Subscribers to America’s second largest satellite broadcaster Echostar Communications will next month be offered an expanded range of local television channels in thirty-six TV markets, the firm revealed Friday.

EchoStar’s DISH Network carries major networks ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS, and will introduce a package including UPN, WB and independent local stations.

Hyped chairman Charlie Ergen: “We’re pleased that on average we are more than doubling the number of local network channels available via satellite to millions of DISH Network customers in 36 markets, and, most importantly, without any increase in price for the local channel package.”

The move could be a way to appease the regulators mulling the group’s controversial merger with DirecTV, America’s number one satellite broadcaster [WAMN: 29-Oct-01]. EchoStar previously refused to add extra channels, blaming lack of bandwidth – a decision that drew criticism from broadcasters and lobby groups. The easiest way round this problem, insists Ergen, is to give the green light to the DirecTV deal.

“While we’ve made great strides in fully complying with federal must-carry rules, our ability to expand the number of markets we serve with local channels by satellite is still severely hampered by our limited satellite bandwidth and our obligation to comply with these must-carry provisions,” he argued.

“The best solution is the proposed merger of EchoStar and Hughes Electronics [owner of DirecTV], which will allow EchoStar to provide local channels by satellite to over 100 markets.”

News source: (US)