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NAB and EchoStar exchange barbs over twin-dishes

The NAB thinks EchoStar is up to no good in its discriminatory practice of requiring two satellite dishes to receive local TV channels. It wants Congress to pass a law to require the satellite operator to use a single dish.

EchoStar said it will end the twin-dish set-up as soon as television broadcast stations fulfill their promise of returning analog broadcast spectrum to the government.

In an exchange of letters with the Senate Commerce Committee, whose members are considering the twin-dish issue as part of the reauthorization of the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act, the two sides displayed distrust in each other.

The NAB’s John Orlando said EchoStar Chairman Charlie Ergen had called the two-dish requirement an interim solution to provide local stations over the Dish Network in 2001 while waiting on delivery of new spot beam satellites. Those satellites have been delivered, said Orlando, and “the once interim solution has become permanent.”

EchoStar contends that it still needs two dishes in order two carry all stations in some markets due to a current lack of satellite capacity. By law, it must carry all the stations in a market if it wants to carry any.

“The only broken pledge in this issue is the one in which the broadcasters promised by 2002 to be broadcasting their digital signal to the same audience that receives their analog signal,” said Ergen. “We do not see the same kind of progress on the broadcasters’ side, and we sympathize with consumers who thought they would have a high-definition signal over the air by now.”

EchoStar is eager to convert to single dishes, given the cost of supplying a free second one, Ergen said, and noted that it needs the two dishes in 38 of the 127 markets that it serves.

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