SBCA Rally Turns Dish Dealers Into Advocates

By | September 29, 2003 | Feature

Satellite dish dealers typically use their powers of persuasion with their customers but last week they came to Washington to win the support of lawmakers in Congress.

A first-of-its-kind “Retailer Rally,” organized by the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association (SBCA), allowed the satellite retailers to take their message of marketplace fairness to Capitol Hill. The rally also included the dealer-focused educational and training sessions traditionally offered by the SBCA at its annual conference, which was not held this year.

The rally was needed to help invigorate a grassroots effort to help counter the well-financed efforts of rival trade groups in the cable and broadcasting industries, said Andy Wright, the SBCA’s president. Wright, whose last official day at the helm of the group was Sept. 26, left his post on an upbeat note as retailers raved about their chance to defend their industry before lawmakers and their aides.

“We were able to have more than 200 meetings on Capitol Hill,” Wright said. “The retailers were enthusiastic and effective advocates.”

One of the most memorable attributes exhibited by the dish dealers in their discussions was their “great passion” for the industry and offering people a viable alternative to cable, Wright said.

“I think this was a home run. I am very excited for the SBCA.”

Jim Stephen, president of satellite retailer Intertech Digital Entertainment in Lockport, N.Y. and chairman of the SBCA’s Retail Council, said the value of the retailer rally exceeded his expectations.

He praised the event for retaining the dealer training and education sessions that previously were offered at the SBCA’s annual conference, while creating an opportunity to lobby lawmakers and their staffs directly. The dish dealers were split up into groups to hold meetings with the lawmakers and staffs from their home districts and states, Stephen said.

The initial nervousness that some of the retailers felt as they began their first meetings on Capitol Hill quickly dissolved as the dish dealers began to share their views about key matters affecting the industry before Congress, Stephen said.

The experience “empowered everyone” to feel more connected with the industry and committed to articulate its collective concerns, Stephen said. Not since large satellite dish dealers attended a rally in Washington in the mid-1980s has the satellite industry waged such a successful grassroots lobbying effort, Stephen added.

“We have a need to be represented on Capitol Hill to counter the interests of our cable competitors,” said Stephen, who met with the staffs of Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), as well as with Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

Stephen, who said he was particularly impressed with the level of knowledge shown by one of Sen. Schumer’s aides, discussed the need for lawmakers to maintain fairness in the marketplace by not giving spectrum previously allocated for satellite TV to politically powerful Northpoint Technology, a startup terrestrial wireless service. Northpoint plans to offer multichannel video that satellite TV operators contend would interfere with their digital quality signals.

Another issue was the satellite industry’s need to remain a strong competitor to cable with the continuation of policies contained in the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act (SHVIA) and existing over-the-air-reception device (OTARD) rules, he added.

The industry must fend off “very serious challenges” by the cable and broadcasting industries in the coming year, DirecTV Chairman and CEO Eddy Hartenstein warned retailers. He mentioned the need to reauthorize SHVIA, to block the Northpoint “spectrum grab” on Capitol Hill, and to extend the compulsory copyright license for distant network signals and superstations set to expire Dec. 31, 2004. He urged satellite dish retailers to spend part of their time in Washington lobbying their local representatives and senators to support the industry.

–Paul Dykewicz and David Bross

(Robert Udowitz, SBCA, 703/739-8351; Jim Stephen, Intertech Digital Entertainment, 716/625-8555; ext. 300; Robert Marsocci, DirecTV, 310/726-4656)

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