FCC Blocks Ordinance on Satellite Dishes

After City Councilor Sal LaMattina pushed through an ordinance to regulate how satellite dishes are installed in neighborhoods like East Boston, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) blocked the measure last year.

Under pressure from the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association (SBCA) the FCC folded to the huge lobbying power of the SBCA after they threatened to file a lawsuit against the city and other cities trying to pass similar ordinances.

LaMattina’s ordinance has been in limbo for 11 months but now a FCC watchdog group is siding with LaMattina and Boston.

During a recent committee meeting, the Intergovernmental Advisory Committee (IAC), a federally mandated group created to guide the FCC on state and local matters, called the FCC inaction on the matter inappropriate because there is currently no legal justification prohibiting local governments from regulating how satellite dishes are placed.

This could be a big win for LaMattina’s if the IAC forces the FCC to lift the block on the city’s ordinance.

The Chairwoman of the IAC, Joyce Dickerson said the committee thinks that ordinances like LaMattina’s should be up to local governments and the FCC should take action immediately.

The satellite dish companies planned to file a lawsuit to block LaMattina’s ordinance. The proposed ordinance would have focused on the installation, maintenance, use and removal of satellite dishes in Eastie and across the city.

The ordinance would for the first time force dish companies or subscribers to remove inactive dishes on residential or commercial properties before a new one is installed.

Since 2010 LaMattina has been working to find a solution to address the clutter of satellite dishes hanging off the fronts of many of Eastie’s multi-families.

“They tried to pass a similar ordinance in Philadelphia and the satellite companies filed a lawsuit there and the FCC blocked the ordinance,” explained LaMattina. “We were prepared for the satellite companies to try and block any ordinance.”

LaMattina said he plans to travel to Washington D.C. and plead his case to the FCC.

“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.”

Since May 2010, LaMattina and the city have tried to work with satellite dish providers and landlords to identify dishes that have been abandoned or are no longer in working order. According to the city, satellite dish providers charge a $400 fee for the removal of a dish to subscribers. The problem in Eastie is once a resident moves from a property, the former subscriber simply abandons the dish. This adds to the visual problem because many times the satellite dish company will come out and slap another dish to the side of a home without first removing the older dish.

“This is why there are sometimes six or seven dishes on the front of one home that has seen a large turnaround in renters,” said LaMattina.

Aside from the plan to remove as many non-functioning dishes from the front of homes the ordinance also calls for the placement of dishes on rooftops or in other inconspicuous spaces if it is reasonable to do so and does not interfere with the subscribers service.

Eastie is second to only North Dorchester when it comes to number of satellite dish subscribers.

In October 2011, LaMattina toured Eagle Hill with representatives from U.S. satellite dish companies like Direct T.V. and showed them how dishes hanging off the front of triple-deckers here have blighted the neighborhood.

The dishes companies agreed that the neighborhood looked awful so LaMattina and the dish companies began meeting with city officials to discuss possible solutions to the proliferation of unsightly satellite dishes hanging off the front of homes in the neighborhood.

LaMattina and the satellite companies then came up with a pilot program that both parties were excited about and would have addressed the problem.

The plan was to remove as many non-functioning dishes from the front of homes and place future dishes on rooftops or in other inconspicuous spaces on the homes that line Eagle Hill.

The pilot program that was to be launched in Eastie and then rolled out to the rest of the city. All parties involved hinted that the program here could possibly spread across the nation.

However, the plan hit a snag due to an ongoing lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia. There, the city council passed an ordinance banning the placement of satellite dishes on the front of residential homes in urban areas.

The satellite dish companies petitioned the FCC to protect the companies from the ordinance and then all hell broke loose.

The executives that saw Eastie’s problem first hand began to get cold feet and were advised by their lawyers not to take part in the Boston pilot program until the lawsuit in Philadelphia was resolved.

LaMattina, who was hoping to get the pilot program in Eastie done on merit without having to involve the City Council had no other choice but to seek an ordinance here in Boston and face a similar lawsuit as the one in Philadelphia.

LaMattina said he was hoping to avoid a formal ordinance because the dish companies and city had been working together in the best interest of the neighborhood before the issue in Philadelphia began.

A bit different from Philadelphia’s ordinance, LaMattina’s ordinance does not completely ban the dishes from the front of buildings in Eastie and the rest of the city.

Instead LaMattina wants to see satellite dish companies make every effort and exhaust all other possibilities before placing a dish on the front of a home in Boston. LaMattina said he wants to see the companies make every effort to install these dishes on the roof or the sides of buildings and remove non-functioning dishes.

“It’s not punish satellite companies or subscribers but begin to work towards a solution that addresses the problem,” said LaMattina.

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