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

Out on a Limb on the Family Tree: Amateur Loses Claimed Great-Great-Uncle’s Vanity Call Sign

Surprisingly, the rights to some call signs turn on degrees of relatedness.

family tree-2Most of our postings here deal with grave concerns of policy and regulation. Once in a while, though, a not-so-grave item catches our eye. From one such we learned that, even in the American meritocracy, it really all depends on who you’re related to. Just ask the FCC.

Our topic here is amateur radio call signs, those combinations of letters and numbers that amateur radio operators use to identify themselves. You may have seen them on car license plates. One example is KD7HLX, formerly held by Joshua A. Babb of Maricopa, Arizona. We’ll come back to Mr. Babb. Continue Reading

Effective Date Set for Fine-Tuned Experimental Licensing Rules; Comment Deadlines Announced for Further Proposed Changes

A month or two ago we reported on some fine-tuning of the FCC’s experimental licensing rules. This arose in the context of the Commission’s consideration of several petitions for reconsideration of  its 2013 overhaul of the experimental rules. The recent order effecting that fine-tuning has now made it into the Federal Register, which means that the various tweaks will become effective as of September 30, 2015.

In that same order the FCC also proposed some additional changes. In particular, it proposed to open certain previously-restricted bands to program licensees under the same restrictions that now apply to medical testing licensees. In a separate item in the Federal Register, the deadlines for comments about that proposal have been announced: comments are due by September 30, 2015 and reply comments by October 15. As always, comments and replies may be filed through the FCC’s ECFS online filing system; refer to Proceeding Nos. 10-236 and 06-155.

Upcoming Webinar: Davina Sashkin Explains what Wireless Bidders can Look FORWARD to in the Incentive Auction

On the agenda: What we know so far about the planned auction of the 600 MHz band, and what wireless carriers and other bidders interested in getting a piece of this beachfront can expect when it gets here.

davina webinar-3There’s no denying it: the unprecedented incentive auction is barreling toward us. While many details are still up in the air, it’s clear that Chairman Wheeler is absolutely committed to getting the auction underway before the end of March, 2016. The Commission’s 156-page public notice setting out the auction’s governing procedures – released earlier this month – provides important insight into the process ahead of us. For the most part, the broadcast – a/k/a reverse – side of the auction has gotten all the headlines, but let’s not forget that Congress demanded the broadcaster spectrum reclamation in order to achieve a greater ultimate goal: to get that spectrum into the hands of wireless providers for wireless broadband use.

FHH’s own Davina Sashkin will be presenting a one-hour webinar designed to bring all interested parties up to speed on where the auction preparations stand and where they are likely to go from here. Davina, who has been working on incentive auction-related matters for more than a year, will shed light on the process as it impacts wireless license bidders. In her webinar she will be addressing:

  • How the reverse and forward auction will be implemented, and how broadcast participation (or lack thereof) in the reverse auction will impact the wireless forward auction.
  • The fundamentals of mobile carrier participation: Who gets to play? Who gets bidding credits? Who is a “designated entity?”
  • How this auction differs from previous wireless spectrum auctions.
  • What lessons can be learned from the AWS-3 auction? Is there sufficient carrier interest and available capital willing and ready to pay AWS-3 prices for this new repurposed broadcast spectrum?

The webinar (which is a production of Team Lightbulb) is now scheduled for Wednesday, September 2, 2015 at 1 p.m. (ET). You can register at this link.

Enforcement Bureau Gives Venue Operators 750,000 More Reasons Not to Block Personal Hotspots

Bureau reiterates view that using “deauthentication frames” to bounce hotspot users constitutes prohibited “interference”.

smart city wifi-2Conference goers, rejoice! It looks like the FCC really is serious about preventing hotels and other conference venues from blocking access to the venues’ Wi-Fi networks through personal “hotspot” network devices.

The Commission’s Enforcement Bureau had staked out its position on such behavior last year, when it extracted $600,000 from Marriott for doing such access-blocking. The Bureau then followed up with an “Enforcement Advisory” reiterating its determination to “protect[ ] consumers by aggressively investigating and acting against such unlawful intentional interference”.

And now, making good on that promise, the Bureau has entered into a “Consent Decree” with Smart City Holdings (and two subsidiaries). In the Decree, Smart City admits that, Continue Reading

Update: Comment Deadlines Extended in Equipment Authorization, E-Labeling Proceeding

When he reported on the FCC’s proposal to overhaul its equipment authorization processes, our colleague Mitchell Lazarus observed that, “[f]or an NPRM of this scope and complexity, the comment periods are brutally short.” He was not alone in that view. The Telecommunications Industry Association, the Information Technology Industry Council, the Consumer Electronics Association and the American National Standards Institute Accredited Standards Committee C63 all felt strongly enough about the brevity of the comment periods that they asked the FCC for more time to respond and, lo and behold, the Commission has agreed.

So you can tack on an extra 30 days for comments and a very generous 49 extra days for replies: the modified deadlines are October 9, 2015 for comments and November 9 for replies. (Don’t forget that the issues out for comment include provisions for possible expansion of the FCC’s e-labeling rules as mandated by Congress, along with many other changes relating to equipment authorization procedures.) As always, comments and replies may be filed through the FCC’s ECFS online filing system; refer to Proceeding No. 15-170.

New Course Listing at U of FCC: Ownership Reports 101 – Re-intro to Form 323

Media Bureau announces 90-minute crash course in advance of biennial ritual.

contracts guy-2-Form 323Important reminder: Biennial Ownership Reports (FCC Form 323) for commercial radio and TV (including Class A and LPTV licensees) are due this fall. We’ve already seen the first sign of this, with the Media Bureau announcing the traditional extension of the filing deadline. (Reports are due by December 2 this year; early birds can start filing as early as October 1.)

And now the Bureau has given us another sign with the announcement that they’ll be hosting an “information session” regarding the form. Mark your calendars: September 22, 2015 from 12:00 N to 1:30 p.m. During the show Bureau staff will “present an overview of Form 323”, “conduct a filing demonstration”, and answer questions from the audience, both those presented in-person or by email. Nothing if not ambitious in its scope, the session is designed to “assist both novice and experienced filers”.

Truth be told, Form 323 is not the most user-friendly form. If you (a) have never filed one but (b) are nevertheless determined to try to do it yourself this time around, it would be a good idea to make time to attend the session. And who knows, even old-timers may get some useful pointers.

The Bureau presentation will be made in the FCC Meeting Room at the Portals. Doors open at 11:00 a.m. on September 22. No food/drink will be served, you can bring your own brown bag if you’d like. If you’re planning on attending in person, let the Commission know by emailing them at form323@fcc.gov by September 18. (You can also submit questions in advance to the same email address – but heads up, any emails relating to the session should refer to “Info Session” in the subject line.)

If you can’t make it to D.C., not to worry: the show will be streamed (with captions) at www.fcc.gov/live, and it’ll be recorded for later viewing at https://www.fcc.gov/events/past.

Broadcasters Now in the Sights of Pre-1972 Performance Right Holders

Expanding “Flo and Eddie” theory beyond Sirius XM and Pandora, suits seek state-created performance rights royalties from broadcasters.

performance right royalty threat-1For the last year or so I’ve reported on efforts being made by some recording artists and record labels to assert performance right interests in recordings made prior to February, 1972. (Why February, 1972? Take a minute and read this post for some useful background. We’ll wait for you.) You may recall these cases as the Flo and Eddie cases, since those former Turtles frontmen have been the most prominent litigants in these battles.

On the other side of the cases have been Sirius XM and Pandora, who have tended to be on the losing end of things. (Quick recap of the most prominent: Flo and Eddie beat Sirius XM in U.S. District Court in California, although an appeal is pending; various record labels were looking good against Sirius XM in California Superior Court, although the parties eventually settled, with Sirius XM ponying up $210 million; Flo and Eddie also looking good against Sirius XM in U.S. District Court in New York and against Pandora in federal court back in California. The only outlier as yet: a U.S. District Judge in Florida, who tossed a Flo and Eddie suit against Sirius XM there.)

So far, the targets of these suits have been non-broadcasters. As a result, it’s understandable if some of our broadcast readers may not have been following closely. Sure, there’s that schadenfreude component that might interest some, but really, if broadcasters aren’t being targeted, do we all really need to worry?

Short answer: Yes. Continue Reading

FCC to Rest of World: Take an Extra Long Labor Day Weekend … and Keep Your Fingers Crossed

Commission extends due dates in advance of upgrade of all electronic filing systems and electronic dockets.

If you’ve got something due to be filed at the FCC between September 2-8, 2015, you just got an extension … to September 9. Happy Labor Day! For this you can thank the Commission’s IT gurus, who are going to perform “upgrades and improvements” to the various computer systems with which the Commission routinely operates. The upgrade process is scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. (ET) on Wednesday, September 2; the Commission is figuring everything will be hunky-dory, with all systems back up on-line, by 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 8. (Sounds like an excellent opportunity for you to set up a pool in your office – when, exactly (to the hour) will filings really be accepted across the board?)

During the down-time, “all electronic filing systems and electronic dockets” will be inaccessible (although Network Outage Reporting System, the Consumer Help Center and the Disaster Information Reporting System will remain up and running, as will the FCC’s 24/7 Operations Center). What systems are we talking about? Take a deep breath and start reading: the Universal Licensing System (ULS), the Electronic Comment Filing System, the Electronic Document Management System, the Equipment Authorization System, the Electronic Tariff Filing System, the Experimental Licensing System, the Consolidated Database System, the Licensing and Management System, the International Bureau Filing System, the Section 43.62 Online Filing System, the Tower Construction Notification System (TCNS), the Antenna Structure Registration System (ASR), the Electronic Section-106 System (E-106), Fee Filer, the Commission Registration System and the 911 Reliability Certification System. (Note that ULS, ASR, E-106 and TCNS will technically shut down as of 12:01 a.m. on September 2.)

As a result, all “regulatory and enforcement” deadlines that would have fallen between September 2-8 (except for Network Outage Reports) have now been extended to September 9. Deadlines for pleadings responsive to any pleading subject to this extension will be extended an equivalent amount of time. The Commission has also indicated a willingness to consider extension requests, where appropriate. (And a further benefit for regulators and regulatees alike: during the down-time, “most Commission staff will not have access to e-mail”!) Continue Reading

Wireless Mics: The Lay of the Post-Incentive Auction Land Takes Shape

Wireless mic users must prepare to dance a spectrum hokey-pokey to adjust to spectrum reductions, new operating rules

The Pope will visit the U.S. in late September, which is already prompting extensive preparations in many quarters. Among those readying themselves: news operations, professional wireless microphone operators and wireless mic frequency planners in several major cities where Francis is scheduled to drop by. They’ve got to figure out how many wireless mics will be needed to stage, cover and record the various events … and then they’ve got to figure out how to coordinate the spectrum necessary to make sure all those mics serve their various purposes.

Newscasters will want to be sure that they can deliver clear on-site audio feeds to audiences over whatever medium – broadcast, cable, satellite, the Internet – the audience may choose. Those who venture out to see the Pope in person will want to clearly hear his every word. And still others – historians, archivists, those who want a permanent record of some (or all) of his visit – will want to insure the availability of high-quality recordings. For the most part we have come to assume that all of these needs will be met. What we often lose sight of is the fact that event coordinators must struggle to stretch the limited spectrum available for wireless mics to accommodate the various uses.

And with two recent orders (you can find them here and here), the FCC has just make their jobs even harder in that regard. Continue Reading