All you STELA watchers who have been waiting on tenterhooks for more than six months can now breathe easy: the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has approved Section 73.686(e). As a result, that section has become effective as of June 30, 2011. For those of who may have lost track of all this, last November the Commission adopted amendments to its broadcast satellite rules as provided in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA). Most of the rule changes became effective back in January. But Section 73.686(e), which addresses procedures for measuring the field strength of digital television signals, involved some “information collection” requirements which – thanks to the Paperwork Reduction Act – had to be reviewed by OMB before they could kick in. OMB has now blessed the FCC’s handiwork and, by notice in the Federal Register, the FCC has announced that Section 73.686(e) has become effective.
At Congress’s direction, Copyright Office opens inquiry on alternatives to compulsory licenses
While much attention in the MVPD/broadcaster world has recently been focused on the FCC’s inquiry into possible changes to the retransmission consent process, a separate proceeding is cranking up over at the Copyright Office that could eventually lead to far more fundamental changes to the must-carry/retrans system. The Copyright Office is exploring the possible elimination of the compulsory copyright licenses that form the core of the system that determines how, and by whom, over-the-air broadcast programming can be retransmitted. So while the FCC may be contemplating various changes, significant or otherwise, within the existing box, the Copyright Office is not just thinking outside that box; rather, it’s contemplating a situation in which that box no longer exists at all.
Are we surprised? Not at all (and not just because we have predicted eventual changes in this area as television delivery methods continue to evolve). Anyone familiar with the minutiae of STELA (i.e., the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010) has seen this coming, because a provision (Section 302, if you’re looking) in STELA ordered the Copyright Office to report on possible “mechanisms” or “methods” that might be used to “phase-out” compulsory licensing requirements. Are we scared? Not really, since this is just a very preliminary step in a process that might go nowhere.
Nevertheless, when a majority of both Houses of Congress makes noises about “phasing-out” the compulsory licenses, attention should be paid.
It is perhaps easy to lose sight of the fact that the must-carry system arose from, and is designed primarily to address, copyright concerns. When an MVPD operator retransmits programming which it obtains from, say, an over-the-air broadcaster, the MVPD operator engages in a “use” of that material for which the programming’s copyright holder is entitled to royalties. Absent compulsory licenses, the MVPD operator wishing to retransmit broadcast signals would have to negotiate separately with each broadcaster (and, possibly, others holding the rights to the broadcaster’s programming). That would be an extraordinarily cumbersome process.
The compulsory license approach takes care of that. That approach requires that MVPDs pay royalties into a governmentally-administered fund which is then doled out (by a governmental tribunal) to program suppliers entitled to payment from the fund. There are quids and quos on both sides. MVPDs get access to programming without the burden in individualized negotiations, but they have to carry (hence “must-carry”) local stations; broadcasters are entitled to carriage, but they have to accept the governmentally-determined royalties. (This over-simplifies the system somewhat, but you get the idea.)
For anyone wishing to read the statutory provisions establishing the various compulsory licenses, check out Sections 111 (the Cable Compulsory License, covering cable TV carriage of local and distant broadcast signals), 119 (the Satellite Home View Act, allowing satellite operators to carry distant broadcast signals) and 122 (the Satellite Home Viewer Improvements Act, permitting satellite carriage of local TV signals).
STELA addressed aspects of each of the three. And, as noted above, it included a requirement that the Copyright Office produce, within 18 months of enactment, a “Report on Market Based Alternatives to Statutory Licensing”. The law was enacted on May 27, 2010. That means the report is due around the end of 2011. The Copyright Office (after procrastinating slightly, it seems) is now starting that process.
The Copyright Office isn’t necessarily advocating for extinguishing the compulsory licenses (and, lest there be any question about this, neither are we). It’s just trying to get a better idea of the current legal and business landscape, “exploring marketplace alternatives that would permit cable operators and satellite carriers to retransmit the entire broadcast signal just as they would have been allowed to do under the statutory [i.e., compulsory] licenses.”
The alternatives suggested by the Copyright Office include:
Sublicensing – Instead of a compulsory license allowing an MVPD operator to carry a broadcast signal in its entirety, this approach would move the rights clearance process further down the chain. Broadcasters would have to clear all rights in the programs they carry for ultimate performance by third party distributors. This clearly has an eye toward incorporating online streaming, as it provides more flexibility than the somewhat rigid and confining licenses currently in place. The FCC suggested this as a viable alternative as far back as 1989, as did the Copyright Office in 1997. Both pointed to the fact that sublicensing has been utilized in connection with carriage of nonbroadcast programming on more than 500 channels MVPD channels. But sublicensing is a market-driven process that is (to use the Copyright Office’s language) “impeded” by the availability of compulsory licenses. The validity of the analogy between nonbroadcast and broadcast programming which the Copyright Office draws is not clear: the NAB, for example, has noted that at least some broadcasters lack the core financial incentive to engage in sublicensing.
Among the more interesting questions the Copyright Office asks are:
Would sublicensing be an effective alternative to both the local and distant signal statutory licenses? (On the point, the Copyright Office specifically solicits comments about the current state of sublicensing of television programming in the United States)
Are broadcast stations truly different from cable networks, as the NAB suggests?
What percentage of the public views broadcast stations through their cable and satellite subscriptions rather than directly over the air?
Are there sublicensing examples from other countries that may be used as models in this regard?
Private Licensing – This allows a cable system or satellite carrier to negotiate with the copyright owner of a specific program for the right to perform the work. Of course, this market-driven process would appear to benefit the program producers to the detriment of the actual stations (and, we think, would pose a danger to local network affiliates, as we’d figure that cable systems and satellite carriers would try to negotiate with the most popular shows, especially network shows, to provide them as part of an “on demand” package). This alternative is also held back somewhat by the fact that the copyright owners of each individual program may be hard to identify.
Among the questions asked here are:
Would privately negotiated copyright licenses afford a plausible and effective marketplace alternative to the three existing statutory licenses?
How many private copyright licenses currently exist and how do they function”
Are there any successful private licensing models currently in operation outside the United States that the Office may study?
Collective Licensing – This involves copyright owners getting one or more third party organizations to represent them en masse. It is already employed on the radio side, with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC setting the rates and terms for performance of musical works. There is no equivalent on the television side.
Among the questions here are:
With respect to the development of a collective licensing body for audiovisual works, are there lessons to be learned from the experience with strictly audio works?
Are there collective licensing models around the world that may be relevant to this study?
In addition, the Copyright Office welcomes other ideas which might be successful. It also asks how it might transition from the compulsory licenses to another method. For example, would it be preferable to transition using: (a) a station-by-station basis; (b) a staggered approach which would phase compulsory licenses out in stages; or (c) a sunset approach (sunsetting to occur some years in the future) which would provide ample time for all parties to prepare for the transition)?
Again, this is a very preliminary, Congressionally-mandated proceeding. And, since the elimination of compulsory licenses would eventually require Congressional action, it’s clear that the Copyright Office does not have the last word here. But it’s also clear that the continued availability of compulsory licenses is at least on the table for the moment – and, as a result, so is must-carry. Broadcasters who depend on must-carry (because, for example, they believe they lack sufficient bargaining power to make retransmission consent workable) in particular should be aware of this. We expect that there will be further opportunities to comment on more specific proposals should the elimination of compulsory licenses move forward. But if you think you have information, insights or opinions to offer, you need to file comments with the Copyright Office by April 17, 2011 or reply comments by May 17, 2011.
If you’ve been paying attention to the inexorable march of the STELA amendments, you will recall that the rule changes adopted by the Commission last November (on an expedited basis, at Congress’s behest) took effect in December and January, EXCEPT for the new version of Section 73.686(e). That last piece of the puzzle involves the procedures for measuring the field strength of digital television signals. Because it involves an “information collection”, it’s got to go through the standard Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) drill before it can become effective.
Step One in the drill: the FCC invites PRA-related comments on the revised rule. Step Two: the FCC bundles up the proposed rule with any comments that get filed and ships the package over to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Step Three: OMB invites more comments. Step Four (best case scenario, FCC-wise): OMB approves the new rules. Step Five: the FCC announces the approval, and the rule takes effect.
Where are we on Section 73.686(e)? Step One. In a notice in the Federal Register, the Commission has spread the word that comments on that proposal may be filed with the Commission until April 19, 2011. (If you’re keeping track, that means that that particular rule isn’t likely to take effect until June or thereabouts, at the earliest.)
The final element of the Commission’s late November STELA trilogy has been published in the Federal Register. As we reported last month, at Congress’s behest the Commission rammed through a number of revisions to its rules relative to satellite carriage of broadcast programming. One set of changes involved the signal strength measurement procedures used to determine the actual – as opposed to the predicted – DTV signal at any specific location. The Report and Order setting out those changes has now made it into the Federal Register, which in turn establishes their effective date: January 27, 2011. (Note, however, that because Section 73.686(e) requires prior OMB approval, that section will not become effective on that date.)
As we reported the day before Thanksgiving, the Commission – acting at Congress’s direction – adopted a number of changes in its rules relating to satellite carriage of broadcast programming. Included among the FCC’s actions was a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (R&O/FNPRM) in which the Commission addressed prediction of digital TV field strength levels at particular locations. (Such predictions are an important factor when it comes to carriage of “significantly viewed” stations by satellite carriers.) The Commission adopted a modified Longley-Rice model, but also (in the FNPRM portion of its order) solicited comments on some further changes suggested by an earlier commenter. Among other things, the Commission is curious about the commenter’s suggestions relative to [WARNING: Intense techno-speak dead ahead; deploy shields as needed]: “1) calculation of diffraction loss close to an obstacle or leading up to and following a pair of obstacles and 2) a factual or scientific basis for explaining the additional losses in the line of sight range above and beyond the free space loss and two-ray-loss.”
The R&O/FNPRM has now been published in the Federal Register (in separate chunks: the R&O may be found here, and the FNPRM may be found here). That in turn sets the effective date of the changes adopted in the R&O and the comment deadlines for the FNPRM. The effective date is January 21, 2011. Comments in response to the FNPRM are due by January 21, 2011, and reply comments by February 7, 2011.
As we reported last month, the Commission – at Congress’s insistence – is gearing up to prepare a “Report on In-State Broadcast Programming”. Congress’s interest in this arose from claims that some satellite subscribers are wrongfully denied satellite access to broadcast stations located in the same state because the station and subscribers are in different DMAs. Those claims surfaced during the legislative deliberations leading up to the enactment of STELA, so Congress included a section in STELA specifically directing the Commission to check into the matter and report back.
The report, due to be submitted to Congress next August, will: (1) analyze the number of households in a state that receive the signals of local broadcast stations assigned to a community of license located in a different state; (2) evaluate the extent to which consumers in each local market have access to in-state broadcast programming over-the-air or from a multichannel video programming distributor; and (3) consider whether there are alternatives to DMAs to define “local” markets that would provide consumers with more in-state broadcast programming. The FCC will be looking to identify counties and associated populations within specific states that have limited access to in-state broadcast programming.
Also as we reported, the Commission issued a public notice requesting comments and reply comments to assist in the preparation of the report. The FCC’s public notice has now been published in the Federal Register, which sets the comment deadlines. Mark your calendars: comments are due by January 24, 2011 and reply comments are due by February 22, 2011.
As we reported the day before Thanksgiving, the Commission – acting at Congress’s direction – adopted a number of changes in its rules relating to satellite carriage of broadcast programming. The changes relating to carriage of “significantly viewed” stations have now made it into the Federal Register, which means that those rules are slated to become effective on December 29, 2010. Effective dates for the other recent STELA-induced changes haven’t been set yet – check back here for updates.
FCC meets Congressionally-imposed Thanksgiving deadline for revised satellite carriage rules
As we reported last August, the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (you may know it better as “STELA”) – the legislation extending local station carriage rights for satellite providers – required the FCC to change certain of its rules relating to “significantly viewed” stations and “unserved households”. In response, the FCC dutifully, and quickly, launched proceedings to address those issues.
And now, a remarkably short four months later, the FCC has released three orders implementing the new rules. As a bonus, it has also given us a public notice requesting comments and data for an upcoming FCC report to Congress on the availability of in-state broadcast stations over satellite systems. For the most part, the orders simply put into the FCC’s rules the requirements laid out by STELA.
Significantly Viewed Stations Order
One order addresses questions relating to “significantly viewed” (SV) stations. As to eligibility for receiving certain SV signals, the Commission concludes that, in order to be eligible to receive an out-of-market SV network affiliate station, satellite subscribers will be required only to take their carrier’s local-into-local service package, regardless of whether that package includes an in-market affiliate of the same network. (Previously, a subscriber was not eligible to receive an out-of-market SV network affiliate unless the subscriber actually received, via satellite, the local in-market station affiliated with the same network.) Additionally, the FCC has modified its stance on situations in which there is no local affiliate of the same network as the SV station. From here on out, a satellite operator may offer an SV network station to a subscriber when there is no local affiliate of the same network present in the local market, even if the subscriber does not receive local-into-local service.
Gone is the old requirement that satellite carriers devote “equivalent bandwidth” to the carriage of the local in-market station as compared to the out-of-market SV station. The new STELA-imposed rules adopt the approach we previously described as the “HD or no HD approach”. That is, now a satellite operator may carry a network-affiliated SV station in HD, so long as the satellite operator carries the local station affiliated with the same network in HD whenever such format is available from the local station. (When is HD “available” for these purposes? The Commission has crafted a three-part test to make that determination.) The new rules also require satellite carriage of a secondary HD stream of a local station’s multicast signal if that stream is affiliated with the same network as an SV station retransmitted in HD to satellite subscribers in the local market.
Again, most of these changes were imposed on the FCC by STELA, so they should not come as a surprise to anyone. Importantly, the new rules make it easier for satellite operators to bring SV stations into a market. In-market stations will need to take that fact into account when weighing their options vis-à-vis mandatory carriage and granting retransmission consent. It’s easy to envision a situation in which an in-market network affiliate elects, unsuccessfully, to negotiate for retransmission consent, only to find an out-of-market SV station with the same affiliation being the sole network affiliate represented in those parts of the market in which the SV station is “significantly viewed”.
The new SV rules will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, which is currently scheduled to occur on November 26. Check back here to confirm the effective date.
Signal Prediction/Signal Measurement Orders
The FCC’s other orders deal with the technical requirements involved in the carriage of distant signals to “unserved households”. Satellite operators are permitted to provide a distant network-affiliated station to subscribers who are unable to receive an adequate over-the-air signal from the local affiliate of that network. And conversely, households which do receive an adequate over-the-air signal from the local affiliate are generally not eligible to get the distant signal by satellite (apart from SV stations, of course). Determining which households are “unserved”, of course, requires methods for predicting and measuring signals.
STELA required the FCC to develop a “point-to-point predictive model for reliably and presumptively determining the ability of individual locations, through the use of an antenna, to receive” a digital TV signal of specified strength. (An analog model is already in place but, in this post-DTV transition world, it’s useful only for the remaining analog LPTVs and TV translators.) Additionally, STELA required a resolution to the long-pending-still-unresolved proceeding to establish a procedure for on-site measurement of actual DTV signal reception.
Following STELA’s commands, the Commission has adopted a point-to-point predictive model for determining the ability of individual locations to receive an adequate over-the-air digital television broadcast signal through the use of an antenna. As expected, a new digital Individual Location Longley-Rice (ILLR) model will be used to determine whether individual households are eligible to receive the signals of distant network-affiliated digital television stations (including TV translator and low power television stations) from their satellite carrier.
The FCC has also continued the use of the “F(50,90) specifications” in the digital ILLR model. For those that don’t speak fluent geek, those two values – i.e., 50 and 90 – refer to location and time variability factors of evaluating signal strength. That is, within the area encompassed by an F(50,90) contour, at least 50% of the locations can be expected to receive a signal that exceeds the field strength value at least 90% of the time. This was the “old” standard in the analog world and the FCC found that it continues to be the appropriate standard for digital television. The new standard provides no special adjustment or procedure in the model for network signals carried on multicast program streams. The FCC’s assumption here is that if a household is predicted to receive a station, then all of that station’s program streams would be received equally.
A minor controversy arose from the STELA-mandated definition of the term “unserved household”. The STELA-imposed definition did not specify the use of a “conventional, stationary outdoor rooftop antenna”; instead, it simply referred to the use of “an antenna”. Some suggested that this change meant that signal predictions must assume the use of a less effective indoor antenna, drastically increasing the potential number of “unserved households”. The FCC acknowledged that the revised definition did afford the FCC more flexibility in determining the types of antennas that might be used. Nevertheless, the Commission ultimately found that an approach that specifies an outdoor antenna at six meters above ground for one-story structures and nine meters above ground for taller structures was most consistent with the DTV signal strength prediction model required by STELA.
The new prediction method will become effective 30 days after they are published in the Federal Register. No word yet on when that publication is likely to occur.
Occasionally, of course, an individual might dispute the signal strength predicted by this new digital ILLR model. The third of the FCC’s STELA orders revises the signal strength measurement procedures used to determine the actual – as opposed to the predicted – DTV signal at any specific location. A viewer denied distant signals on the basis of the predicted signal strength can ask for the actual signal strength to be measured using the amended procedures. If the measured signal strength shows the location is “unserved” then the viewer is eligible for distant signals. The FCC largely continued the use of prior procedures, tweaking them as necessary to address the differences between analog and digital TV signals.
Digital signal measurement procedures now include new provisions for the location of the measurement antenna, antenna height, signal measurement method, antenna orientation and polarization, and data recording. As with the predictive model, the FCC disagreed with those insisting that STELA required the use of an indoor antenna in conducting signal strength tests. Rather, the FCC continues to mandate the use of outdoor antennas in such tests. In addition, the new procedures measure only stations located within the same DMA as the satellite subscriber’s household.
The revised measurement method will not become effective until they have been approved by OMB. Check back here for updates on that process.
In-State Broadcasting Public Notice
Finally, the FCC issued a public notice seeking information that may be incorporated into the STELA-mandated report on issues relating to satellite carriage of “in-state” broadcast stations. Motivated by claims that some satellite subscribers are wrongfully denied satellite access to broadcast stations located in the same state because the station and subscribers are in different DMAs, Congress required the FCC to investigate the issue and submit a report to Congress by August 27, 2011. To develop the basis for such a report, the public notice seeks input from the public on a variety of factors, including the methodologies, metrics, data sources and “levels of granularity” to be used in the report.
According to the public notice, the report will: (1) analyze the number of households in a state that receive the signals of local broadcast stations assigned to a community of license located in a different state; (2) evaluate the extent to which consumers in each local market have access to in-state broadcast programming over-the-air or from a multichannel video programming distributor; and (3) consider whether there are alternatives to DMAs to define “local” markets that would provide consumers with more in-state broadcast programming. Through this process, the FCC believes it will identify counties and associated populations within specific states that have limited access to in-state broadcast programming.
Comments in response to the public notice will be due 45 days after it is published in the Federal Register; reply comments will be due 75 days after Federal Register publication. Check back here for updates.
It is unlikely that new rules will immediately result from the FCC’s investigation and report. Still, stations located in DMAs that cross state lines should pay particular attention to this item, as satellite and cable operators have been arguing for some time that they should have the right to bring distant, but same-state, signals to their subscribers in the name of providing programming that is “local” to those subscribers. In particular, broadcasters will need to consider the FCC’s inquiries into whether there should be some alternative to the use of DMAs in determining carriage or whether the existing DMAs should be modified to better conform to state lines. Such changes would have a significant impact on stations’ advertising and programming operations, ownership restrictions, carriage rights and network exclusivity.
Out-of-market satellite carriage rules to be modified before Thanksgiving
In late May Congress finally got around to passing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010, affectionately referred to as STELA. In so doing, Congress ordered the FCC to crank up a couple of rulemaking proceedings, pronto, to implement changes largely dictated by STELA. As a result, we are now faced with two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRMs), each with very short comment periods, and each addressing distinct aspects of satellite carriage, within a DMA, of broadcast signals from outside that DMA.
STELA extends, with some changes, the right of satellite TV providers to retransmit the signals of local broadcast stations. That right has been around in one form or another since 1988’s Satellite Home Viewer Act (SHVA), later revised in 1999’s Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act (SHVIA) and then again in 2004’s Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act (SHVERA). (SHVERA technically expired as of December 31, 2009 – but Congress extended it in a series of stop-gap measures, giving itself time to work out the kinks in STELA.)
In addition to extending the overall right of satellite operators to carry broadcast signals, STELA provides for several noteworthy modifications in the rules governing importation of out-of-market signals. It is those modifications that are the focus of the FCC’s NPRMs. One deals primarily with questions involving satellite carriage of “significantly viewed” stations; the other focuses on technical questions in determining whether certain households are “unserved”, a determination which affects carriage of distant network-affiliated stations.
Significantly Viewed Stations NPRM
Normally, a satellite operator – like its cable confrères – is supposed to retransmit only broadcast signals within the DMA where those signals originate. There are exceptions, though – including the ability to carry broadcast stations that are shown to be “significantly viewed” (SV) within the target market, even if those stations are not technically located within that market (or DMA). (The FCC maintains a list of stations that have met the SV standards.) Under the previous satellite carriage laws, SV carriage was subject to certain restrictions. STELA eases those restrictions.
HD or no HD – That is the question. Under SHVERA, a satellite operator seeking to retransmit an SV signal of network-affiliated station could do so only if the operator afforded the local network-affiliated station bandwidth equivalent to that afforded to the SV station. The idea was to assure that the local guy wouldn’t get short-changed with a “less robust” carriage format than the SV station. But that “bandwidth” approach imposed a significant burden on satellite carriers that effectively discouraged them from availing themselves of the SV opportunity.
No more. STELA shifts the focus from the hyper-technical “bandwidth” approach to a simpler “HD or no HD” approach. That is, under STELA, a satellite operator may carry a network-affiliated SV station in HD as long as the operator carries the local network affiliate in HD when that local affiliate is broadcasting in HD. The FCC seeks comment on this change – but, since Congress has mandated this approach, it’s a mortal lock to be adopted. Oh sure, there may be some subsidiary issues to be fine-tuned by the Commission – Is it OK for the FCC to use the ATSC definition of “HD” (and if so, does that lead to any potential issues)? How should the rule apply to situations where a local affiliate is broadcasting network programming in HD on a secondary stream? etc. – but it seems reasonably certain that we can kiss good-bye to “bandwidth” and embrace “HD or no HD” as the operative consideration in this area.
Local-into-local doesn’t mean “ALL local-into-local”. Previously, the Commission required that a network-affiliate SV signal could be provided to a satellite subscriber only if that subscriber also received the signal of that network's local affiliate as well. No longer. STELA abandons that approach, replacing it with the simpler concept that, if a satellite subscriber receives “local-into-local” retransmissions of local broadcast signals, that subscriber may receive SV signals as well. (Actually, Congress’s previous take on this was less than 100% clear, thus allowing the FCC to interpret it as it did; STELA, however, reins the FCC in on this point.)
This change could have a significant impact on the perennial triennial question of “must carry vs. retransmission consent”. A network affiliate which elects retrans but fails to cut a deal and, thus, finds itself not being carried will have opened the door for an SV station with the same affiliation to become the de facto representative of that network in the market, at least as far as satellite carriage is concerned. Under the old FCC approach, if the local network station didn’t get carried on the satellite for whatever reason, then the SV network station couldn’t get carried, either – which meant that failure of retrans consent negotiations simply left both the local and the SV affiliate off the menu. Now, such a failure could create a situation in which the SV station might be carried, even if the in-market affiliate is not.
Other housekeeping items. In addition to the major items described above, the Commission’s SV NPRM addresses several minor “housekeeping” issues (like abandoning, at long last, the term “non-cable” and subbing in “over-the-air” in its place).
Comments on the SV NPRM are due by August 17, 2010, and reply comments by August 27.
“Unserved Households” NPRM
Satellite operators are permitted to provide a distant (i.e., out-of-market) network-affiliate station – whether or not that station has SV status – to subscribers who are unable to receive an adequate over-the-air signal from the local affiliate of that network. And conversely, households which do receive an adequate over-the-air signal from the local affiliate (whether that local guy happens to be a full service TV, LPTV or TV translator) are generally not eligible to get the distant signal by satellite. The devil, as is usually the case, is in the details: how exactly does one determine – whether by measurement or prediction – the adequacy of an over-the-air signal for these purposes?
STELA charged the FCC with the chore of developing a “point-to-point predictive model for reliably and presumptively determining the ability of individual locations, through the use of an antenna, to receive” a digital TV signal of specified strength. (An analog model is already in place but, in this post-DTV transition world, it's useful only for the remaining analog LPTVs and TV translators.) Additionally, Congress ordered the Commission to get a move on and wrap up a long-pending-still-unresolved proceeding looking to establish a procedure for on-site measurement of actual DTV signal reception. The “unserved households” NPRM is the FCC’s response.
Tweaking (or not) the existing predictive model. With respect to a predictive model, the Commission proposes to use the tried-and-true SHVIA Individual Location Longley-Rice model (SHVIA ILLR model), with appropriate tweaks to address DTV considerations. For example, the Commission would use the DTV noise-limited service contour values (check them out in Section 73.622(e)(1) of the rules) as the standard for an adequate signal. (The analog model uses the Grade B contour, a concept which does not exist in DTV-land.) The Commission would also shift to an F(50,90) service contour, rather than the F(50,50) contour historically used for the SHVIA ILLR model – but that change is a function of the DTV transition. The F(50,50) curves are utilized for analog measurement, while DTV service is measured with F(50,90) curves.
(What the heck is this all about, you ask? The two values – i.e., 50 and 90 in F(50,90) – refer to location and time variability factors, respectively. That is, within the area encompassed by an F(50,90) contour, at least 50% of the locations can be expected to receive a signal that exceeds the field strength value at least 90% of the time.)
Perhaps more importantly, though, the Commission is not inclined to alter the model with respect to the type of antenna assumed to be in use by the viewer. In its earlier version of the satellite carriage law, Congress’s definition of “unserved household” was based on that household’s ability to receive an adequate signal using a “conventional, stationary outdoor rooftop antenna”. But STELA revised that definition by referring only to “an antenna”, dropping the significant limitations of “conventional”, “stationary” or, perhaps most importantly, “outdoor rooftop”. In most instances, an “outdoor rooftop” antenna is likely to receive a stronger signal than would a set of 1950s era rabbit ears sitting on top of the TV. Thus, deleting “outdoor” from the definition could have made it easier for any given household to assert that it was unserved.
Citing impracticability, the Commission proposes to stick with its existing approach: the predictive model would be based on use of an outdoor antenna. The FCC recognizes that this may have an adverse impact on households which cannot have an outdoor antenna for one or another reason, and it professes to be open to comments advocating use of an indoor antenna model. Anybody who tries that, though, should be prepared to provide “detailed technical information regarding the specific standards” that would be involved, focusing on such factors as antenna characteristics, building penetration loss, multipath effects, etc. The Commission is also worried about how an indoor antenna approach – which would necessarily entail a wide variety of differing situations – could be developed into a standard predictive model not subject to abuse.
On-site measurements – which, what, how? STELA (like its predecessors) provides that, even if the predictive model indicates that a particular household receives a local network station adequately, that household can request an on-site measurement to determine whether the prediction is, in fact, correct. But STELA still requires the Commission to take another look at its existing measurement methods.
With respect to which stations are to be measured, STELA departs from its predecessors by specifying that only “local” stations are relevant. That means that only the signals of network-affiliated stations in the same DMA as the satellite subscriber are to be measured. With respect to what component(s) of the signals is/are to be measured – say, for example, a station happens to be broadcasting network programming on a multicast, rather than primary, stream – the Commission has tentatively decided simply to measure the station’s overall signal strength. Its assumption there is that the receivability of a station's signal will not vary from one stream to the next.
And as for how the signal is to be measured, the Commission plans to stick with outdoor measurement only. Indoor, moveable antennas give rise to a boatload of variables: for example, there are many different types of antennas; also, signal strengths vary from room to room, and from one particular spot to another in any particular room. Accordingly, the FCC doubts its ability to develop an indoor measurement procedure. Still, the Commission invites comments and suggestions for those supporting indoor measurements.
Comments on the “Unserved Households” NPRM are due to be filed by August 24, 2010, with reply comments due by September 3.
Yes, both sets of comment periods (for the SV NPRM and the Unserved Households NPRM) are very abbreviated, but Congress ordered the Commission to get its rules implementing STELA in place by November 24, which doesn’t give it much time.