Shanae Williams peers down Cecil B. Moore Avenue, scowling as she waits for her afternoon bus.
A stray white cat, eyes burning yellow, drags its tail along the uneven sidewalk; flies frolic about the chipped green patio frame tenuously attached to one of the rowhouses; and on the front facade of the structure - tucked between clumps of black tar and a disconnected water pipe - hangs a satellite dish that city officials are working to exile about six feet to the left.
"Not getting people to school or fighting more crime - they're worrying about satellites," says Williams, 22.
She pauses, glancing back toward the block's cascade of plastic crescents.
"I mean, it is ugly."
City Councilman Darrell L. Clarke has introduced a bill, expected to come to a final vote Thursday, intended to curb the presence of such technological eyesores for city residents.
In recent years, Clarke says, the proliferation of satellite television - like "rabbit ear" antennas before it - has littered the Philadelphia streetscape.
On his small Fishtown block, four satellite dishes are clustered within feet of one another, barely above the doorways of two neighboring homes.
"Having to have a dish on the front of the house when you're pointing it to the sky - I don't understand that," Clarke said. "This is a reasonable approach to maintaining . . . the aesthetics of our city."
Among the bill's key provisions: Property owners must either move dishes off front facades or submit a written statement, signed by the satellite installer, indicating that no other spot yields a quality signal based on "actual testing conducted at the site." Another clause calls for property owners to remove inactive dishes.
Schadenfreude-seeking cable companies such as Comcast Corp. and Verizon would likely relish the bill's success - at least privately. (Both companies have donated to Clarke's campaign in the past.) According to William Carter, Clarke's director of legislative affairs, satellite officials have indicated that front-facade installation is often the most efficient and least expensive way to render their service. "I don't think it creates the burden they will say it does," Carter said.
If the ordinance passes, Philadelphia would become the first major city to have such satellite stipulations on the books. But the measure likely will face legal challenges from industry powers, such as DirecTV and Dish Network. An oft-cited 1996 Federal Communications Commission ruling prohibits restrictions on satellite dish placement, except in cases marked by safety concerns or the preservation of historic landmarks.
"We want to put the dishes where they're in the most discreet location possible," said Andrew Reinsdorf, DirecTV's senior vice president of government affairs. "But sometimes putting them on a facade is the only way to give folks access."
Reinsdorf, who insists the company welcomes individual complaints about dish placement or removal, recalls similar attempts to circumvent the FCC ruling in Boston and Omaha, Neb., in the last few years. Neither city was able to change the existing law.
Still, proponents of this bill remain confident it will be enacted by Council and withstand industry push-back, in part because of the "historic preservation" exemption in the FCC ruling. "In Philadelphia," Carter said, "I don't think you can separate the history and the city."
Carter's research - heavy on anecdotal observation, lacking in the concrete figures he says only dish companies could supply - has led him to believe that less-affluent neighborhoods are most often afflicted with dish distress.
On Thomas Nedd's Strawberry Mansion block, dish equipment - sometimes multiple units per facade - rises from building fronts like a bowl-shape fungus. Some dishes still protrude from crumbling remnants of abandoned homes.
"It's a blight," said Nedd, 65. "When I go to Center City, I always see them in the back of the houses."
Despite the prospect of laborious installation in areas such as Nedd's, 2010 has still been kind to the dish industry in Philadelphia. In January, the FCC voted to close Comcast's "terrestrial loophole," which denied satellite providers access to Comcast SportsNet - and Phillies, Flyers, and 76ers coverage. Analysts estimate the loophole may have bolstered Comcast's local subscriptions by up to 450,000.
John DeLuca, 35, is one of them. He plans to trade in his Comcast cable for a bulky dish once SportsNet finally reaches satellite airwaves - and doesn't think much of those pontificating about where the apparatus ought to go. "With a city in a budget crisis? Come on," said DeLuca, a Center City commuter from Glenside. "That seems a little foolhardy."
Citing similar frustrations with Council's prioritizing, many local residents have been reluctant to hitch themselves to the bill's bandwagon.
Shanae Williams, meanwhile, is still waiting for her bus. "Maybe they could make a littler model," she suggests, eyeballing the dish parade once more.
As Williams thumbs through her cell phone, a white DirecTV van turns onto Cecil B. Moore Avenue, leaving faint skid marks in its trail before rumbling past her stop.
Williams gazes toward the road and shrugs. It's not so bad, she finds. Just unsightly enough that someone might notice.