More FCC Satellite Earth Stations Up for Renewal in 2017

red tape-1We take this opportunity to remind earth station licensees and registrants that the FCC’s International Bureau does not issue notifications of license expiration dates, or reminders to file renewal applications. We expect to see more licenses up for renewal this year as compared to the last few years. So please take a moment to review your authorization and ensure that any needed renewal applications are timely filed (i.e., 90 to 30 days prior to the expiration of the license). Contact Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth with any questions.


FCC, Straight Path Execute $100 Million Settlement of Wireless Probe

5G-2Decision has 5G implications

Wow—FCC enforcement actions don’t get any juicier than this:  an anonymous whistleblower, alleged misrepresentations to the FCC, and a complex $100 million fine to Straight Path Communications, Inc. for apparently misrepresenting that it had constructed 28 and 39 GHz licenses on applications to renew those licenses! All this is revealed in a Consent Decree between Straight Path and the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau.

This is a situation that has been brewing for years. When the FCC auctioned 39 GHz licenses back in 2000, applicants bid over $400 million for the opportunity to operate in this band. But initial equipment shortages, and a lack of a clearly profitable business plans, led many winning bidders to seek construction extensions or default on their licenses. As off-the-shelf equipment became available, and millimeter wave fixed microwave began to be seen as useful for backhaul, particularly of cellular telephone traffic, construction and use of this band commenced. More recently, though, the FCC has acted with urgency to make more spectrum available for so-called “5G” services, and opened up bands above 24 GHz, specifically including 28 and 39 GHz.

The case began in November 2015 when someone using the pseudonym “Sinclair Upton” published a report alleging that Straight Path was able to get the FCC to renew the company’s 39 GHz band licenses by submitting filings incorrectly claiming that the company had actually constructed its 39 GHz systems. The FCC abhors spectrum squatters; the agency requires license holders to actually use their licensed spectrum and verify that use in “substantial service” filings to the Commission. In July 2016, Straight Path told the FCC its internal probe found that equipment had been deployed only for a short period of time at the original transmitter locations, but the gear was “no longer present” at those locations when the investigation was conducted, according to the Consent Decree.

The Enforcement Bureau looked into allegations that Straight Path violated the Commission’s buildout and discontinuance rules for some 1,000 licenses in the 39 GHz and Local Multipoint Distribution Service 28 GHz spectrum bands —being explored for 5G. To settle the case, Straight Path agreed to pay the U.S. Treasury a $100 million civil penalty, surrender to the Commission 196 of its licenses in the 39 GHz spectrum band, sell the remainder of those licenses, and remit 20 percent of the proceeds to the Treasury as an extra penalty.

The $100 million fine may not actually come to bear, though. Straight Path will pay $15 million upfront; $85 million will be suspended if Straight Path sells the rest of its 39 GHz licenses or surrenders them to the FCC within 12 months.

Of course, it is never a good idea to be anything less than truthful on an FCC application. Doing so opens up the licensee to risks of fines, loss of licenses, and disqualification for holding other FCC licenses.  The attorneys at Fletcher Heald can provide guidance on alternatives when wireless construction deadlines are approaching. If you have questions on these issues, please call us.


FCC About to Sweep Away Last Paper Public File Remnants

The FCC plans to vote on the last vestiges of the paper public file at its January open meeting on the 31st — a Report and Order resolving a May 2016 proposal to eliminate the requirement that commercial broadcast stations retain copies of letters and emails from the public concerning their station operation in their public inspection files. For cable operators, the R&O would eliminate the requirement that their public files include a list disclosing the location and designation of the system’s principal headend.

The two to-be-dispatched rules have been on the books for decades. Their contribution to the “public interest” has, as far as we can tell, been indiscernible.

The FCC first indicated last January it intended to eliminate the correspondence requirement, stating at the time “it’s hard to imagine anyone ever visiting a station solely for the thrill of reading its mail.”  With the advent of the online public file, these are also the only documents broadcasters are still required to maintain in “hard copy,” significantly increasing the burden imposed by the requirement.  And as to the cable headend disclosure rule, the Commission stated that “we do not believe that the general public has any need for or interest in this information.”  

Broadcasters and cable operators will be glad to see these remnants of the former requirement to keep paper copies of public inspection files go into the dustbin; indeed, many broadcasters told the Commission that they consider it a safety risk to keep their offices and main studios open for members of the public on the chance that someone might want to see the file.


Keeping Tabs on the Post-Auction TV Transition Progress

FCC Releases Proposed Progress Report Form and Seeks to Require Non-Reimbursable Stations to Comply

As the end of the Incentive Auction (hopefully) nears, the FCC has released additional information about the requirements and mechanisms for post-auction transition progress reporting by reimbursement-eligible stations, and has put out for comment a proposal to require similar reporting from stations which are not eligible for reimbursement funds but will nonetheless be relocated in the post-auction landscape.

Full-power and Class A television stations involuntarily reassigned to a new channel assignment are considered “Reimbursable Stations” eligible for relocation fund reimbursement and will be required to file Transition Progress Reports on a quarterly basis beginning the first quarter after the FCC releases the Closing and Reassignment Public Notice announcing the completion of the auction and the new channel assignments. Transition Progress Reports will be submitted electronically in LMS on Form 2100- Schedule 387. A model of the form is available for review in Appendix A to the public notice. Reimbursable Stations will also have to file Transition Progress Reports (i) 10 weeks prior to end of the assigned construction deadline; (ii) 10 days after construction of post-auction facilities is complete; and (iii) five days after ceasing operation on their pre-auction channels.

All of the information submitted in the Transition Progress Reports will be public and searchable by construction deadline and DMA in addition to the usual search parameters. The Commission makes a point that this information will be accessible to “tower companies, equipment providers, engineering consultants, and other interested parties,” to assure these parties that they will have access to information about any repacking they are coordinating, involved in, or working around without having to be directly discussing with each broadcaster. The reports will also be made public in each station’s online public file.

Of course, there are stations which will not be eligible for reimbursement but will nonetheless be moving to a new channel assignment in concert with the rest of the transition. It appears to have occurred to the Incentive Auction Task Force that progress reporting for these stations would be very useful to ensure they stay on schedule, and to give the FCC insight into resource constraints, delays and potential bottlenecks that would otherwise fly under the radar. These stations will include TV stations that accept a bid to move from UHF to a VHF channel, stations which elect no reimbursement funds in exchange for the right to service rule waivers, and a handful of specific displaced Class A stations deemed in prior orders to not be eligible for reimbursement of relocation costs (collectively, the “Non-Reimbursable Stations”). The FCC seeks comment on its proposal to subject Non-Reimbursable Station to the post-transition progress reporting requirements. Comments to MB Docket 16-306 and GN Docket 12-268 are due January 25th; reply comments are due on February 6.

The Winds of Change Blowing Through FCC

fcc building-1Lately, there has been a lot of news about all the political jockeying at the FCC over who will stay and who will go, plus who must leave and who will be appointed. Will he or she be a Republican or Democrat?  Will the Democrats stay?  Wait….what?  Democrats stay?  Didn’t Trump win the election?  How can that be?  These are all good questions, so we thought a primer on how the FCC works might be in order.

The FCC is not a cabinet level agency and so it is not part of the Executive Branch like the Commerce Department or the State Department. Instead, it is an independent agency created by Congress, like the FTC or the SEC.  The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. As an independent government agency, it is overseen by Congress (not the President), and the five commissioners are appointed for fixed but staggered five-year terms.

Under the statute that created the FCC, the President appoints all of the commissioners but he/she can only appoint three from the same party.  The other two must be from another party or no party at all. The President is also given the authority to select who will be the chair of the FCC. All appointments must be approved by the Senate.  The FCC requires a minimum of three (a quorum) to function. Continue Reading

Public File Political Requirements Clarified as Wheeler Administration Sunsets

On Friday, January 7, after the sun had set and the FCC’s doors were locked for the night, the agency released two decisions addressing complaints that a dozen TV stations did not provide sufficiently complete information about political advertising in their public inspection files during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

That sounds kind of like a “controversial” FCC decision, and we thought that the FCC was going to hold off on controversial decisions until after next week’s Presidential Inauguration. To get around that unofficial moratorium, the Media Bureau Staff, rather than the full Commission, issued the two Orders, an approach used in a few other situations where the Wheeler FCC has wanted to get decisions out before the Chairman departs next week.

The political public file requirements are pretty detailed, and it’s not always easy to pry some of the required information out of political sponsors, let alone get it all uploaded immediately into a station’s online political public file. Complaints were filed during the campaign, often by public interest groups, attempting to expose the sources of money behind political advertising where the sponsor preferred to remain in the shadows. Continue Reading

FCC Needs Updated TV Contact Info. For Channel Reassignments

The FCC’s Media Bureau and the Incentive Auction Task Force are (again!) reminding all television owners (including those participating in the broadcast incentive auction and those who may potentially be subject to repacking) to provide updated contact information for every station in your portfolio. Important information can reach those owners more quickly with a street address rather than a post office box, says the Bureau in a Notice.

The Commission plans to use the information to contact owners about channel reassignments related to the repack. The Bureau and the Task Force anticipate sending channel assignment information “three to four weeks after the final stage rule is met in the forward auction and the Commission’s systems have identified new post-auction channel assignments for all stations that will remain broadcasting.”

The FCC will use overnight mail to communicate with stations that have provided a street address and regular mail for those that provided a PO Box number.


FCC’s Media Bureau Reaffirms NCE Ownership Reporting Requirements, Angers GOP Commissioners

fcc building-1The (seemingly never-ending) saga of the FCC’s attempts to revise its biennial ownership reporting requirements for broadcasters has taken an interesting, and somewhat unexpected turn. As we have previously reported, the Media Bureau early last year adopted new requirements related to the FCC Registration Numbers  (FRNs) and “Restricted Use FRNs” (RUFRNs) that interest holders would be required to obtain and list in those reports.

In May, a number of interested parties filed Petitions for Reconsideration of the requirements as they would apply to non-commercial licensees.  Primarily, those parties raised concerns about the need for, propriety of, and practical difficulty of, obtaining and filing FRNs or RUFRNs for the members of non-commercial licensees’ boards of directors (or boards of trustees).  The Petitions raised questions about whether those members, who are often elected officials or other ex officio members, should be required to provide the Commission with the personally-identifiable information required to obtain an FRN or RUFRN.  They also questioned whether the FRN requirements, as applied to such board members, would actually serve the Commission’s goals.

The Media Bureau has released an Order denying those Petitions for Reconsideration, and upholding the new FRN requirements.  While this normally might not be too surprising, the current political climate, as well as the procedural route the Bureau used to adopt the Order, make this a more interesting case. Continue Reading

Do Excessive Rights-of-Way Costs Get in The Way of 5G?

The FCC is asking for public input on streamlining its rules governing deployment of small cell infrastructure to support 5G services by improving the agency’s wireless facilities siting policies. The effort by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau stems in part from a petition for Declaratory Ruling filed by Mobilitie, LLC titled: “Promoting Broadband for All Americans by prohibiting Excessive Charges for Access to Public Rights of Way.”

In the petition, Mobilitie tells the Commission that “high and discriminatory fees” are impeding infrastructure deployment necessary to support wireless broadband and wireless technologies that “need affordable access to rights-of-way.” Mobilitie states that “just and reasonable compensation” is appropriately limited to a locality’s cost of managing its rights-of-way and “localities should disclose their charges on other carriers which were given rights-of-way access.”

In 2009, the commission decided that a reasonable amount of time for state or local governments to process collocation applications is 90 days and 150 days to process other siting applications, including DAS and small cells. If the local authorities haven’t acted by then the provider may seek relief in the courts.

Now, the FCC seeks public input on how often local land-use authorities deny siting applications and why. The Commission is also looking for facts to establish a basis to assess the reasonableness of fees charged by municipalities for processing site applications, and also whether the time frame for action on small cell or DAS site applications submitted in batches should be either reduced or increased.

Comments to WT Docket 16-421 are due by February 6.