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Hey, You Need a License to Watch That!

A sports fan is viewing the Games on Canadian satellite TV. FCC says he failed to go through the proper channels.

August 19, 2004|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

Sitting in front of the TV to watch the Olympics in his Playa del Rey condo, Elliott Chang looks innocent enough.

But don't be fooled. His TV is tuned to Canada's CBC network, and that makes Chang an outlaw.

The mild-mannered 48-year-old publicist is one of a stalwart group of U.S. sports fans who subscribe to a Canadian satellite TV service to get what Chang says is less jingoistic, more event-oriented coverage of the Athens games than is offered up by NBC.

Chang put out about $300 for the necessary equipment and pays $26 a month to the Bell ExpressVu satellite TV service in Toronto.

"I'm not pirating anything," he said this week.

Still, according to the Federal Communications Commission, he's in violation of a law that prevents couch potatoes in the U.S. from receiving programs from foreign satellite providers unless they have a special license to do so.

The process of getting TV from our neighbor to the north is a tad shady. People have to acquire specially tuned dishes and receivers. They're available for $100 to $400 each from numerous Internet suppliers, including Mike Kohl in the innocuous-sounding Plain, Wis. "I fill niche markets," Kohl said.

The next step is to sign up for service with Bell ExpressVu or competitor Star Choice. But to do that, a customer must show a valid address in Canada.

"I don't get involved with that," Kohl said. "But I can refer them."

Several "address brokers" on the Web will provide an address for $25 to $50 a year.

It's not likely that sports purists like Chang will make it onto "America's Most Wanted" anytime soon. Neither the FCC nor executives at the biggest U.S. satellite TV providers -- DirecTV Group Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network -- could recall anyone ever getting cited.

Chang believes his only crime is wanting better TV. "You get a much more balanced perspective on the world, without all the flag-waving."

Tell it to the judge.

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