TV NotesAs Dishes Stack Up, Cities Start Trying to Put Them AwaySatellite Dishes Belong to Owners for Life, Get Left Hanging; A Planter or Sled?
By Jennifer Levitz, Wall Street Journal
- Apr. 25, 2012
BOSTONWhen 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.
Leaders in congested enclaves grapple with a litany of perennial annoyances: clotheslines, idling cars, trash, garish paint jobs.
Now, they are dealing with a new blight: clusters of satellite dishes. But figuring out what to do with all the old dishes can be 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 the 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 streetand 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.
Appearance-wise, the industry says, the dish may be no dish, but is it really so homely?
"A small but growing number of cities have recently singled out satellite dishes for regulationarguing 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.
Homeowners who have outgrown their dishes, or moved into homes with dishes they don't want, have found novel ways to repurpose them. In the chat room at the technology site Slashdot.org, posters exchange ideas. One poster said: "We filled it with good soil and compost and planted a nice selection of butterfly/hummingbird flowers in it."
Alex Doak, a self-employed subcontractor who installs satellite dishes in Nashville, Tenn., said he started noticing unused dishes in the past year, and began telling residents he would be glad to take them off their hands.
"There are a lot of things you can do with dishes," said Mr. Doak, 31, who now sells them online for between $20 and $60, depending on the size.
"You can very easily turn the dishes into a piece of artwork if you're creative with paint," he said. "I've also seen guys try to use them as a sled." Another idea: turning them into "solar ovens."
Last month, Mr. Doak painted a 26-inch-wide dish with the orange logo of the University of Tennessee football team and is now trying to sell it. "I'm going to play with the market and see what it is willing to do," he 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 antennasincluding dishesto 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 the hell is the difference?" he said. "We're not millionaires here. When you live in the city, you close your eyes."http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...l?mod=ITP_AHED