February 2, 2012
Enforcement of a bill passed by (Philadelphia) City Council last fall to regulate placement of TV satellite dishes has been stalled due to a petition filed with the Federal Communications Commission by the satellite-dish industry.
The Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association is fighting the bill, approved in October and sponsored by current Council President Darrell Clarke, prohibiting satellite-dish companies and installers from placing dishes at the front of homes unless putting them elsewhere would cause signal reduction or significant extra cost.
A petition filed in November by the association, and pending before the FCC, alleges that the bill violates a 1996 over-the-air reception-device rule that blocks restrictions of satellite-dish installations without a public-safety concern or historic-preservation justification. "We feel that it isn't just a matter of taste, but a matter of fairness," said Lisa McCabe, the association's director of public policy and outreach. "It's a burden. It would increase the costs of doing business in the city and would ultimately fall on the users." The city's two major dish companies, DirecTV and Dish Network, argue that the city uses "aesthetic concerns as a pretext to restrict consumers' access to satellite television."
But the city disagrees. "There's no consideration," said William Carter, Clarke's director of legislative affairs. "We simply ask that they don't do in our community what they wouldn't do in theirs. "We were noticing a disparity in areas of the city inundated with satellite dishes. You don't see this in Chestnut Hill, Society Hill," Carter said, adding that more dishes are seen in areas with more renters.
Philly has more than 100,000 dish users and was the first city to pass such a measure. Under the bill, dishes installed in the future must match the colors of homes, and hundreds of inactive dishes will be removed. The association is also challenging a similar bill in Chicago. Current single-family-home dish customers won't have to remove dishes but are asked to notify the Department of Licenses and Inspections. For new dish customers, installers must certify in writing if an adequate signal cannot be accessed in locations other than the front of the home. Philadelphia Daily News
Political headwinds are building against a marketing alliance between Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless operator, and cable giant Comcast Corp., amid worries that cooperation between the two rivals could blunt competition in the telecommunications market and lead to higher prices. The resistance comes as the two companies are extending their partnership to a third test market-the San Francisco Bay area. Under their deal, Verizon Wireless will promote Comcast's Internet, phone and television service to its customers and vice versa.
On Wednesday, Sen. Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat and chairman of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, said he would hold a hearing on the marketing deal, as well as Verizon Wireless's recent agreements to buy radio-frequency licenses from several cable companies. "The subcommittee carefully examines questions about competition in the wireless and video markets, with the ultimate goal of protecting consumers and reducing their cable and cellphone bills, and these deals are no exception," he said in a statement.
Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, sent a letter to the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission urging them to closely scrutinize the deals. The Justice Department's Antitrust Division is already investigating them, a spokeswoman said. The marketing alliance is "very troubling, because it would seem to carve up the marketplace for cable, broadband and wireless-phone service," Sen. Franken wrote in his letter. "These joint-marketing agreements will turn these rival companies into partners, rather than competitors, and could ultimately mean less competition, less choice and higher prices for consumers."
Their comments come after consumer groups and other critics raised concerns that the deal will blunt what has been fierce competition between cable and telecom companies for video customers. Verizon Wireless, the U.S.'s largest cellular-service provider by subscribers, is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc., which is spending more than $20 billion building a fiber-optic pay-TV service, and Vodafone Group PLC.
The companies are testing out their marketing agreement in areas where Verizon and Comcast's TV services don't overlap, but they could eventually extend to areas where they do, people familiar with the matter have said. Critics say the deal amounts to a cease-fire, with cable getting out of the wireless business and Verizon Wireless ceding television to companies like Comcast.
Verizon declined to comment, but has said it will continue to compete with Comcast for customers. A Comcast spokeswoman also declined to comment. Sens. Kohl and Franken were among a group of lawmakers who opposed AT&T Inc.'s $39 billion plan to take over T-Mobile USA last year, a deal that collapsed in December amid strong objections from the Justice Department and FCC. The Verizon Wireless-Comcast marketing alliance was announced in December, alongside another deal for Comcast to sell radio frequency licenses to Verizon Wireless. The parties say the two deals are unrelated.
The alliance has resulted in some strange marketing twists. The website of Verizon Communications touts its FiOS TV and Internet service as the fastest and most reliable in the nation, while its subsidiary, Verizon Wireless, had promoted Comcast's service as the best. Comcast has said it plans to implement the marketing agreement in a total of four test markets. Verizon Wireless stores in Seattle and Portland, Ore., were its first to begin offering the Comcast services. Wall Street Journal
Comcast Corp. said that it is expanding a program called "Internet Essentials" that offers offer broadband access to low-income consumers. Since "Internet Essentials" launched in September, it has attracted 41,000 customers nationwide, including about 1,000 in Massachusetts, Comcast said. In an effort to narrow the so-called "digital divide" between poor and more affluent consumers, the program offers broadband service for $9.95 a month. Consumers who enroll in "Internet Essentials" program can take advantage of digital literacy training programs, and they can also buy an "Internet ready computer" for less than $150, Comcast said.
Initially, the program was available to families with children eligible to receive free school lunches under the National School Lunch Program. Over the next few months, Comcast said it plans to extend eligibility for the program to families with children receiving reduced price school lunches under the National School Lunch Program. "We believe this will make nearly 300,000 additional households in our service area eligible for Internet Essentials - bringing the total to 2.3 million eligible families," Philadelphia-based Comcast said in a statement. The program was established to meet one of the conditions set by the Federal Communications Commission before it would approve last year's merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. Boston Globe; more in York Dispatch
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