Supreme Court rejects EchoStar appeal


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court closed the book on the long-running legal dispute between broadcasters and the nation's second-biggest satellite TV company over who it could serve with programming outside individual markets at the same time the sequel is playing in district court.

When the high court refused to hear EchoStar Communications Corp.'s appeal of a lower court order forcing the company to shut off 850,000 customers who are receiving their network TV illegally, it should have ended the legal battle. Satellite TV companies are prohibited from delivering out-of-market signals to customers who can pick up their local affiliates with an antenna.

While the court order upholds broadcasters' victory in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, another new legal fight carves something of a hollow in it.

"The Supreme Court upheld the 11th Circuit in Atlanta stands," said Wade Hargrove, an attorney representing network affiliates. "EchoStar has exhausted its appeals."

While Hargrove called the 11th Circuit's ruling a "great victory for broadcasters," he said the dispute continues. Broadcasters contend that EchoStar is still delivering the same out-of-market signals to its customers but is using the Indiana-based All-America Direct company as a front.

"It's a sham," Hargrove said. "They can't be permitted to do indirectly what the court said they couldn't do directly."

Unfortunately for Hargrove, the district court didn't see it that way, ruling that the two companies are acting legally. That decision is on appeal to the 11th Circuit.

EchoStar contends that it is out of the "distant signals market" and that independent companies are providing a means for their customers to get the TV shows to which they are entitled under law.

"EchoStar has been out of the distant network channel business since December of last year," the company said. "Our customers who used to subscribe to distant network channels have a broad variety of alternatives available to them to minimize disruption including an over-the-air antenna, lifeline cable or contacting another satellite provider such as All American Direct to see if they are eligible to qualify for distant network channels."