Tabula (Quasi) Rasa: The 2016 EAS Operating Handbook!

Latest edition of FCC Handbook features blank spaces galore to be filled in by EAS participants themselves.

EAS Handbook cover 2016-1Two days after we posted a reminder about the upcoming deadline for EAS participants to (a) register on the Commission’s new EAS Test Reporting System and (b) submit their Form Ones (or should that be “Forms One”?) through that system, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has done likewise. And, as a bonus, the Bureau also released the latest and greatest edition of its EAS Operating Handbook … although it reads more like a Mad Libs book than an instruction manual.

In a public notice the Bureau has reminded one and all of not only the August 26 deadline (for registration and Form One), but also the follow-up deadlines for Form Two (September 28, 2016) and Form Three (November 14, 2016). (It also mentions in passing a “secondary test date” currently set for October 5, 2016 at 2:20 p.m.)

Note in particular the Form Two deadline. Since, as we all know, the next nationwide EAS test is currently scheduled for 2:20 p.m. on September 28, EAS participants will have less than 10 hours – i.e., from the end of the test sometime after 2:20 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. on September 28 – to get Form Two filed. Plan accordingly, but rest assured that Form Two shouldn’t take long to complete: according to a Bureau-provided preview, Form Two merely asks two yes/no questions, i.e., whether (a) you received the message and (b) you retransmitted it.

As noted above, the Bureau has also announced the release of the Commission’s new and (theoretically) improved EAS Operating Handbook. A copy of the Handbook is included as an attachment to the public notice, or you can find it here. Particular attention should be paid to this. Continue Reading

Reminder: ETRS Registration, ETRS Form One Due August 26

Attention all you EAS participants. The deadline for registering with the Commission’s EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) AND submitting your ETRS Form One is fast approaching. We alerted you to the August 26, 2016 deadline a couple of months ago – but, what with the distractions of summer and all, we figure it’s a good idea to provide a reminder, just in case.

To get the ball rolling, all you have to do is head to the ETRS Registration page on the FCC’s website (or you can get there less efficiently by first going to the FCC’s ETRS page and clicking on the link available there). At the Registration page you’ll be asked to answer a dozen or so identifying questions. Note in particular that you’ll be needing (among other things) the FRN and FRN password for the EAS participant being registered, so it’d be a good idea to have those handy when you start the process.

After you’re registered, you’ll be able to complete Form One. We strongly recommend that you take a look at Form One before you jump in because it demands a number of things that we’re guessing you may not have on the tip of your tongue. F’rinstance, what are your antenna coordinates (in NAD83, please)? How about the make and model of your EAS gear? The software version that gear is running? Feel free to print out the version of Form One at this link and rough it in in pencil before logging on and trying to complete it online. Down here in the CommLawBlog bunker, we haven’t tried our hand at Form One because we’re not EAS participants. We have heard from a number of our readers, though, that the process can be slow and frustrating, so getting on this sooner rather than later would be a good idea – and remember that, once it’s been filed, your Form One can be edited until September 26 (that would be two days before the next nationwide EAS test is scheduled).

Good luck.

Update: New and Revised EAS Codes To Take Effect September 12

Last month we reported on the addition of three new event codes (those would be EWW, SSA and SSW) and two revised location codes to the laundry list of EAS-related codes to be used in the headers of emergency announcements. As we noted back then, the FCC’s original order didn’t seem to mention exactly when the new/revised codes would take effect. That question has now been answered: in a notice published in the Federal Register, the Commission has specified September 12, 2016 as the effective date.

EAS participants should feel free to mark their calendars accordingly, but they probably don’t really need to. That’s because the effective date of the new/revised codes doesn’t affect participants much at all for the time being. The FCC is not inclined to require participants to upgrade their existing gear immediamente to accommodate the new codes. So if you’re an EAS participant, you can modify your existing gear or not, as you wish. However, as of September 12, 2017, anybody replacing their current EAS equipment will have to install gear capable of receiving and transmitting the new codes. That is, whether the replacement gear is new or used, it will have to accommodate the new codes.

Meanwhile, EAS equipment manufacturers will have to “integrate these codes into equipment yet to be manufactured or sold, and make necessary software upgrades available to EAS Participants no later than six months from the effective date of the rule amendments.” We calculate that date to be March 12, 2017, but we’re guessing that the FCC will issue a more formal announcement as the deadline approaches.

And while it’s probably unnecessary to mention this – after all, the proposal to adopt the code changes received near universal support – we’ll mention it anyway. The publication of the FCC’s order in the Federal Register also establishes the deadlines for seeking reconsideration (September 12, 2016) or judicial review (October 10, 2016) of the order.

Copyright Royalty Judges Propose To Clarify Streaming Reporting Rules for Noncommercial Broadcasters

Proposed change would include noncommercial broadcasters among “Eligible Minimum Fee Webcasters.”

It looks like noncommercial broadcasters who stream may be in for a little more clarity in their reporting responsibilities. The Copyright Royalty Judges (we’ll call them “Judges” here) have proposed to modify the rules governing how those broadcasters are supposed to report the sound recordings that they stream to SoundExchange. The goal: to correct an anomaly introduced into the reporting rules earlier this year that appeared to give commercial broadcasters paying no more than the minimum $500 annual fee in royalties more favorable treatment than noncommercial broadcasters paying no more than that amount.

In a notice published in the Federal Register, the Judges have asked for comments on their proposal to reinstate certain reporting relief for noncommercial broadcasters that, until very recently, had long been available to those broadcasters.

You may recall that, under the statutory licenses provided by sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act, webcasters are required to report to SoundExchange certain information about the sound recordings they play. That information includes a recording’s title and featured artist as well as either the album title and record label or a special identifier for that recording known as the International Standard Recording Code (a/k/a “ISRC”). Webcasters also must report information regarding the number of listeners to those recordings – more on that below. Continue Reading

DOJ Makes it Official: No Change to ASCAP/BMI Consent Decrees

Siding with music users, DOJ concludes that Decrees call for “full-work” – rather than “fractional” – music licensing; ASCAP and BMI head to court and Congress. 

doj-ascap-bmi-3The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has formally closed its two-year-long review of the decades-old ASCAP and BMI Consent Decrees. Those Decrees mandate federal court oversight of the rates ASCAP and BMI can charge and the conditions they can impose when licensing public performances of their members’ musical compositions. As my colleague, Kevin Goldberg, reported when the review was first announced, DOJ’s inquiry – which was opened at ASCAP’s and BMI’s request – introduced the possibility that the competitive protections afforded by those Decrees could be weakened, to the detriment of music users – broadcasters, telecommunications companies, webcasters, and others – who rely on such licenses.

It looks like that bullet has been dodged: DOJ has announced that it will not seek any modifications to the Decrees despite pressure from ASCAP and BMI to do so. Continue Reading

Marketing Wi-Fi Gear with Changeable Country Code Draws $200,000 Penalty … and More

Novel consent decree provision requires company to “share information” with third-party software developers and others.

tp-link consent decree-2In what might ordinarily have been a run-of-the-mill consent decree between Wi-Fi equipment manufacturer TP-Link and the FCC, the company has admitted to selling potentially overpowered Wi-Fi routers and has agreed to pay a fine of $200,000 – toward the high end for this kind of violation, but far from setting any records.

There is, however, more to the story.

Different parts of the world allow Wi-Fi to operate in different frequency bands and at different power levels. It would be a manufacturer’s nightmare to make different models for every country’s standards, and then somehow make sure that each model is sold only in the right country. Manufacturers are smarter than that. For many years, their devices have each been capable of complying with many different countries’ rules, and include a switch to select the destination country. In the early days this was an actual, physical switch; now it is a software setting. Thus the same hardware unit can be boxed and shipped to the United States or Japan or Sweden or anywhere else, so long as the software is properly configured. The FCC allows this if the units sold here have the software set to comply with U.S. rules and the software control isn’t “readily accessible” to the user.

The meaning of that last phrase became important when 5 GHz Wi-Fi devices began causing interference to airport weather radars. In some cases – maybe all cases – the interference was due to the devices having been illegally modified to duck the U.S. requirement to monitor for radar activity in certain bands, and possibly also to exceed U.S. power limits. The FCC responded with new rules: 5 GHz manufacturers must “take steps to prevent unauthorized software changes” that could make the radio noncompliant. Manufacturers can implement this security any way they want, but must explain their approach in the certification application.

TP-Link admitted it had sold 5 GHz units in the U.S. that allowed the user to change the country code and thereby operate the device out of compliance with U.S. rules.

Here is where the matter gets interesting. Continue Reading

FCC Works its Will on the WISP, Part II: Sentence Suspended, Somewhat

$202k fine reduced to $40k … but there’s a catch.

Three years ago – doesn’t the time just fly? – we told you about Towerstream, a wireless Internet service provider (WISP) whose transmitters had caused interference to airport weather radars. The FCC proposed a fine of $202,000, apparently in keeping with its rumored policy of “jacking up the fines till we get their attention.”

Towerstream has since negotiated a consent decree with the FCC that knocked the fine down to a more manageable $40,000. The company has also committed itself to a compliance monitoring program. Case closed … we hope.

Towerstream hopes so, too. Because the FCC put a spring-loaded trap into the consent decree. Continue Reading

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