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Satcasters Heed Hill Plea: Distant Signals Still Sent

DirecTV and the National Programming
Service were still delivering distant affiliate TV station signals to their
customers Monday (March 1) although, technically, they no longer had the
statutory authority to do so.

That came after top members of the
Judiciary Committees in both the House and Senate sent letters asking them to
continue delivering those signals to their subscribers. Congress failed to pass
a bill either reauthorizing the distant signal license or extending the old
license, which expired at midnight on Feb. 28. The legislators promised that in
whatever legislation they passed there would be a clause making it retroactive
to Feb. 28.

DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer
confirmed that the company was continuing to deliver signals to 1.7 million
customers, citing the legislators' promise.

A spokesman for National Programming
Service was not available for comment, but operators at its customer service
center said it was continuing to deliver its distant station signals from New York, San Francisco, Chicago and L.A.

DISH is not allowed to deliver its own
distant signals stemming from a court ruling on its ability, or lack thereof,
to properly identify who qualified to receive those signals, which can only be
delivered to subscribers who cannot receive a viewable signal of their local
affiliate. The bill whose hold-up prompted the letter last week includes a
path to distant-signal delivery for DISH. The hold-up was related, in part, to
some Republican concern about letting DISH back in that business. The bill as
most recently constituted contains some tougher conditions on DISH--including
the amount of the fine if they fail to deliver local signals in the last couple
dozen or so markets, which was the quid pro quo for being allowed back into the
distant-signal business.

As part of a package of extensions of
deadlines for things like health and unemployment insurance, the House last
week passed by unanimous consent (UC) a bill extending the current
satellite license to March 28. But the Senate failed to follow suit after the
package of extensions got caught up in a tussle between Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and at least one Republican Senator [Jim Bunning (R-Ky.)]
over the insurance and unemployment provisions' impact on the deficit. One
Senator can obviously stymie a UC vote, which is a way to fast-track a bill so
long as nobody opposes it.

There could also be some deficit
problem with the planned five-year renewal of the satellite license according
to a Republican source who said there were accounting issues related to pay-go,
the new directive that Congress must cut wherever they spend. A 10-year renewal
was offered up by some Senate Republicans to deal with that accounting issue.

The Senate does not return until
Tuesday (March 2), but some movement is expected on a satellite bill, or at
least another extension, this week.