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Sat Bill Is Blow to Broadcasters

The long-awaited McCain version of satellite reauthorization surfaced Tuesday, and it had broadcasters seeing red.

The Senate is preparing to mark up a satellite reauthorization bill that would give EchoStar an extra two years to completely phase out its two-dish policy and would amend the bill to allow satellite companies to deliver distant digital signals of the Big Four networks to subscribers who can't get an acceptable signal from their local affiliate.

The long-awaited bill, introduced by Senators John Ensign (R-Nev.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) Tuesday, already gives satellite companies the right to import distant analog network signals to unserved subs.

The changes are meant to insure that broadcasters will be carried on one dish, and that the digital transition can be advanced, say the bill's proponents.

The House passed a similar reauthorization bill, but without the digital importation provision and with only a year for satellite companies to end the practice of dividing broadcast station signals between a primary dish and a secondary one that many subscribers don't have.

If the Senate version survives, it would be a blow to broadcasters, who want the two-dish  policy scrapped ASAP and are quick to point out that satellite companies have an uneven record of correctly identifying the "unserved" subs that qualify for out-of-market distant network signals.

"NAB strongly opposes the Ensign/McCain legislation," the association said in a statement. "The paramount goal of SHVIA reauthorization should be to ensure consumer access to local television stations that provide news and lifeline information to local audiences, not distant out-of-market stations. Congress should promote carriage of analog or digital signals in all 210 markets, a goal that this legislation fails to accomplish.  

"Moreover, the Enign/McCain proposed changes to EchoStar's 'two-dish scheme' relegates Hispanic and religious television viewers to second-class citizenship  for over three more years. Three Congressional committees have passed reasonable, compromise legislation that extends SHVIA, and we're hopeful that their proposals prevail."