moultrie refused to cooperate in license-transfer applications. Frustrated with Radio Moultrie, Dixie sublet the brokerage agreement to Aubrey Smith and Sam and Gracie Zamarron, who currently operate the station.

Time-brokerage agreements in themselves are not considered transfers of control, but Radio Moultrie allegedly stopped communicating with operators of the stations even though it continues to get paid under terms of the brokerage agreement and has not responded to FCC inquiries.

At Long Last

The FCC finally has a full complement of commissioners. Jonathan Adelstein (above) was sworn in Dec. 3 after languishing for 10 months because of a beef between his former boss, Tom Daschle, the Senate's top Democrat, and Senate Republican leader Trent Lott.

Adelstein's presence could break free decisions currently stalled for lack of a three-vote majority, including revision of cable carriage rules for digital TV stations and the affiliates' complaint against network programming practices.

Adelstein also establishes a voting bloc on controversial issues with fellow Democrat Michael Copps.