Yesterday, the FCC released four different items to implement the changes enacted by Congress in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, better known as STELA. With one item addressing significantly viewed out-of-market stations, two items regarding signal prediction and measurements for the reception of DTV signals, and a Public Notice requesting comments and data for a report to Congress, the FCC has wrapped up several open issues regarding STELA. As we have written about previously, here and here (among others), in addition to extending the blanket copyright license allowing satellite television providers to deliver distant signals to "unserved" viewers unable to receive a signal from their local network affiliate, STELA raised a few additional issues that the FCC needed to address through various rule makings.  With yesterday’s flurry of activity, the FCC has now addressed those issues.

With the first item, the Commission modified the significantly viewed rules that allow for the importation of distant signals in certain circumstances.  The item clarifies that a satellite subscriber need only receive the local-into-local package as a precondition for that subscriber to receive a significantly viewed station, they don’t have to receive the specific local (i.e., in-market) affiliate of the same network as a precondition to receive a distant station affiliated with the same network.  The item further clarifies that STELA no longer requires that equivalent bandwidth be dedicated to in-market and significantly viewed stations, so much as there is an HD format requirement.  Accordingly, subscribers can only receive a significantly viewed HD signal, the satellite carrier must carry the HD signal of the local station affiliated with the same network.  In reaching its decision, the Commission was cognizant of the tension between the protection of localism and Congress’s intention of achieving closer parity between the rules for satellite TV providers and cable TV providers, and it worked to reach a balance between those two sometimes competing goals.  A copy of the Order is available here.


Continue Reading FCC Releases Multiple Items Implementing Rules for Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA)

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. 


Continue Reading FCC Begins Proceedings to Implement Changes to Satellite Television Rules as a Result of STELA

On Wednesday, Congress passed the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA), which extends the blanket copyright license allowing satellite television providers to deliver distant signals to "unserved" viewers who are unable to receive a signal from their local network affiliate.  The Act extends that blanket license for five more years until December 31, 2014.  Enactment of this bill (assuming President Obama signs it into law) will essentially extend the current blanket license scheme — which previously expired on December 31, 2009, and which had been hastily extended temporarily a couple of times this year — that governs the importation of distant signals.  Although the Act did not tackle many of the issues that had been raised and debated regarding satellite television and the rebroadcast of local station over the past six months, the final bill does allow Dish Network to get back into the business of rebroadcasting distant signals directly, instead of through a third party.  In exchange for this change in the law, Dish Network has committed to delivering local television signals into the remaining dozen or so markets in which it doesn’t provide local-into-local service presently.  By virtue of this trade, Dish will likely become the first satellite television provider to offer local TV stations via satellite in all 210 markets in the country.

One subtle, but potentially very significant change for broadcast stations is the fact that the rule changes the definition of what constitutes an "unserved household".  Today, the law defines an unserved household (i.e., one that would be entitled to the importation of a distant signal) as:  "…a household that cannot receive, through the use of a conventional, stationary, outdoor rooftop receiving antenna, an over-the-air signal of a primary network station affiliated with that network…"  47 USC 119(d)(10)(A).  Now, however, the STELA Act changes that definition to simply state that an unserved household is one that:  "…cannot receive, through the use of an antenna, an over-the-air signal…"  Changing the definition to reception simply by "an antenna" instead of a "conventional, station, outdoor rooftop receiving antenna" would appear to mean that Congress has just extended the definition of unserved households to include those that cannot receive an adequate signal using rabbit ear antennas, not one that can’t receive a signal using a 30-foot, fixed, outdoor antenna.  This could lead to a significant change in the provision of distant signals and potentially eat away at a station’s protected service area.  How exactly this plays out and whether or not it allows the satellite providers to bring distant signals to households previously considered "served" remains to be seen. 


Continue Reading Congress Passes STELA Act Extending Satellite Television Provisions and Changing the Definition of Unserved Household