The Tower Family Foundation: A Helping Hand to the Tower Worker Community

We down here in the CommLawBlog bunker want to shine a spotlight – make that a high intensity white strobe – on the Tower Family Foundation. Just now getting off the ground (full official name: the Tower Industry Family Support Charitable Foundation), it provides financial assistance to family members of tower workers who are severely injured, permanently disabled, or killed while doing their job. The Foundation is providing important support for workers who are essential to any communications operation whose business depends on equipment hanging off the side (or stuck on top) of a tower.

No, you probably don’t have any tower workers on your payroll. But you’ll need one when the storm blows your stick over, or you want to swap out your old antenna for a spiffy new model, or you’re trying to change transmitter sites. Tower workers are like surgeons: you may not need them often, but when you do, you generally need them (a) badly and (b) right away.

The trouble is that, unlike surgeons who work in the capacious climate-controlled comfort of an OR populated with lots of helping hands and cool whiz-bang technology, tower workers do their thing in lonely confined quarters hundreds of feet in the air, exposed to the elements; they work without much more than a few tools that can fit in a small bag. (Any skeptics need only check out this video – or others like it – to get a sense of working conditions at the top of a tower.) It is difficult and dangerous work. How dangerous? As we reported last February, in 2013 13 tower workers died in work-related accidents; four had died this year before February was half over.

Continue Reading...

Intern-al Affairs II: Inviting More Former Interns to the Litigation Party

Two former interns take important step toward “class action” status.

Class. Some litigants have it. Some don’t.

A couple of folks who worked as interns at Gawker Media have managed to convince a Federal District Court Judge in New York that they might have it. And that’s bad news for Gawker.

If you’ve read my August, 2013 post about lawsuits brought against media companies by unpaid interns, you should have an idea of what I’m talking about. Two former interns (originally there were four, but two of them bailed) sued Gawker, claiming, among other things, that Gawker hadn’t paid them as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). To beef up their case, the two interns think that they might be able to expand the suit to become a “class action” in which they would be joined by bunches of other similarly-situated former Gawker interns.

And in August a U.S. District Judge in New York (and not just any judge – Judge Alison Nathan of Aereo fame! Is there anything she can’t do?) gave the plaintiffs the green light to go out and round up potential co-plaintiffs. (The name of the case is Mark v. Gawker Media LLC.)

The case is exactly what you’d expect in a Former Interns v. The Man lawsuit. The plaintiffs allege that they were never paid for the time they spent performing work that was “central to Gawker’s business model”. (For readers not au courant with everything on the Internet, Gawker is an “Internet publisher” which reportedly bills itself as “the source for daily Manhattan media news and gossip”.) The interns’ tasks included “writing, researching, editing, lodging stories and multimedia content, promoting content on social sites, moderating the comments forum and managing the community of Gawker users” – in the interns’ view, basically the stuff that kept Gawker up and running. Only they didn’t get paid.

Continue Reading...

New Fast Lane in Open Internet Proceeding

FCC provides “bulk upload” option for adding even more comments to the million-plus already on file – now who’s going to read them all?

When last we took a sounding of the rising floodwaters of net neutrality comments, they were 1.1 million deep and more were pouring in. That was a month ago and, we’re pleased to report, the levees have apparently held. At least we assume that to be the case because the FCC has just announced, in effect, that it’s opening the dam upstream in an apparent effort to increase the flow of incoming comments.

In a blog post on the FCC’s website, the Commission’s Chief Information Officer advises that

[i]n the Commission’s embrace of Open Data and a commitment to openness and transparency throughout the Open Internet proceedings, the FCC is making available a Comma Separated Values (CSV) file for bulk upload of comments given the exceptional public interest.

If we’re understanding that correctly, the Commission is offering an express lane for the simultaneous submission of multiple comments (i.e., “bulk uploads”) to get them in the door even faster than might otherwise be the case. The need for that express lane isn’t immediately obvious: a quick spot-check in ECFS indicates that, since mid-August, comments have been flowing in smoothly, generally several thousand (occasionally more than 10,000) a day. With bulk uploads now available, we can look for that to increase.

But necessary or not, this development brings us back to something we have addressed before.

Continue Reading...

Now Available: Kevin and Harry's Excellent "Whither Aereo" Webinar

If you missed the webinar Kevin Goldberg and Harry Cole presented on the latest twists and turns in the Aereo case (and the prospects for more twists and turns to come), worry not: it, like pretty much everything else, is on the Internet. The folks at Team Lightbulb, who arranged and promoted the webinar, have posted a recording of the show here – all audio and video included. It’s free.

Google Makes It to Finish Line In White Space Coordinator Race, Again

Google joins Key Bridge Global LLC, Spectrum Bridge, Telcordia and, um, Google, in the ranks of “approved” database coordinators.

Add one more (sort of) database coordinator to the “approved” list of white space database coordinators. The Commission has announced that Google has made it to the finish line – it's been approved to coordinate unlicensed “TV white space” devices. This is the second time Google has completed the process. As we have previously reported, Google was first approved in May, 2013. But then last June the Commission announced that Google had come back with a “major modification” to its already approved system – so much of a modification that it needed to go through the approval process again. (While that process chugged on, Google used the also-approved Spectrum Bridge system.) Now that modified Google system has been approved.

Google’s latest success has been included in the appropriate box below.

Five down (if you count Google twice), six to go. Check back here for further updates. 

(Fuzzy on the whole white space database administrator question?  Check out this post for some background.)

Coordinator

Test Started

Test Finished; Comments Sought

Coordinator Approved

Comsearch

Feb. 24, 2014

June 23, 2014

 

Frequency Finder Inc.

     

Google Inc.

Feb. 27, 2013

May 29, 2013

June 28, 2013

Google Inc. II

June 2, 2014

July 29, 2014

Sept. 10, 2014

LS telcom AG

June 18, 2013

     Nov. 14, 2013

 

Key Bridge Global LLC

March 4, 2013

May 29, 2013

 Nov. 19, 2013

Microsoft Corp.

     

Neustar Inc.

     

Spectrum Bridge Inc.

Sept. 14, 2011

Nov. 10, 2011

Dec. 22, 2011

Telcordia Technologies

Dec. 2, 2011

Feb. 1, 2012

March 26, 2012

   WSdb LLC

     

 

Now Available: Dan and Paul's Excellent Must-Carry Webinar

If you missed the webinar Dan Kirkpatrick and Paul Feldman presented on the basics of the must-carry/retransmission consent process, never fear: you can catch it in re-runs. We’ve posted a recording of the show here – all audio and video included. It’s free.

Look for a follow-up webinar exploring further details of the must-carry election process in coming months.

Issue-Oriented Spots: Who's The REAL Sponsor?

Bureau tosses two complaints alleging inadequate sponsorship IDs – but that may not be good news in the long run.

Several months ago we reported on complaints filed against a dozen or so TV stations with respect to the stations’ alleged failure to include in their online political files all of the various detailed information required by applicable political advertising laws. We expected that that was just an opening salvo.

Turns out we were right.

The same two complainants (this time joined by a third compadre) have since filed a couple more, based not on the political rules, but rather on the more general sponsorship identification requirements of Section 317 of the Communications Act.

The Media Bureau has already turned away those two complaints. BUT it left the door wide open for more. And, unfortunately, in so doing the Bureau provided little if any useful guidance for broadcasters, but considerable encouragement for complainants. As a result, we can expect to see more such complaints rolling in.

The recently-tossed complaints were filed by the Campaign Legal Center and the Sunshine Foundation (the folks who had filed the complaints we reported on last May), along with Common Cause. One was directed to Station KGW(TV), Portland, Oregon, the other to WJLA-TV, Washington, D.C. In each case the station had run a flight of spots paid for by a “Super PAC”. (In KGW’s case, the PAC was the American Principles Fund; in WJLA’s it was the NextGen Climate Action Committee.) The spots all included sponsorship ID’s identifying the respective PAC.

But, according to the complainants, that wasn’t enough.

Continue Reading...

FCC Spanks T-Mobile for $819,000

Hearing aid compatibility shortfall draws big fine.

More than two years ago we reported that the FCC had proposed to fine T-Mobile a whopping $819,000 for violations of hearing aid compatibility (HAC) requirements. (Under those requirements both manufacturers and mobile carriers must offer a broad range of handsets that (a) don’t cause interference to hearing aids and (b) do work with the telecoil add-ons that many hearing aid wearers use.) As is customary, T-Mobile was given a chance to respond to the proposed fine, which it did (in May, 2012), arguing not that it hadn’t violated the rules, but rather that the fine was “unduly punitive” and should be sliced in half.

The FCC was not convinced. We know this because the Commission has now finalized the fine, leaving it at $819,000 – no reduction for effort, good behavior, or anything else.

This case is unusual for a couple of reasons.

Continue Reading...

2014 Reg Fees Set, Payment Deadline Announced

 Fire up your computer, free up some space on your credit cards and get your FRN information ready – you’ve got until SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 to get your reg fees paid … and they must be paid electronically.

Apparently intent on re-defining the terms “last minute” and “eleventh hour”, the Commission opted to wait until late on the afternoon of August 29 before it announced the final 2014 regulatory fees. For those of you anxious to cut to the chase, here’s a link to a convenient table setting out the new fees for broadcast-related services. (The table also provides, for TV-related services, comparisons of the 2014 fees against last year’s fees.)

Presumably because its adoption of the 2014 fees has come so late in the government’s fiscal year, the Commission has also taken the unusual step of simultaneously announcing the deadline for reg fee payments. That would be 11:59 p.m. (ET) on September 23, 2014.

Continue Reading...

Upcoming Webinar: Whither Aereo? (or should that be "Wither Aereo?")

As we all know, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Aereo case two months ago – but that wasn’t the end of the matter by any means. The Court’s decision left a number of questions unanswered. And, as has been the case since it burst onto the scene, Aereo is nothing if not creative, which means that, despite its loss in the Supremes, it has not exited the scene by a long shot.

While maybe you took the summer off, our Aereo watchers, Kevin Goldberg and Harry Cole, did not. They’ve been keeping track of the fall-out following the Supreme Court’s decision, and they’re ready to bring you all up to date in a free one-hour webinar on September 10 at 1:00 p.m. (ET).

You can sign up for the webinar here. It’s a Team Lightbulb production.

NLRB Panel Likes "Likes"

To the likely dislike of companies who aren’t careful about their social media policies, NLRB holds Facebook “liking” can be “concerted protected activity”.

I’ve written a few pieces about the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and social media. For readers with short memories, the NLRB has held that, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), an employee can speak out on a personal Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other personal social media account without fear of retaliatory discipline if the posting is “concerted protected activity” that is “not opprobrious” in nature. The term “not opprobrious” in this context is just a fancy way of saying “be civil about it”: don’t break laws, don’t harass others, don’t defame – just be professional.

And “concerted protected activity”? To fit into that protected category, the employee’s communications must be seeking to improve or otherwise affect the conditions of his or her employment. Also, they must be made with a clear intention to get others on board (as opposed to just venting, airing grievances, etc).   

I have previously noted that the NLRB’s policy accords employees rather broad freedom from disciplinary action while it imposes on employers wishing to impose some limits on their employees the obligation to write clear and somewhat narrow social media policies. But the cases we have looked at so far have involved fully articulated expressions by the employee.

A new NLRB decision takes us into new territory: Can simply hitting “Like” be considered “concerted protected activity”?

Continue Reading...

Are Deferred Radio Renewals Headed for Hearings?

Audio Division may be considering designating some renewal applications for hearing, but practical considerations could, and should, make it think twice. 

Last February my colleague Howard Weiss reported on a decision by the Audio Division that boded ill for radio stations that had been off the air (or operating with inadequate power) for too much of the preceding license term. Faced with a renewal application in which the station had been off the air for approximately one-half of the term, the Division granted the station only a two-year “short term” renewal, instead of the standard eight-year term.

 That decision hinted that more stringent actions might be taken in some situations. And now we hear rumblings that the Division is indeed thinking seriously about putting license renewal applicants who were off the air for more than half their license terms into hearings to determine whether to renew or cancel their licenses.

Continue Reading...

Upcoming Webinar: What You Need to Know About The Must-Carry/Retrans Consent Election Process

Attention TV licensees: MVPD carriage elections must be formalized by October 1 for carriage arrangements through 2017. Have YOU tied everything down yet?

With Summer, 2014 on the wane and Labor Day just days away, full-service TV licensees probably should already have a clear idea of the steps they’ll be taking to tie down cable and satellite carriage for the next three-year election term. But we’re guessing that some of you may still be a bit behind the curve.

Never fear.

On September 9, 2014 at 2:30 p.m. (ET), Fletcher, Heald will be presenting a free webinar on the ins and out of the must-carry/retransmission consent process.

The next three-year carriage term begins on January 1, 2015 – which means that must-carry/retrans elections must be formalized by October 1, 2014, barely a month from now. If you’re eligible to make an election but you haven’t wrapped things up already, this webinar is for you.

MVPD carriage is critically important for television broadcasters. It’s crucial that TV folks know what their rights are, including the upsides and the downsides of the available alternatives. And once you’ve figured out your target, you’ve got to know what steps you need to take and when (and how) you need to take them to insure that you achieve the results you’re looking for.

The webinar will be presented by FHH cable gurus Dan Kirkpatrick and Paul Feldman. They’ll  explain: the rights and obligations of broadcasters and cable and satellite operators under the FCC’s rules; what has changed since the last round of must-carry/retransmission consent elections; potential pitfalls and hidden concerns regarding carriage; and what the future of retrans may involve.

The webinar is free. You can register for it by clicking on the Register Now button below.

Last Minute Update: Reply Deadline in 5.8 GHz U-NII Proceeding Extended

Last month we reported that the FCC had announced deadlines for oppositions and replies to several petitions for reconsideration that had been filed with respect to recent changes to the rules governing the 5 GHz unlicensed band. The FCC received over 100 filings. The deadline for replies was today, August 25. But, apparently, that didn’t provide quite enough time to plow through the pile of paper, at least according to the Association of Global Automakers, Inc.The Commission agreed, but not until the middle of the afternoon on August 25. This is good news for anybody who had been thinking about filing a reply, but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. The rest of you may disregard the extension and continue your end-of-summer activities.

In any event, replies to the oppositions that were filed are now due on September 2, 2014. Have a great Labor Day weekend.

Update: Reply Comment Deadline Extended in Net Neutrality Proceeding

The comment total is already past 1,100,000, but who’s counting?

Really, would it be possible to get too many net neutrality comments? As if.

So we’re pleased to report that the FCC has extended the deadline for filing reply comments by five days. The new deadline is September 15, 2014.

The original reply deadline was September 10, but the Commission was concerned because, as we all remember, the initial comment deadline got extended from July 15 to July 18 (because the Commission’s online filing system was, um, choking a bit on the volume of comments being filed). Since initial commenters got an extra three days, figured the FCC, reply commenters should get the same. And since a three-day extension would plunk the deadline onto a Saturday, everybody gets an extra two days, taking the deadline to the following Monday.

So if you were sweating about getting your reply wrapped up in time, you can totally chill.

Continue Reading...