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Guide

Service Options for Satellite Television Subscribers

Summary

Subscribers to satellite television service today have options for receiving broadcasts from local TV stations.

  1. Many satellite subscribers can receive local stations from their satellite TV company using their satellite systems. Commonly called “local-into-local” service, this means subscribers can receive those stations assigned to the local television market where the subscriber resides.
  2. Certain “unserved” subscribers (that is, subscribers who cannot receive the over-the-air signal of a local broadcast station) can receive “distant” TV stations (that is, stations outside the subscriber’s local television market) from their satellite TV company.
  3. Certain eligible subscribers can also receive technically distant stations that have been determined by the FCC to be “significantly viewed” (that is, the stations are viewable over-the-air by a “significant” number of households in specific communities or counties in a neighboring television market) from their satellite TV company.
  4. Subscribers can also receive free, over-the-air, local TV stations, regardless of whether or not their satellite TV company offers local-into-local service, by installing a traditional “rabbit ear” or roof-top antenna in conjunction with their satellite service. A subscriber’s ability to receive such over-the-air signals, however, depends on several factors, including geographic location and antenna quality.

Background

The Communications and Copyright Acts specify the broadcast TV stations that satellite TV companies, such as DIRECTV and DISH Network, are permitted to carry. Congress has addressed satellite carriage of TV broadcast stations through a series of statutes:

  • the 1988 Satellite Home Viewer Act (“SHVA”);
  • the 1999 Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act (“SHVIA”);
  • the 2004 Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act (“SHVERA”); and
  • the 2010 Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (“STELA”).

The 1988 SHVA first established a statutory copyright license to allow satellite TV companies to offer access to broadcast programming via satellite to subscribers who were “unserved.” The 1999 SHVIA expanded opportunities for consumers by permitting satellite TV companies to provide a local TV station to its subscribers in that station’s local television market – commonly known as “local-into-local” service. The 2004 SHVERA expanded the statutory copyright license to allow satellite TV companies to offer “significantly viewed” stations in addition to local stations. The 2010 STELA, among other things, extended the distant statutory copyright license through December 31, 2014 and expanded opportunities for consumers by facilitating satellite carriage of “significantly viewed” stations.

Reception of Local TV Stations (“Local-into-Local” Service)

Satellite TV companies are not required to offer local channels, but if they choose to do so, they are permitted to offer subscribers only those broadcast stations licensed to the local television market where the subscriber resides – commonly known as “local-into-local” service. Specifically, Congress defined local television markets for the purpose of local-into-local satellite service based on the Nielsen Company's “designated market areas” (DMAs). Nielsen defines DMAs by assigning each U.S. county to one market based on the viewing patterns of households in the market based on both viewing off-air and by pay TV provider (that is, cable and satellite) distribution.

A satellite TV company that chooses to provide local-into-local service must provide subscribers with all of the local broadcast TV stations assigned to the subscriber’s DMA that have asked the satellite TV company to carry them and are otherwise qualified. (This is commonly referred to as the “carry one, carry all” requirement.) If a TV network has more than one local TV station affiliated with it operating in a particular state within the same market, the satellite TV company is required to carry only one of the stations. Check with your satellite TV company to determine your DMA, whether the company offers local-into-local service, and which stations are included in the service.

Receiving Stations Outside the Local Market, or “Distant” Signals

If your satellite TV company makes local-into-local service available to you, you are not eligible to receive distant (out of market) stations as a new subscriber.

If your satellite TV company does not offer local-into-local service and you are deemed “unserved,” you may be eligible to receive distant signals (that is, stations that originate outside of your DMA).

The term “unserved household” includes a household or subscriber that:

  • cannot receive the signal of the local network station at a specified strength through the use of an antenna; or
  • has a satellite dish that is permanently attached to a recreational vehicle or a commercial truck.

Using a computer model, your satellite TV company can tell you if you are predicted to be “unserved.” If you are not predicted to be unserved, you will need waivers from local TV stations to receive distant signals. (The request for the waiver must come from the satellite TV company.)

As with local signals, your satellite TV company determines whether to provide distant signals to eligible subscribers and which distant signals to offer. Satellite TV companies also may charge an additional fee to local subscribers for these distant signals. If you qualify as an “unserved household,” you are eligible to receive no more than two distant network-affiliated signals per day for each TV network. Even if you qualify as an unserved household, you cannot receive digital programming aired at an earlier time than it would be aired by local stations in your time zone.

The 2010 STELA did not change the 2004 SHVERA’s distant signal eligibility provisions:

  • If, as of December 8, 2004, you received distant signals because you lived in an unserved household, you may also receive local stations if the satellite TV company currently offers them, or introduces new local-into-local service in the future. If, as of December 8, 2004, you did not receive or try to receive distant signals, you are not eligible for distant service if local channels are offered.
  • Alternatively, you may be receiving distant signals because you are a “grandfathered subscriber.” Check with your satellite TV company to determine whether you are grandfathered and what distant and local signals you may receive.
  • You may be receiving distant signals because you received a waiver from one or more television stations that are predicted to serve your household. If you have such a waiver, you may continue to receive distant signals, and you also may subscribe to local-into-local service.

Reception of “Significantly-Viewed” Stations

If you receive local-into-local service, you may be eligible, under certain circumstances, to receive individual stations from markets outside your DMA if they are deemed “significantly viewed” in your community. Such “significantly-viewed” stations are most likely located near your DMA but not considered in the same DMA where you live.

Your satellite TV company decides whether and which significantly-viewed stations to offer based on a list maintained by the FCC. You must be subscribing to local-into-local service to be eligible to receive significantly-viewed stations. The determination of whether a station is significantly viewed in a community depends on several statutory factors. The FCC posts a list of the stations that are eligible for carriage as significantly viewed signals and the communities in which they are significantly viewed. Your satellite carrier can tell you whether a station is on the significantly viewed list and if it intends to offer the station.

For More Information

For information about other communications issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer website, or contact the FCC’s Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

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Service Options for Satellite Television Subscribers Guide (pdf)

Reviewed: February 24, 2014
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