September 4, 1998

CONTACT: Karen Kirchgasser
(202) 482-7002


Provides indication that court decision could affect millions of households receiving network programming via satellite

WASHINGTON, D.C. ­ In a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman William Kennard, Commerce Assistant Secretary Larry Irving today urged the FCC to expeditiously review a recent federal court decision which could result in millions of households in America losing access to satellite-delivered network programming. The letter also urges the FCC to undertake a rulemaking to define which households can receive satellite delivered network programming under current law.

The court issued a preliminary injunction ordering satellite distributor PrimeTime 24, to discontinue network programming to millions of consumers in response to a copyright suit filed by CBS, Fox, and their network affiliates. Central to the court's decision was its interpretation of the meaning of the phrase "over-the-air signal of grade B intensity" in the Satellite Home Viewer Act, which determines whether a consumer is eligible to receive network programming via satellite. The Act permits direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service providers and other satellite carriers to deliver network programming only to those consumers residing in an "unserved household," defined as a household that cannot receive, through use of a conventional antenna, an over-the-air signal of grade B intensity. The Act provides that the FCC's rules defining such a signal govern the definition of "signal of grade B intensity."

"The court construed the statute without benefit of guidance from the Commission and the effect may prove to be detrimental to competition and consumer choice," said Assistant Secretary Irving. "While the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) takes no position at this time on the specific definition that the Commission should adopt, it rapidly becomes clear that the definition is key to whether consumers will have real choice of programming providers. Robust competition in the multichannel video programming marketplace is the way to bring greater viewing choices, lower prices and better services to consumers."

NTIA's Institute for Telecommunications Sciences (ITS) provided sample data for the FCC on the number of households that could be affected by the court's decision. The ITS found that as many as nine million households (almost 10 percent of American television households) would be rendered ineligible to receive satellite-delivered network programming.

For a copy of the letter, please call Karen Kirchgasser, NTIA Public Affairs, at 202-482-7002, or visit NTIA's home page at ITS data is available at NTIA serves as the principal adviser to the Executive Branch on domestic and international telecommunications and information issues.