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Senate Bill Would Mandate DirecTV Local Carriage

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is preparing an amendment to the Senate Commerce Committee version of the satellite reauthorization bill that would mandate local TV station service to all 210 markets by satellite carriers EchoStar and DirecTV.

That makes it different from the House version of local-into-local carriage in all 210 markets, which says that if EchoStar wants to get back into the distant-signal business, it will have to deliver local TV station signals to the remaining 30 or so smallest markets that lack them.

That voluntary provision was part of a compromise reached between EchoStar and broadcasters and urged by House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) -- though the deal is threatened by an amendment advancing the timetable for satellite carriage of noncommercial HD signals. The amendment was adopted by the Energy & Commerce Committee, but opposed by Boucher for its potential to unravel the deal.

The draft of the Senate Commerce bill [STELA, the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act] that was circulated last week did not include a local-into-local mandate, but McCaskill is aiming to fix that.

According to the McCaskill amendment, a copy of which was supplied to B&C, it would charge the FCC with checking up on the progress of local into local in six months after passage, and every six months until the FCC has determined that all satellite carriers comply..."

Versions of the bill are working their way through the House and Senate. The Senate Judiciary committee has already approved a version, as have the House Commerce and Judiciary committees.

The Senate Commerce version is scheduled to be marked up in the committee Nov. 19.

The bill reauthorizes satellite operators' license to import distant network signals to markets that lack a viewable version of their own local affiliate. The license will sunset at the end of the year unless it is reauthorized.

"We oppose the proposed 210 carriage mandate, and hope the amendment is not offered. We think it unfairly and unconstitutionally places the entire burden of expanding broadcast coverage on the backs of satellite subscribers," said DirecTV in an e-mailed statement. "We prefer to continue to work with Congress to create incentives, not mandates, to offer local service in additional markets."