AND TH DISH RAN AWAYSCHOOL STAFFERS CART NEW SATELLITE ANTENNA TO PRINCIPAL'S HOME | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona
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AND TH DISH RAN AWAYSCHOOL STAFFERS CART NEW SATELLITE ANTENNA TO PRINCIPAL'S HOME

The Communications Technology department at Metro Tech Vocational Institute took a giant step toward the future this month when it acquired a satellite dish to capture television signals. It promises to be a powerful, cutting-edge teaching tool for the vocational school. So when the $2,000 device finally arrived, department leaders...
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The Communications Technology department at Metro Tech Vocational Institute took a giant step toward the future this month when it acquired a satellite dish to capture television signals. It promises to be a powerful, cutting-edge teaching tool for the vocational school.

So when the $2,000 device finally arrived, department leaders and Metro Tech principal Martin Hoeffel mobilized to speed the dish into service. They took it out of its crates, assembled it--and promptly hauled it to Hoeffel's north Valley home. There, on the evening of Friday, May 13, about 150 people who paid a $12 admission fee ate, drank and watched the satellite feed of the Phoenix Suns-Houston Rockets playoff game.

"That sounds scandalous," Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board member Gary Peter Klahr said when told of the satellite-dish caper.

When New Times called on Hoeffel at his West Alameda Road home at midday on Saturday, May 14, he looked very much like a man recovering from a spirited bash. "I don't look good," Hoeffel said, declining to be photographed. The bed of a pickup truck parked beside his sprawling home was nearly full of empty beer cans. A party tent was visible in the backyard.

"Yes, we had an end-of-the-year celebration," Hoeffel said. "When we have these, it's not unusual to bring tables and chairs and other equipment" from school campuses.

Hoeffel said the satellite dish was added to the festivities because his home is not served by Dimension Cable, so he was unable to order Suns games via pay-per-view.

He explained that two staff members--technology head Gary Morse and communications technology instructor David Fornier--had worked to get the satellite dish operational.

"We busted our butts for three days," Fornier said. "We were scrambling, trying to find tools to align this dish."
Although the dish was still in his backyard on May 14, Hoeffel refused to allow New Times to photograph the dish, saying "the general public will take advantage of the situation and see it as some attempt to misuse school equipment."

It is not against school-district policy to use school equipment for private parties, Hoeffel said, especially a party for Metro Tech staffers.

New Times was able to gain a vantage point to photograph the brand-new dish, which had been tipped on its side in an apparent attempt to conceal it. "That certainly doesn't do a dish any good," one Valley dish salesman said.

Like Klahr, Kimble Arnold, PUHSD Governing Board president, was initially aghast when told of the satellite odyssey. "I'm speechless. I'm not sure what to say," Arnold said. "This is the first I've ever heard of something like this happening."

But Arnold's incredulity faded as the district's damage-control apparatus spun into motion.

"It does appear that there's nothing out of the ordinary that's happened here," she said in a follow-up call. "Marty Hoeffel did have the authority, and returned it [the dish] in good condition."
PUHSD spokesman Jim Cummings explained, "It's his [Hoeffel's] campus, and that's essentially his equipment. How he chooses to use it is up to him."

That may be, since a district policy titled "Authorized Use of School-Owned Materials and Equipment" states that school property may be used by nonschool individuals and agencies provided the district incurs no expense and the superintendent or his designee approves the usage.

And provided the usage is not in conflict with state law or "federal or state rules or regulations."

Therein lies a rub.
The Friday the 13th home game between the Suns and Rockets was pay-per-view, which meant that unless viewers paid Dimension Cable for a decoder box, the signal was supposed to be blacked out for cable customers and satellite-dish owners within a 35-mile radius of downtown Phoenix.

When Gary Morse, who helped install the dish, called a satellite-signal subscription service from Metro Tech on May 13 to get the TNT signal for that night's party, he used his own credit card, but provided his parents' home address in Ramona, California. Since it was out of the blackout area, he was promptly given authorization to receive the signal.

"That's illegal," Dimension Cable spokeswoman Lori Fields said of the signal acquisition. "That's against FCC rule 76.67."
On Monday, May 16--two days after New Times had interviewed Hoeffel about the use of the new dish--Morse again called the subscription service, National Broadcasting Service (NBS), and changed the address for his signal order to his own Glendale home.

His reason? "Mr. Morse stated that he had just moved, and he was moving the dish with him," said the NBS customer-service representative who took the May 16 address change. The service rep declined to be identified.

The service rep who took Morse's initial, May 13 order said it was "very suspicious" that Morse had called back to change the address.

Told of Morse's May 16 callback and address change, PUHSD spokesman Cummings conceded that it looked as though Morse was attempting to cover his tracks. "That was stupid. . . . He's certainly not looking too bright at this point," Cummings said, vowing, "If laws were broken, that's something that has to be investigated."

By May 19, when Hoeffel, Morse, Fornier and Cummings gathered at Hoeffel's office for an interview, Cummings' investigation was complete, and everyone had his story straight. The findings: No laws were intentionally broken, nothing was suspicious and nobody was stupid.

Ignorant, maybe.
Morse and Fornier, the technology experts, explained that because they knew absolutely nothing about satellite dishes, they were at the mercy of NBS, which Morse claimed never batted an eye when he told the company he was ordering the signal inside the blackout area.

Morse said he gave his father's California address because NBS requires a subscriber to buy at least five stations for three months. "I'm going to put a satellite system for my dad in Ramona," Morse said.

Hoeffel said that even if it were illegal to tap the signal inside the blackout area, lots of people are doing it. He urged New Times to call NBS and try to order a signal inside Phoenix. "You ask them whether they'll give it to you," an angry Hoeffel said. "We did that yesterday with Mr. Cummings. . . . Whether it's supposed to go on or not, it's going on wholesale."

Within the hour, New Times called NBS to try to order the May 19 blacked-out Suns-Rockets game. A customer-service representative named Eric refused to sell the service, citing the blackout. When asked whether the service could be ordered from Phoenix for an out-of-state address, Eric refused again. "I can't do that," he said.

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