The FCC has issued another in a series of Notice of Proposed Rule Makings aimed at implementing changes to the satellite television rules brought about by the recently enacted Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 or "STELA". In particular, by its NPRM issued last week, the Commission proposes a predictive model to provide presumptive determinations as to whether a household is considered unserved by a local network-affiliated digital station. The model proposed is a point-to-point predictive model that will allow parties to determine whether a particular location has the ability to receive an over-the-air digital television broadcast signal at the intensity level necessary for service. The predictive model proposed by the Commission is based on the current model used for predicting reception of analog signals, which uses Longley-Rice to predict signal propagation.
In proposing this predictive model, the Commission tentatively concludes that the current standard for an outdoor antenna should continue be used in predicting digital television signal strengths at individual locations. Although STELA revised the definition of an "unserved" household by changing the previous statutory reference to a "conventional, stationary outdoor rooftop antenna" to refer simply to the use of an "antenna" (as we mentioned in our earlier blog), the Commission’s recent NPRM finds that the Act’s specification of the DTV standard incorporated in the FCC’s rules implies the use of an outdoor antenna to receive service. Therefore, the predictive model the Commission proposes in its NPRM for determining reception of over-the-air digital television signals will continue to include the outdoor antenna standard (with some adjustments for height). That said, and as the Commission itself notes, given that both of the satellite television providers are moving towards providing local-into-local service in most markets, the need for making determinations as to which households are "unserved" (and hence eligible to receive distant signals), is diminishing, although there are still a number of markets where such local-into-local service has yet to be implemented.
Although STELA also narrowed the unserved standard to focus just on the reception of signals from an in-market affiliate (rather than simply any affiliate) and to address the notion of multicast digital streams, these changes do not impact the Commission’s adoption of a predictive model, and thus were not explicitly addressed by the NPRM. However, the Commission does include a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making to address issues regarding on-site measurements in the event that a subscriber requests an on-site signal strength test following application of the predictive model. Here again, the Commission proposes to limit measurements to outdoor antennas. Comments on the Commission’s proposed rule changes will be due 20 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register, which, as of this writing, has not yet occurred.