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FCC to examine TV signal standard

The FCC two weeks ago began a proceeding to decide whether the standard used to determine whether a TV viewer is eligible to import distant TV signals via satellite should be changed. That standard was the center of a fight between TV and satellite broadcasters during debates over satellite-TV reform, which became law at the end of last November.

Satellite carriers are allowed to provide feeds of distant networks, usually from New York or Los Angeles, to customers who cannot get a good-quality local TV signal over the air.

Satellite carriers are accused of having been too liberal in selecting which customers could import signals. They lost a case in a Miami federal court, after broadcasters sued them for delivering imported signals to subscribers who could technically receive their local affiliates over the air.

Satellite companies want the standard changed because, they say, it keeps many people who get shoddy, off-air TV reception from being able to receive any network television.

Broadcasters want to limit the practice as much as possible because, they say, importing distant signals shrinks local markets.

The new satellite TV reform law requires the FCC to look into the issue, but there is little the commission can do to change the standard, because the law forbids the commission to alter an engineering definition that determines who does and does not live within a TV signal's reach.

The FCC is asking for comments on the inquiry, which are due June 27.