Philadelphia Ordinance Ignites Satellite Debate

Industry and local government groups face off on setting guidelines over dish placement.

by / June 20, 2012
Photo via Shutterstock

The Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association has filed a petition with the FCC asking it to clarify the rules set forth in its Over-the-Air Reception Devices (OTARD) rule. The action was prompted by a city ordinance in Philadelphia that seeks to mitigate streetscape clutter caused by the proliferation of satellite dishes while preserving the ability of residents to receive satellite television programming. The Philadelphia initiative establishes a preference for satellite dish placement on locations other than building facades.

The satellite industry believes that Philadelphia officials are overstepping their authority, in conflict with current FCC rules. Originally enacted in 1996, OTARD prevents local governments from restricting the placement of satellite dishes, enacting rules that increase the cost of dish installation or impeding acceptable signal levels. The rule currently allows such restrictions in common areas of multi-dwelling units, such as apartments or condominiums.

Opponents of the current petition are lining up in support of Philadelphia’s effort. A formal response from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and U.S. Conference of Mayors urges the FCC not to respond to the challenge from the satellite industry. They recommend waiting for Philadelphia’s ordinance to fully develop, suggesting that industry protections will also be enacted.

“We believe the city of Philadelphia’s ordinance strikes the right balance between reasonable restrictions on satellite antenna placement and the ability of satellite providers to provide services to consumers,” their joint statement reads.

Other local jurisdictions, including Boston, have also considered policies to limit the placement of satellite dishes in order to preserve the visual appeal of its neighborhoods and prevent negative impacts on property values. An ordinance to that effect passed in Boston on June 6.

Philadelphia and Boston both feel installers should bear the responsibility to remove satellite dishes that are no longer in service. Industry representatives argue the rules would drive up their costs, which would ultimately be passed on to consumers.