March-Mad Hill Presses EchoStar, Viacom

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The carriage fight between Viacom Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. helped to frame the House Telecommunications Subcommittee hearing Wednesday on reauthorization of the law that allows satellite companies to deliver local TV signals.

House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) began his hearing on satellite carriage of TV stations Wednesday with a reference to March Madness--the upcoming NCAA college basketball championships on CBS stations--and the current carriage standoff between EchoStar and Viacom that has resulted in the cut-off of satellite delivery of CBS stations to EchoStar customers. The implication was clear. And if it hadn't been, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) made it explicit.

Markey said that 9 million satellite consumers, including ones in Boston, had lost a number of channels (CBS stations to 1.6 million of those subs and MTVN networks to all 9 million). Markey pointed out that Boston College is likely to have a men's team in the  basketball championships. "I Urge them [EchoStar and Viacom] to take that into account in their negotiations," said Markey pointedly. "This dispute highlights many of the issues before us," he said, including concentration of programming, localism, universal services, and "what this dispute may portend about how this committee handles satellite must-carry issues."

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