Coming Soon: New Marking Rules for Shorter Towers

Congress orders FAA to require marking for some towers 200’ or less 

faa-tower paint-1[Blogmeister’s Note: This post was originally published on the website of Radio World. Our friends at RW have graciously given us permission to include it here.]

If you own a tower that’s between 50 and 200 feet tall, the chances are that you don’t have to mark it to satisfy any FAA standards, which makes your life easy. But that may be about to change.

Congress recently passed, and the President signed, H.R. 636 – a/k/a the “FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016”. The primary purpose of this sweeping, 51-page piece of legislation is to ensure the continuity of the FAA’s operations for another year (through September 30, 2017). But buried deep in its legislative bowels is Section 2110, a little-publicized provision that could have serious repercussions for small tower owners, particularly those in rural areas.

Section 2110 requires the FAA to issue regulations within the next year requiring “covered towers” to be “clearly marked.” And what’s a “covered tower”? That would be a structure that: Continue Reading

Update: Effective Date of Revised Application Fees Announced

A couple of weeks ago we reported on the FCC’s adoption of a new schedule of application fees. Since the new schedule ups fees across-the-board, anybody who was planning to file a fee-able application in the near term might want to file sooner rather than later, to take advantage of the outgoing fees before they, er, outgo. Sure, the increase is only 1.8%, but a penny save is a penny earned.

With that in mind, it’s time to get your calendar out and do some end-of-summer planning. The new schedule has now been published in the Federal Register, so we know that the new fees will take effect as of August 26, 2016. If you want to take advantage of the current rates – and, frankly, it’s probably safe to say that they’re not going to get any lower than they are now – you should have your fee-able application on file (with the fee paid) before then.

Does the FCC Know How Long It Takes to Complete an Ownership Report?

PRA notice suggests low-ball estimate, but what about, um, the 10 hours of outside attorney time the FCC told OMB about six months ago?

Back in January the Commission announced its most recent overhaul of the biennial Ownership Reports that commercial and noncommercial broadcasters are required to file using, respectively, Forms 323 and 323-E. As we reported back then, thanks to our old friend, the hilariously named Paperwork Reduction Act, the revised forms can’t be implemented until the Office of Management and Budget has vetted them. That vetting process has started, so anyone concerned about the burdens the revised forms would impose has the chance to voice those concerns.

In view of the FCC’s estimates of those burdens, it might be a good idea for folks who have actually filled out Ownership Reports to provide the Commission (and OMB) a reality check.

First, some procedural background. The PRA provides two opportunities for public comment about proposed “information collections”. First, interested folks have a 60-day period during which they can vent at the FCC about the proposals. Then the FCC bundles up whatever comments may have rolled in the door, slaps an explanatory cover memo on the package, and ships it over to OMB. OMB then opens a new 30-day comment period during which further (or repeated) venting can occur. Comments can address, among other things:

Whether the proposed [information collection] is necessary for the proposed performance of the functions of the Commission, including whether the information shall have practical utility; the accuracy of the Commission’s burden estimate; … ways to minimize the burden of the [information collection]; and ways to further reduce the … burden on small business concerns with fewer than 25 employees.

With two recent notices in the Federal Register (one each for Form 323 and Form 323-E), the process has begun: the first round of PRA comments on the revised Ownership Report forms may be filed with the Commission by September 19, 2016. You may want to think about chipping in your two cents’ worth. Continue Reading

Update: Effective Date Set for Recent Revisions to Citizens Broadband Service Rules

For some time now we’ve been following the FCC’s efforts to establish the Citizens Broadband Service in the 3550-3650 MHz band. Most recently, back in May, the Commission disposed of several petitions for reconsideration of its April 2015 Report and Order. (We reported on those petitions last September.) In so doing, the Commission put the finishing touches on the rules governing the new service. And now that order has made its way into the Federal Register – which, of course, means that we now know when the new rules will take effect. That magic date is August 25, 2016.

Heads up, though, because some of the new rules will not be kicking in then. To be specific, Sections 1.9046, 96.3, 96.17(b), 96.25(c)(1)(i), and 96.32(a) and (b) all involve new or modified information collections that must first be blessed by the Office of Management and Budget before they can become effective. We’ll keep an eye on their progress through OMB. Check back here for updates.

Last (?) Regulatory Hurdle to Experimental Licenses Now Overcome

But no, the licenses aren’t yet available.

The FCC’s roll-out of its three new types of experimental licenses – “program licenses” for large-scale innovators, “medical testing licenses” for clinical trials, and “compliance testing licenses” for compliance test labs – has been frustratingly slow. The original order authorizing these categories came out early in 2013, followed by an adjustment two years later. The Office of Management and Budget, which has to approve certain kinds of information collection, signed off last January. The FCC tweaked the rules again in late June to give program licensees access to otherwise restricted frequency bands under certain conditions. That item has now hit the Federal Register and will take effect on August 24, 2016.

The regulatory work is finally done. But you still can’t apply for the licenses. The problem, as far as we can tell, is delays in developing an FCC website on which program licensees will have to register the details of their operations. More details when available.

10+ GHz for 5G: FCC Expands Spectrum Frontiers for Fifth Generation Connectivity

U.S. aims to get ahead of the rest of the world in advanced wireless technology.fcc and 5G-1

As we’ve reported, the FCC has been hard at work on the regulatory regime for future wireless “5G” technologies, which promise blindingly fast data speeds.

Would-be 5G wireless providers and device manufacturers particularly want wide swaths of millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum – frequencies above 24 GHz – for fastest speeds and highest video resolution. An advantage to this spectrum: at present a lot of it is only lightly used. Because these frequencies work best at short range, many envision that the highest-speed service will add to, but not fully replace, current 4G technology. Best of all, transmitter and antenna technologies are close to being ready.

In the Report and Order (R&O) component of a massive, 278-page Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Order), the FCC has made mmWave spectrum available for both licensed and unlicensed use. New rules provide for mobile use in the 28, 37, and 39 GHz bands. And the newly-opened 64-71 GHz band will provide a total of 14 GHz for unlicensed use of WiGig technology, similar to a higher-frequency version of Wi-Fi. Through the Further Notice of Rulemaking (FNPRM) portion of the Order, the FCC is looking to address a number of issues left open in the R&O portion. (The fact that some issues remained unresolved is not surprising, since the R&O was wrapped up in near-record time, for the FCC – just nine months after the rules were formally proposed.)

The FCC has followed through on its proposal to make available almost 4 GHz of spectrum for flexible licensed use in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz, and 39 GHz bands. Here “flexible” means that a licensee can use its frequencies for either fixed or mobile applications. This is a novel idea in the halls of the FCC – one that’s been talked about for years, but is only now finally being implemented. The R&O creates a new “Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service” (UMFUS) in a new Part 30 of the FCC rulebook. Continue Reading

Update: Comment Deadlines Announced in Alien Ownership Inquiry

fcc building with statue of liberty-1Last month we reported on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) through which the FCC is seeking comment on the way it processes proposals involving reportable levels of foreign ownership. The NPRM has now wended its way into the Federal Register, which means that the deadlines for comments and replies have been set. Get out your calendars: comments are due to be filed by August 18, 2016; replies are due by September 2 (an excellent way to kick off your Labor Day weekend!). You can submit your comments at this FCC website; enter Proceeding Number 16-155.

Wheeler Takes Retrans Re-Tooling Off the Table

Chairman blogs that FCC will not be modifying “totality of the circumstances” test on his watch.

In the long-running retransmission consent war pitting broadcasters against MVPDs, a major threat to the status quo has been averted: according to a blog posted on the FCC’s website by Chairman Tom Wheeler, the Commission has opted not to make any changes to the agency’s existing approach to resolving retrans disputes “at this time”. That leaves the less-than-specific “totality of the circumstances” standard in place. While greater specificity could conceivably have been a good thing for both sides, it could also have favored one over the other. Given the level of broadcaster opposition to change, the Chairman’s announcement can be viewed as a big win for broadcasters.

As we all know, when broadcasters and MVPDs negotiate retrans deals, they are required to act in “good faith”. When one side believes the other is not doing so, it can complain to the FCC, which then assesses the parties’ respective conduct under a “totality of the circumstances” standard. Cable and satellite operators have for some time now been pressuring the Commission, as well as Congress, to make changes to the retransmission consent regime.

As we reported when it happened, in 2014 Congress directed the FCC to “review” the “totality of the circumstances” standard. In 2015 the Commission duly opened a rulemaking proceeding to that end, asking a wide range of questions about the types of conduct that might be deemed to demonstrate “bad faith”. As we reported, interested parties (mostly MVPDs) identified a large number of behaviors that they thought should constitute per se bad faith. Those included “bundling” of additional channels with a local broadcast station, and preventing online access to programming during retransmission consent disputes – i.e., behaviors used by broadcasters. Determination that such conduct should be deemed per se indicative of “bad faith” would have seriously diminished broadcasters’ negotiating position.

But according to Wheeler, the record developed in the proceeding didn’t justify adoption of any new rules directed at any specific negotiating practices. Continue Reading

EWW, SSA, SSW: New EAS Event Codes Added

While supporting the decision, Commissioner O’Rielly criticizes FCC’s “cost/benefit” analysis

In what four out of five FCC Commissioners seem to view as a no-brainer, the Emergency Alert System just got three more event codes and two slightly-revised geographic location codes. The odd man out? Commissioner O’Rielly. He doesn’t question the potential utility of the new/revised codes, but he does take issue with the cost/benefit analysis endorsed by his colleagues. We’ll get to that shortly.

The three new event codes are EWW, SSA and SSW, which stand for “Extreme Wind Warning”, “Storm Surge Watch” and “Storm Surge Warning”, respectively. We all know by now that event codes are elements included in the message issued when an authorized official initiates an EAS alert. The several dozen specific codes mandated by the FCC – you can find them in Section 11.31(e) of the rules – range from “Avalanche Watch” through “Volcano Warning” and on to “Winter Storm Watch”, and include three separate hurricane-related codes.

According to the National Weather Service, however, the three hurricane-related event codes already on the books – i.e., HUW (for Hurricane Warning), HUA (for Hurricane Watch) and HLS (for Hurricane Statement) – only “apply generally to the hurricane event itself, and are not specifically tailored to warn of extreme sustained surface winds associated with a Category 3 (or greater) hurricane.” Hence, in the NWS’s view, additional, more narrowly-defined, event codes are called for to permit officials to provide more accurate warnings.

Historically, NWS had improvised a bit, using the Tornado Warning heading to advise of high winds associated with Hurricane Charlie in 2004 – but that caused confusion among the public and led to “the dissemination of incorrect risk-avoidance advice”. Since 2007 NWS has been using the EWW code in connection with its own weather alert radio system warnings. But EAS participants have been reluctant to add that particular code to their systems because the FCC hadn’t blessed it by including it in the rules.

Now we can consider it blessed, along with SSA and SSW. Continue Reading

Pursestrings 2016: New Application Fee Schedule Announced

Normally non-controversial biennial action spiced up this year by partial dissent from Commissioner O’Rielly

Thanks to Congress, the FCC has got to charge application fees and, also thanks to Congress, those fees have got to be adjusted every two years in light of changes in the Consumer Price Index. The last time the Commission tweaked its application fee schedule was 2014. If you do the math, you won’t be surprised to learn that we’re due for another adjustment.

Sure enough, the FCC has lifted the curtain on a revised application fee schedule. And there’s reasonably good news to report. Thanks to recent economic trends, this year’s adjustment is hardly worth mentioning: a 1.8% across-the-board increase. Sure, it’s a 1.8% increase, but it’s nowhere near the 8% increase we saw in 2014, the nearly 5% bump announced in 2008, or even the 3% or so increase adopted in 2011. So let’s not be looking this gift horse in the mouth.

The new fees won’t kick in until 30 days after the FCC’s order shows up in the Federal Register. In other words, you’ve got some time to prepare and file applications and still take advantage of the current fee schedule. Check back here for updates about the effective date of the new fees.

Usually, the announcement of a new application fee schedule is about as non-controversial as an FCC order gets. That’s because the FCC has very little say in the matter: Congress has dictated how the fees are to be adjusted every couple of years, and Congress even went so far as to preclude any judicial review of adjustments once they are made. But this year Commissioner O’Rielly has injected some buzz into the biennial ritual by dissenting in part from the Commission’s bare-bones order (which consists of just one page of text, slightly less than O’Rielly’s separate statement). Continue Reading