NRB Wants Discrimination Against Christian Stations to End

( [email protected] ) Apr 03, 2004 03:56 PM EST

A satellite provider’s refusal to add Christian stations on its primary satellites is considered discrimination, according to the Thursday testimony of Frank Wright, Ph.D., president of the 1,600-member association of Christian communicators, National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). The testimony was given during a hearing on Capitol Hill, which was conducted by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications.

Five years ago, Congress passed SHVIA (Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act), which required satellite carriers to provide “local to local” service, where the programming of local broadcast television stations are retransmitted to viewers in a station’s local market.

However, according to Wright, although DBS Satellite Provider EchoStar (Dish Network) have added Christian stations to its secondary satellite, this is not enough to fulfill the authorization under SHVIA, which states the service must be provided “in a way that is convenient and practically accessible for consumers.”

This is not the case for EchoStar subscribers who must install a second dish before gaining access to Christian stations and other independent or public stations. The Federal Communications Commission reported only 1.5% of those using the EchoStar services have installed the second dish.

Representatives from FCC, EchoStar, and DirecTV participated in the hearing.

Wright said EchoStar has failed to keep the conditions of SHVIA.

“Despite this requirement, with which market competitor DirecTV has complied, EchoStar Communications Corporation (EchoStar) commenced local into local service by segregating certain independent, public television, Spanish-language, and religious stations from the network-affiliated station in a market,” said Wright in a written statement.

EchoStar “discriminated against some, but not all, stations on the basis of price, contiguous channel placement and electronic program guide treatment,” according to an FCC ruling in April 2002, which authorized EchoStar to change its two-dish scheme. EchoStar then launched two satellites with greater capacity.

“Yet,” stated Wright, “it has continued to employ its discriminatory two-dish scheme.”

The NRB is hoping the hearing will result in the reauthorization of SHVIA in which EchoStar would return stations on the secondary dish to the primary satellite.