updated 3/10/2004 1:59:14 PM ET 2004-03-10T18:59:14

DISH Network owner EchoStar and Viacom Inc. are nearing settlement of a dispute that took popular channels away from millions of satellite TV customers, officials with the companies said Wednesday.

Martin D. Franks, executive vice president of Viacom-owned CBS Television, told lawmakers at a hearing that he expected a solution in a “very timely fashion.”

“I can give great assurance that we are making progress,” Franks said.

David Moskowitz, EchoStar’s senior vice president and general counsel, said after the hearing that he, too, was optimistic.

“I’m hopeful we’ll be able to reach an agreement and we’ll reach an agreement very soon,” he said.

EchoStar Communications Corp. pulled the plug on CBS programs in more than a dozen cities Tuesday and also dropped Viacom’s cable channels — including MTV, Nickelodeon and BET — from its satellite network. As many as 9 million customers in all 50 states were affected.

Members of the House telecommunications subcommittee said they hoped the dispute could be settled before the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament begins next week. CBS will broadcast the games.

“Let’s cut to the chase and see if we can’t come to an agreement, especially as March Madness begins,” said subcommittee chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.

At issue is EchoStar’s contention that it is being required to carry several Viacom-owned cable channels in exchange for the right to also carry 18 CBS-owned stations in 16 markets.

EchoStar also said Viacom has sought rate increases up to 40 percent over the length of the contract, which would total potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. Viacom officials disputed that, saying EchoStar was fighting over what amounted to 6 cents more per customer per month.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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