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DBS Balks at Interim HD Carriage Scheme

Requiring EchoStar and DirecTV to handle what they consider an over-abundance of HD channels during the DTV transition would amount to a "backdoor" dual carriage requirement and force satellite service providers out of many local markets, according to the companies.

According to published reports, NAB wants satellite and cable to down-convert HD to SD only if they also make the HD signal available for HD customers. DirecTV and EchoStar argue that if broadcasters convert to HD over-the-air signals as part of the DTV transition, DBS operators need to be able to down-convert broadcasters' HD signals to SD if they want. DBS officials said, they should be permitted to down-convert HD as a matter of law--not as part of any deal with the broadcasters in which DBS would also carry the HD signal or all digital signals.

DBS's main concern is capacity. According to DirecTV, DBS can fit two over-the-air HD stations into each DBS channel, compared with 12 SD stations. Even applying the full arsenal of MPEG-4, higher order modulation and improved coding, DBS can fit only four HD stations in a DBS channel, according to DirecTV. DBS operators want to continue to carry a single, primary video stream and be allowed to decide whether they have capacity to provide HD local service, rather than letting broadcasters make the call. Congress runs the risk of "introducing an unconstitutional dual carriage requirement through the backdoor" if it conditions DBS's ability to down-convert on the carriage of the HD signal or on the down-conversion of all digital-only signals, as has been suggested in the staff draft of the House DTV transition bill, according to EchoStar.