As more than two million satellite
television customers faced a looming, court-ordered cut-off of
network programming, the networks scrambled Wednesday to make
sure the order took effect as lawmakers here sought a further
On Capitol Hill, where thousands of angry phone calls have
poured in to protest the cut-off, members of Congress said they
would try to pass quick legislation delaying the U.S. District
Court order for 90 days or more.
Rep. Bill Tauzin, Republican of Louisiana and chairman of
the House Commerce Committee's communications subcommittee, said
introduction of the bill was "imminent."
"We are concerned about the court's solution that may go
too far," Tauzin said at the start of a hearing on the issue.
But the four major U.S. television networks and their
affiliated stations said leading satellite broadcasters DirecTV
was planning to evade the court's order. They planned to return
to the Miami court for a further ruling forcing DirecTV to
cut-off their shows.
The networks moved after Tuesday's announcement by DirecTV,
a unit of Hughes Electronics Corp., that it would evade the
cut-off by supplying network signals directly rather than
through another company, PrimeTime 24.
Under a 1988 law, satellite TV services like DirecTV and
Echostar Communications Corp. can only offer network programming
to customers who cannot receive adequate over-the-air TV
The Miami court last year found that PrimeTime 24 had
ignored the law's limitation and illegally signed up more than
two million satellite TV subscribers.
The court ordered that PrimeTime 24 cut-off those customers
on Feb. 28 and April 30.
CBS Corp., General Electric Co.'s NBC, Walt Disney Co.'s ABC
and News Corp.'s Fox said they planned to ask the court to apply
the PrimeTime 24 ruling directly to DirecTV.
Broadcasters have accused the satellite companies of
ignoring required tests and signing up millions of customers for
distant network programming who could receive adequate
over-the-air reception from local stations.
The broadcast of distant signals harms local stations by
siphoning off viewers, they argued.
"Local stations would make less revenue in a smaller
market," Cox Broadcasting executive vice president Andrew
Fisher told lawmakers at a Senate hearing Tuesday. "Less
revenue would mean less money for important local programming
such as news, community affairs and public safety."
Congress is considering a variety of longer-term proposals
to address the situation, including perhaps easing the distant
network limit or grandfathering customers currently receiving
distant network signals.