Washington -- Franchised and private cable operators were
the apparent losers in a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that will allow
apartment renters to install small direct-broadcast satellite dishes on their balconies.
The FCC, in a Nov. 20 decision, justified its action by
saying that it would neither impose mandatory burdens on landlords, which would amount to
a taking of private property, nor raise any practical problems.
The ruling, which covers dishes one meter in diameter or
smaller, also extends to rental patios, town houses and single-family homes.
In apartments, the FCC said, DBS dishes should be clamped
to railings. The commission limited the scope of the decision by ruling that it lacked the
authority to order landlords to allow DBS-dish installations in common areas, such as
apartment-building roofs, citing practical, statutory and constitutional obstacles.
FCC commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth dissented from the
decision, saying that the extension of the rules to the balconies of renters encroached on
the property rights of owners.
Cable attorney Steve Ross, based here, said the ruling
would prevent cable operators and landlords from using exclusive service contracts to
prohibit renters from installing DBS dishes on balconies.
"You basically ripped away my exclusive right to
provide service in that building," Ross said. "That diminishes the value of
those MDU [multiple-dwelling-unit] subscribers. It affects not just traditional cable
operators, but also the private cable guys."
Ross said DBS companies now have a new market niche to
exploit at the expense of cable operators.
He said the DBS services "can cherry-pick subs in a
building and sell them the premium package, and leave the cable guy to offer the low-cost
DirecTv Inc.'s sister company, DirecPC, lost on an
Internet-access issue. The FCC left unchanged its policy that DBS dishes used to receive
data were not covered because Section 207 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 refers to
a viewer's right to receive "video programming."
An FCC source said video streaming did not qualify as
"video programming" under FCC rules because no one demonstrated on the record
that Internet video is equal in quality to video seen by television viewers.
FCC sources and landlord associations said the impact of
the ruling would not be as profound as Ross suggested.
Although at least 30 million people in the United States
live in apartments, only 3 percent of apartment units have balconies, according to the
16,000-member Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA).
And those renters with balconies or patios, an FCC source
said, would benefit from the new rules only if they have a clear line of sight "that
Gerry Lederer, BOMA's government-affairs vice president,
said balcony placement of a DBS dish would be permitted if the lease states that the
balcony is part of the property rented.
"You will find in many leases that you don't rent the
balcony," he said.
Bob Marsocci, DirecTv's senior manager of communications,
noted that the FCC said DBS dishes could be installed inside rental units, and that ruling
would benefit renters without balconies, but with clear southwest lines of sight.
"We applaud the FCC's decision, and we see it as
another barrier removed for renters," Marsocci said.
The FCC, at the urging of Purdue University, said its rules
would not apply to college dormitories, mainly because colleges and dormitory residents do
not have the same legal relationships as landlords and tenants.