Satellite-TV providers could continue offering imported network programming to subscribers who can’t receive the local affiliates through 2009 under legislation introduced Wednesday by leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Their bill extends the Satellite Home Viewer Act, which expires at the end of 2004.
"It assures that television viewers incapable of receiving local network stations off the air retain access to network programming via satellite," said Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch.
Hatch and other sponsors are aiming for quick approval of the measure but Echostar Chairman Charlie Ergen has said he will fight for the right to offer imported digital network signals to more customers.
More customers should be eligible for imported HD programming, Ergen said, because many stations are not offering digital signals strong enough to reach their entire market. More lenient treatment for imported digital signals would be opposed by broadcasters, who want DBS providers to add more local stations to their subscriber packages.
"Our ultimate goal is to see ‘local-to-local’ extended to all television stations in all 210 markets," said NAB President Eddie Fritts. "We strongly oppose attempts by satellite providers to bypass carriage of local stations."