Fox pushes EchoStar turnoff

The EchoStar distant TV signal dispute is set to make another appearance in a federal court this week after a recent settlement failed to satisfy Fox affiliate stations. A federal judge has asked EchoStar to explain on Tuesday why the court should not pull the plug on about one million DISH subscribers receiving distant network TV signals.

A group of 25 Fox owned-and-operated stations were not part of a recent $100 million settlement agreement with ABC, CBS and NBC to end a long-running dispute. The stations want the U.S. District Court in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, to order EchoStar to comply with an earlier order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to order an injunction that would end all retransmissions by EchoStar.

In the meantime, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, a public policy foundation, urged Congress to take immediate action to protect rural TV consumers who could lose their distant network TV signals. It wants an investigation of News Corp.'s efforts to derail “a pro-consumer resolution” to the long-running distant network channels dispute.

“The possibility of a sudden signal loss to nearly one million consumers, many of whom live in rural America, exists because of News Corp.'s efforts to undermine a settlement agreement between EchoStar and the broadcasters,” the group said in a statement.

The group charged that Fox, a unit of News Corp., appeared to be attempting to derail the settlement by inviting a court injunction that would effectively create an unfair monopoly for another News Corp. unit, DirecTV. They said it raised the question of whether News Corp.'s actions are in violation of anti-trust laws.

Joining in the group's request were Colorado's two U.S. senators, who asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate the escalating dispute. Republican Sen. Wayne Allard and Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar, who is representing the home base of EchoStar, asked the committee to examine whether DirecTV “has engaged in behavior that would threaten the viability of the satellite TV market.”

A Judiciary Committee aide told the Associated Press that the committee was “looking into the situation and urging all parties to settle this matter to ensure uninterrupted service to consumers.”

The Colorado senators said they wanted to “ensure that Fox's decision to pull out of negotiations was not motivated by a desire to ensure that DirecTV wins the market share that will be abandoned should EchoStar be forced to turn off its distant signals.”