NCTA, NAB Oppose 'Digital White Area' Provisions

While the NAB and the National Cable Telecommunications Association (NCTA) have different opinions on many topics, both oppose the "digital white area" provisions contained in S. 2644 (the Satellite Home Viewer and Rural Consumer Access to Digital Television Act of 2004) as was reported by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. NAB President Eddie Fritts and Robert Sachs, president and CEO of NCTA together signed a letter to Senator Orrin Hatch, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S. Senate and Senator Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member of the same committee, opposing these provisions, noting "Those provisions constitute a government giveaway to a single company--EchoStar--and will harm localism and competition, two paramount government policies." As noted in previous RF Report articles the "digital white area" provisions allow DBS operators under certain conditions to provide digital signals from out-of-market stations to their consumers in lieu of local digital signals.

According to the letter, the "premise that underlies the digital white area proposal--namely that there are millions of Americans who have no access to local broadcast digital signals--is belied by the following facts:

* "The broadcast industry has invested billions of dollars in digital upgrades and local broadcast stations offering digital signals currently are available to the vast majority of American households.
* "The cable industry, which also has invested billions of dollars in technology improvements, is carrying hundreds of these local digital broadcast signals and adding more every week.
* "And DirecTV has just announced an ambitious plan to launch additional satellites that will provide over 500 local digital broadcast stations next year and over 1500 stations by 2007."

Fritts and Sachs said EchoStar's digital white area solution "constitutes a direct assault on America's system of free, over-the-air local television" and "will distort the competitive marketplace by allowing EchoStar to carry distant digital signals free of the regulatory requirements (including retransmission consent and non-duplication rules) that apply to cable systems which serve the very same markets."

The letter said that while both NAB and NCTA support extending the satellite compulsory copyright license, they "strongly urge Senators to oppose the inclusion of the Ensign/McCain "digital white area" provision in legislation reauthorizing the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act."