FCC: Dish, DirecTV Propose Local HD Goals Already Met

The nation’s top two satellite TV operators, DirecTV and EchoStar’s Dish Network, have offered a series of benchmarks for their carriage of local HD, should the FCC impose a HD 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 (one year after the February 2009 transition) to bring local HD signals to 15 percent of the HD markets they serve. After two years, they’d be required to carry HD broadcasters in 30 percent of the markets with HD. After three years (by February 2012), they’d need to serve 60 percent; and after four years they’d need to carry all HD broadcasters in the markets where they provide local services.

DirecTV, with its Feb. 14 launch of local HD in Omaha, Neb. (DMA no. 75), already carries HD 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 HD in 100 of its 174 local markets (more than 57 percent) by the end of 2008.

Both companies had already told the FCC their carriage of HD requires additional satellite capacity, as well as buildout on the ground. They also said they have to save transponder capacity to serve some markets that are not yet broadcasting in HD, but may in the future. (For example, one-third of all Dish transponders now serving Alaska and Hawaii remain in orbit unused, waiting for local HD 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 HD in all the local markets it serves (HD Notebook, Feb. 20, 2008).