Local Channels Galore

In the ongoing battle between small-dish satellite and cable, the ability to broadcast local channels was a decided advantage for the wired approach. But the direct broadcast satellite (DBS) companies successfully petitioned the FCC for the right to carry local stations on their system; early in December a federal appeals court ruled that they must carry "all or none" of those stations to comply.

On January 1, 2002, the new rules go into effect, and the two primary DBS companies, Echostar and DirecTV, look ready to deliver. EchoStar announced last week that its DISH Network satellite TV service will substantially expand the number of local TV channels it provides in each of the 36 markets where it currently provides selected local channels.

Commencing in January 2002, EchoStar says, it will offer a single package that will include UPN, WB, PBS, and independent channels, together with community interest and other local channels, for the same $5.99 monthly price for which only the ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS stations were previously available.

Echostar's Charlie Ergen comments that his company is "pleased that on average we are more than doubling the number of local network channels available via satellite to millions of DISH Network customers in 36 markets, and, most importantly, without any increase in price for the local channel package."

Ergen points our that there is a catch, however, and took the opportunity to lobby for the merger proposed for his company and DirecTV, which is owned by Hughes Electronics. "While we've made great strides in fully complying with federal muscarry rules, our ability to expand the number of markets we serve with local channels by satellite is still severely hampered by our limited satellite bandwidth and our obligation to comply with these must-carry provisions. The best solution is the proposed merger of EchoStar and Hughes, which will allow EchoStar to provide local channels by satellite to over 100 markets."

EchoStar's DISH Network serves local channels in the following 36 locations: Albuquerque, Atlanta, Austin, Birmingham, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Greenville, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, Sacramento/Stockton/Modesto, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa/St. Petersburg, and Washington, DC.

While waiting for the proposed merger to clear its hurdles, DirecTV announced last week that it will also expand its local broadcast channel package to dozens of cities, including Atlanta, Orlando, Los Angeles, Portland, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. The company says there will be no additional charges for the expanded service.

DirecTV's Roxanne Austin said, "Enabling our customers to receive these additional local channels provides them with a true cable replacement. By offering more local channels on DirecTV programming, our customers can access entertainment and information that's most relevant to their lives and their community. Now is as good a time as any for consumers to drop their cable service and choose DirecTV as their source for home entertainment."