In comments filed with the Federal Communications
Commission earlier this month, direct-broadcast satellite organizations called for the FCC
to clarify which DBS subscribers are eligible to receive distant-network signals and to
adopt more realistic engineering tests to measure such eligibility.
Broadcasters oppose any new definition of
"served" and "unserved" households, as described under the Satellite
Home Viewer Act, claiming that the DBS industry is trying to jeopardize free local
broadcasting by signing up illegal subscribers for the competing distant signals.
The two industries have been unable to reach a consensus on
the issue for years. The impasse was heightened earlier this year, when a Florida District
Court issued a preliminary injunction against distant-network-signal distributor PrimeTime
24, enjoining the company from providing CBS and Fox programming to subscribers within a
so-called grade-B contour.
The broadcasters have since filed a similar suit against
EchoStar Communications Corp., which dropped PT24 and began distributing its own
distant-network signals following the preliminary injunction.
The court stayed the injunction against PT24 from going
into effect until February. The FCC is expected to rule on new SHVA definitions by then.
In its comments, the Satellite Broadcasting &
Communications Association asked the FCC to adopt new grade-B signal-strength values, to
create a predictive methodology to determine served households and to endorse a way of
measuring signal strength at individual homes when DBS providers or broadcasters challenge
But the National Association of Broadcasters stated in its
comments that the SHVA "places the burden of proof on satellite carriers to establish
that a household is unserved, and the courts have already concluded that carriers can meet
that burden only by conducting actual site measurements."
Measuring each potential home for signal quality would be
prohibitively expensive, DBS interests argued.
In the past, broadcasters have endorsed the use of the
Longley-Rice model -- which is used in the allocation of digital-broadcast spectrum -- to
predict whether households would likely be able to receive grade-B-quality signals.
The SBCA and the National Rural Telecommunications
Cooperative recommended that the FCC adopt a predictive methodology called TIREM (Terrain
Integrated Rough Earth Model), which more accurately predicts signal quality at individual
homes by taking into account terrain, vegetation, urbanization, interference and other
EchoStar argued that when signal measurements are taken at
individual homes, tests should be taken using consumer-grade equipment, and not commercial
"Under no reasonable reading of the SHVA can an
unserved household be robbed of its right to network service because an idealized
household in its place might have been able to receive a grade-B signal by use of
nonconventional, perfectly tuned and oriented equipment," EchoStar said in its
EchoStar also argued that the grade-B signal-intensity
standards should be updated to meet the quality standards required of cable operators.
Otherwise, the company said, the differences in picture quality would provide a
"perverse further incentive not to abandon cable," thus thwarting video
The NAB, however, argued that most subscribers to
distant-network feeds chose them not because they have problems with the strength of the
local stations' signals, but because they prefer to time-shift network programming
through the use of East and West Coast feeds.