EchoStar Loses, Big TV Wins

9:00 AM -- Any time you're on the other side of a legal dispute with the National Association of Broadcasters, you can be confident you're in the right. Unfortunately that doesn't mean you'll win.

That's the situation that EchoStar Satellite LLC finds itself in after the Supreme Court refused today to hear its appeal in a nine-year legal battle with the major broadcasters and their affiliates over EchoStar's broadcasting of network TV to its customers. The U.S. Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act allows satellite companies to provide its customers with network signals -- but only if they can't get network TV using a conventional antenna.

The courts have consistently upheld the broadcasters' right to block EchoStar from bleeming network TV to "non-eligible" customers, and the Supreme Court's decision not to take up the case closes off the Englewood, Calif., company's legal avenues.

The problem with this ruling is that the concept of "eligible" and "non-eligible" customers is a relic of the era of Gunsmoke and The Ed Sullivan Show, designed to protect the major networks and their local affiliates. Preventing customers from receiving signals any damn way they please, if they're willing to pay for it, springs from an obsolete, monopolistic worldview that only the NAB, and Congress, could love.

Put it this way: You don't see Fox and NBC and CBS suing the cable companies to keep them from providing their customers with the networks' signals, do you?

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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