Last ditch Congressional effort seeks to stop EchoStar shutoff

A last-ditch bipartisan effort to protect home satellite TV consumers in rural areas from losing network TV access through EchoStar’s DISH satellite service has begun in Congress.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking Democrat member of the Judiciary Committee and the panel’s incoming chairman for the 110th Congress, introduced the Satellite Consumer Protection Act last week.

If passed, the bill would preserve satellite TV service for about 800,000 EchoStar consumers who are expected to lose it Dec. 1 as a result of a federal court injunction. EchoStar is expected to suspend service to these consumers following a ruling that it violated federal law by providing distant signals to areas that did not need satellite to receive that programming.

Leahy was joined in support of the legislation by Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Wayne Allard (R-CO), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Robert Byrd (D-WV), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Mark Pryor (D-MN) and Michael Enzi (R- NV).

Leahy said the bill, which would allow distant network carriage if EchoStar compensates local stations, strikes a balance between consumer protection and tough enforcement against EchoStar for violating the law. The legislation requires EchoStar to deposit $20 million to be used to cover any future violations.

The NAB opposed the proposed legislation. “NAB strongly opposes a bail-out by Congress of a habitual copyright infringer that has skimmed millions of dollars infringing copyrights and violating the law on a nationwide basis for eight years or more,” said spokesman Dennis Wharton.