EchoStar chief Charlie Ergen reportedly told the audience of his occasional Charlie Chat Dish TV show this week that he thought more of them would be able to start getting distant TV stations from signal company All American Direct starting Saturday, after TV station analog signals are cut off. That apparently includes viewers without access to a signal due to retransmission consent disputes.
The law currently confines delivery of distant signals to viewers who cannot get a grade B signal, but with the end of analog, there will no longer be any gradations of signal contour--you either get a digital signal or you don't.
According to a source familiar with the chat, who asked to speak on background, Ergen was not suggesting every viewer could now technically qualify for a distant signal because the grade B definition no longer applied. Instead, he was saying that every viewer in the relative handful of markets where Dish does not carry a local signal for various reasons, including during retrans blackouts, should call All American and see whether they now qualify. Some viewers who got an analog signal will no longer receive it in digital due to propagation differences between analog and digital, for example, so they could be newly eligible.
There has been concern among broadcasters that Dish parent EchoStar would interpret the obsolescence of that grade B language as an opportunity for All American, its authorized distant signal dealer, to deliver those distant network signals more broadly.
"If some of these reports we are hearing about alleged comments by Mr. Ergen are true, it would be outrageous for him to use the end of the DTV transition as an excuse to illegally import distant network signals with impunity," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton.
"All American Direct has informed us that they are offering the service starting June 13," said Dish spokesperson Kathie Gonzalez. "They have stated they expect more customers will qualify for distant signals under the new digital standards, but that they intend to have a qualification process to uphold the spirit of the distant signal legislation [which defines "unserved" as not getting the grade B contour]. All American Direct is not affiliated with Dish Network."