FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION

FACT SHEET

December 2000

SATELLITE HOME VIEWER IMPROVEMENT ACT OF 1999

1. What is the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999?

A: The President signed The Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999 ("SHVIA") on November 29, 1999. SHVIA significantly modifies the Satellite Home Viewer Act of 1988, the Communications Act and the U.S. Copyright Act. SHVIA is designed to promote competition among multichannel video programming distributors, such as satellite companies and cable television operators while, at the same time, increasing the programming choices available to consumers.

2. How does SHVIA affect the programming that is available to persons who subscribe to satellite TV service?

A: Most significantly, for the first time, SHVIA permits satellite companies to provide local broadcast TV signals to all subscribers who reside in the local TV stationís market (also referred to as a Designated Market Area ("DMA")), as defined by Nielsen Media Research. This ability to provide local broadcast channels is commonly referred to as "local into local" service. SHVIA also permits satellite companies to provide "distant" network broadcast stations to eligible satellite subscribers.

3. Does this mean that a satellite company must provide the local channels to any subscriber who wants the channels?

A: No. The satellite company has the option of providing local-into-local service, but is not required to do so. Some satellite companies are already providing this service in selected markets. By the end of 2000, the two largest satellite companies have indicated that they will provide local television broadcast signals in markets serving more than 50% of all American households. Subscribers should contact their satellite company to determine whether and when the service will be available in their specific DMA and which DMA applies to them.

4. I currently subscribe to cable TV service. Is there a waiting period before I may receive local channels from a satellite company?

A: No. The Satellite Home Viewer Act of 1988 required that a person who terminated cable service wait 90 days before being able to receive broadcast network TV stations from a satellite company. The new SHVIA law has eliminated this requirement.

5. Is the satellite company required to provide local-into-local service at no charge to the subscriber?

A: No. The satellite company may impose a fee for this service.

6. If my satellite company provides local-into-local, will I be able to receive all of the broadcast channels in my local market?

A: Initially, your satellite company will determine the channels you receive. Generally, the satellite companies are planning to provide only the local network affiliates of the major networks, i.e., ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX. Thus, you may not receive other networks or local independent stations. Further, after May 30, 2000, the TV stations must agree to be carried on the satellite system. If the satellite company and the TV station are unable to agree after this date, the TV station may no longer be carried on the satellite system. In addition, beginning January 1, 2002, a satellite company that has chosen to provide local-into-local service will be required to provide subscribers with all of the local broadcast TV signals that are assigned to that DMA and that ask to be carried on the satellite system. However, a satellite company will not be required to carry more than one local broadcast TV station that is affiliated with a particular TV network unless the TV stations are licensed to communities in different states. On November 2, 2000, the FCC issued a Report and Order that implements these SHVIA requirements. The Report and Order is designated as "FCC 00-388" and can be downloaded from the link above or, you may purchase a copy from Qualex International at 202-863-2893.

7. Is there a way for a satellite subscriber to obtain network programming if the satellite company has elected not to provide local-into-local service?

A: Yes. Your first option would be to install an antenna so that you can receive your local broadcast TV stations over-the-air. If you are unable to receive your local broadcast TV stations with an outdoor over-the-air rooftop antenna, you may qualify as an "unserved household." If so, you would be eligible to receive no more than two distant network affiliated signals per day for each TV network. A "distant signal" is one that originates outside of a satellite subscriberís local television market, the DMA. For example, if the household is "unserved" the household could receive no more than two ABC stations, no more than two NBC stations, etc.

8. What is an "unserved household?

A: The term "unserved household" means a household that: (a) cannot receive, through the use of a conventional, stationary, outdoor rooftop antenna, an over-the-air network signal of Grade B intensity as defined by the FCC; (b) is a subscriber to whom the moratorium applies; (c) is a subscriber whose dish is permanently attached to a recreational vehicle or a commercial truck; (d) is a subscriber to whom the C-band exemption applies; or (e) is subject to a waiver granted by the television network station.

9. What is a Grade B signal?

A: The Grade B signal intensity is an FCC-defined measurement of the strength of a television stationís signal as received at a specific location. Generally, a Grade B signal will provide a television picture that is "acceptable" for viewing purposes. SHVIA requires that the FCC initiate a proceeding that will result in a submission of findings to Congress concerning whether the Grade B signal standard should be modified or replaced by some other standard that would be more appropriate for determining whether a household is unserved. On May 26, 2000, the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry ("Notice") seeking information and comment that will be used as a basis for this submission. The Notice is designated as "FCC 00-184" and can be downloaded from the link above or, you may purchase a copy from Qualex International at 202-863-2893.

10. How do subscribers know if they are "unserved"?

A: The FCC created a computer model for satellite companies and television stations to use to predict whether a given household is served or unserved. Congress incorporated this model into SHVIA, but also required the FCC to improve the accuracy of the model by modifying it to include vegetation and buildings among the factors to be considered. On May 26, 2000, the FCC issued a First Report and Order ("Order"), which modified this computer model to consider the effects of terrain, building structures, and land cover variations in determining whether a household is served or unserved. The FCC will continue to refine and improve the model as additional data become available. The Order is designated as "FCC 00-185" and can be downloaded from the link above or, you may purchase a copy from Qualex International at 202-863-2893. The satellite company, distributor, or retailer from whom you obtained your satellite system and programming should be able to tell you whether the model predicts that you are "served" or "unserved." (The FCC does not provide these predictions.) If you are "unserved", you are eligible to receive distant network signals. If you are "served", you are not eligible to receive such signals.

11. What if I disagree with what the model predicts?

A: If you disagree with the modelís prediction, you may request a "waiver" from each local network TV station that you are predicted to be able to receive. If the waiver is granted, you will be eligible to receive the distant signals. SHVIA outlines a specific process for requesting a waiver. SHVIA requires that the satellite subscriber submit the request for a waiver, through the satellite company, to the local network TV station. The local network TV station has 30 days from the date that it receives the waiver request to either grant or deny the request. If the local network TV station does not issue a decision within 30 days, the request for a waiver is considered to be granted and the satellite company may provide the distant signals.

12. What happens if the request for a waiver is denied?

A: The SHVIA provides that if the local network TV station(s) denies the request for a waiver, the subscriber may submit a request to the satellite company to have a signal strength test performed at the subscriberís location to determine whether the subscriberís signal is at least Grade B intensity. The satellite company and the local network TV station(s) that denied the waiver will then select a qualified and independent person to conduct the signal test. SHVIA requires that the test be performed no more than 30 days after the subscriber submits the request to the satellite provider. If the test reveals that the subscriber does not receive at least a Grade B signal of the local network TV station, the subscriber may receive the signal of a distant TV station that is affiliated with that network.

13. Suppose the satellite company and the TV station do not agree on the person to conduct the signal strength test?

A: In the event that a satellite company and the TV station are unable to agree, SHVIA requires that the FCC designate an independent and neutral entity to select the person or organization to conduct the test. On May 26, 2000, the FCC issued a Report and Order, FCC 00-185, which designated the American Radio Relay League ("ARRL") as the independent and neutral entity for this purpose. The satellite provider and the TV station are supposed to work with the ARRL to select the person or organization that will conduct the signal strength test. The ARRL cannot designate the person or organization to conduct the test in response to a request from a consumer.

14. Who pays for the signal strength test?

A: SHVIA states that unless the satellite company and the TV station agree otherwise, either the TV station or the satellite company will pay the expense of the test. If the test shows that the satellite subscriber is able to receive a signal of at least Grade B, the satellite company will pay for the test. If the test reveals that the satellite subscriber cannot receive a Grade B signal, the TV station will pay for the test.

15. Is the satellite company required to provide distant signals?

A: No. As with local signals, the satellite company determines whether to provide distant signals to eligible subscribers and which distant signals will be offered. Satellite companies also may charge an additional fee for these distant signals.

16. What happens to subscribers whose distant signals were turned off last year or who were told they would lose their distant signals?

A: In order to address situations where satellite subscribers had (or soon would have had) their distant network signals terminated because the subscribers did not meet the statutory criteria for receiving such signals, SHVIA imposes a "moratorium" that protects such satellite subscribers from having their distant signals terminated. These so-called "grandfathered" subscribers may retain their distant network signals if:

The subscriber is not predicted to receive the local television stationís signal at a Grade A level of intensity as defined by the FCC (a significantly stronger signal than Grade B) over-the-air; and

    1. the subscriber had the distant network signal(s) terminated after July 11, 1998, but before October 31, 1999; or
    2. the subscriber was receiving distant network service on October 31, 1999.

However, a satellite company is not obligated to restore a grandfathered subscriberís distant network service.

17. Does this mean that a grandfathered satellite subscriber will retain the distant network signals until the subscriber decides to terminate satellite service?

A: No. The moratorium expires on December 31, 2004. After this date, satellite subscribers who were grandfathered will have to meet the criteria for "unserved" households in order to receive distant network signals. Alternatively, these subscribers may install a rooftop antenna to receive local signals over-the-air or may receive local-into-local service, if it is being offered. Also, grandfathered status only applies to subscribers who are receiving the same distant TV networks, from the same satellite company, using the same transmission technology, at the same location as they were on October 31, 1999 or when they were terminated after July 11, 1998. If grandfathered subscribers change satellite companies, switch to a new type of satellite dish, or move to a new address, they lose their grandfathered status and their eligibility to receive distant signals.

18. How does the exemption for recreational vehicles and commercial trucks apply?

A: The "recreational vehicle" must meet the definition contained in regulations issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The "commercial truck" must meet the definition contained in regulations issued by the Department of Transportation. The owner of the recreational vehicle or the commercial truck must produce the required legal documentation and include a signed declaration that the satellite dish is permanently attached to the vehicle or to the truck. SHVIA specifically states that the terms "recreational vehicle" and "commercial truck" do not include any fixed dwelling, whether a mobile home or otherwise.

HUD regulations (Title 24 Code of Federal Regulations, Section 3282.8) define "recreational vehicle" as a vehicle that is: (1) built on a single chassis; (2) 400 square feet or less when measured at the largest horizontal projections; (3) self-propelled or permanently towable by a light duty truck; and (4) designed primarily not for use as a permanent dwelling but as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping, travel, or seasonal use.

DOT regulations (Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations, Section 383.5) define "commercial motor vehicle" as a motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicles used in commerce to transport passengers or property if the motor vehicle: (a) has a gross combination weight rating of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more) inclusive of a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds); or (b) has a gross vehicle weight rating of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 pounds or more); or (c) is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; or (d) is of any size and is used in the transportation of materials found to be hazardous for the purpose of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and which require the motor vehicle to be placarded under the Hazardous Materials Regulations (Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations part 172, subpart F).

Please note that these are the current definitions. You may wish to contact HUD and/or DOT to determine whether the regulations have been modified. Also, the Code of Federal Regulations is available in many public libraries.

19. How does the C-band exemption apply?

A: Generally, C-band service uses a large satellite dish. Persons who subscribe to C-band service may continue to receive distant network television signals if such signals were being received on October 31, 1999 or if the signals were terminated before October 31, 1999. Persons who first subscribed to C-band services after October 31, 1999 are not covered by this exemption.

20. Are satellite subscribers able to receive the "superstations"?

A: Distant TV signals that meet certain legal requirements are called "nationally distributed superstations" and include the following six broadcast TV stations: KTLA-TV (Los Angeles); KWGN-TV (Denver); WPIX-TV (New York); WWOR-TV (New York); WGN-TV (Chicago); and WSBK-TV (Boston). A satellite company may choose to provide these and other superstations to subscribers even though the satellite company is not providing local-into-local service. In addition, all subscribers - whether served or unserved Ė are eligible to receive these "superstations." Effective November 29, 2000, the Commission's rules concerning network non-duplication, syndicated exclusivity and sports blackouts will apply to satellite carriage of these six superstations. Sports blackouts will also apply to satellite carriage of network television stations. This could mean that, as required by SHVIA, TV stations and others with exclusive rights to certain programs in specific areas may require satellite carriers to delete certain programs, including sports events, so that the program or event cannot be viewed by subscribers in specific areas. These deletions are only permitted if the broadcaster, syndicator, or sports team has exclusive rights to the program in a specific area. For more information about these rules, consult the Report and Order, FCC 00-388, released November 2, 2000. You may obtain a copy of this document using the link above or by calling the FCC at 1-888-CALL FCC (1-888-225-5322). This is a toll free call.

21. Are satellite subscribers able to receive a PBS TV station?

A: SHVIA permits satellite companies to distribute a national PBS signal to all subscribers Ė served and unserved - until January 1, 2002. No waiver is required to be eligible for this national PBS signal. It may be that this national PBS signal does not include PBS programming that is of purely local interest. For example, your local PBS station may broadcast a program concerning local political issues. This program is not likely to be available on the national PBS signal. However, the satellite company may provide the local PBS station as part of its local-into-local service. After January 1, 2002, satellite companies may choose to provide the local PBS affiliate or another noncommercial station within a local market or may provide the national PBS signal to subscribers that are eligible to receive distant signals.

22. Whom should I contact for additional information?

A: If you have questions about the availability of local-into-local service in your specific area, your eligibility to receive distant TV signals, the procedure for obtaining a waiver, or other specific information about your satellite service, you should contact your satellite company or distributor.

If you have questions about this Fact Sheet or SHVIA in general, you may contact the FCC Call Center, toll free, at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322).

List of Related Documents

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