Speeding FCC Approval of Technological Innovation

These ideas will help prevent regulatory delay from blocking the launch of new products.

thinker-1A lot of new products use the buzzwords “wireless connectivity.” In old-fashioned English, they have radio transmitters. This means they must go through an FCC approval process before they can be sold to the public.

The FCC understandably writes its technical rules around existing technologies. A device made to comply with those rules can get quick authorization, even if intended for a new application. Sometimes, though, the underlying technology is so novel that the existing rules do not reasonably apply, making compliance with those rules impossible. Such a device requires individualized attention from the FCC before it can reach the market.

For a new and different radio technology, the approval process usually takes years – delays that can seriously impede innovation. More than once, a client has approached me with a concept for a new kind of radio device; but when I explained how long FCC approval would take and what it would cost, the client abandoned the idea. Other clients started the process but ran out of time and money along the way. Even when it ultimately succeeds, FCC approval adds hard-to-predict costs and delays to ventures that already carry inherently high risk.

Surely there must be ways by which the proponent of a new technology can secure FCC approval more quickly. These are set out below. Some work better than others in particular situations. The greatest improvements, though, will need a handful of changes in how the FCC goes about implementing its procedures. Continue Reading

Update: Deadlines Set for Responses to Petitions for Reconsideration in Citizens Broadband Radio Proceeding

You already know (because we told you last week) that the Commission has received eight petitions for reconsideration of various aspects of its new rules establishing the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. Now, thanks to a notice in the Federal Register, we know when comments (and replies to those comments) about any or all of those petitions are due. If you’re inclined to comment on any (or all) of the petitions, you’ve got until October 19, 2015, to let the FCC know what’s on your mind. Because the FCC’s original notice said that replies to any comments are due “within 10 days after the time for filing [comments] has expired”, we here in the CommLawBlog bunker calculate that replies should be due by October 29, 2015. Careful readers of the Federal Register notice, however, will observe that, according to that Official Government Publication, replies are due by October 13, 2015 – a notion which raises considerable conceptual problems unless you happen to (a) be Pope Gregory XIII or (b) have a time machine that works better than ours. We’ll let you know if and when this gets straightened out.

Dancing Baby in the Ninth Circuit: A Twist on Takedowns

DMCA requires consideration of “fair use” before infringement can be alleged.

Thanks to digital technology, copyright infringement is easier than ever – and the Internet provides a tempting place to display infringing uses of copyrighted material. Recognizing that, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), creating a simple mechanism by which copyright owners could get infringing uses quickly removed from the Internet. That mechanism – the “Notice and Takedown” provision of Section 512 of the DMCA – has proven very effective at getting a wide range of materials removed, whether or not they were in fact infringements.

But now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit may have provided the targets of such “takedown” notices a way to fight back. Continue Reading

Mark Your Calendar: The Auction Date Has Been Set

The FCBA’s Annual Charity Auction, that is.

If you’re going to be in Washington on November 5, be sure to clear your evening schedule. That’s the night of this year’s Annual Charity Auction hosted by the FCBA’s Young Lawyers Committee. November 5 is a Thursday, if that makes a difference to you. The place: The Sphinx Club at the Almas Temple (conveniently located at 1315 K Street, NW, in downtown D.C.). The time: Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.  They’re estimating last call for some time around 10:00 p.m., but once things start rolling, it’ll probably be hard to keep track of the time.

Oh, yeah – did we mention that it’s free? AND you get two free drinks (plus food) just for showing up and bidding on any (or all) of the way cool stuff up for grabs? What’s not to like?

For the last several years we here in the CommLawBlog bunker have enthusiastically shilled for the Auction, but only at the last minute – because that’s when we could finally lay our hands on the auction prize list. (Check out our previous posts here, here and here.) This year, the fine folks in charge of the Auction suggested we might want to put up a “Save the Date” post, and we’re happy to oblige.

We still don’t have this year’s prize list, because the organizers are still in the process of collecting the swag to give away. (Hot tip: We hear that one of the prizes is going to be – are you sitting down? – a South African safari!!! But you didn’t hear that from us.) They’ve promised to slip us an advance copy of the full list as soon as it’s nearly ready to go to the printer; when that happens, we’ll post a preview of the goodies on the auction block. For now, our mission is simple: Get the word out about the date so that you can arrange your schedule accordingly.

Mission accomplished.

Not going to be in D.C. on November 5? No problem – there’s going to be an online auction, too.

(BTW – If you’ve got something to contribute to be auctioned – and you know that you probably do – they want to hear from you. Contact Starsha Valentine at the FCBA. Her email is starsha@fcba.org. You’ll also need to complete an Auction Donation Form, but Starsha can totally hook you up with that, or you can download it here.)

On Second Thought: Citizens Broadband Radio Service Rules Draw Eight Petitions for Reconsideration

Petitioners’ suggestions are all over the map.

We reported last May on the FCC’s adoption of preliminary rules for the Citizens Broadband Service at 3550-3700 MHz. Under those rules, a control database and automated frequency assignment mechanism, dubbed the Spectrum Access System (SAS), will assign frequencies to users on the fly in three priority levels: Incumbent Access, consisting primarily of currently authorized users; Priority Access, for operation under auctioned licenses; and General Authorized Access, whatever is left over. Everyone acknowledges that making this complex system work in real time will be a major undertaking at the very edge of technical feasibility.

In light of the cutting-edge nature of the FCC’s system, we might have expected some interested parties to be not entirely satisfied with what the FCC came up with. And sure enough, the FCC has announced receipt of eight petitions for reconsideration raising a range of concerns. The petitions, though, do not seek to revive earlier challenges to the three-priority structure, or the controversies about who should qualify for each priority. The wireless companies no longer insist that the band be auctioned for their exclusive use. The petitions all accept the basic premise of the new rules, while pressing for a wide range of adjustments.

The eight petitioners, and a brief summary of the respective petitions, are as follows. (Cautionary note: These are just the headlines; anyone with a serious interest in this proceeding should consult the separate petitions for full details. And yes, for your convenience we’re providing links to each of the petitions. You’re welcome.) Continue Reading

Broadcast Contest Rule Moves Online

Long-pending Entercom proposal adopted … finally.

If you’re a broadcast station that conducts contests and promotes those contests on the air, the FCC has just ushered you into the 21st Century. Soon you will be able to advise your audience about the material elements of your contests by simply posting them online (as opposed to reading them on the air repeatedly during the course of the contest).

The only thing surprising about this rule change is that it took so long.

Since 1976, the contest rule (that would be Section 73.1216) has required (among other things) periodic on-air disclosure of all material elements of the contest. (You can find some examples of the rule in action here, here and here.) For many contests, that imposes a considerable burden on both stations (who must be sure to intone the rules on the air, often at auctioneer speed – or scroll them in infinitesimal print – regardless of how much that can interrupt program flow) and audience members (who have to suffer through the interruptions).

Nearly four years ago, Entercom formally asked the Commission to allow broadcasters simply to post their contest rules online, so that the rules would be available to whoever might want to consult them whenever they might want to. As Entercom put it, this would be consistent with “how the majority of Americans access and consume information in the 21st century.”

At long last, Entercom’s proposal (with some tweaks) has been adopted. Continue Reading

Political Broadcasting 2015 Webinar Now Available Online

Political Webinar-1If you’ve been watching TV, or reading news (whether on the Intertubes or the old-fashioned way), or eavesdropping on conversations on the subway, you probably know that we’re already in the middle of the Next Election Season (even though the Next Election happens to be more than 13 months away). Because it’s never too early to get ready for political campaign season – and the inevitable onslaught of campaign advertising it brings – our own Scott Johnson organized a refresher webinar on political broadcasting. Presented on September 9 under the aegis of the Alabama Broadcasters Association and the South Carolina Broadcasters Association, the presentation featured none other than Bobby Baker, the Media Bureau’s long-time go-to official when it comes to political broadcasting. Also on the bill were FHH’s Dan Kirkpatrick and Harry Cole.

If you’d like a copy of the PowerPoint slides presented during the webinar, click here. But you’d be well-advised to click here, which will take you to a recording of the full webinar, slides and audio commentary. (If you didn’t register for the webinar previously, you’ll be asked to provide your name and email address.) We recommend listening to the recording because Bobby ad libbed frequently during the 90-minutes session, providing a lot of useful information not necessarily reflected in the slides. One correction, though: During the webinar reference was made to the date for the 2016 Presidential (and Statewide) Primary in Alabama. The correct date for that primary, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s website, is March 1, NOT March 8. (The reference to March 8 during the webinar was based on a previously-announced tentative scheduling which has since been revised to March 1.)

“Enhanced” Interference Complaint Process: Your Complaint is Important to Us; Please Remain on the Line.

As Field Offices are shuttered, Enforcement Bureau touts improved “transparency, consistency, and predictability” in complaint responses.

switchboard-2As we reported in July, the FCC is saying sayonara to 11 of its 24 Field Offices. Also as we reported, when it announced that cut-back on July 16, the Commission committed to issuing, within six weeks, “new procedures addressing how complaints can be ‘escalated through the field offices’.” Let’s see – six weeks from July 16 would be, um, August 27. And sure enough, just like clock-work, on August 27 the Enforcement Bureau issued a public notice touting “enhance[d] procedures for public safety and industry interference complaints.”

While the Bureau’s adherence to its Commission-imposed deadline is admirable, its public notice leaves (a) many questions unanswered and (b) us less than impressed (favorably, at least). Continue Reading

The FAA’s Drone Drill: An Introduction

If you want to use your drone for your business, you’ll need to know what to ask for and how to ask for it.

fhh drone-3Let’s be honest: you want a drone, just like the rest of us. (True fact: We here in the CommLawBlog bunker have frequently fantasized about flying our own – appropriately branded – drone straight to the FCC to deliver filings from the 18th floor rooftop patio here on the CommLawBlog Tower. We are not optimistic, however. We’ll get to that in a minute.) But, also like the rest of us, you’d probably like to use your drone for something more than purely recreational purposes, and you’ve heard that the FAA expects you to jump through a number of hoops before you can do so.

What are those hoops and how do you jump through them? Read on. Continue Reading

2015 Reg Fees Set, Payment Deadline Announced, Fee Filer Open (for now)

Fire up your computer, free up some space on your credit cards and get your FRN information ready – you’ve got until SEPTEMBER 24, 2015 to get your reg fees paid … but don’t count on paying between 6:00 p.m., September 2 and 8:00 a.m., September 8.

And we thought last year – when the FCC didn’t announce the 2014 regulatory fees until August 29 – was bad. This year the Commission has procrastinated three more days, waiting until September 2 to announce its final 2015 regulatory fees. Since the FCC apparently isn’t inclined to make life easy for anybody, we’ll do what we can: here’s a link to a convenient table setting out the new fees for broadcast-related services. [Spoiler Alert: The final fees for radio are as proposed back in May. TV fees, on the other hand, show slight (i.e., less than $400) increases across all markets.]

As it did last year, the Commission has again taken the (previously) unusual step of simultaneously announcing the deadline for reg fee payments. That would be 11:59 p.m. (ET) on September 24, 2015.

As has always been the case, failure to pay reg fees on time can have dire consequences. Those include: a late payment penalty of 25% of the unpaid amount, starting immediately after the deadline; additional processing charges for collection of late fees; and administrative penalties, such as withholding of action on any applications from delinquent parties, eventual dismissal of such applications, and even possible revocation proceedings. And remember, the FCC will not be sending you a hard-copy reminder of your reg fee bill. Continue Reading