In the dark ages of Satellite TV history, there was, of course, a time when satellite TV service was not available at all in any private sector mobile market space; i.e., RVs, boats, truckers, commercial fleets, etc. The technology was developed in the military and NASA sectors. During the period of commercial awareness and awakening, the service limitations were largely based in technology constraints and high equipment costs. As military and space technology scaled to commercial market needs, and equipment prices came down, private sector demand for the service increased.
The United States is a signatory nation to various and multiple treaties with International Telecommunications Union (ITU) member nations. As all readers know, the congress (the Senate) makes treaties on behalf of the United States. In the US, responsibility for all operational “telecommunications” matters is delegated to the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission. Treaties provide the framework of agreements, but the FCC, through rule makings, dictates how things will be done. Ahh… Enter, politics.
As private sector demand for mobile TV services increased, the large and influential RV industry lobbied congress to allow the service. Truck fleets joined in. By inference from observing the outcome, BoatUS apparently did not. Enabling legislation was passed, and then existing FCC regulation was changed to allow the satellite companies to offer their service to truckers and “Recreational Vehicles.” But for boaters, the rub is that boats were not included in the definition of “Recreational Vehicle.” Where were the boating interests at that time? Good, if now moot, question. Perhaps, asleep!
Here quoted is the applicable language:
Citation 1: https://http://www.fcc.gov/media/television-broadcast-stations-satellite.
3(c) RV or truck. If your satellite dish antenna is permanently attached to a recreational vehicle or a commercial truck, you may be eligible to receive distant stations. The “recreational vehicle” must meet the definition contained in regulations issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (24 CFR §3282.8). The “commercial truck” must meet the definition contained in regulations issued by the Department of Transportation (49 CFR §383.5). The owner of the recreational vehicle or the commercial truck must produce documentation that the vehicle meets the definitional criteria and include a signed declaration that the satellite dish is permanently attached to the vehicle or to the truck. The law specifies that the terms “recreational vehicle” and “commercial truck” do not include any fixed dwelling, whether a mobile home or otherwise.”
Citation 2: 24 CFR 3282.8(g)
A recreational vehicle is a vehicle which is:
(1) Built on a single chassis;
(2) 400 Square feet or less when measured at the largest horizontal projections;
(3) Self-propelled or permanently towable by a light duty truck; and
(4) Designed primarily not for use as a permanent dwelling but as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping, travel, or seasonal use.
The administrative regulations of commissions of all stripes and varieties (federal, state, county, municipal) are enforceable as law. The fact is, there is no statutory prohibition against Dish™ or DirecTV™ providing satellite TV service to boats. Unfortunately, there is also no specific enablement for boats.
Complicating, and complicit in, the legislative morass are two additional facts:
- Commercial media (TV) stations where copyrighted content originates have a financial interest in putting eyeballs on the advertising of their local advertisers and sponsors. The Neilson Organization has developed geographic Designated Market Areas for satellite TV distribution. Note, the FCC and the Congress has accepted the Neilson definitions of DMAs. Local station operators within DMAs can – but will not – allow “non-subscribers” to have service. In actual practice, it would take many local TV station operators to all agree in order for the satellite operator to provide a collection of commercial TV stations to a satellite viewer.
- The satellite companies do not generally want to offer mobile satellite services to boaters. That’s because – like the general public – most boaters are technologically illiterate, and there are numerous service quality issues with satellite TV that do not arise when a dish antenna is bolted to the side of a fixed object, like a building, and aimed at the satellite by a trained technician carrying proper tools and test equipment. Plus, of course, it’s extremely hard to get an extension ladder on most boats in order to service that digital antenna; and antenna about which the service technician knows nothing anyway. That’s one of the reasons that, in marinas, satellite dishes are often “permanently mounted” on pilings, not on the boats themselves.
Since boats were not specifically authorized by congress or in FCC regulation and rulemakings, the telephone representatives at Dish™ and DirecTV™ simply tell callers that service to boats is “against the law.” Not exactly true; there is no legal prohibition. Ah, but the telephone representatives, themselves, do not need to understand federal statute or the Code of Federal Regulations. They just read a script to callers. That response also eliminates argument between the representative and the now unhappy caller. The pity is, most people just accept what they’re told. The reps probably don’t know they’re practicing “innocent deception,” and the callers don’t know they’ve been deceived. What a great system we have here.
A search of cruiser’s forums discloses there are ways around all of this. But first, a little technology background. Satellites are equipped with devices called transponders. A typical satellite has up to 32 transponders for the Ku-band. These transponders receive program feeds from earth (uplink) “ground stations” and re-transmit the programming to earth (downlink) as the familiar TV channels we all know and love. Local channels are on “narrow beam” transponders. These transponders have a tight cone of radiation, so their footprint only covers a couple of hundred miles of the earth’s surface. Some transponders are “wide beam” transponders. They have a broad cone of radiation, and their footprint covers larger areas of the earth’s surface.
Enter, politics; yet again. (Is it ever far away?) You may be amused to know that this complex technical schema was invented and implemented in the commercial TV space to protect… well… errr…. ummm…. to protect local advertisers. After all, advertisers want local people to see, and be influenced by, their local advertising. Small advertisers can’t afford national markets. So there’s this complex business and technology schema between government, advertisers, local broadcast stations, and the satellite companies, all created in the interest of protecting their revenues. None of it has anything to do with the interests of cruisers. Are you shocked yet? That never happens anywhere else, does it?
So now, as a mobile platform moves across the earth’s surface, it will pass from narrow beam footprint to narrow beam footprint to narrow beam footprint. When it leaves any one footprint, it will no longer be able to receive stations transmitted by the corresponding transponder. To receive programming in any given local area, the user must call the satellite company and ask them to update their account to receive the new local coverage area. That’s a new transponder with a new footprint. Getting this done on a boat involves some low-level subterfuge; you know, little “white lies;” “innocent deception.” Some people find that troubling. Some feel it’s deceitful. Some actually believe it’s illegal. Never mind that the satellite companies do it to you under the guise of their “business interests.” Anyway, assessing all that involves personal value judgements that each person must make for themselves. We will certainly not quibble with yours.
To us aboard Sanctuary, a perfectly acceptable solution is to bag local service altogether. Frankly, Scarlet, we really don’t care who kissed whom or who shot whom in some rural town through which we’re passing and in which we’re only overnighting. If we do, we just switch to our over-the-air antenna.
Cruisers can set up a permanent satellite “service address” – the location of the local channels the account will see – in the New York City market: i.e., southern New York, northern New Jersey, or southwestern Connecticut. That Designated Market Area (DMA) receives the NYC local channels on narrow beam transponders, which you will essentially never see unless you actually cruise there. But that market also receives all the national network feeds – CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox – on wide beam transponders. Those wide beam feeds work everywhere in North America from the East Coast of Maine to Mackinac Island to St. Louis to Mobile Bay to the Florida keys to the Abacos. Yes, you get NYC news and NYC advertising. Oh, well. But you also get all of the national network feeds, the cable news channels, and the History and Science Channels. If you need hometown news, consider subscribing to an internet-version of your hometown newspaper.
One important remaining dilemma for cruisers in all of this is getting reliable local weather condition reports and forecasts. NY City weather won’t be very informed if a cruiser is expecting severe weather on the Florida panhandle or Lake Michigan. National Weather Channel broadcasts are not detailed enough for cruising, particularly big water or offshore cruising. Cruisers must learn to use alternative weather information resources. Whenever we aboard Sanctuary feel we must have accurate and timely local weather information, we turn to using our TV in its over-the-air mode. That’s very easy, and it does not involve any hassles with our satellite TV company; i.e., no subterfuge, no deceit, and all perfectly legal.