Fisher Communications Vs. Dish Network

I am a subscriber of Dish Network. I’ve been reasonably happy with them but recently tuned to channel 4 to be met with a message saying that because Fisher Broadcasting and Dish Network were unable to arrive at an agreement regarding retransmission fees, they no longer had the right to carry KOMO’s signal.

As a customer of Dish Network I’m upset with them but I’m more upset with KOMO and Fisher broadcasting because I feel their position is unreasonable, unethical, and just plain greedy.

Here is the issue as I see it. Years ago, Sony was sued over their product, the BetaMax VCR, which allowed customers to record television broadcasts. Sony prevailed on the grounds that once something is placed in the public domain, it remains in the public domain and is no longer subject to copyright law. Public broadcasting of a program constituted placing it in the public domain. This became known as the BetaMax decision.

In the years since, there have been some changes to copyright laws that have created some exceptions. That’s an understatement really, copyright laws and patent laws have totally run amuck, but I also think there is a moral issue here.

If you go to Fisher’s website (if you click on the title I’ve provided a link), you’ll find that they compare various paid channels that Dish Network pays for. This comparison is unfair because these channels have a different revenue model.

Commercial broadcasters sell advertising space in their program content to pay the costs of obtaining and broadcasting their programs. The customer doesn’t pay a monetary fee to watch the program, but suffers through the advertisements in exchange for receiving the program free.

Pay television by contrast provides programs without interruption of commercials in exchange for receiving a fee, directly or indirectly, from the viewer to provide the revenue that pays for the production and distribution of the programming.

Fisher is comparing one revenue model, commercial television, with another revenue model, pay television, and I don’t feel that it is a fair comparison. Fisher wants to collect revenue from both ends, they want to charge advertisers for airtime and they want to turn around and charge us, the viewers, for the program material in spite of the fact that we’re also forced to sit through the commercials for which they’ve received payment. I don’t find this to be a reasonable proposition.

KOMO operates an expensive transmitter broadcasting hundreds of thousands of watts from high gain antennas placed on a huge tower on Queen Anne hill in Seattle in order to reach viewers in much of Western Washington state. They spend the big bucks on the equipment, electricity to run it, personell to maintain it, in order to reach an audience that is valuable to advertisers and by extension to KOMO-TV who the advertrisers pay.

Now when Dish TV retransmits their signal, they increase the size of KOMOs’ audience and by extension the value of their airtime to advertisers. They provide this added value to KOMO at no cost to KOMO. If anything KOMO should be paying them! It’s like getting a free transmitter power increase or a higher tower. They are reaching more customers with a cleaner signal that more people will be willing to watch, at no cost.

But that isn’t enough, in spite of the fact that Fisher is receiving additional value from advertisers as the result of Dish Network carrying their signals, they expect Dish Network to pay them for the priviledge of helping them make more money.

As a customer who could go out and buy a new antenna, I fail to see the logic in Fisher Communications position. Sure they can argue that there is a cost of acquisition of programming (in some cases, much is provided free by the network) and a cost associated with thier operation, but they encounter those costs whether Dish Network retransmits their signal or not. Further, Dish Network also has huge costs of operation which are increased by carrying more signals. By carrying KOMOs’ programming, Dish Network increases the advertising revenue potential of KOMO-TV and does not increase their costs.

So I just can’t see Fisher Broadcastings’ logic at all. I can’t understand why they should expect people to pay them for the priviledge of increasing their audience and revenue.

One last point of irritation, both sides make the position that the other sides’ position is unreasonable (and on this note I agree with Dish and disagree with Fisher), but neither side is willing to provide specifics. Dish says that Fisher is demanding an 82% increase, Fisher publishes Dish’s letter in which this figure is mentioned without disputing it, but neither side is willing to say 82% of what? 82% of a dollar isn’t worth a squabble, 82% of ten million dollars is. What are we talking about here? If Fisher feels what they are doing is ethical, and if Dish feels what they are doing is ethical, why are both sides demanding confidentiality?

I Told You The Ionosphere Is Strange

I’ve posted here several times stating that radio propagation has changed since the way it was when I was younger. I did not know and do not know fully what is responsible for that change, but clearly there has been change.

Now an article in Science Daily entitled, “Boundary Between Earth’s Upper Atmosphere And Space Has Moved To Extraordinarily Low Altitudes, NASA Instruments Document“, confirms that the Ionosphere has changed. It is lower than it used to be.

For the record, I believe the title of this article is scientifically horrid; there is no “boundary” between the Earth’s upper atmosphere and space. The atmosphere is a gas, and it gets progressively thinner as you move away from the planet. The definition of the boundary is arbitrary, at some “pressure” one can call that the boundary, but at what pressure you decide to do that is arbitrary.

There are many factors affecting the upper atmosphere and how “inflated” it is, but the largest is probably extreme UV from the Sun which is absorbed in the upper atmosphere heating and expanding it. The last solar cycle was the most intense on record, and then ended and a new one really has not started. There is indication that a magnetic reversal has happened, but so far there has only been a sparse very short lived sun spot every now and then, nothing like a normal solar cycle.

There are other factors as well. The Earth’s own magnetic field is weakening. How much of this relates to any internal dynamo action and how much relates to changes in the solar flux is hard to say. The interaction between the solar wind and internal sources is extremely complex.

The strength of the Earth’s magnetic field determines the latitude that cosmic rays and solar particles enter the atmosphere. When the field is strong, they enter in very concentrated zones near the poles, when the field is weaker these particles can enter farther from the poles. In the last 100 years, the average latitude that these particles enter the atmosphere has shifted towards the equator by about ten degrees.

The long term nature of this shift suggests more of an internal, change in the Earth’s dynamo, cause. One effect of this shift is to shift rainfall patterns to some degree because these high energy charged particles create ionized paths that serve as condensation points where raindrops can start to form.

Then there are changes in atmospheric chemistry. We’ve added additional carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, halides, and other sulfur.

And then there is the intentional manipulation of the ionosphere with HAARP and similar projects around the globe.

So I’m not going to pretend to understand the relative impact of each factor, but clearly our atmosphere and ionosphere are changing.

Cell Tower Safety

Since I published the article regarding cellular site safety issues, I’ve received much e-mail and comments on the subject, most of which is highly paranoid. People here the word radiation and think “nuclear”, but not all radiation is bad radiation, sunlight and all radio and television signals are radiation. These are quite distinct from nuclear radiation in that they are non-ionizing.

Radiation that is harmful has to have some physical effect on the body such as ionizing atoms in our body, which makes them reactive, or damaging DNA, or interfering with the ability of ions to transverse ion channels in our cells walls, or by causing thermal or electrical effects that disrupt normal metabolic activity.

At low power levels, cell phone radiation does none of these things, but at higher levels, thermal effects and effects on the electrical activity within the central nervous system can manifest and cause a variety of problems up to cancer and central nervous system problems. These power levels are normally only possible if you are in the same plain as the antenna and within 35 feet, and the effects can be cumulative, the longer the exposure the greater the risk. Cell sites are supposed to be designed and sited to avoid these conditions.

I received e-mail that described a situation which involved a telephone pole mounted cell site with the antenna at the same height as the bedroom window of a nearby house and the distance from the antenna was less than 35 feet from the bedroom.

This is a situation where there is a legitimate concern. The antennas used for cellular sites are highly directional in the vertical plain.

The energy they radiate is focused in a plain at their height. This means you are safe if you are significantly higher or lower than the antenna or more than about 35 feet away.

But if you are at the same high as the antenna and less than 35 feet away, and particularly if you are going to be in that location for long periods of time, as in the case of a bedroom, this is not a safe situation.

In this case I would file a complaint with the FCC and the company involved making it clear that this creates an unsafe condition and asking that they either relocate the cell site or raise the antenna above the height of the bedrooms to resolve the issue.

If you can not stop the installation at the bedroom height that close to your house, then I would look into adding some RF shielding in the walls. You can buy brass or copper screening that would be effective, or copper foil, but these things are expensive.

This is a situation where the home owner really has a legitimate complaint but proving it might be expensive. That is to say, the FCC may not send out a field engineer to take measurements, instead they may require that you hire an engineer to do so. But then if you are forced into this, I would make it clear to the telephone company up front that you intend to do whatever is necessary and take legal action to recover your costs from them in hopes it might persuade them that it would be more cost effective to take action voluntarily. Alternately, they could pay the costs of installing the necessary shielding to assure the safety of the individual(s) sleeping in that bedroom.