Mayor Menino Targets Eyesore Satellite Dishes
Consistent with his reputation as the “urban mechanic,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino, along with the City Council, want to pass a new ordinance to clean satellite dish clutter on residential properties in Boston. As reported by the Boston Globe, the proposal would require the removal of all obsolete satellite dishes and ban new installations from facades and other walls facing the street, unless an installer can prove there is no other place to get a signal. Dishes would have to be placed on roofs, in the rear, or on the sides of buildings. East Boston Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who has spearheaded the effort, says that this ordinance will help “save the character of our neighborhoods.’’
Ordinance May Run Afoul of FCC Rules
The proposed ordinance, however, may face legal challenge by the satellite dish industry and affected satellite subscribers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that state or local laws are invalid if they unduly impair the right of a subscriber to receive satellite programming on a one meter dish installed on property within owner or renter’s exclusive use or control. For a person living in a multi-dwelling unit, an area such as a balcony, patio or garden not shared with other tenants would be considered property within the individual’s exclusive control. Under the FCC rule, the only two situations where restrictions are permissible is if (1) the restriction is necessary for a clearly defined, legitimate safety objective; or (2) it is necessary to preserve a historic building.
A Solution: Building Wide Equipment
Granted, the satellite dishes covering buildings in many neighborhoods isn’t the nicest thing to see. See Cambridge Street in Allston, for example. However, since the proposed ordinance is concerned predominantly with aesthetics and not any legitimate safety concerns, it may not survive judicial review.
The FCC rules do, however, permit and encourage building-wide community satellite facilities so all residents can get a strong signal without cluttering up the facade of a building with a myriad of dishes. Perhaps the Mayor and the City Council can work with the satellite providers on getting funding for this equipment rather than waste taxpayer money defending a questionable ordinance.
Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate and zoning attorney. Mr. Vetstein frequently represents Boston residents and companies in zoning matters before City of Boston zoning and licensing boards.