EchoStar Communications’ Dish Network said today that it will increase its national HD channel count from 76 to 100 this year, and the satellite provider also plans on adding local HD channels in 65 new markets to bring its local HD channel count to a total of 100, as well.

“The addition of new HD national and local channels is a testament to Dish Network's unwavering focus on providing the best HD offerings,'' said Eric Sahl, SVP of programming for Dish Network.

Dish Network will launch three satellites this year in order to provide the company with additional bandwidth for its HD lineup.

The company begins its HD launches with 11 local markets, including: Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Cleveland; Columbia, S.C.; Flint, Mich.; Greenville, S.C.; Huntsville, Ala.; Jackson, Miss.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Orlando, Fla.; and Richmond, Va. The addition of these markets brings Dish Network's local HD penetration to 80 percent of U.S. TV households.

Adding HD channels has been top of mind for both cable, satellite and telco operators as customers continue to buy HDTVs. Among cable operators, Cablevision and Rogers Cable currently have roughly 40 HD channels each, but cable operators are looking at various ways to increase their bandwidth in order to add more channels this year. Verizon announced late last year that it hopes to have 150 HD channels by the end of the year.

The cable industry has taken issue with how some of its competitors count the number of their HD offerings, since some of them include both West Coast and East Coast feeds, as well as regional sports networks that aren’t available to all subscribers.

Dish also said today that it will hold the line on some of its programming packages the same as its current rates throughout this year. The initial price of the company’s DishDVR Advantage package will stay at $39.99 per month until February 2009, while its DishFamily package will continue to be priced at $19.99 per month.

Additionally, Dish Network and Broadband Interactive Applications (BIAP) have launched an interactive TV (iTV) application, entitled "Dish Decision 2008” – an election portal that provides Dish viewers with interactive access to political information on the national, state and local level.

Initial content is coming from the partnership with the nonprofit organization Glassbooth, whose technology enables viewers to rank the importance of key issues related to candidates and answer a series of questions based on their personal rankings.

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