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FCC Proposes Sticking With Outdoor Antenna Standard For Distant Signals

The FCC 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 easebroadcaster fears they could be facing more out-of-market competition foreyeballs 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

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

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 commission 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 commission.

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.

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.