Sens. Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy, leaders of the Judiciary Committee, have indicated that they want to quickly reauthorize the law limiting DBS providers’ ability to import network signals when Congress reconvenes next year. That’s probably wishful thinking. The law expires in 2004 and has long been a source of friction between broadcasters and satellite providers.
The law allows DBS companies to deliver out-of-town network signals to viewers who can’t get a good signal from their local affiliate. Satellite companies often prefer to deliver a few imported signals to a large region rather than offering many local channels to separate markets.
Despite lawmakers’ hope for quick renewal, EchoStar’s Charlie Ergen has indicated that he will fight for changes that broadcasters are sure to oppose. In October, he told SkyForum that DBS should be allowed to import HDTV network signals to more customers because so many stations are transmitting low-power digital signals that don’t reach their entire market. Currently, the law isn’t more lenient toward importing digital signals.