As Dishes Stack Up, Cities Start Trying to Put Them Away

Daily News Article   —   Posted on May 7, 2012

(By Jennifer Levitz, WSJ.com) BOSTON – When Afroditi Kleftis wanted an array of channels so patrons at her Laundromat could watch soap operas, she had a satellite dish mounted above her front window.

Her television-watching upstairs neighbors did the same, so there are now three satellite dishes mounted on the facade of the triple-decker in East Boston. “One is OK, but so many,” said Ms. Kleftis, 71 years old, shaking her head. “It looks like a spaceship.”

Her house is hardly the only spot where the saucers have landed. Along some streets in East Boston, satellite dishes protrude from nearly every house, with some multifamily structures decked with as many as eight. Other cities are reporting a similar outbreak. “We have blocks that look like NASA or Area 51,” said William Carter, a chief staffer for the Philadelphia City Council. …

Satellite dishes in East Boston, where officials complain of an 'epidemiiguring out what to do with all the old dishes can be a challenge.

Figuring out what to do with all the old dishes [is also] a challenge.  Fed up, officials around the country are serving up plans to dismiss the dish. They look tacky, said Chicago Alderman Ray Suarez.

“It’s just ugly,” said Boston City Councilman Sal LaMattina, waving down a dish-decked street in East Boston, an enclave near Logan Airport. He called a public hearing this month on the “satellite dish epidemic.”

Dishes have been around for years, and there have long been gripes about their appearance. But in the past, the industry has typically gone up against homeowner associations and condo boards. Today, cities are trying to get people to clean up their dishes.

Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago are among tht cities that have recently passed or are drafting laws banning satellite dishes from the fronts of homes, unless a signal can’t be obtained another way.

Dish companies would generally have to mount the dishes on sides, rears or roofs of homes so they aren’t obvious from the street—and pick them up when customers move and leave dishes behind.

The dish industry calls the ordinances a “terrible idea,” and is asking the Federal Communications Commission to intervene, arguing the new regulations, current and proposed, are discriminatory and costly. …

“A small but growing number of cities have recently singled out satellite dishes for regulation…arguing that satellite dishes are uniquely ugly,” the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association, the industry trade group, said in a statement.

“It is hard to understand why a satellite dish is any more ‘aesthetically unpleasing,’ ” the group wrote, than other urban apparatus like “the multitude of air conditioning boxes that stick out of windows.”

While cable is a popular option, many customers like satellite dishes to receive TV signals because they generally costs less than cable, said telecom industry analyst Jeff Kagan.

But there are quirks to the service that give headaches to local officials. Customers subscribe to satellite service, which they can turn on and off. But the service comes with a dish which, for better or worse, subscribers own for life.

Those who order a dish become its legal owners and are “free to move the dish with them or recycle it as they see fit,” according to the satellite industry trade group. If it is left behind, “it becomes an issue between them and their landlord or new owner,” the group said. …..

“I can’t think of any other industry where people are just allowed to leave the apparatus,” said Mr. Carter, staffer for the Philadelphia City Council. “If it continues, imagine the slippery slope. Will we have 20 on a house?”

But it isn’t easy for officials to put away the dishes. A 1996 FCC rule largely prohibits local governments and homeowner boards from passing regulations that hinder the installation, upkeep or use of antennas – including dishes – to receive programs.

After Philadelphia passed an ordinance regulating dishes last fall, the satellite industry asked the FCC to review its legality.

The FCC said the matter is under review and declined to comment.

Philadelphia’s ordinance says any dish mounted on the front of a building “shall be painted in a color that matches the building.”

That is onerous, the industry counters. “Each technician would have to be supplied with a significant palette of colors,” Dish Network LLC and DirecTV Inc., two big dish providers, wrote in a recent brief to the FCC.

Boston City Council officials are crafting their own dish law, according to Mr. LaMattina, who represents working-class East Boston.

“Look down the street,” he said, turning onto one dish-heavy street. “Imagine if those satellite dishes weren’t there. This would be a nice-looking little block.”

But some East Boston old-timers don’t see what the big deal is. Nick Coviello, 77, has three “dishes or whatever you call it” on the front of his triple-decker and said they don’t bother him.

“What…is the difference?” he said. “We’re not millionaires here. When you live in the city, you close your eyes.”

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. Visit the website at wsj.com.

Questions

1.  What laws regarding home satellite dishes have cities including Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago recently passed or are planning to pass?
 
2.  How is the satellite dish industry responding to these new laws?
 
3.  For what reason do people generally opt for satellite dish service over cable?
 
4.  a) What problem has arisen as a result of customers owning their satellite dishes?
b)  What should be done about this? 
 
5.  What FCC rule prevents local governments and homeowners associations from passing regulations that prohibit the installation of satellite dishes?
 
6.  a) Should local governments and/or homeowners associations be able to regulate satellite dishes? Explain your answer.
b)  Should local governments be able to regulate anything they view as an “eyesore” on a homeowner’s property?  Explain your answer.
c)  Should owners of rental apartments be able to regulate satellite dishes on their property even if local governments don’t / can’t? Explain your answer.
d)  Ask a parent the same questions from #6.  Discuss your answers.

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