In Franklin Farm, a planned community in Herndon, one learns to live by the rules. Stacks of firewood cannot exceed a certain height. If you want to erect a fence, you have a choice between seven styles. If you don't like them, that's tough beans. Even television antennas, those technological fossils, must be hidden from sight. From that, one can easily guess that the latest manifestation of the home-video rage, those sometimes obtrusive satellite dishes, are not allowed in Franklin Farm.
But Max Parsons, a certified movie addict, was not to be denied. A seemingly innocent picnic table- with-parasol was suddenly noticed in his back yard. For four days, Mr. Parsons gleefully tuned in movies on about 150 channels. His back-yard barbecue setup was actually a $3,000 satellite dish indisguise. His neighbors, ever vigilant, knew something was awry. ("A picnic table umbrella sits at something of an angle, but his tilts completely to the side," one neighbor shrewdly reasoned.)
Mr. Parsons' aesthetic treason was duly noted by the Franklin Farm Foundation, which told him to fess up about the picnic table and then ordered him to get rid of it. Mr. Parsons is appealing that decision, thinking his electronic picnic table should not bother anyone. He even changed the parasol's cover from a rather garish maroon to dark brown and beige.
Neighbors who don't seem to like satellite dishes ("I think it's as ugly as sin") complain that they block views and generally make a neighborhood look like a ballistic missile site. But the prices of satellite dishes, which once cost as much as $100,000, have plummeted, and neighbors are not the only people who don't appreciate the result.
Cable television companies don't like the dishes because you can catch more channels without paying a cable-television franchise to get wired into a cable-television system. Pay-television companies, such as Home Box Office and Showtime, don't like satellite dishes because you can receive their transmissions with a dish without paying for them. Yes, HBO and others will start scrambling their transmissions to prevent nonsubscribers from seeing their movies, but it is a safe bet that others in the satellite television wars are working on de-scramblers to counter that effort.
Most Washington-area jurisdictions allow ground and rooftop satellite dishes, usually with height and location guidelines and the requirement of a building permit. Some take up no more space than a color television antenna. And if someone such as Mr. Parsons is willing to pay $3,000 to buy a dish that looks like a picnic table and parasol, he ought to be allowed to do that. Besides, if the thought of picnic parasols in the wintertime seems ghastly, as some suggest, he could always rig it to look like a Christmas tree.