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Federal Communications Commission
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Washington, D.C. 20554
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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

Report No. CS 98-16 CABLE SERVICES ACTION November 17, 1998

(CS Docket 98-201)

In order to better identify those consumers who can and cannot get their local broadcast television stations over the air, the Commission has adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (FCC 98-302) seeking comment on the way it defines, measures, and predicts the strength of television signals. Television signal intensity is the key element in determining whether a consumer is "unserved" by broadcast network stations and, thus, is eligible to receive those stations using a home satellite dish under the 1988 Satellite Home Viewer Act (SHVA).

This rulemaking was precipitated by two petitions for rulemaking filed by the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) and EchoStar Communications Corporation and by two federal court rulings, in Miami and Raleigh. In the Miami case, the court found that PrimeTime 24, a satellite carrier that retransmits broadcast network signals, has violated the SHVA by illegally delivering broadcast network service to subscribers who are served by over-the-air stations. The SHVA, which is part of the copyright laws, permits satellite subscribers to receive broadcast network affiliate programming via satellite only if they are "unserved," meaning unable to receive an over-the-air signal of Grade B intensity using a rooftop antenna. Grade B is a Commission-defined measure of signal strength. The Miami court followed its ruling with a preliminary injunction, which is scheduled to take effect on February 28, 1999, and which could result in the termination of network signals to between 700,000 and one million subscribers nationwide. The NRTC and EchoStar petitions ask the Commission to amend its rules relating to signals of Grade B intensity.

The notice of proposed rulemaking seeks comment on the extent of the Commission's authority to amend its Grade B definition only for purposes of the SHVA. The notice also asks for comment on how the definition of signal of Grade B intensity could be redefined and how better to measure the signal intensity at a particular household. In addition, the notice invites proposals for methods to predict which households are likely to receive a Grade B signal.

The notice also seeks comment on what, if any, effects our actions may have on network-affiliate relationships and localism. Finally, the notice acknowledges that we do not appear to have statutory authority under the SHVA to prevent most of the subscribers involved in the court cases from losing service. The evidence in those cases strongly suggests that many, if not most, of PrimeTime 24's subscribers do not live in "unserved households."

Because the court decisions that would terminate network service for many consumers will take effect on February 28, 1999, this proceeding will be conducted on an expedited basis with comments due on December 11, 1998 and reply comments due on December 21, 1998.

Action by the Commission November 17, 1998, by Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 98-302). Chairman Kennard, Commissioners Ness, Furchtgott-Roth, Powell and Tristani.

-FCC -

News Media contact: Morgan Broman at (202) 418-2358.
Cable Services Bureau contact: Donald Fowler, Jr. at (202) 418-7200.
Cable Services Bureau TTY number (202) 418-7172