Dissing two-dish compromise

Two FCC commissioners say that the Media Bureau let EchoStar off too easy
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FCC Commissioners Kevin Martin and Michael Copps last week chastised the FCC's Media Bureau for not putting a stop to EchoStar's policy of requiring customers to have two satellite dishes if they want to get all their local TV signals.

Strange political bedfellows Republican Martin and Democrat Copps agree "wholeheartedly" with the Media Bureau that EchoStar's two-dish solution "failed to provide consumers with access to local broadcast signals at a non-discriminatory price or in a non-discriminatory manner" and essentially violates the law.

But then, Copps and Martin say, the bureau offers remedies that allow EchoStar to keep offering the signals in exactly the same way.

The Media Bureau two weeks ago ruled that, by putting local TV signals on two satellites, EchoStar is discriminating against many local broadcasters. To solve the problem, the bureau gave EchoStar several options.

It could move all the local TV signals onto one satellite, receivable by one dish, or the company could do a better job of informing customers how they can receive all their local stations.

The bureau also ruled that EchoStar could ask for a waiver to delay implementation of this ruling so that no customers would lose their satellite service.

In particular, Copps and Martin are upset that the Media Bureau suggested that, by providing customers with "better notice" of the two-dish option, the problem could be solved.

"Such a remedy effectively eviscerates the finding that EchoStar's current policy is unlawful," the two wrote. "We fear that the order will allow EchoStar to continue its two-dish policy—albeit with better notice—in a manner that continues to make some local broadcast signals inaccessible to consumers as a practical matter."

In January, a statutory deadline kicked in that requires EchoStar to provide its customers with all local TV signals in every market it serves. To meet that deadline, EchoStar told the commission, it would be offering customers an extra satellite dish to mount on their roofs to receive local TV signals from some of EchoStar's more outlying satellites.

Copps and Martin also are disturbed because, initially, EchoStar told the FCC that it would offer the two-dish solution until it was able to get both of its spot-beam satellites launched and in operation, which the company expected to happen by this fall.

According to the Media Bureau's order, however, EchoStar now says it plans to keep the solution in place until the fate of its planned merger with DirecTV is determined.

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