FCC Proposes Sticking With Outdoor Antenna Standard For Distant Signals

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The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to retain its outdoor antenna standard for determining whether a satellite customer is eligible to receive a distant-network version of a local TV station affiliate, which would ease broadcaster fears they could be facing more out-of-market competition for eyeballs and ad dollars.

That comes in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued Wednesday on implementation of The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which passed earlier this year.

The law changes the definition of who is eligible to receive those signals from a signal strength model based on a "conventional, stationary, outdoor rooftop receiving antenna" to one based simply on an "antenna," but left it up to the FCC to determine just what that meant.

That led to concerns from some broadcasters that a new standard could include indoor tin foil antennas in, say, the basement and thus increase the number of subs who qualified for distant signals duplicating a local offering.

But the commission concluded that the current outdoor antenna standard should be the definition of "antenna" in the new law, saying it read STELA as "implying" use of that outdoor antenna (at 33 ft. above ground or rooftop level), though it did conclude that the term "antenna" grants it more flexibility to take into account different types of antennas.

The commission also pointed to a 2005 commission finding that "it would be impractical to attempt to account for indoor reception conditions...and that it would be impracticable to establish a regime whereby households with indoor antennas are subject to different signal strength standards than those with outdoor antennas. It noted that difficulty would arise in setting and applying standards for situations in which a household could not use an outdoor antenna."

But while the FCC is proposing to retain the outdoor standard for the above reasons, it is also soliciting comment on alternatives, like basing it on an indoor, moveable antenna, particularly in situations where people can't use an outdoor antenna.

But the agency is also grandfathering folks who now qualify for distant signals, even if modifications to its signal strength test down the line show they can receive the local-market version of that affiliate.

"We believe that "grandfathering" the eligibility of households in such cases would be appropriate to avoid disruption of the existing services to which households have been accustomed," said the FCC.

The commission also proposed to retain its point-to-point predictive model for determining that signal strength, though with some modifications, saying it "has proven over time to be an accurate and reliable predictor of analog TV signal strength."

Comments will be due 20 days after publication of the notice in the federal register. Replies will be due 30 days after that.

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