Skip to main content

DBS, Northpoint battle on

The satellite TV industry and Northpoint Technology volleyed last week over whether Northpoint's proposal to deliver a ground-based service over satellite spectrum will interfere with existing direct broadcast satellite (DBS) services.

Northpoint is trying to persuade the FCC to grant it licenses that would allow it to share with DBS providers the spectrum between 12.2 and 12.7 GHz. Northpoint won't seriously interfere with incumbent providers, according to its executives, and the new service will provide competition to cable by offering multichannel video, local TV and broadband Internet to households, including remote rural areas.

The industry-mainly composed of DirecTV, EchoStar Communications and their umbrella trade organization, the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association (SBCA)-last week released test results they say prove Northpoint would interfere unacceptably with their established services.

"There will be no compromise if there is interference," said SBCA President Chuck Hewitt.

DirecTV and EchoStar teamed with research firm ComSearch to run tests using a Northpoint-like transmitter the companies built at a shared cost of $1 million. The findings show that, if Northpoint is up and running, customers face increased likelihood of service outages, the companies say.

Northpoint rebutted by saying any interference would be minimal and confined to a small area for short periods of time. If Northpoint did interfere with DBS services-"and I'm not saying it does," said Northpoint President Sophia Collier-the company plans to distribute flat-panel antennas, made by Front Royal, Va.-based Fortel Technologies Inc., which they say would mitigate interference.

Finally, Collier and Northpoint Executive Vice President Toni Cook Bush said the company has filed for access to the DBS spectrum under "secondary" status, which gives the FCC the right to pull the plug on Northpoint if too many DBS consumers complain about service losses.

SBCA and the satellite TV companies called flat-panel antennas outdated technology that will make no difference in stemming interference.

"Flat-panel antennas are not new. The DBS industry has tested and rejected them because they deliver lower performance at higher cost," said Hewitt.

Ed Petruzzelli, director of radio-frequency technology at EchoStar, said his company has never found a flat-panel technology that works to its satisfaction. Even if EchoStar had, it would take months to test such an antenna thoroughly and make it available to consumers.

"Both DirecTV and EchoStar have been looking for suitable flat-panel antennas for many years," Petruzzelli said. "But we've never found one."

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.