DBS Eyes Phased-In Approach for HD Locals

Apparently, personnel at the Federal Communications Commission have continued work on a proposal that could require satellite TV services to deliver all local HD feeds in markets where they elect to carry stations in high-def.

And according to a filing from the DBS companies, the commission may consider a phased-in approach for a must-carry HD locals regime.

Late last week, DIRECTV and DISH Network representatives sent a letter to the FCC about potential carriage requirements for local HD signals. The letter stated that commission staff inquired about a phased-in implementation for carrying all local HD signals.

In their joint letter, DIRECTV and DISH Network proposed that for any carry-one, carry-all HD rule for local markets, a phase-in process could cover 15 percent of HD markets served by a small dish service one year after the digital TV transition. That amount would increase to 30 percent two years after the switch, 60 percent three years after the transition, and then all HD markets served four years after the DTV change, stated the letter.

While offering suggestions on the phased-in approach, both DIRECTV and DISH said in their letter that any benchmarks for carrying HD locals would not be a simple task. "It will require both companies to continue to invest in new state-of-the-art satellites, maximize improvements in satellite technologies, and upgrade or build local ground infrastructure," they said.

"None of these can occur overnight. Building a satellite alone is a four-year proposition. Thus, accelerating this schedule would disrupt service to tens of millions of subscribers," stated the letter.

The companies concluded in their correspondence that any adoption of a carry-one, carry-all local HD rule with phased-in benchmarks would promote increased local HD carriage while "establishing a dependable environment for business decision, preserving competition in the video marketplace, and safeguarding the service received by tens of millions of satellite customers."

The commission could take up carriage rules for satellite, mandates tied to the digital TV transition, at its meeting next week.

Meanwhile, the companies got some help from Capitol Hill on the must-carry push. CableFAX Daily reported that Rep John Salazar (D-Colo.) wrote FCC Chairman Kevin Martin expressing concern that the proposed rules could force DISH and DIRECTV to drop programming, including Spanish-language and other niche offerings.