Update: Deadlines Set for Comments on Proposed Reservation of UHF Channel Space for Unlicensed Use, Wireless Mics

A couple of weeks ago we reported on the Commission’s proposal to reserve onere vacant UHF TV channel in every geographic aa of the country for use by unlicensed TV white space devices and wireless microphones. With impressive speed the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has found its way into the Federal Register. As a result, we can now report that comments on the proposal may be filed by August 3, 2015; reply comments are due by August 31. Both comments and replies may be filed through the FCC’s ECFS online filing system; refer to Proceeding Nos. 15-146 and 12-268.

Restoring Vitality to the AM Revitalization Effort

The radio industry has been waiting for the FCC to finally release its long-awaited AM revitalization order. However, much of the optimism that was felt when the AM revitalization proceeding was initiated years ago appears to be screeching to a halt. Within the world of AM revitalization, nothing appears to outshine the ever-increasing reliance upon FM translators by AM stations. The FCC’s rule change in 2009 allowing AM stations to have their signals retransmitted on qualifying FM translators was a huge step forward. Approximately 900 AM stations use FM translators to fill-in coverage of their local communities, which is frequently compromised (in the AM band) by interference from LED lighting, computer monitors, and other interference sources that continue to multiply. Translators also allow AM stations to maintain coverage of their audiences as market boundaries and population centers shift. Most striking, translators have enabled many AM stations to broadcast during nighttime hours for the very first time, providing live, on-the-scene coverage of high school sports, local political debates, and other events that usually occur at night, not to mention school closings, weather conditions, and traffic reports for early morning and late evening commuters.

However, the challenge is that FM translators frequently are not located where the AM stations need them, and when they are, they’re incredibly expensive. In fact, as demand for FM translators has increased, so has their price. Acknowledging this, the FCC had at one time seemed willing to relax its current prohibitions on the ability to relocate FM translators to move them closer to AM stations by granting “Mattoon” waivers, which allowed a move with one long “hop” that would normally be a prohibited major change or that would require equally-discouraged multiple short hops. In addition, there were rumors being kicked around of a possible filing window for FM translators, limited to just AM stations owners. Continue Reading

Update: Remaining Revised Antenna Structure Rules Now In Effect

Nearly a year ago we reported on some regulatory weedwhacking that pruned some (but by no means all) of the things that tower owners need to worry about when it comes to the FCC’s Antenna Structure Regulations. Most of the revised rules took effect last October. As often happens, though, a couple were left in limbo because they involved “information collections” that had to be run past the Office of Management and Budget thanks to the hilariously-named Paperwork Reduction Act. According to a notice in the Federal Register, OMB wrapped up its review on May 13 (although it took the Commission nearly seven weeks to get word of that milestone into the Register). In any event, the most recent Register notice means that the remaining rule revisions – involving Sections 17.4, 17.48 and 17.49 – are now in effect.

OET Runs the Numbers Using the New and Improved TVStudy V.1.3.2

Areas/pops data for auction-eligible stations released for comment.

We have another sign of the impending arrival of the spectrum auction. The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) has released what it describes as the “final” version of its TVStudy software. This latest-and-greatest version – dubbed Version 1.3.2 – is the one that will be used in connection with the auction. That’s a good reason to start to get familiar with it (if you aren’t already), assuming that you’re a TV licensee expecting to be affected by the auction. You can download the software, along with an “Installation and Upgrade Guide”, from the “Repacking” page on the FCC’s “LEARN” website. At the same site you should also find a “Change Log” showing all the revisions to TVStudy that have been implemented.

Probably of more immediate interest to potentially affected TV licensees will be the separate table released by OET showing three flavors each of the “baseline coverage area and population served” for each television station to be protected in the repacking process. These were calculated using (a) TVStudy 1.3.2 and (b) the latest parameter settings adopted by the Commission in early June, 2015. The three flavors: noise-limited, terrain-limited and interference-free. The noise-limited figures reflect the coverage area that will be replicated for each listed station; the interference-free population figures show the population to be served by the station that will be protected from interference in the repack.

While OET is not inviting any comments on TVStudy 1.3.2, it is inviting comments on the areas/pops data calculated using the program. Anybody with anything to say about those data has until July 30, 2015 to let the FCC know. Comments should be filed in GN Docket No. 12-268 and ET Docket No. 13-26.

Note that the list of stations is NOT necessarily the final list. The current list reflects only those stations that were included in the initial recent Eligibility Public Notice. As we have previously reported, the Commission has invited stations that were omitted from that universe to petition for inclusion. Obviously, if a station manages to get in the door through that petition process, it will be added to the TVStudy data list. Also, the specific areas/pops figures just released are subject to possible revision once all Pre-Auction Technical Certifications (i.e., Form 2100, Schedule 381) have been filed. Those certifications could reveal alternate facilities that could in turn entail recalculation of some stations’ numbers.

Update: Effective Date Set for Revised EAS Rules

A couple of weeks ago we reported on the revisions to the Emergency Alert System rules adopted in the wake of the 2011 nationwide EAS test. Those revisions have now been published in the Federal Register, so we know that they will take effect on July 30, 2015. All the new rules, that is, EXCEPT Sections 11.21(a), and §11.61(a)(3)(iv), both of which involve information collections that will need a thumbs-up from OMB before they can kick in. Check back here for updates on that front.

Sirius Waves a $210 Million White Flag

Settlement wraps up record labels’ lawsuit re pre-1972 performance rights

They’re rejoicing in the Home for Old Musicians (not to mention the Home for Companies That Own Old Musicians’ Performance Copyrights). Sirius XM and several major record labels have settled one of the “Pre-1972” lawsuits that we’ve written about in the past. The result: Sirius XM will be paying $210 million to resolve all claims that had been advanced in the lawsuit brought by Capitol, Sony, UMG, Warner and ABKCO with respect to performance royalties for transmitting music recorded prior to February, 1972. Additionally, the $210 mil will buy Sirius XM the right to continue to transmit such music owned (or controlled) by the plaintiff record companies, but only through 2017.

This is the suit we wrote about last November; it was brought in a California state court and resulted in a key ruling, in favor of the record companies, that allowed the case to go forward to a jury trial. According to that ruling, California law recognizes the existence of a public performance right in the digital transmission of sound recordings created before February 15, 1972, even though such recordings currently receive no protection under the federal Copyright Act. Since Sirius XM plays a lot of pre-1972 tunes, it was clearly in trouble. That no doubt provided the impetus for a $ 210 million dollar settlement of the lawsuit.

Sirius XM’s cash bought it only temporary relief, however. Continue Reading

Form 2100, Schedule 381 – Getting There Is Half the Fun!

Want to file your Schedule 381 but not sure how to get there? Just follow us…

We have previously reported that TV stations included on the FCC’s Eligibility List have got to file Form 2100, Schedule 381 (official name: “Pre-Auction Technical Certification Form”) by July 9, which is right around the corner. Now we have received a query from one of our readers, asking how to go about submitting the form – as our reader notes, “[t]he instructions don’t say how or where to file.”

This is a job for CommLawBlog. Continue Reading

Meet the New CommLawBlog, NOT the Same as the Old CommLawBlog

Introducing some changes AND a new CommLawBlog contest!

blog contest-1As longtime readers have doubtless noticed already, CommLawBlog looks different. That’s because, with the help of our friends at LexBlog, as of June 25 we have upgraded ourselves in a number of respects, some obvious, some not so. The content, of course, hasn’t changed. It’s all there, going back to our earliest posts from 2007. So don’t worry on that front.

But you will notice, most obviously, our new sans serif typeface. The experts assure us this is friendlier to readers. We’ll take their word for it – they’re the experts. So kiss good-bye to outgoing typeface Georgia and say hello to Proxima Nova. There are other, less obvious but ideally useful changes – including quicker access (in the top bar for desktop users and through the menu button for mobile users) to our links to FCC resources and various search options.

Readers who subscribe to our email notification system will also notice that, rather than receiving a new email every time we post new content, they’ll receive a once-a-day email listing all new posts since the previous email. Our RSS feed will supposedly be updated every 30 minutes, so email subscribers may want to sign up for the RSS feed to be sure that they’re getting the latest news.

If you prefer to read the blog on your mobile device, there’s more good news: we’re now using a “responsive design” that adjusts what you’re seeing on the screen to the particular screen you happen to be seeing it on. This is intended to improve the mobile reader’s experience. We’re all for that. Grab your device and check out for yourself how the new design is working (but not while you’re driving, please).

The move to “responsive design” is not entirely altruistic on our part. The folks at Google have tweaked their search engine algorithm to favor sites that are mobile-friendly. In other words, thanks to our new design and Google’s tweaking, we should show up higher in search results and, as a result, get more hits (or, in LexBlog’s more genteel terminology, “visits”).

Which brings us to our latest CommLawBlog contest! Continue Reading

Update: Effective Date Set for Some (But Not All) Citizens Broadband Radio Service Rules

Last month we reported on the FCC’s decision to open up the 3.5 GHz (3550-3700 MHz) band for a wide variety of new uses, making it the new home of the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). While (as we have also reported) a number of issues still need to be worked out before the CBRS will be fully ready for prime time, the Commission’s Report and Order has now been published in the Federal Register, which means that the rules that were adopted are set to take effect on July 23, 2015.

But heads up. As it turns out, not all the rules will be taking effect as of that date. That’s because a bunch of them involve “information collections” that must first be run past the Office of Management and Budget, thanks to our old friend, the hilariously-named Paperwork Reduction Act. That means that, despite their formal adoption by the FCC and their publication in the Register, the following rules are still on hold: §§96.17(d), 96.21(a)(3), 96.23(b), 96.29, 96.33(b), 96.35(e), 96.39(a), 96.39(c)-(g), 96.41(d)(1), 96.43(b), 96.45(b), 96.45(d), 96.49, 96.51, 96.57(a)-(c), 96.59(a), 96.61, 96.63, and 96.67(b)-(c). OMB’s PRA process usually takes at least several months. Once it’s wrapped up (and assuming that OMB gives its thumbs up, which it tends to do), the FCC should be issuing a public notice advising us all. Check back here for updates.

Student Proposal: Getting Interference? Tell It to the Judge!

Colorado students propose a mechanism for swift adjudication of interference disputes.

When Congress created the FCC in 1934, it ordered the new agency to “Make such regulations … as it may deem necessary to prevent interference between stations ….”

Eighty-one years later, the FCC has still not figured out how to do this. For much of that history there was plenty of spectrum to go around, so interference problems were sporadic. But over the past 25 years or so, falling prices for radio gear and the proliferation of new radio-based technologies have led to congestion, which in turn has caused increasing numbers of interference events.

In broadcast, fixed microwave, and a few other services, the FCC has foreclosed the problem by prohibiting the introduction of a new station until the applicant shows it will not cause interference to the incumbents – but this works only for fixed transmitters operating at relatively high power. Users of some other services, such as Wi-Fi and amateur radio, get no interference protection at all. Most services are somewhere in between: entitled to protection in theory, but largely helpless when interference actually occurs. Very occasionally, the FCC has addressed interference problems by adjusting its technical rules: for example, when automotive radar detectors interfered with satellite receivers, and more recently, when wireless Internet service made trouble for weather radars.

Most of the time, though, an interference victim just has to put up with it.

Continue Reading