September 12 Deadline for EchoStar

A Florida district court has given satellite company EchoStar until Sept. 12 to explain why the court should not pull the plug on its distant TV station signals per a Federal Appeals courts direction. Meanwhile, Fox Broadcasting has asked the same court to impose the injunction, effectively arguing that EchoStar has nothing more to say about it.

The networks and station affiliate associations sued EchoStar back in 1998 for delivering distant networkTV signals to ineligible households.

EchoStar this week paid $100 million to settle with the affiliate associations of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, but Fox Broadcasting argues that the payout does not change the federal appeals court directive based on its finding that EchoStar repeatedly violated the act. Fox is owned by News Corp., which controls competing DBS service DirecTV.

Fox argued in a court filing this week that the injunction was based on the Eleventh Circuit's finding of a "'willful and repeated pattern' of delivering copyrighted programs to ineligible households," and that "even the parties to the litigation themselves cannot alter this Court's obligation to comply with the injunction mandate."

If the permanent injunction is imposed, the ruling could force EchoStar’s Dish Network to shuffle the station lineup delivered to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Some subs may be temporarily unable to receive any broadcast stations at all.

In a harshly-worded opinion, the three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit declared in May: "We have found no indication that EchoStar was ever interested in complying with laws regulating how satellite TV companies deliver broadcast stations to their customers."

The case is part of a long-running copyright dispute between broadcasters and satellite companies over homes located in the fringes of TV markets. TV stations want to reach every home in their areas. But subscribers in fringe areas often prefer their satellite companies to deliver stations from, say, New York City rather than Hartford, Conn.

According to law, EchoStar--and DirecTV--are permitted to deliver so-called "distant" netework signals only to homes that cannot receive a sufficiently clear signal from their local affilate of that network. But EchoStar’s method of determining which customers were eligible for the distant signals has been a bone of contention-- and litigation-- for years.

Broadcasters complain that the company abuses the rules and violates the Satellite Home Viewer Act by regularly delivering out of market stations in competition to local stations in the market that carry the same network programming. The Eleventh Circuit court agreed.

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