Longley-Rice Stays on FCC Menu


When it comes to deciding when satellite providers may import out-of-market network-affiliate stations into local markets, broadcasters and satellite carriers disagree completely -- except on one thing.

Nearly every player in the long running dispute hates the way the FCC tweaked its most cost-effective option for figuring out which homes qualify for imported network programming.

Tuesday, the FCC said "too bad."

The commission upheld changes to the “Individual Location Longley-Rice” model, a mathematical calculation that allows engineers to predict when a home is getting an acceptable signal over the air from their local ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox affiliate.

If the calculation indicates a too-weak signal, then Echostar or DirecTV is allowed to sell the household a feed from a network affiliate hundreds of miles away. If the number-crunching shows a quality signal, then the local affiliate can claim to be those viewers' exclusive source of the network’s programming.

In 2000, the FCC reworked the Longley-Rice model to better account for obstructions caused by buildings and terrain. Echostar complained that the changes were based on incomplete data. Broadcasters complained that the model assumes a household is receiving over-the-air TV via a rooftop antenna, even though few of the people who get their TV over-the-air today use them.

The FCC stood by its methodology on both counts.

The Longley-Rice model is considered an affordable way to decided which customers may subscribe to imported channels. The alternative is sending expensively outfitted signal-measurement trucks to actually measure picture strength in a subscriber’s home.

Broadcasters and Echostar have been fighting for years over the satellite company’s offering of distant network signals. Broadcasters say Echostar has intentionally served thousands of ineligible subscribers, thus stealing audience for local stations. Broadcasters have recently used that as one argument against allowing satellite companies to start delivering DTV signals to homes that can't receive a TV station's digital signal.