FCC supports Dish and DirecTV over Philly ordinance restricting dishes

DirecTV rooftop satellite dish
For the second time, the FCC Media Bureau has ruled in favor of the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association on satellite dish restrictions. (DirecTV)

The FCC has once again ruled that ordinances restricting the placement of satellite TV dishes on rooftops violate the Telecommunications Act.

As first reported by Broadcasting & Cable, the agency’s Media Bureau said a Philadelphia ordinance specifically violates the Over-the Air Reception Devices Rule (OTARD), which “prohibits restrictions that impair the installation, maintenance or use of antennas used to receive video programming.”

The rule applies to both over-the-air antennas and satellite TV dishes. 

Nearly a decade ago, Philadelphia, Boston and several other cities wrote up ordinances intended to stop the “uncontrolled proliferation of satellite signal reception devices on the front of homes throughout the city.” (That’s the language in the Philly ordinance.)

In Philly, the ordinance required dishes be mounted to rooftops of homes instead of strewn onto balconies. It also required dishes to be painted to match building facades. 

But these restrictions have been vigorously fought, with lawsuits and FCC complaints, by the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association. 

In 2012, the satellite lobbying group asked the FCC to clarify as to whether Philadelphia’s ordinance violated OTARD. 

In defending the ordinance, Philadelphia city officials also have their backers, which include the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. 

These groups urged the FCC not to respond to the satellite industry’s challenge.

“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 from 2012 read.

Ordinance backers also argued that, beyond aesthetics, the restrictions also pertained to public safety—an argument the FCC didn’t buy.

Again, it’s not the first time the FCC Media Bureau has ruled in favor of the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association on this matter. The FCC in 2013 shot down Boston’s ordinance on the grounds it violated OTARD, for example. 

At the time, Boston City Councilman Sal LaMattina said he planned to have FCC Media Bureau members fly in from Washington to see the blight the dishes were causing in Beantown.

“I want to go there and show them the results of our study and how satellite dish installation has become a real problem in some Boston neighborhoods,” said LaMattina. “I want to show that we were able to identify that many dishes you see on the front of homes in places like Eastie are inactive and that this problem needs to be addressed.”