On Dec. 1, EchoStar Communications must stop selling out-of-market station feeds of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox programming to 800,000 subscribers, according to a nationwide injunction issued Friday by U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
EchoStar has just six weeks to pursue a few options, including asking a higher court to narrow the injunction and seeking help from Congress during the lame-duck session slated to begin the week of Nov. 13.
“This is a clear setback for EchoStar. EchoStar's best hope now is that the appeals court will stay this Dec. 1 cutoff date and hear the appeal,” said Paul Gallant, a media analyst with Stanford Washington Research Group.
EchoStar settled the copyright dispute with all parties except Fox stations owned by News Corp. Siding with News Corp., Dimitroulous refused to issue an injunction that would have impacted just the 25 markets that have News Corp.-owned Fox stations.
EchoStar customers that lose distant network service can access network programming by subscribing to cable, using an over-the-air antenna, or subscribing to EchoStar's local signal package, if available. EchoStar customers who are legally entitled to buy distant signals could sign up for a such package with DirecTV.
“EchoStar may now consider trying to equip at least some of its customers in non-local-into-local markets with antennas so they can keep getting broadcast TV stations after Dec. 1,” Gallant said.
EchoStar put out a statement late Monday that said it would "continue to do everything possible to prevent consumers from losing their distant network channels. We will ask Congress to clarify the statutory language and ask the courts to reconsider their decision. In addition, we are taking numerous steps to protect our customers from unnecessarily losing access to those channels."
In areas where customers can’t receive local signals via satellite, EchoStar will make off-air antennas available. Fewer than 1 million of EchoStar’s 12.46 million Dish Network customers are affected by the court judgment banning out-of-market signal importation.
To be eligible legally to buy distant signals via satellite, a customer isn’t supposed to have over-the-air access to local network programming. Federal courts have found that EchoStar repeatedly sold distant signals to hundreds of thousands of ineligible customers. TV stations sued EchoStar to defend their advertising revenue from wanton invasion by distant signals.
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