Inexactitudes in satellite delivery

Lawmakers' ability to write bills with inexactitudes leaves wiggle room for everybody.

My education must have been fairly violent compared to those of many people. My secondary schooling was with teachers of the De La Salle order of religious (The Christian Brothers in the United States), and they were fond of using the long strap that tailed from their waists to the ground. Sure, it made you work, but it also spread hate, disgust and fear.

By comparison, college was a dream world, except for one lecturer who terrorized us. Sins committed with incorrect units were treated the most heavily and would often result in blood-red ink on an assignment: “See me!”

So this is why I react to inexactitudes in the world around me. Most of the time I bite my tongue, but I have seen the initials SHVA misused enough to make me grind my teeth.

A little history: The original Satellite Home Viewer Act (SHVA) became law in 1988. It was intended as a tool to protect local network affiliates (and the cable companies) from the satellite providers offering network feeds from more distant stations. With no teeth, SHVA was just about totally ignored by the satellite companies prompting new customers on their answers. “No, I can receive no network affiliates; no, I have not had cable TV service at this address for the last 90 days.” The law was amended in 1994 with compliance time limits placed on the satellite providers, leading to massive numbers of customers losing their services and unable to obtain waivers.

Next came the lawsuits in Miami, in which FOX and CBS filed suit against PrimeTime 24. The DSS companies listened and were a lot more careful.

The so-called “local-into-local” arrangements signed into law Nov. 29, 1999, as the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act was the logical solution for all this (unless you were a cable operator). That's the S-H-V-I-A. But writers are not only getting the initials of the new act wrong, they also are unclear about some of the content.

SHVIA allows the DSS providers to supply local stations to DMA viewers and it continues to allow them to provide “distant” service to those subscribers who are still eligible (“unserved households”). Unserved households always include subscribers with dishes permanently attached to commercial trucks and RVs, as well as C-band users. The 90-day waiting period after ending cable service is eliminated. There also is a nice quirk that has mostly gone unnoticed: If a station disagrees with a viewer on whether Grade B reception is possible at a specific location there now is a solution: ARRL members can be nominated to go to the site to test off-air reception. If the station is correct, the DSS company pays the bill for the testing. If the DSS company is right, the station gets to pay. Of course, there are some stations that do not explain that in their literature. WEYI, for example, in Flint, MI, says, “The satellite provider has the authority to contract a specialist to investigate your situation. Remember, there may be a substantial cost for this inspection so please discuss it with the satellite provider carefully.” Neatly phrased as a deterrent don't you think?

The date for stations to agree to be carried by DSS has passed (May 2000), but a Report and Order on Nov. 2, 2000, implements new dates. The DSS service must provide all the local stations assigned to the DMA, that ask to be carried, (but limited to one version of any network) by Jan. 1, 2002. But when must they tell the DSS providers?

What is still up in the air, apart from the satellites? Whether a household is within the Grade B contour of a translator seems to be totally ignored by all involved, and the DSS providers seem to have few problems in getting waivers. The position of PBS coverage also is a little strange. Until Jan. 1, 2001, the DSS providers can give all subscribers the national X-feed of PBS (on East Coast timing). After that they can provide local-into-local and the wording is unclear as to whether it is their choice over the local PBS asking to be carried. In a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, how does that apply to the multiple PBS stations?

The DSS companies are already running out of bandwidth for these services, of course, and the provisioning of new markets seems to have come to a halt until new birds are flying and the companies know how many stations they are expected to carry in the 40 to 50 markets they have already committed to. Their position is going to be a slippery one and they will undoubtedly be looking for exceptions.

Once again the wonderful ability of lawmakers to write bills with inexactitudes leaves wiggle room for everybody. We need to write a few “See Me's” on their papers.

Paul McGoldrick is an industry consultant based on the West Coast.