Rural Call Completion Update: Final Rules Now in Effect

As we reported late last year, a few of the FCC’s revisions to its rules concerning rural call completion had to be run past the Office of Management and Budget before they could take effect. According to a notice in the Federal Register, that process has now been completed, so the final elements of those rule revisions have taken effect as of March 4, 2015.

Update: Most, But Not All, New E911 Rules Set to Take Effect in April

As we reported last month, the Commission has adopted a new set of E911 standards designed to improve E911 location capability. The FCC’s Fourth Report and Order setting forth those standards has now been published in the Federal Register. As a result, the new rules are set to take effect on April 3, 2015except for Sections 20.18(i)(2)(ii)(A) and (B); 20.18(i)(2)(iii); 20.18(i)(3)(i) and (ii); 20.18(i)(4)(i), (ii), (iii) and (iv); and 20.18(j)(2) and (3). Those all constitute “information collections” which, thanks to the hilariously named Paperwork Reduction Act, have to get the approval of the Office of Management and Budget before they can kick into gear. Check back here for updates as to those loose ends.

Update: Comment Deadlines Announced in Digital Remote Pickup Proceeding

A couple of weeks ago we reported on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order (NPRM/O) that resolved some questions related to broadcast remote pickup (RPU) authorizations and proposed a number of changes to the RPU rules. (Among the proposals: allowing broadcasters to use digital technology for their RPUs.) The NPRM has now been published in the Federal Register, so we know that comments in response to the NPRM are due to be filed by April 3, 2015, and reply comments are due by April 20.  Comments and replies may be filed through the FCC’s ECFS online filing system; refer to Proceeding No. 15-36.

Update: Effective Date Set for STELAR-mandated Rule Changes

Last month we reported on an FCC order implementing several rule changes dictated by Congress in the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014. Those changes include the ban on joint negotiation for retransmission consent agreements by any two same-market TV stations not under common control (as that term is defined by the FCC rules). The Commission’s order has now been published in the Federal Register, so we can tell you when the revised rules will take effect. The magic date: April 2, 2015. Mark your calendars.

Congress Steps Back Into Wi-Fi-Related Spectrum Fight

New bills would force the FCC to examine, on an expedited basis, possible Wi-Fi and other unlicensed use of 5.9 GHz band.

As a general rule, the FCC is in the driver’s seat when it comes to spectrum management in the U.S. But that doesn’t mean that Congress can’t, and won’t, occasionally engage in some aggressive backseat driving. And so it is that several members of Congress have reintroduced legislation – S.424 in the Senate, H.R.821 in the House – strongly suggesting the direction the FCC should take with respect to the 5.9 GHz band (i.e., 5860-5925 MHz). The bills would require the FCC to “provide additional unlicensed spectrum in the [5.9 GHz band] under technical rules suitable for the widespread commercial development of unlicensed operations in the band”, provided that the Commission first determines that such use won’t cause harmful interference to existing licensees of that band. The bills also provide detailed specifications, and an accelerated timetable, governing how the FCC must make that determination.

If this sounds familiar, that’s probably because an essentially identical proposal was introduced last year. No action was taken on it then, so it’s been reintroduced.

Under the detailed schedule set out in the bills, the FCC would have to:

  • solicit comments on proposals for “interference-mitigation” techniques and technologies (including potential rechannelization) that could permit the band to accommodate both existing users and “widespread commercial unlicensed operations”. For purposes of the bills, that latter term – which in recent years has been legislative shorthand for “Wi-Fi” – would include outdoor operations with at least one watt of transmitter output power, but would not require use of Dynamic Frequency Selection (i.e., the process in which the device automatically looks for, and then transmits on, available channels);
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TV Stations: The SESAC Check is (Almost) in the Mail

TVMLC settlement with SESAC gets the thumbs up from judge; important forms to be sent to participating stations to get the refund process rolling

If you’re a full-power TV operator in the U.S. (or its territories) and you obtained a performance license from SESAC any time after January 1, 2008, make sure you keep an eye out for a form you’re likely to receive from the Television Music License Committee (TVMLC) or its attorneys entitled Settlement Antitrust Class Action Settlement Refund Payments.” Fill it out, return it, pass GO, collect much more than $200 and roll again. (Note: Stations own or operated by Univision or Telefutura (now UniMas) or any station that opted out of the settlement don’t qualify. We suspect that you know who you are.)

The settlement in question resolves claims made by the TVMLC against SESAC. I’ve already written in considerable detail about the settlement itself, so if you’re at all hazy on the details, take a look at my earlier post. As I reported last November, the TVMLC and SESAC had reached a settlement agreement and submitted it to Judge Paul A. Engelmayer, the federal judge presiding over the case.

The mere fact that the parties had resolved their differences was not the end of the story; the judge had to sign off on the deal, too. So a court-issued Notice was circulated giving any malcontents the right to protest the settlement terms or opt out. This was followed by a hearing held on February 18, 2015 – and one day later Judge Engelmayer sealed the deal in an Opinion and Order. With that, if you’re a qualifying station, the money will now start coming your way once TVMLC crunches some numbers.

The bulk of the Opinion and Order is legal mumbo jumbo addressing certain necessary issues, like whether the class was properly certified (it was), whether the settlement was “fair, adequate, and reasonable, and not a product of collusion” (no problem there, either), whether the plan of allocation was also “fair and adequate” (yup), and whether the contemplated attorney’s fees and costs make sense (they do).

But really, most affected TV licensees are probably far more interested in another set of questions, like:

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Update: Comment Deadlines Set for Form 323 RUFRN NPRM

We recently reported on the FCC’s proposal to revise its broadcast ownership reporting requirements to permit all attributable interest holders to utilize a “Restricted Use FCC Registration Number” (RUFRN) in connection with both commercial and noncommercial broadcast ownership reports (FCC Forms 323 and 323-E, respectively). The RUFRN would largely replace the Special Use FRN which the Commission invented in 2009-2010 when its initial plan – which would have required all individuals listed in commercial ownership reports to identify themselves with Social Security Number-based FRNs – ran into some rough sledding. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has now been published in the Federal Register, which triggers the deadlines for comments and replies. If you are itching to file comments, you’ve got until March 30, 2015; replies may be filed by April 13. Comments and replies may be filed through the FCC’s ECFS online filing system; refer to Proceeding Nos. 07-294 and 10-234.

Update: Comment Deadline Announced in FAA Drone Rulemaking

Last week we reported on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration relative to the operation of “Unmanned Aircraft Systems” – what the rest of us out here in the Real World would refer to as “drones”. The NPRM has now made it into the Federal Register, so we know that comments in response to the NPRM are due by April 24, 2015.

FAA Throws in the Towel On FM Spectrum, Apparently

After nearly a decade, the FAA advises that it is no longer pursuing a proposal that would have inserted it deeply into the regulation of FM stations.

For years, the Federal Aviation Administration has toyed with the idea of regulating use of some portions of the spectrum – including particularly the FM band (approximately 88 MHz–108 MHz) – even though conventional wisdom says that such matters are statutorily (not to mention logically) controlled by the Federal Communications Commission. The FAA backed down from these aspirations to some degree in 2010, but in doing so it sniffed, in effect, that we all hadn’t heard the last from it on this point.

Now, five years later, the FAA appears to have thrown in the towel. In a three-sentence letter to the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, the FAA has advised that it is “no longer pursuing the proposed frequency notification requirements for FM radio stations” which it has long had its regulatory eye on.

Ideally, this means that the FAA has finally abandoned any hope of affirmatively regulating FM radio transmission facilities.

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Is There a Geofencing Exemption from Digital Performance Royalties? Concentrate and Ask Again

VerStandig lawsuit tossed on technicalities.

Will geofencing really provide webcasting broadcasters a shield that they can deploy against royalty claims? While that question was raised in a lawsuit last spring, it won’t be getting answered soon: the case has been dismissed … for the time being, at least. Thanks to considerations that many may view as “technicalities”, U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski tossed the suit filed last April by Verstandig Broadcasting. But he did so “without prejudice”, meaning that the core question remains unanswered and may still be raised, and resolved, in a later suit.

As we have previously reported, “geofencing” is a technology that, in theory, permits a webcaster to limit access to its programming based on the physical location of the computers receiving the webcast. It works by checking the “receiving computer’s IP address, WiFi and GSM access point, GPS coordinates, or some combination against a real world map of those virtual addresses”.

Why would that give a webcasting broadcaster a way around webcaster royalties?

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More Tales of the TCPA: $342K Fine for Violation-Laden Robocalls

Spoofing tactic appears to backfire on robocaller.

As a public service, we offer a couple of helpful CommLawBlog tips to folks who feel like violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by making unsolicited prerecorded advertising calls:

  1. First and foremost, DON’T violate the TCPA;
  2. If you insist on ignoring Tip No. 1, at least:
  • Don’t call numbers on the National Do No Call Registry;
  • Don’t provide an “opt-out” number that doesn’t work;
  • Don’t “spoof” somebody else’s number so that their number, not yours, shows up in the caller ID display of the folks you’re illegally calling;
  • And, ABOVE ALL, don’t tick off constituents of Senator John McCain.

Security First of Alabama (Security First) made all these mistakes, and it’s now got $342,000 worth of reasons to regret having done so.

As our readers know, the TCPA requires (among other things) that telemarketers obtain a consumer’s prior express consent before making robocalls (i.e., calls using prerecorded voice messages) to the consumer’s residential phone. (There are some very limited exemptions to that prohibition, but they don’t come into play here. Also, there are additional requirements – like getting the consent in writing – when robocalls to mobile phones are involved, but those also didn’t come into play here.) We have previously reported big fines imposed by the FCC for violating that prior consent requirement. Security First’s fine may be somewhat smaller than those, but it does highlight a couple of points of interest.

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FCC to Remote Pickup Licensees: Let's Get Digital!

Commission proposes technical adjustments to help remote pickup operations enter the digital age.

It looks like broadcasters’ Remote Pickup (RPU) operations may finally be getting pushed into the digital 21st Century. In response to separate petitions filed by the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) and the Engineers for the Integrity of Broadcast Auxiliary Services Spectrum (EIBASS), the Commission has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order (NPRM/O) resolving a couple of RPU-related questions and proposing a number of changes to the RPU rules.

An RPU, of course, is one type of Broadcast Auxiliary Station. RPUs are used to send program-related information – including programming – from remote sites back to the station or network. They operate in one of three bands which are either shared with PrivateLand Mobile Radio Services (PLMRS) or close to PLMRS frequencies. Back in 2002 the Commission took steps to “harmonize” RPU standards and PLMRS standards in the hope that broadcasters would use PLMRS gear, which tends to be more spectrum efficient (largely because PLMRS gear is digital).

But that hope has been frustrated by a couple of practical problems.

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STELAR Aftermath: Ban on Joint Retrans Negotiations, Other Rules Revised

At Congress’s direction, FCC narrows, considerably, the ability of same-market stations to negotiate retransmission consent deals jointly.

Back in November (as we reported), Congress passed the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 (a/k/a STELAR). Among other things STELAR required the Commission to modify certain rules to implement a number of Congressionally-dictated changes. STELAR also required that those modifications take effect pronto – some within 90 days, others within nine months of STELAR’s enactment. Obviously mindful of both the chores Congress assigned it and the limited time frame provided by Congress to get those chores done, the Commission has taken the first step in that direction, releasing an Order amending its rules to incorporate four STELAR-mandated provisions. The four provisions address sunset dates, the ban on joint retransmission consent negotiations, expanded protections for significantly viewed stations and elimination of the “sweeps prohibition.” 

Don’t be fooled by its meager five-page length and ostensibly limited scope: the Order will undoubtedly have far-reaching impact.

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LMS Watch: Form 2100 Gets Four More Schedules

Attention LPTV, Class A TV and TV Translator CP and license applicants: Form 2100 is your ONLY option as of February 23.

Last September we introduced our readers to the new “Licensing and Management System” (LMS) that the Commission plans to use as a one-stop-shop for all broadcast forms. Once LMS is fully operational, our old friend the Consolidated Database System (CDBS) will be put out to pasture. (Before you think about cheering for the demise of CDBS, you might want to take Form 2100 out for a test spin - CDBS may be a devil, but it's the devil we know.)

As we previously reported, in LMS all the various broadcast applications and forms which have traditionally been identified by separate numbers will now all have a common form number, Form 2100, but will be identified as separate “schedules” to that form. So, for example, where a full-power TV construction permit applicant used to have to file Form 301 in CDBS, in LMS the applicant will file Form 2100, including Schedule A. Full-service TV license applicants used to have to file Form 302-DT; in LMS they’ll file Form 2100, including Schedule B.

As initially rolled out last fall, LMS offered only Schedules A and B. But progress is clearly being made on the LMS front: a recent public notice advises that four more schedules (Schedules C, D, E and F) have now been added to the Form 2100 options.

The new schedules are to be used by Class A, LPTV and TV Translator applicants for the following purposes:

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Marriott Checks Out of Declaratory Ruling/Rulemaking Proceeding

Prudent network management or Wi-Fi jamming? The question has been taken off the table … for now.

Last year we reported on a couple of interactions between the FCC and the well-known hotelier, the Marriott Corporation. The news started inauspiciously for Marriott when the Commission wrapped up an investigation (started in 2013) by spanking Marriott with a $600,000 civil penalty. The FCC determined that Marriott had used “containment capability” to prevent guests at the Gaylord Opryland (run by Marriott) from by-passing the hotel’s Wi-Fi system in favor of their own DIY hotspots.

Presumably prodded by that investigation, Marriott (joined by some hotel friends) filed a request for declaratory ruling (or, in the alternative, for rulemaking), essentially asking for a determination that what Marriott had done really was OK. (Specifically, Marriott was asking the Commission to hold that a network operator may “mitigate” threats to the operator’s network, even when doing so results in interference to guests’ WiFi hotspots.)

The FCC dutifully announced the filing of the request for declaratory ruling and invited comments about it. But a month later, it also issued an “Enforcement Advisory” alerting one and all to the fact that preventing one’s Wi-Fi enabled devices from connecting to the Internet constitutes prohibited “jamming”. And a month later, out came another “Enforcement Advisory”. This one was even more pointed. Referring to “a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal Wi-Fi hotspots on the commercial establishment’s premises”, the advisory declared flatly that “Wi-Fi blocking violates Section 333 of the Communications Act, as amended.”

Not surprisingly, Marriott (and the other requesters) have now withdrawn their request for declaratory ruling (and the FCC has lost no time in officially bidding it adieu).

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