Retrans Flap Fixed

EchoStar, Allbritton settle heated carriage fight
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A carriage battle between satellite provider EchoStar and TV-station group Allbritton got ugly last week before the two sides finally came to terms on a new two-year deal.

With a new carriage deal at an impasse over EchoStar's branded Dish network's importation of distant signals, and Allbritton telling disaffected viewers to switch to cable or DirecTV, the satellite company filed suit against Allbritton charging antitrust violation, libel and slander. EchoStar simultaneously filed a complaint with the FCC. Both complaints were being withdrawn following the settlement.

Terms of the retrans deal were not disclosed, but Allbritton spokesman Jerald Fritz said the company is pleased with the result. But he also said that Dish customers in white areas (those not getting a good over-the-air signal) will still "most likely be able to continue to receive distant signals." EchoStar's importation of those signals had been at the crux of the dispute, and EchoStar spokesman Mark Lumpkin said his side was also happy.

Before all that happiness, though, there was much complaint.

Allbritton was claiming that the two sides had a deal that fell apart when EchoStar raised "new issues." Lumpkin denied there had ever been a deal.

Their previous deal expired May 31, with WJLA-TV Washington; WBMA-TV Birmingham, Ala.; WHTM-TV Harrisburg, Pa.; and KTUL-TV Tulsa, Okla., going dark on Dish. Those stations were back on last Wednesday.

Allbritton opposes EchoStar's importation of distant network signals because it duplicates ABC programming on Allbritton stations. EchoStar says it is simply serving viewers who can't get the local signal off the air and the law provides for that.