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Satellite Operators Pledge Not To Exploit Analog Loophole

It took a little rhetorical arm-twisting but Rep, Rick Boucher (D-VA), chairman of the House Communications Committee, was able to get satellite and distant-signal operators to renew their pledge not to take advantage of a carriage loophole created by the DTV transition.

That came Tuesday at a hearing on a draft bill to reauthorize the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act, which allows satellite companies to import distant network affiliate signals into local markets under certain circumstances.

Because the current bill defines an "unserved" household that qualifies for a distant signal in terms of an analog definition that is no longer relevant, technically, every household in the country is in a so-called "white area" and could get a distant signal. That would moot program exclusivity and wreak havoc with the broadcast business model.

Boucher last year got pledges from DirecTV, Dish and distant-signal company NPS that they would not exploit that loophole.

Pointing out that the current draft bill will update that definition so that it is relevant to the digital world, Boucher asked for renewed pledges from the three. That comes after reports last week that NPS might be looking to enlarge its distant signal coverage in the wake of the transition and the sunsetting of that analog definition.

Derek Chang of DirecTV was quick to say the company would renew that pledge, as was R. Stanton Dodge of Dish, though a Dish spokesperson pointed out to B&C last week that it was NPS, not Dish, that delivered distant signals.

Mike Mountford took a little longer to take the plunge. He said he was still using the analog model for predicting signal strength because the digital model was not ready yet. Boucher said he took that to be a "yes." Mountford said it was yes, unless that would disenfranchise a lot of customers, in which case he said he would be coming to talk to Congress.

Boucher pressed him, saying he assumed NPS would not try to exploit the loophole. "We would never seek to use that loophole," answered Mumford, with Boucher stopping him there and banking that as a yes.

Mountford said that when the FCC does come up with a new signal-strength model for digital--the bill gives it six months--it should change it from a 90% viewability standard-- the current measure-- to 99% or better. He argued that in digital, since a picture is all or nothing, a 90% measure would allow viewers to get no picture for 10% of every hour, or the equivalent of 12, 30-second blackouts, which he said was totally unacceptable.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.