House Commerce to Vote on Sat Bill

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The House Commerce Committee will vote Thursday on legislation to reauthorize satellite carriers' right to offer local broadcast signals, which expires at the end of the year.

The hottest debate will be over an amendment by Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., allowing DBS providers to offer channels to subscribers on an "a la carte," channel-by-channel basis. Specifically, his measure would prevent pay-TV programmers from insisting their channels be sold in bundles or exclusively on a tier of channels.

Even though the measure would apply only to satellite carriers, the cable industry is opposed, fearing it would be "camel's the nose under the tent," eventually leading to a la carte mandates for cable operators one day.

Echostar supports the measure, claiming it will give the company a competitive edge. DirecTV, owned by big pay-TV programmer News Corp., opposes a la carte.

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