FCC Overrules Philadelphia’s Dish Blight Ordinance

FCC overrules the city of Philadelphia's dish blight ordinance banning street-facing satellites.
Image: Flickr

The FCC ruled that Philadelphia’s ordinance banning street-facing satellites infringes on individual rights. Other cities and states have or are considering dish blight ordinances.

The city of Philadelphia’s Over-the-Air Reception Devices (“OTARD”) rule passed city council in 2011 to address satellite ‘dish blight’ was never enforced because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was petitioned in 2012 by the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association (SBCA) to review it, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Last week the FCC released a decision to overrule it.

The city council passed the ordinance, proposed by current City Council President Darrell Clarke, to regulate the placement of satellite dishes. In the ordinance, the city asserted its right to maintain its authority over public right of way and historic value and made certain restrictions limiting satellite dishes from being placed on the front of facades.

Where an alternative location is available for placement of a satellite dish or antenna, with no material reduction in signal reception (including but not limited to a roof, rear yard or facade, or side yard or facade), no property owner shall place, install or maintain, or allow to be placed, installed or maintained, a satellite dish or antenna between the facade of a building and the street.”

The city would have also required any valid street-facing devices to be registered.

Dish Blight May Be a Litter Concern, But Not a Public Safety One

“There are a significant number of non-functioning satellites on top of homes throughout the city,” said Clarke’s spokeswoman, who added that Clarke will press the satellite-television industry to take some responsibility for abandoned satellites.

She added that the dishes are installed trained professionals “for good reason” and should also be professionally uninstalled.

Both affected landlords and satellite companies were against the ordinance.

FCC rejected a number of arguments for offered by Philadelphia and other cities, and against, in its consideration. That included a public safety exception proposed by the city:

“We find that Philadelphia has failed to properly articulate a clearly defined, legitimate basis for a public safety exception under the OTARD rule. Although the ordinance’s preamble broadly
refers to ‘preserving and protecting the public’s health, safety and welfare,’ the ordinance fails to
identify any specific public safety concerns that the law is meant to address. The city itself admits that the ordinance was not based on a specific safety concern, but rather seeks to address broader public welfare concerns, including neighborhood aesthetics and quality of life.”

State & Local Efforts to Address Dish Blight

Other cities have created ordinances to address ‘dish blight’. Municipalities across the country have been asked by taxpayers and lawmakers to address what many consider a scourge of multi-family properties.

In 2016, the city council in Easton, Pennsylvania approved a resolution requiring satellite dishes be removed within 30 days after service is disconnected. The city issues tickets and additional fines for non-payments, and can file citations in court. The city includes the removal of satellites and similar devices part of its rental inspection guidelines.

According to the Waterbury Observer, Connecticut is the first state to consider limiting abandoned satellite litter. State Representative Geraldo Reyes, Jr., who lives in Waterbury, is sponsoring a state bill after creating a task force to study the “pollution.”

Reyes reportedly said the satellite dish companies don’t remove the dishes because holes left in the roof, or side of the building, are liabilities.

Try calling a satellite dish company to come remove a dish,” he said. “They will never come.”

A July 2017 question on a community forum seen more than 10,000 times on AT&T’s website suggests removing the center bolt and leaving the mounting plate attached to ensure against leaks:

“Clearly, Direct TV does not remove satellite dishes, nor can they even provide any contact or information about who to ask to do it. Has anyone had an experiencing removing a satellite dish? We sold our home and one of the conditions is that we have to take it down. Any help would be fantastic. THanks!”

Information on satellite dish removal is hard to find on company and industry websites.

In 2015, a representative from DISH said, “The dish, or antenna, is the property of the customer,” according to the residential property management franchise organization, Real Property Management.

FCC Sees Philadelphia’s Dish Ban as Limiting Individual Rights

The FCC ruling indicated Philadelphia’s OTARD ordinance would infringe on the rights of antenna users to install and use satellite dishes and improve their programming choices.

We are pleased that the FCC found that Philadelphia’s dish-placement restrictions were unreasonable, and would have made television service much more expensive for tens of thousands of Philadelphians,” said Steve Hill, president of the SBCA, in a statement.

Last week’s ruling means there are no official restrictions on satellite dishes across Philadelphia.

About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of EfficientGov.com and Senior Editor at Praetorian Digital. She is based in Massachusetts.