Congress Contemplates Cohabitation at 5.85-5.925 GHz

Bill would set timetable for unlicensed operation, deferred by FCC in April.

The crack electrical engineers and spectrum policy experts elected to the U.S. Congress are considering a bill called the Wi-Fi Innovation Act.

Readers may recall that the FCC proposed to add rules for Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) operation on 5.85-5.925 GHz at one watt output power. (U-NII overlaps with Wi-Fi and serves many of the same purposes.) The proposed use would share spectrum with “Dedicated Short Range Communications” (DSRC), authorized in 2004 for automatic communications among vehicles and between vehicles and roadside points, to facilitate safety and the movement of traffic. Although interest in DSRC remains high among vehicle manufacturers, widespread deployment does not appear imminent.

Some who support DSRC opposed the new U-NII rules in the 5.85-5.925 GHz band, fearing interference. The FCC’s First Report and Order in the proceeding did not resolve the issue, deferring action on it pending the completion of ongoing technical analyses.

If enacted, the Wi-Fi Innovation Act would take over the FCC’s deliberations. The FCC would have to: (a) consider “interference mitigation techniques and technologies” that would enable the proposed U-NII service at 5.85-5.925 GHz while protecting DSRC; (b) conduct tests of those technologies, and (c) adopt U-NII rules (or not) based on the outcome of those tests – all within two years.

In addition to imposing particular deadlines for FCC action, the bill would require actual interference testing. Parties to a proceeding often submit test results, and the FCC has sometimes done its own testing (in the TV white space proceeding, for example), but this is not part of the FCC’s usual routine.

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Update: FCC Announces Form 477 Web Pages, Webinar

Webinar on new filing interface for Form 477 to be held on August 6; FCC releases link to Form 477 filing resources.

As we reported last month, the new Form 477 filing interface implemented as part of the Commission’s expansion of the Form 477 Data Program goes live on July 31. And as the FCC promised, additional Form 477 guidance – consisting of several web pages with instructions, resources, system guides, background information – is now available to prospective filers on the FCC’s website. (Cautionary note: While the FCC has indeed set up potentially useful web pages, it has included on those pages a number of links that are not yet live, at least as of the date the availability of those pages was first announced. The Commission assures one and all that those links will be updated before the new interface goes live on July 31.)

The Commission also promised an instructional webinar after the launch. True to its word, the FCC has announced that the promised webinar has been scheduled to occur on August 6, 2014 from 2:30-3:30 p.m. (ET). You can attend the real deal at the FCC’s Meeting Room in Washington, or you can watch it live over the ether at http://fcc.gov/live. Stay-at-home viewers will be given the opportunity to email questions in to the presenters during the show.

.media is The Message

Calling all media-related folks interested in getting in on the ground floor of a new opportunity. The Top Level Domain (TLD) “.media” is now available. Come one, come all. For the measly sum of $39.99, you could lay claim to your own private piece of the Internet labeled “[YOURNAME].media”. (That assumes, of course, that that particular domain name hasn’t already been scooped up.) Check with your favorite registrar to see if they’re offering “.media” registrations; if they’re not, we know for sure that GoDaddy is. We have previously written about the impending arrival of more than 1,000 new generic TLDs, so ideally readers are familiar with the lay of the land. (If not, check out the posts at this link.)

Music Licensing Study Gets an Encore

Copyright Office seeks more input in proceeding as it considers possible overhaul of the music licensing system.

As readers should know by now, the long-stable music licensing  system may soon be in flux. Nearly every aspect of the licensing process is under scrutiny – even attack – on several fronts, and the possibility of change looms large.

Of course, you’ve got your Congressional hearings, which could lead to changes in the Copyright Act. Then you’ve got the Department of Justice review of the decades-old consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI (remember, SESAC isn’t subject to a consent decree). And the Copyright Office (CO) is looking not only at those same consent decrees, but also at a much wider range of licensing-related questions.

With so many governmental fingers in the pie, what’s likely to get done? 

A CO Notice of Inquiry requesting more comments in its “Music Licensing Study” may shed some light on that question.

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Looking for a Way Around a Statute of Limitations?

Video Division forfeiture order shows flexibility, but not necessarily in a good way

One thing you can say about the FCC: If they think they’ve caught a licensee in a violation, they can be persistent in their efforts to impose penalties for that violation. Whether those efforts are entirely consistent with the law is another question entirely.

With respect to any fine it issues, the Commission must consider the relevant statute of limitations. FCC forfeitures are subject to two separate such statutes. First, under Section 503 of the Communications Act, it can levy forfeitures for actions going back to the beginning of the current license term or one year, whichever is earlier. 

Once the Commission has issued its formal “forfeiture order”, a licensee can simply ignore that order. If the Commission wants to collect the fine in the face of such licensee inaction, it must convince the Department of Justice to sue the target licensee in federal district court. But a second, separate, statute (28 U.S.C. § 2462) says that law suits to enforce penalties must be started within five years of “the date the claim first accrued”.  

A recent forfeiture order reflects the Video Division’s awareness of that latter limit and at least one way the Division has devised to try to sidestep it.

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Fifth Circuit: False Claims for USF Funds Are Not Subject to False Claims Act Suits

Court holds that USF funds, administered by a private corporation, are not “federal funds” within meaning of False Claims Act.

One weapon in the government’s anti-fraud arsenal – the False Claims Act – will no longer be available to the Feds in their efforts to combat bogus claims made to the Universal Service Fund (USF) if a recent decision out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sticks.

The USF, of course, is the multi-billion dollar cash reservoir used to subsidize a variety of programs designed to assure that all Americans have affordable access to essential telecommunications services. Created by Congress in 1996 (but having roots dating back to 1934), the USF is funded by mandatory contributions from telecom carriers, who in turn pass the charges along to their customers. If you haven’t heard of it, take a look at your phone bill, which has a surcharge of more than 15% to cover your share of your carrier’s mandatory contribution to the USF. Since pretty much every phone bill every month to every customer everywhere includes that line item, the cash coming into the USF is not chickenfeed. (Illustrative examples: Annual USF disbursements exceeded $8.5 billion in 2012; earlier this month the Commission expanded the funds available to the Education Rate (E-rate) component of USF – which supports communications technology (e.g., Wi-fi) in schools and libraries – to more than $3 billion annually for the next two years.)

The USF is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), a non-profit corporation established to oversee the day-to-day operation of the USF. Contributions go directly to the USAC, which then distributes them back out to service providers in furtherance of USF programs.

When so much money is doled out anywhere, you can pretty much count on people trying to get their hands on more than they’re entitled to.

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One in a Million: Coming Clean in the Net Neutrality Proceeding

Open Internet comments have passed the seven-figure mark, but one in particular sticks out.

Update: Word is that the total number of comments filed in the net neutrality proceeding leapt from around 650,000 the day before the original comment deadline, to more than 1,000,000 by the end of the extended comment period.

First, congrats to those of you who guessed right in your office’s over/under on the comment total – but don’t get too cocky. There are still a couple of months’ worth of reply comments yet to show up, so be sure to read the fine print on your internal office pool rules before you claim any prizes.

Second, with the new total, we have to revise the estimates we laid out in our earlier post. At that point, we estimated (based on then-available numbers) that, if 650,000 comments had been filed, one FCC staffmember doing nothing but net neutrality comment review for 52 40-hour weeks per year, and processing one comment every five minutes, would take more than 26 years to complete the job. With 1,000,000+ comments now in hand, let’s re-calculate. Under the conditions we are positing – and now also assuming that the hypothetical staffer would be willing to work beyond the usual retirement age – he or she would require 40 years to complete review of 1,000,000 comments.

And third, we want to highlight one particular submission which arrived in the FCC’s ECFS system on July 16. Filed by one Kurt Schaake (of Lawrence, Kansas), these comments consist, in toto, of a copy of the user instructions for a Whirlpool Dishwasher. True fact – you can find them for yourself by searching ECFS in Docket No. 14-28 (the Open Internet proceeding) or you can just click here to get there more quickly.

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Aereo Loses First Round in Copyright Office, While Dish Wins its Next Round in the Ninth Circuit

More developments in the realm of Internet retransmission of OTA signals.

Aereo – the gift that keeps on giving, at least when it comes to blogworthy content. As we reported, after it got its clock cleaned at the Supreme Court, Aereo bounced back with Plan B, which amounted to declaring itself (a) a cable system and, thus, (b) eligible for the compulsory copyright license granted to cable systems. But you can’t just say “I’m a cable system” and expect anybody to believe you. So Aereo went ahead with some of the paperwork required of f’real cable operators; among other things, it filed a bunch (14, to be exact) of Statements of Accounts with the U.S. Copyright Office, along with some royalty and fee payments amounting to the princely sum of $5,310.74.

A nice gesture, but wouldn’t you know it, the Copyright Office (CO) was not inclined to play along with the gambit. In a brief letter dated July 16, 2014, the CO let Aereo know that, as far as the CO is concerned, Aereo is not a cable system entitled to the compulsory license. As it turns out, more than a decade ago the CO had concluded that “internet retransmission of broadcast television fall outside the scope” of the compulsory license. That’s bad news for Aereo, whose system is firmly – indeed, exclusively – based on Internet retransmission.

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Media Bureau Invites Comments on Blanket Extension for New Unbuilt Digital LPTV/TV Translator CP's

Uncertainty created by upcoming TV repacking brings call for uniform, blanket extension.

If you’re holding onto a construction permit for an unbuilt digital low power television (LPTV) or TV translator station, listen up. The Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance (ATBA) has asked the FCC for a blanket extension (or rule waiver) – to September 1, 2015 – to complete construction of such stations. And the Media Bureau has now requested comments on ATBA’s proposal (which was filed last February).

Although all full power television stations had to convert to digital operation in 2009, in 2011, in 2011 the FCC extended the deadline for existing LPTV stations to terminate analog operation until September 1, 2015. That date was set as the expiration for all construction permits for flash cut from analog to digital on the same channel, or for digital facilities on a different channel (companion stations). But the FCC denied requests for similar relief for holders of construction permits for new digital LPTV stations. Instead, the construction deadlines for such permits were left at their original dates (i.e., three years from their issuance), which meant that some such permittees face a deadline prior to September 1, 2015. Demonstrating that this was not just some inadvertent bureaucratic oversight, the Commission denied a request for reconsideration of the decision not to extend  such permits.

ATBA, whose Executive Director is Louis Libin, is one of two groups currently representing LPTV interests before the FCC. The other is the LPTV Coalition, headed by Mike Gravino.

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Is the Fuse Lit on the C4 Proposal?

Commission invites preliminary comments on 18-month old petition for establishment of new class of FM station.

A proposal to shoe-horn in another class of FM station between existing Classes A and C3 has taken a small but at least observable step ahead. We wrote about the proposal back when it first walked in the door at the FCC in January, 2013. Essentially, the idea is that the FM spectrum could be put to more efficient use if a new class of station – proposed ominous name: Class C4 – were to be established with maximum ERP of 12 kW and maximum antenna height of 100 meters.

The latest – actually, to this point, the only – indication of progress? The Commission has released a public notice formally identifying the petition for rulemaking (now dubbed “RM No. 11727”) inviting interested folks to file “statements opposing or supporting” the petition within 30 days, i.e., by Monday, August 18, 2014.

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Upcoming Webinar: Kathy Kleiman and Kevin Goldberg on the Arrival of the New gTLDs

On the agenda: How to take advantage of the new Top Level Domains now coming available, and how to identify and avoid potential problems

As we have advised our readers repeatedly, new generic Top Level Domains are here, NOW, and more are coming online every day. And NOW is the time to learn about them: what they are, how to get them, how you can use them.

If you’re looking for an introduction into the brave new world of new gTLDs, here’s your chance. Internet gurus Kathy Kleiman and Kevin Goldberg will be presenting a webinar on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. (ET) in which they plan to address such questions as:

  • What are new “Top Level Domains” and how will they change the Internet?
  • How can new gTLDs help your business stand out and attract customers?
  • What possible risks do you face from new gTLDs?
  • How can you protect your trademarks and existing domain names in the new gTLD environment?
  • What is the process (including likely costs) of taking advantage of new gTLDs?

The webinar is a production of Team Lightbulb. The registration fee is $99 (which also gets you access to a recording of the presentation on an on-demand basis). You can register here.

Update: Petitions for Reconsideration Filed in AWS-3 Service Rules Proceeding

Back in April we reported on the adoption of service rules to govern AWS-3 service on 65 MHz of repurposed spectrum, and then last month we noted the publication of the FCC’s action in the Federal Register. As longtime CommLawBlog readers know, Federal Register publication of such things starts the time for filing petitions for reconsideration (which are due within 30 days of publication) and petitions for judicial review (due within 60 days of publication. And sure enough, according to an FCC public notice, two parties have indeed filed for reconsideration.

Trimble Navigation Limited and Deere & Company – two members of the GPS Innovation Alliance – filed a joint petition asking for more stringent limits on AWS-3 emissions into radionavigation satellite system spectrum. Meanwhile, Engineers for the Integrity of Broadcast Auxiliary Services Spectrum also sought reconsideration. Their complaint: in its decision the FCC appears to have completely ignored their comments regarding the FCC’s decision to move Department of Defense operations into the 2 GHz TV Broadcast Auxiliary Services band.

Interested parties will be permitted to comment on either of both of these petitions. The deadline, however, won’t be set until the FCC’s public notice shows up in the Federal Register. Ordinarily, the comment period in such situations is abbreviated, so if you are interested, be sure to check back here for updates.

INCOMING! Commission's Net Neutrality Comment Conundrum

As comments pile up in the Open Internet proceeding, straining the FCC’s systems, a post on the Commission’s blog got us thinking about transparency.

On July 14, 2014 – the day before the original deadline for initial comments in the Open Internet (a/k/a Net Neutrality) proceeding – in the spirit of transparency the FCC’s Chief Information Officer took to the Commission’s blog to tout the agency’s ability to track the numbers of comments flooding in over the transom. According to a couple of files linked in his post, the Commission had received nearly 170,000 Net Neutrality comments submitted electronically through ECFS (the FCC's online filing system), and another 442,000 or so by email. Those numbers are a moving target, though, and the target is only moving up: according to a post on ArsTechnica, by 11:00 a.m. on July 15, the tally was up to about 670,000.

It will doubtless go well beyond that, once ECFS comes back to life. The ArsTechnica post indicates that ECFS had crashed; our own observations here in the CommLawBlog bunker lent credence to that report, although the FCC conceded only that the “overwhelming surge” in traffic has “ma[de] it difficult” for some folks to file. As a result, the deadline for filing Net Neutrality comments has been extended to “midnight Friday, July 18”. (BTW – we confirmed with the FCC that they mean 11:59 p.m. (ET) on July 18.)

Keeping track of the influx of comments is presumably useful at some level, and the FCC’s ability to do so – apparently even on an hour-by-hour basis – is to be commended. But that ability is of, at best, secondary interest. When Katrina struck New Orleans, local residents may have been interested in precisely how much water was coming over the levees, whether by the minute or the hour or the day. But they were certainly more interested in how that water, however much water there was, was going to be disposed of.

Which brings us to some back-of-the-hand calculations.

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Update: Comment Deadlines Set in Latest EAS Proceeding

As we reported last week, the FCC is looking into a number of possible changes to the Emergency Alert System (EAS) in the wake of the first-ever nationwide test of the system conducted in November, 2011.  The Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has now been published in the Federal Register. As a result, we can now report that the deadline for comments is August 14, 2014 and the deadline for reply comments is August 29. Comments and replies can be submitted electronically at this site; use Proceeding No. 04-296.

Parties Seek Reconsideration of 5.8 GHz Unlicensed Rules

Petitions address out-of-band emissions, set-top boxes, and vehicle communications.

We reported back in April on rule changes in the 5 GHz unlicensed band. Seven Petitions for Reconsideration recently appeared on public notice. Comments will be due 15 days after the public notice appears in the Federal Register, which will probably happen in late July or early August. Because the comment period will be short, we are giving you a heads-up now so you can begin to prepare your filings.

Four of the petitions question the stringent out-of-band emissions limits in the higher-powered 5.8 GHz region of the band. (The former rules had an option that entailed more lenient limits.) Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, JAB Wireless, and Cambium Networks Ltd., all seek a return to the earlier limits. Mimosa Networks, Inc. asks for limits that increase for more directional antennas. The Association of Global Automakers, Inc. has a different concern, that out-of-band emissions from 5.8 GHz might cause interference to vehicle operations in the immediately adjacent band at 5.9 GHz.

On other issues, Motorola requests that manufacture, marketing, sale, and importation under the old rules at 5.8 GHz be permitted to continue beyond the presently-allowed two years, preferably for five years, while EchoStar Technologies LLC wants a clarification relating to set-top boxes.

We will let you know the deadline for comments, as soon as the folks at the Federal Register tell us.