DTV Antennas and Your Legal Rights

By Roy Trumbull

Of all the ink that has been spilt over HDTV, hardly a drop has been spent on the fact that it's dependent on outdoor receiving antennas. Rabbit ears won't work and cable won't be carrying HDTV signals any time soon. The need for outdoor antennas is troublesome because many communities and Homeowner's Associations have tried to outlaw them.

Following the enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (section 207), the FCC adopted 47 C.F.R 1.4000 which pre-empts local ordinances and "Homeowners Agreements" with regard to prohibitions on the mounting of antennas on dwellings. The person putting up the antenna must have "exclusive use and control" of the site. The Homeowner's Association or community may require no fees or permits with regard to the mounting of an antenna. The only local prohibitions permitted are those involving health and safety and historic preservation. For example, mounting an antenna on a fire escape or placing it too close to a power line can be prohibited by ordinance. Rules based on esthetics aren't permitted. But if a signal can be received equally well from two different locations, a Homeowner's Association might specify one over the other.

The case law that has developed with regard to this rule has come from the mounting of DSS dishes. There is still scant case experience with regard to conventional TV antennas.

The Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association (SBCA) was one of the groups which lobbied for this rule. Many of the retailers selling DSS equipment belong to SBCA. Because the various satellite services lack local TV channels, retailers have a vested interest in installing combinations of DSS dishes and TV antennas. Thus the case law on TV antennas should develop.

When one is confronted with a Homeowners Association rule or a local ordinance, a petition must be filed with the FCC along with copies of the rule or ordinance. Once that petition is on public notice, it's unlikely that a fine or other action can be levied against you. However, if a court has already ruled against you, the FCC won't take the case away from the court. A consultation with an attorney who specializes in communications law is advised.

Of particular interest is the "Meade Kansas preemption order" which is available on the FCC web site at: