Dish, DirecTV Propose Local HD Goals They’ve Already Met

The nation’s top satellite TV operators, DirecTV and EchoStar’s Dish Network, offered a series of benchmarks for their carriage of local HDTV should the FCC impose an HDTV mandate on DBS.

Most of the proposed benchmarks should be easy for the two providers to meet—DirecTV has already reached the carriage level it set as the benchmark for three years down the road, and Dish plans to nearly reach that same mark this year.

In a letter to the FCC, the companies propose that if the commission imposes a carry-one, carry-all mandate for HD, it should phase in the requirement over four years after the February 2009 transition, in order to minimize disruption to existing customers and allow the companies to build out their infrastructure, including the launching of more satellites.

The companies propose that under such a regime, they be required—by one year after the February 2009 transition—to bring local HDTV signals to 15 percent of the HD markets they serve. After two years, they’d be required to carry HDTV broadcasters on 30 percent of the markets with HD. After three years (in February 2012), they’d need to serve 60 percent, and after four years—in 2013—they’d need to carry all the HDTV broadcasters in the markets where they provide local service.

DirecTV, with its Feb. 14 launch of local HD in Omaha, Neb., already carries HDTV in 52 percent of its 148 local markets, surpassing the 30 percent benchmark the companies propose for 2011. Dish has said it plans to offer local HDTV in 100 of its 174 local markets (nearly 60 percent) by the end of 2008.

The companies have already told the FCC that their carriage of HDTV requires additional satellite capacity as well as buildout on the ground. They have to save transponder capacity to serve some markets that are not now broadcasting in HDTV, but may in the future; for example, one-third of all Dish transponders now serving Alaska and Hawaii sit in the sky unused, waiting for local HDTV to launch, the company told the FCC.

Dish told the FCC earlier this month it will take more than $1 billion, three satellites, and four years to be able to carry local HDTV in all the local markets it serves.

NAB followed the satcasters’ comments with a reminder to the FCC that DirecTV and EchoStar are still a long way from providing local-into-local service in all 210 markets and that DirecTV promised the FCC back in 2003 that it would provide “seamless, integrated” local service in all markets. That pledge was made by News Corp. in conjunction with its application to assume control of DirecTV, although it was not part of the conditions imposed on the deal by the FCC.

DirecTV has said it intends to provide local-into-local coverage in the remaining markets by deploying additional set-top boxes to receive the over-the-air signals in markets it does not carry by satellite.