FCC Disses Philly DBS Dish Restrictions

The FCC has no brotherly, or sisterly, love for a Philadelphia ordinance restricting DBS dishes.

In a victory for DBS distributors and potentially broadcasters and broadband distributors, the FCC's Media Bureau has ruled that a city ordinance violates the Over-the Air Reception Devices Rule by imposing requirements "regarding certification, notification, painting, and removal" of satellite dishes and limits their placement on facades of homes and buildings.

The Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association had sought the FCC ruling, which applies to dishes in multi-dwelling units (MDUs) as well as single-family homes.The city had argued the ordinance was address the "uncontrolled proliferation of satellite signal reception devices on the front of homes throughout the City," which it argued hurt the appearance, safety, and property values of residents. The OTARD rule specifically prohibits, with a few exceptions, government and private (home owners associations, for example) restrictions on dishes below a certain size (and any size in Alaska) that "impair the ability of antenna users to install, maintain, or use over-the-air-reception devices." 

That goes for broadcast over-the-air antennas and broadband and fixed wireless antennas, which could proliferate as the FCC opens up spectrum for creative ways to deliver competing broadband service.

Anyone affected by antenna restrictions can petition the FCC for a ruling on whether the restriction is permitted or prohibited. SBCA did, and the FCC concluded the Philly restriction was out of bounds. The city had not yet imposed the restriction, and told the FCC when it did it would comply with OTARD, but the FCC said OTARD did not require that parties postpone petitioning for relief until a restriction is enforced, or until implementing regulations are imposed. 

The FCC also rejected the argument by the city, joined by Boston, Los Angeles and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers (NATOA) that the FCC would be interfering with local policing power. One of the carveouts from OTARD is for public safety, but the FCC said the city's claim of a safety issue did not qualify for the exception. 

"The OTARD Rule is very specific regarding the circumstances under which the safety exception applies, and general statements of safety and welfare interests are not sufficient to qualify for an exception."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.