Satellite Act Reauthorized

In a single day last week, Congress spent $388 billion and had time left over to pass the Satellite Home Viewer Extension Reauthorization Act, aka SHVERA, but more tenaciously known by its earlier acronym, SHVIA. EchoStar got a bit of a turkey out of the deal. The DBS provider, which provides a second dish for subscri
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In a single day last week, Congress spent $388 billion and had time left over to pass the Satellite Home Viewer Extension Reauthorization Act, aka SHVERA, but more tenaciously known by its earlier acronym, SHVIA.

EchoStar got a bit of a turkey out of the deal. The DBS provider, which provides a second dish for subscribers who want to get local broadcast channels via satellite, was given 18 months to dump the double-dish model. While EchoStar moaned about the timeframe, it was a bit better than the original House version of the bill, which gave them only one year.

"While we appreciate the bi-partisan effort to pass legislation that considered the needs of diverse interests, EchoStar is disappointed that the bill inappropriately singles out EchoStar for unfair treatment with respect to channel positioning," EchoStar said in third person in a release. "The bill gives EchoStar only 18 months to eliminate its two-dish solution while at the same time forcing us to wait up to three years to provide distant digital signals."

The distant-signal provision applies to those DBS subscribers who can get an analog signal over the air, but not a digital signal. Subscribers living in these digital white areas will be able to request testing for digital reception to determine if they qualify for the importation of digital signals from stations in distant markets.

However, since all DTV broadcasters have to go full power by July 1, 2006, there may not be a truckload of demand for distant signals.

NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts was all over that:

"Congress has hit the trifecta by passing a pro-consumer bill that enhances broadcast localism, slams the door on Echostar's abusive two dish practice that discriminates against Hispanic and religious TV viewers, and thwarts efforts to establish digital white areas. We salute Congressional leaders for recognizing the enduring value that local television stations provide to the viewing public."

Congressman Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who leads the House Energy and Commerce Committee had a different take on digital white areas, since DBS operators will be allowed to continue carrying "significantly-viewed" out-of-market networks.

"Passage of SHVERA will increase competition and consumer choice by both allowing satellite providers to continue to provide local and network broadcasts to viewers otherwise unable to receive local programming in their area, and to carry certain out-of-market signals in a comparable way to what cable operators are currently permitted to do," Barton said in a statement that continued with a gushing ode to the fruited plains:

"These provisions mean rural Americans will not be cut off from the world of information. From Washington to the distant expanses of Alaska, viewers will be able to have their fingers on the pulse of breaking news."

Demonstrating why he's head of the Consumer Electronics Association, and you're not, Gary Shapiro took the opportunity to plug the sale of digital TV devices, which has approximately nothing to do with the passage of SHERVA,

"Sales of digital television products already are up by more than 71 percent this year over 2003," he said. "By making broadcasts available to millions of consumers--particularly those in rural and other underserved areas--Congress can help ensure that our nation speeds toward the completion of the transition, with the goal of freeing up valuable spectrum to the benefit of American taxpayers and innovators."

SHVERA was passed as a rider on the omnibus spending bill to fund 13 government agencies for another year. The14-pound bill passed in the House 344 to 51, and in the Senate, 65 to 30.