Attention, Reverse Auction Applicants: An Important Letter from the FCC is on its Way to You!

First Confidential Status Letters advising of potentially fatal incompleteness flaws have been sent to would-be reverse auction applicants; Deadline for corrections: February 26, 2016 at 6:00 p.m. (ET)

If you’re a TV licensee who submitted an application to participate in the upcoming reverse auction component of the Incentive Auction, you should be checking your mail box regularly for the next couple of days. The Incentive Auction Task Force has announced that, on Friday, February 12, it sent out a First Confidential Status Letter (First CSL) to each applicant. When you receive your First CSL, be sure to review it carefully. If you don’t, you could be risking your ability to participate in the auction.

According to the Task Force’s public notice, the First CSL includes “information on the status of [the addressee’s] application as well as the status of each station that it selected”. These assessments are based on the staff’s initial review of all applications filed last month.

Ideally, your letter will confirm that your application is complete in all respects, including all information about each station that you have put into the auction. However, it may indicate that either the application, or the showing relative to one or more specific stations, is lacking. Lacking how? The Task Force’s announcement doesn’t say, but we heard a rumor that the First CSL will provide little or no detail about any incompleteness found by the FCC’s staff, so don’t be surprised if the First CSL is not as informative as you might prefer. Whatever may be the case, we’ll all find out soon enough.

If your First CSL says that your application is incomplete in some way, you will have until 6:00 p.m. (ET) on February 26, 2016 to fix whatever problem there might be. This will be the only opportunity to fix incomplete applications; late submissions will not be accepted. Continue Reading

Update: Revised Broadcast Contest Rules Now In Effect

contest ruleIt’s official! Last fall’s overhaul of the rules governing licensee-conducted broadcast contests has finally become effective. According to a notice in the Federal Register, our friends at the Office of Management and Budget gave the new rules the big thumbs up last week, and the rules have now taken effect as of February 12, 2016. This means that, among other things, stations are now able to post their contest rules on their websites and avoid the hassle of extended on-air announcements of those rules. Note, though, that there are still some on-air requirements for those who choose to move their contest rules online. For a recap of all the revised rules, check out our post from last September.

FCC Announces Millimeter Wave Workshop

Portals-24GHz-1We’ve written about the great potential for putting the millimeter wave band to use through emerging technologies currently in active development. If you didn’t believe us, maybe you’ll believe the FCC, which will be presenting a “Spectrum Frontiers and Technological Developments in the Millimeter Wave Bands” workshop at its Washington, D.C. headquarters on March 10, 2016. It’s set to run from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and will explore mmWave service from all perspectives: technologies being used, spectrum requirements, opportunities for new and incumbent providers, benefits to consumers, etc. While the full agenda has not yet been released, you can expect to hear from manufacturers, licensees, wireless service providers, satellite service providers and others. And if you get tired of listening to the presentations, you can take a break and visit the equipment demonstrations that will be going on simultaneously with the workshop. 

The show is open to the public. While you don’t need to register in advance, the Commission suggests that might be a good idea to help speed up the FCC’s security check-in procedures. (You register by submitting your name and company affiliation to Cecilia Sulhoff (cecilia.sulhoff@fcc.gov.) If you’re planning on attending, you should probably plan on getting to the Commission at least 30 minutes ahead of time, since even with pre-registration, the check-in process can back up. 

And if you’re not inclined to venture down to the Portals, you can still catch the show online. The workshop will be webcast on the FCC’s website

Tips on Negotiating the Acquisition of a Telecommunications System

When it’s time to replace your telecom system, the devil is in the details – and there are a lot of details.

signing contractVirtually every business depends on its telecommunications systems – and the bigger the company, the more crucial, and the more complex, those systems become. When the time arrives (and trust me, it will arrive) to replace an outdated or under-sized telecom system, the company official(s) responsible for making the necessary arrangements will be faced with a daunting project. Whether you’re a knowledgeable Chief Information Officer or simply the luckless official on whose desk the job happens to land, you will need help. Even the most experienced CIO is unlikely to list acquisition and implementation of a new telecommunications system among his or her day-to-day tasks. And the price tag on such a project routinely exceeds the average CIO’s spending authority, meaning other company officials will be involved in approving and overseeing the process.

Most companies outsource their telecommunications services: that is, the user does not build, operate, own or maintain the necessary infrastructure, but instead leases services on infrastructure built, operated, owned and maintained by a company dedicated to providing such services. (There are some exceptions. For example, some businesses, utilities and governmental agencies rely on private radio alternatives, such as Project 25 (P-25) land mobile radio systems (LMRS), distributed antenna systems (DAS) and internal telephone systems.) This post is intended to provide some basic direction to CIOs or other corporate officials about to embark on the procurement of a conventional telecom system. Continue Reading

KidVid Reports Moving to LMS

Starting March 31, Form 398 will be filed through the Licensing and Management System portal

Attention, all you Class A and commercial TV licensees. The Commission has announced that the next time you go to file a quarterly Children’s Programming Report (that would be Form 398), you’ll have to do it through the work-in-progress Licensing and Management System (LMS). LMS, of course, is the online system the Commission has been developing for a couple of years now as an upgrade – or at least a replacement – for CDBS.

This may not be a bad thing. Historically, KidVid reports have been filed through their own special portal on the FCC’s website, a system which has periodically given users fits. The new format for the report is similar to other LMS forms – the system is set up to walk you through the upload process one step at a time; in fact, it prevents you from moving to the next step if it detects problems with the screen you’re working on.

The new filing approach appears reasonably easy and intuitive to navigate through, but we won’t know for sure until the next set of reports are filed, i.e., no later than April 10 of this year. One noticeable, and welcome, feature: the first item to be completed on the first screen calls for the filer to identify the period covered by the report. Continue Reading

Is Wi-Fi in Danger?

Upcoming tests seek to predict whether Wi-Fi can survive cell companies’ using its frequency bands.

wifi-in-tsunami-1(Like it says in that disclaimer over to the right, this post reflects the opinions of its author – not his law firm, its other lawyers, or its clients.)

Wi-Fi may be one of the best ideas anybody ever had. When the technology was still expensive, 20 years ago, its main application was connecting servers to computers in the workplace and to cash registers in large retail stores. It still serves those purposes today … and more.

Now, with costs greatly reduced, Wi-Fi is ubiquitous in homes, coffee shops, airports, hotels, car-repair waiting rooms – pretty much anywhere people might use a laptop or a tablet. Here in the CommLawBlog bunker, for example, we have good Wi-Fi service everywhere (except that dead spot behind the climbing wall). A long-range version provides Internet service to people who can’t easily connect to cable or DSL phone lines.

Wi-Fi has a populist, democratic appeal. Anyone can easily set up an access point and provide service to family or customers or guests. Now, though, many see Wi-Fi as under threat from less populist, less democratic forces: namely, the wireless phone companies. Continue Reading

Telecom Tickler 2016 – CPNI Certifications Due By March 1

It’s that time of year again – time for our annual reminder to most (but not necessarily all) telecommunications carriers and interconnected VoIP providers that your CPNI certifications are due by March 1, 2016.

As described by the Enforcement Bureau, CPNI – Customer Proprietary Network Information to the uninitiated – includes “some of the most sensitive personal information that carriers have about their customers as a result of their business relationship”. Think phone numbers of calls made or received, or the frequency or duration of calls, etc. … basically the same stuff the NSA has apparently been collecting for years. While the NSA is not required to file CPNI certifications with the FCC, most telecom carriers aren’t so lucky.

The Bureau has issued its annual “Enforcement Advisory” as a convenient reminder to one and all of the fast-approaching deadline. Like similar advisories in past years, this year’s includes a helpful list of FAQs and a suggested template showing what a certificate should look like.

The potential fines for CPNI violations run to $160,000 a pop (up to a max of $1,575,000) – no small potatoes. Continue Reading

Update: Last Piece of AM Revitalization Puzzle Now in Place

As we reported just a couple of weeks ago, the last element of the AM Revitalization rulemaking that had not yet taken effect was Section 73.1560 (along with the related Form 338, a/k/a the AM Station Modulation Dependent Carrier Level (MDCL) Notification Form), which still awaited OMB approval. No longer. The FCC has announced that the OMB gave the thumbs up on January 19. This means that, as of March 3, 2016, AM stations wishing to use MDCL control technologies will be able to do so without prior Commission authority, provided that they notify the Commission on Form 338 within 10 days after beginning MDCL operation.

What’s MDCL? It generally refers to transmitter-control technology which has been in use internationally for some time, mainly by high-powered AM stations. As best as we can decipher things – there’s a reason that we went to law school, after all – MDCL gear senses a station’s modulation levels on a continual basis and automatically adjusts transmitter power down (and up again) depending on modulation. With increases both in energy costs and in the ease of implementing MDCL algorithms, use of such technology has become more attractive in the U.S.

AM stations have been permitted to use MDCL since 2011, but only with prior Commission approval. During that time, 33 permanent waivers and 20 experimental authorizations have been granted. The stations using MDCL have reported “significant” electrical power cost savings with few,  if  any,  perceptible  effects  on  station  coverage  area  and  audio quality. Now that prior approval will no longer be required, the smart money figures that more stations will be jumping on the MDCL bandwagon.

And on another AM Revitalization front, according to Commissioner Pai, over 400 applications were filed by AM licensees looking to get themselves a translator on the first day of the open window for such applications.

“Local” No More: Radio, Cable, Satellite All Moving their (Previously) Local Public Inspection Files to the Internet

Concluding a proceeding begun a mere 18 months ago, the Commission has extended its online public file requirement well beyond the broadcast TV industry.

To no one’s real surprise, the FCC has decided to expand its online public inspection file requirement – first imposed on television broadcasters in 2012 – to include radio broadcasters, cable operators and satellite radio and TV operators, too. While the expansion will be phased in (supposedly to ease the burden on smaller operations and noncommercial radio licensees), everyone should expect to have their previously “local” public inspection files online and available to just about anybody anywhere as of March 1, 2018 at the latest.

While the specifics of the new online rules vary somewhat from service to service, the essential elements here are the same across all platforms. To the extent that you have been required by the FCC to maintain a “local public inspection file” available to the public, you will be expected to upload most, but not all, of the contents of that file to an FCC-maintained online system. Some materials that are filed with the FCC (e.g., broadcast applications and/or reports filed through CDBS) will be automatically dumped into the online file by the FCC. But, as of a date the FCC will eventually announce (see below), pretty much anything else that’s in the file will have to be uploaded in electronic format to the FCC’s system. Continue Reading

$500K+ Spanking for Sponsorship ID Miscue

Enforcement Bureau extracts half-million dollar “civil penalty” AND an extensive compliance plan commitment from Cumulus for spots which it didn’t even sell.

The Enforcement Bureau has scored another trophy for its burgeoning trophy room of extravagant penalties. This time, it’s $540,000 extracted from Cumulus for a supposedly inadequate sponsorship identification on a number of spots run on a station Cumulus didn’t own when the spots were purchased and didn’t own when the Bureau imposed the penalty. And despite the fact that it’s not entirely clear that any sponsorship ID violation actually occurred, Cumulus agreed to fork over half a million dollars and shoulder a number of other not insubstantial burdens as well.

The case raises a number of troubling questions.

The tale starts in May, 2011, when an FM station in scenic Dover, New Hampshire contracted to air a flight of spots promoting the Northern Pass Project, a controversial plan to build a 192-mile transmission line to bring power from Canada. Continue Reading

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