EchoStar Fighting HDTV-Carriage Mandate

EchoStar Communications Corp. is opposed to federal regulations that would require carriage of local TV stations in HDTV, claiming that carriage in digital standard-definition would take up less channel capacity.

The direct-broadcast satellite provider is urging the Federal Communications Commission to avoid imposing an HDTV mandate, mainly because such a ruling would be so burdensome in terms of bandwidth consumption as to constitute a likely violation of the company’s First Amendment rights.

EchoStar -- the No. 2 DBS company, with 11 million subscribers -- spelled out its HDTV-carriage concerns in a Jan. 31 letter to the FCC.

Last year, EchoStar won concessions from Congress to import the HDTV signals of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox under certain prescribed circumstances.

The company told Congress HDTV importation was necessary because local stations were failing to supply viewers with enough HDTV programming.

But EchoStar is telling the FCC it wants to carry digital-TV stations only in standard-definition, even if those stations are transmitting HDTV signals.

The FCC could decide the issue at its Feb. 10 public meeting.