Earlier this month we reported on an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ( in which the FCC is looking to revise the rules the it adopted in 2011 – and that took effect in 2012 – pursuant to the CALM Act. That’s the 2010 law by which Congress hopes to eliminate LOUD COMMERCIALS from the TV airwaves. The Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking portion of the Commission’s most recent action has now made it into the Federal Register, which establishes the comment and reply comment deadlines. If you plan to file comments in response to the Further Notice, you have until December 27, 2013. Reply comments are due by January 13, 2014.
Key Bridge Global LLC joins Google, Spectrum Bridge and Telcordia in the ranks of “approved” database coordinators.
Our handy-dandy table for tracking the progress of would-be white space database administrators is getting a work-out. Just last week we noted the completion of
L S Telcom’s testing, and now it’s Key Bridge Global LLC’s turn. The Commission has announced the Key Bridge has made it to the finish line – it has been approved to provide service to certified unlicensed devices operating in the TV white spaces. This latest notice has been included in the appropriate box below.
Four down, 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.)
Test Finished; Comments Sought
Frequency Finder Inc.
LS telecom AG
Key Bridge Global LLC
Spectrum Bridge Inc.
Thanks to Congress, the new standard WILL be adopted eventually. Affected parties can implement the new standard now if they prefer, but FCC is looking for input on when compliance with the new standard should be required.
If you’re a TV licensee or MVPD provider and you thought that you had a firm handle on your CALM Act obligations, think again. The CALM Act standards are in the process of evolving, and you (along with the Commission) will be having to play catch-up ball. The most recent demonstration of this? An Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (O/FNPRM) announcing a new “successor” “Recommended Practice” featuring an “improved loudness measurement algorithm” that must be incorporated into the gear necessary to assure CALM Act compliance.
If you’re a bit hazy on the CALM Act, check back on our previous posts for a refresher course (here and here would be good places to start). It’s the law intended to exorcise the Demon of Loud Commercials from the TV-watching experience. Congress enacted it in 2010, the FCC adopted rules for its implementation in 2011, and those rules kicked in in 2012.
An unusual aspect of the CALM Act is that it requires the Commission to incorporate into its rules standards adopted by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) relative to loudness measurement. The statute leaves the FCC no discretion at all: it specifies with precision the particular ATSC standard to be used, and it requires the FCC to incorporate that standard not only as it existed in 2010 (when the Act was passed), but also as it might be revised by ATSC from time to time going forward.
And sure enough, in March, 2013 – a bare three months after the CALM Act rules first took effect – ATSC published a revised version of the standard.Continue Reading...
. . . same as the old bosses? Wheeler, O’Rielly finally confirmed.
OK, readers, how about a big “welcome aboard” to the two newest arrivals on the Eighth Floor?
The Senate has confirmed Tom Wheeler and Michael O’Rielly as Chairman and Commissioner, respectively, of the Federal Communications Commission. They are expected to be sworn in as soon as possible. The confirmations return the FCC to a full complement of five commissioners.
For those keeping score, Wheeler will be the third Democrat commissioner (joining Commissioners Mignon Clyburn – previously the Acting Chairwoman – and Jessica Rosenworcel) while O’Rielly will be the second Republican (along with Commissioner Ajit Pai).
The confirmations were delayed briefly when Senator Ted Cruz placed a procedural hold on them because of concerns about possible changes in FCC policy to expand mandatory disclosures relative to television political advertisements. Wheeler and Cruz had a sit-down chat about the matter, during which Wheeler advised Cruz that imposing such disclosure requirements was “not a priority”. Cruz was apparently satisfied, and he lifted his hold.
With that, the normally creaky Congressional wheels suddenly began to spin with impressive ease. During the last two minutes of the Senate session immediately following Cruz’s announcement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked for unanimous consent that the nominees be confirmed. No objection was voiced, and that was that.
The record will reflect that, also in those last two minutes, the Senate unanimously approved the designation of November 2, 2013, as National Bison Day. And, just in time (since the month was already pretty much gone), it approved the annual designation of October as National Work and Family Month.Continue Reading...
A counterpoint to Mitchell Lazarus’s similarly-titled, but philosophically different, post.
[Blogmeister’s Note: When we posted Mitchell Lazarus’s item concerning the need for the FCC, we anticipated push-back. And sure enough, our colleague Jon Markman has stepped up. The views expressed in the post below are Jon’s alone. As was the case with Mitchell’s post, others here at FHH may share some or all of Jon’s views; some may not. Ditto for our readers. We again encourage anyone who agrees or disagrees with Jon to let us know by sending along a comment.]
In a recent post here on CommLawBlog, my colleague Mitchell Lazarus addressed some core functions of the FCC that make it “not only valuable, but indispensable to how we live”. With all due respect to Mitchell – who has forgotten more about the FCC, spectrum, and telecom law in the last month than I could hope to learn in a decade – I would like to offer a different take.
The government shutdown prompts a conversation on just what are the “essential” tasks of the Federal government (keeping in mind that the Federal government is just one of the many levels of government we have in the U.S.).
In his post, Mitchell alluded to some of the extreme posturing inspired by the government shutdown, such as claims that the shutdown demonstrated the irrelevance of the Federal government and proved that smaller government is good and no government is even better. I tend to believe that this was mostly rhetoric used by one side to rally their base and/or strengthen their bargaining position in the budget negotiations; I suspect that the speakers in fact support much of what the Federal government does. But insofar as they were representative of honest beliefs, they are indicative of a far more extreme position than the norm.Continue Reading...
The operation of our culture and commerce depends on at least three of the FCC’s functions.
[Blogmeister’s Note: Despite Blogger Mitchell Lazarus’s use of the editorial “we”, the views expressed in this post are his alone. Others here at FHH may share some or all of his views; some may not. Ditto for our readers. We encourage anyone who agrees or disagrees with Mitchell to let us know by sending along a comment.]
The recent government shutdown was applauded by some who believe that small government is better, and so, by extension, that no government at all must be better still.
That got us to thinking. Not about the whole government, just the piece we know best: the FCC. Suppose the FCC closed for good. Would anybody notice? (Other than us; we’d have to find another line of work.)
In other words: How essential is the FCC to a functioning society?
A lot of what the FCC does has social value, in the eyes of many. But set that aside. Are any of the FCC’s responsibilities not only valuable, but indispensable to how we live?
We wouldn’t ask the question unless we had an answer.Continue Reading...
Tach it up! Tach it up! For the second time in two and a half years, FCC moves to DefCon1 in anticipation of government shutdown.
We posted a heads-up alert last week about the possible shutdown of the federal government and the effect that that could have on licensees. Now the FCC itself is getting into the act. It has just posted on its website a “Plan for Orderly Shutdown Due to Lapse of Congressional Appropriations”. The Commission’s plan allots a total of four hours to complete “orderly” shutdown procedures. They’re figuring that, of a total of about 1,750 agency employees, only 38 will be manning the battle stations during the shutdown; everybody else will have to go home and shelter in place . . . but only after they have completed their orderly shutdown procedures. (Comforting factoid: All three Commissioners will stay on board through the shutdown.)
Unfortunately, the Plan doesn’t shed any light on practical questions of importance to us out here in the Real World. For instance, will the Commission’s various e-filing portals remain open and operational? We don’t expect that anything that might get filed during the shutdown (assuming that any of those portals do stay up and running) would be given a file number or be processed in any way during the shutdown, but it would still be a relief to be able to file applications, etc., even if they remain untouched by any bureaucratic hand for the duration.
[UPDATE: Since we first posted the above item we have been informally advised by a member of the Media Bureau’s staff that no FCC systems will be available for any purpose during the shutdown. From this it’s probably reasonable to conclude that CDBS, ULS and the Commission’s other online filing systems are going to be shut down for the shutdown. It’s not entirely clear why that should be the case, since the Commission routinely closes up shop – every weekend, for instance, and all federal holidays – without feeling the need to seal off its e-filing portals. But we don’t make the news here, we just report it – and the word we’re getting is that uploading of materials through the Commission’s online systems will not be a happening thing during the shutdown.]
Obligation to provide viewers with disabilities ALL crisis-related announcements can affect video providers well outside immediate geographic area of the crisis.
The Commission has issued its annual public notice reminding video distributors everywhere – not just in areas prone to particular types of disasters – of their obligation to make all emergency information accessible to people with vision and hearing impairments. This reminder, usually timed to coincide with hurricane and forest fire seasons, underscores the need to be alert to the needs of all audience members when emergency information is being provided. (Since this year’s notice is substantially identical to last year’s, the following recap similarly tracks our post describing last year’s notice.)
As broadcasters, cable/fiber system operators and satellite television services have learned from past experience, there are no exceptions to this requirement, and no excuses will be accepted for less than full compliance – even in areas well away from the zones directly affected by the emergency conditions. And let’s be clear: this requirement is over and above routine closed captioning or video description obligations. Existing, everyday procedures to meet those routine obligations may not be enough during an emergency.Continue Reading...
Three-judge panel grills opposing counsel for two hours, seems to signal doubts about FCC’s Open Internet rules.
It’s been almost two years since net neutrality was the Big Issue here – and now it’s back! On September 9 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments in Verizon’s appeal of the FCC’s effort, dating back to late 2010, to impose “open Internet” rules on broadband providers. The importance of the argument could be seen from the turn-out at the court: it was SRO in the D.C. Circuit’s main courtroom, forcing the marshals to herd the overflow into a separate courtroom where they piped in the audio of the argument.
As we have repeatedly cautioned, trying to guess the result in a case based on oral argument is an iffy proposition. Judges are adept at keeping their cards close to their robes. But still and all, it sure sounded to us like the Commission’s net neutrality effort – or at least much of it – is skating on very thin ice. In particular, at least two of the three judges on the panel (Judges David Tatel and Laurence Silberman) seemed especially “dubious” – to use a term that popped up during the argument – of the anti-discrimination component of the Open Internet rules. And whether the remaining anti-blocking provision could survive in the absence of its companion anti-discrimination provision was far from clear (although at one point Judge David Tatel seemed to suggest that there might be some way to preserve the former without the latter). Judge Silberman, on the other hand, seemed convinced that the anti-blocking provision is also a goner. (The third judge -- Judge Judith Rogers -- asked significantly fewer questions than her confreres.)
With respect to Verizon’s argument concerning the FCC’s lack of clear statutory authority for its Net Neutrality rules, Judge Silberman jokingly suggested that the Commission’s authority derives from “emanations from a penumbra” of some statutory language – which seemed to some observers, at least, to indicate that he may be more than a little sympathetic to Verizon on this point as well. Tatel, on the other hand, seemed at times to suggest that he could see some statutory basis for the FCC.
In our post about the recent Ninth Circuit argument about Aereokiller, we observed that, in that argument, at least, the Ninth Circuit wasn’t particularly chatty. That was not a problem in the net neutrality argument. Although each side was originally allotted a total of 20 minutes of argument time, the whole affair ended up taking two hours – much of it because of extensive probing by the judges. But don’t take our word for that – listen yourself. As it turns out, effective September 9, the D.C. Circuit is now posting recordings of oral arguments on its website! Here is a link to the argument in the Verizon net neutrality appeal. Grab some popcorn and a drink and prepare to be entertained for 120 minutes.
Conventionally the D.C. Circuit takes at least a couple of months to prepare its opinions following oral argument. Because of the complexities of the net neutrality case, it may take the court longer to crank out its decision. You never know. Check back here for updates.
U.S. District Judge in D.C. enjoins Aereo-like service everywhere but the Second Circuit.
Score a big one for the broadcasters! A federal district judge in the District of Columbia has enjoined FilmOn X (that would be the folks formerly known as “Aereokiller” who operated at “BarryDriller.com”) from operating its dime-sized wannabe-MVPD service, much like a judge did in Los Angeles late last year.
But get this – the D.C. judge went way further than the L.A. judge by extending the injunction NATIONWIDE (except for New York, Vermont and Connecticut).
To say that this complicates matters in the overall Aereo/Aereokiller universe would be an understatement.
First things first. The latest decision was issued by Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. FilmOn X had cranked up its service in the D.C. area last spring, which prompted D.C. broadcasters to ask the D.C. federal court to shut it down – essentially the same scenario that had already played out in New York (with Aereo’s similar service) and L.A. (where FilmOn X, but not Aereo, was the defendant). As our readers already know, the Second Circuit judges in NYC declined to enjoin Aereo’s operation, but a U.S District Judge in the Ninth Circuit in L.A. did enjoin FilmOn X. (We’re still awaiting a decision from the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit reviewing that latter decision.)
Both the NYC and L.A. decisions were based on the same facts and underlying precedent presented to Judge Collyer, so she had two flatly inconsistent model approaches (in her words, “a binary choice”) that she could use as guidance. She opted to go West Coast, but with a couple of twists.Continue Reading...
May it please the court? Maybe, maybe not. YOU be the judge.
Even those practiced in the art of appellate advocacy have trouble correctly guessing, on the basis of oral arguments, how a court will ultimately rule. (Doubt that? Just ask the Swami.)
The post-argument guessing game is particularly hard for the Great Unwashed because appellate arguments tend to be somewhat intimate affairs, not widely publicized beforehand, seldom recorded for extensive public consumption. Any press accounts of arguments tend to shed only limited light on precisely what was said, making it hard for the reader to draw any conclusions.
But things are different in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which, as it turns out, posts audio recordings of its arguments on its website within 24 hours of each argument. Who knew?
So if you’ve got about 45 minutes and want to try to figure out what’s going to happen next in the Aereokiller case, click on this link. (Note: Aereokiller has since re-named itself FilmOn X, even though it’ll always be Aereokiller to us.) Clicking on that link will allow you to download and open the recording of the August 27 oral argument before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (sitting in Pasadena). See if you can figure which way the court’s going to go.Continue Reading...
FHH foreign ownership gurus on the bill in upcoming webinar
If you’re interested in the FCC’s recent relaxation of its foreign ownership rules – and the impact that that relaxation might have on commerce nationally and globally – check this out. FHH mavens (and regular CommLawBlog contributors) Don Evans and Frank Montero will be sharing their expertise in a webinar on October 23, 2013. Titled “What the FCC’s Relaxed Foreign Ownership Regulations Mean for Global Commerce”, the gig is billed as a webinar for folks who advise communications and broadcasting companies, professionals involved in media ownership and regulation, and pretty much anybody dealing in international commerce. It may even qualify for continuing legal education in some jurisdictions. Such a deal! The 90-minute affair is sponsored by Bloomberg BNA. Consult the registration page for information about admission fees (there are several options),CLE details, other webinar panelists and the like.
At first blush, the Ninth Circuit decision allowing Dish to continue to offer its “Hopper” service may not look great for broadcasters, but don’t hop to any conclusions just yet.
The TV industry has suffered some setbacks on the copyright front in the Aereo litigation in the Second Circuit and, as we have reported, the industry is keeping its fingers crossed, hoping for support from the Ninth Circuit on the Left Coast (in the pending Aereokiller appeal).
Bad news. In an unrelated case the Ninth Circuit has issued a decision that doesn’t help broadcasters although, much like the Aereo decisions so far, the damage here is by no means catastrophic.
The decision involves the “Hopper” from Dish.
You may be familiar with the Hopper from its truly annoying commercials. It’s the Dish satellite service’s home DVR system, which includes a feature called “PrimeTime Anytime” (PTA). PTA allows a subscriber to record any and all primetime programming on any of the four major broadcast networks every night of the week. The PTA service defaults to recording all the programming, which (again by default) it saves on the user’s DVR for eight days (although the subscriber can modify these defaults).
As with most (if not all) other DVR systems, the user can start watching PTA-recorded programming right away, but if they can wait until the next morning, they can take advantage of the Hopper’s main selling point: the ability to “AutoHop” over commercials, skipping them entirely, automatically. No need to fast forward through commercials – Dish has taken care of that for you.
The prospect of automatic ad-skipping technology is obviously not something that commercial broadcasters – whose existence depends on the ads being skipped – cotton to.
Enter Fox Broadcasting Company.
The network that first introduced the world to 21 Jump Street filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, trying to ground the Hopper. Since that’s the same court that has preliminarily enjoined Aereokiller (now known as FilmOn.com), you might think that the chances would be good for Fox to Arrest the Development of the Hopper technology.
Not so fast.Continue Reading...
Procedural rejection does not resolve merits of broadcasters’ case.
Put another one in the “W” column for Aereo. The Second Circuit has denied the petition for en banc review filed by the broadcast plaintiffs last April.
It may be some comfort to the broadcasters that the Court’s decision technically did not address the merits of the case. That’s because of the nature of en banc procedures. As we previously summarized that process, when a petition for en banc review is filed, the petition is circulated to all the active judges on the Circuit. If any of them asks for a vote to be taken on whether or not to grant en banc review, then all the active judges are polled. Note that they’re not polled on the bottom line substantive issue(s) involved; rather, they’re just polled on the limited question of whether the Court should agree to let the parties slug it out before the full Court.
In this case, one active judge (we’re guessing that was probably Judge Chin) did ask for a vote, and the bottom line was 10-2 in favor of not reviewing the earlier panel decision. So there will be no en banc review.Continue Reading...
No consent for retransmission of TV signals? That’ll be $2.25 million, please.
If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you retransmitted the programming of TV stations without their consent, and then dissembled about it to the FCC, listen up. If you go that route, you could be looking at a fine north of $2,000,000. That’s right – two MILLION dollars plus.
Do we have your attention?
We know about the likely penalty thanks to a Notice of Apparent Liability For Forfeiture and Order (Order) – directed to TV Max, Inc. and its affiliates and its individual controlling principals – for violating Section 325(b) of the Communications Act and Section 76.64 of the Commission’s rules. Those sections lay out the general retransmission consent rules governing multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) carriage of over-the-air TV signals other than through the “must-carry” process. According to the Order, TV Max retransmitted the signals of six broadcast stations without obtaining their consent. For doing so, TV Max is looking at a proposed fine of $2,250,000. Since the Commission has penalized MVPD’s for retransmission consent violations only a couple of times in the past – and then only in the low five-figure range of $15,000 (reduced from a maximum potential of $250,000 or so) – we can probably assume that TV Max really ticked off the FCC.
In fact, the Order provides a model for how to infuriate the Commission. [Practice tip: We strongly recommend that MVPDs avoid this model.]
First, some background.Continue Reading...
If you’ve got a website, you could have a problem. Welcome to the COPPA Rule, a complicated FTC regulation with (a) potentially expensive ramification, and (b) some new provisions about to take effect.
If you operate a commercial website that collects personal information from visitors, you’d better be familiar with COPPA – the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – and the COPPA Rule adopted by the Federal Trade Commission pursuant to the Act. Even a single COPPA Rule violation can lead to a $16,000 penalty, and the FTC hasn’t been shy about doling out seven-figure fines for cumulative violations. (For the faint of heart unwilling to wade into the actual law or FTC rule, you can check out the FTC’s COPPA FAQs. But even that resource weighs in at the equivalent of 58 printed pages.)
The principal goal of COPPA is to ensure that personal information relating to children under the age of 13 is not collected or distributed by website operators without parental consent. Since many broadcast stations may be collecting information on their websites (even without realizing it), we figure it’s a good idea to remind all our readers about COPPA.
And now is an excellent time to do so because a number of important changes to the law are set to take effect on July 1, 2013.Continue Reading...
A Supreme Court case offers a possible route to appealing a forfeiture without having to pay it first.
A pair of California raisin farmers might have made it easier to challenge an FCC forfeiture.
A party dinged with a forfeiture that it thinks is unfair now has two options under the Communications Act. One is to challenge the forfeiture order directly in the Court of Appeals. The problem with that approach is that, as a condition to getting into the Court of Appeals, the challenger must first pay the forfeiture. Since forfeitures can reach up into six and seven figures and, let’s face it, not everyone has that much spare cash lying around, that condition poses a serious disincentive to direct appeals.
The other option is to not pay the forfeiture and wait for the FCC (assisted by their friends from the Department of Justice) to bring suit in your nearest federal District Court. In that case, the burden is on the government to prove that you are in fact really liable for the forfeiture, which gives you an arguable advantage going in. But at least one appellate court has held that a party choosing this option is not allowed to raise the full panoply of defenses that might normally be available in challenging the forfeiture.
What does this have to do with raisins?Continue Reading...
Citation issued to Florida motel serves as reminder of possible penalties for leaky cable systems.
If you’re a school, or a hotel, or a hospital, or some other operation offering in-house cable TV service, you may be subject to a six-figure FCC fine, even though you might not think that you’re subject to the long arm of the FCC’s enforcement machine. The Commission has been kind enough to issue us all a reminder of that – in the form of a “Citation and Order” directed to the Parkway Inn Motel in sunny Miami Springs, Florida.
From its website you might not think the Parkway Inn (Motto: “Your Satisfaction is our Main Purpose”) would attract the FCC’s attention, but it did. According to FCC inspectors, the Parkway’s video system was leaking big-time (in one case by a factor of more than 100 times the permitted level) on a couple of aeronautical frequencies. Yikes!
As our faithful readers may recall, last August we reported on an FCC public notice warning “non-cable MVPDs” of their obligations relative to their useof aeronautical frequency bands. The notice – issued in connection with three separate citations notifying, respectively, an inn, an elder care facility, and a rehabilitation hospital, that they were all in violation of the rules – was an effort to get the word out to other unsuspecting non-cable MVPDs.
The FCC’s notice, and our related post, apparently weren’t entirely successful, since not everyone got the message – at least the Parkway Inn Motel didn’t.Continue Reading...
Commission looks to update its methodology for calculating regulatory fees, but proposes a possible alternative approach to cushion the blow this year.
One of the time-honored rites of spring – at least at the FCC – is the release, every April or May, of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking setting out the schedule of regulatory fees the Commission thinks it may impose on all regulatees come August-September. Historically, we here at CommLawBlog have tried to be Johnny-on-the-spot in letting our readers know the fees that have been proposed, even though the fees that eventually adopted (usually in July) may vary here and there from the initial proposal.
But this year is different.
Instead of providing one set of proposed fees, the Commission has given us a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) laying out two sets of possible fees . . . because it’s in the process of a much-needed update of its calculation methodology, and it’s still not sure: (a) whether the new approach is exactly right and, even if it is, (b) whether that new approach should be applied this year. Depending on which method it ultimately adopts, the fees for some broadcasters could swing by a couple of thousand dollars. As a result, we’ve had to prepare a more elaborate table reflecting the proposals, so we’re a day or so behind our usual curve. Please bear with us.
To understand what’s going on here, you have to understand how reg fees are calculated.Continue Reading...
Proposed law looks to address multiple aspects of TV in the MVPD era, including bundling, broadcast abandonment and blackouts.
True to his reputation as a maverick, Arizona Senator John McCain has authored a bill seemingly designed to please nobody, while arguably disserving just about everybody. Dubbed the “Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013”, it consists of clumsily crafted legislative language that mashes together in one bill three disparate and contentious aspects of the current video delivery system. In only one of those three areas does McCain’s proposal come to remotely practical terms with the problem it seeks to address.
McCain’s bill aims to: (1) promote “a la carte” program availability for MVPD subscribers; (2) discourage broadcasters from removing their programming from over-the-air availability (in response to the success that Aereo has recently enjoyed); and (3) eliminate broadcast blackouts of sports coverage in certain situations.
Promoting “A la Carte” MVPD offerings
McCain has long been an advocate of an a la carte approach to program availability. Under that approach, cable and satellite TV subscribers would be able to sign up for only those channels they want to watch – no more required “bundles” or “tiers”, i.e., packages of channels including some really desirable choices and a bunch of others that probably won’t be watched much, if at all.
The practice of “bundling”, of course, is not unique to the MVPD operator/MVPD subscriber relationship.Continue Reading...
Broadcasters ask full Second Circuit to review panel’s decision allowing Aereo to continue to operate pending trial of infringement claim
Having lost the most recent (but certainly not the last) round in their litigation war with Aereo, the broadcast plaintiffs have filed a “petition for rehearing en banc” with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In that petition, the broadcasters are asking the full 13-member court to review the 2-1 decision of a three-judge panel that affirmed a lower court ruling allowing Aereo to continue to operate while the trial of the case moves ahead.
[Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the petition, let’s take a brief introductory side trip into the world of appellate procedure. Each of the 13 federal courts of appeals consists of between six (in the First Circuit, covering New England) and 29 (in the Ninth Circuit, which sprawls across nine western states and a couple of territories) judges. When an appeal is filed, it is normally heard by a panel consisting of three judges from the particular circuit court where the appeal is filed.
After the panel issues its decision, if the losing party believes that that decision was wrong, the loser has three options. It can ask: (1) the three judges to re-think their disposition of the case; (2) all the judges in the circuit, sitting “en banc”, to review the panel’s decision; or (3) the Supreme Court to look the case over. Supreme Court review is usually the longest of long shots. Similarly, since the panel has just deliberated over the issue and come up with the result at hand, it’s usually a pretty good bet that the panel won’t be eager to reverse itself. But en banc review brings a bunch of different judges into the mix, so it presents at least some source of hope to the party unhappy about the panel decision.
But the rules are set up to make en banc review hard to get.Continue Reading...
Fox seems to think that the Second Circuit’s decision was a Big Deal. We’re not so sure.
So Aereo recently kept its winning streak alive with a favorable ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit . . . and the next thing you know, the Fox Network is making noises about kissing good-bye to its over-the-air operations and moving to some alternative delivery system, possibly as a subscription service.
If you were to buy into Fox’s over-the-top reaction, you might get the impression that the Second Circuit’s decision marks a major, and possibly irreversible, turning point in the struggle between broadcasters and the proponents of various Internet-based programming systems. But that’s why you read CommLawBlog, right?
As Mike LaFontaine might say, “Wha’ happened?”
Correct answer: Very little, at least as far as we can tell from the Second Circuit decision.Continue Reading...
In a quaint tip-of-the-hat to the Way Things Used To Be, the FCC has issued its annual public notice advertising the availability of printed versions of its rules. According to the notice, for less than $300 – $298, to be precise – you can grace your bookshelves with all five volumes that comprise Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Hot off the presses, straight from the Government Printing Office (GPO) to your door.
Before getting out your checkbook, though, take a closer look at what the FCC’s public notice is touting: hard copies of the rules as they were as of October 1, 2012. That’s right, for $298 you can buy a set of rules that are already more than six months out of date. Such a deal. It’s the kind of thing you might expect to find if you cruise a lot of yard sales on the weekends. Just the ticket if you’re looking for neat stuff to put in an October, 2012 time capsule.
For many of us there is something curiously reassuring about holding a real book in your hand, leafing through its fine-print pages to find just the rule you’re looking for. The problem with the books the government is selling is that the rule you find there may not be the rule that’s in effect anymore. (And let's be clear here -- it's the GPO which is selling these books, not the FCC. The FCC has simply announced their availability, and is presumably standing ready to throw them at wrong-doers.)
Many old timers in the communications bar swear that the Commission used to require that all licensees have on hand at their stations copies of the rules relevant to their service. If such a requirement did exist (and we suspect that it did), it appears to have gone by the boards. Nowadays, the FCC’s website says nothing about such a requirement. Instead, it refers the reader to the e-CFR website maintained by the GPO. That GPO site – which, by the way, we here at CommLawBlog swear by and strongly recommend – is generally up-to-date within 24 hours, meaning that even the most recent rule changes are reflected in their version. Oh yeah, and it’s free.
The Media Bureau is back! Did YOU miss it? WE did.
Looks like the successful hack of the FCC’s computer network in September, 2011 – which we reported on back in February – may have been more intrusive than the government has let on so far. In an unusual public notice, the FCC has acknowledged that the entire Media Bureau apparently went missing sometime in the late summer/early fall of 2011. The agency’s internal computer records reflect that, as of October 1, 2011, all traces of the Media Bureau – historically one of the hardest working and most productive operations within the agency – had been purged from all Commission systems.
As a result, there have been no references to the Bureau on the FCC’s website for the last 18 months or so. The disappearance was apparently not noticed by visitors to the website. We’re guessing that that’s because, thanks to the redesign of the site, those seeking the Media Bureau pages generally gave up in frustration, assuming that the Bureau’s pages (a) were there somewhere, but (b) had been buried so deeply behind various blogs, dashboards, consumer notices and other higher priority matters that they could not, as a practical matter, be located through routine search techniques. (Vestigial cached versions of Bureau materials, including some CDBS records, apparently remained accessible from some computers external to the FCC’s systems, creating the comfortable illusion within the private sector that all systems were still go and things were still Business As Usual within the Bureau.)
While the Commission’s notice stops short of explaining exactly what happened, there’s plenty of solid information from which we might cobble together a reasonable theory.Continue Reading...
Supreme Court rejection may be the end of the road for the upstart, Internet-based MVPD wannabe.
It looks like the Supreme Court may have dumped a final, fatal treatment of Roundup on ivi, Inc. In a standard nine-word order (“The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.”), the Supremes unceremoniously rejected ivi’s last-gasp effort to get out from under the preliminary injunction imposed by the federal District Court in NYC two years ago. As a result, ivi is still barred from operating in the Second Circuit, and its future prospects are decidedly dim.
We’ve reported on several occasions on ivi. It’s one of a handful of companies seeking to revolutionize television viewing by making broadcast signals available to viewers via the Internet. ivi’s approach involves a liberal interpretation of the Copyright Act that would allow it to stream television programming directly to your computer, tablet or smartphone.
ivi claims that its Internet-based streaming operation is the equivalent of a cable system as defined in Section 111 of the Copyright Act. Under that theory, it has argued that it’s entitled to retransmit broadcast programming without the prior consent of the broadcasters as long as it pays applicable copyright royalties. The broadcast industry has disagreed, naturally; in 2010, even before ivi started operation, broadcasters peppered ivi with cease and desist letters. Undaunted, ivi went on the offensive, filing a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington seeking a declaratory judgment that ivi is a cable system under the Copyright Act. The broadcasters promptly countered with their own suit (alleging copyright infringement) in New York.
ivi’s Washington case was tossed by the judge there in January, 2011. The following month, the broadcasters convinced the judge in the New York case to preliminarily enjoin ivi from operating pending the outcome of the case. ivi appealed that ruling to the Second Circuit, to no avail. In its trip to the Supreme Court it was trying to get the Supremes to lift the injunction.Continue Reading...
Google is up next; seven more to come.
Unlicensed “white space” devices, which operate in locally vacant TV spectrum, rely on a database of other users to avoid causing interference. The FCC has approved ten coordinators to provide access to the database, and has completed tests on two: Spectrum Bridge, Inc. and Telcordia Technologies, Inc. The FCC subsequently authorized white space operation over much of the eastern United States.
Now the FCC has announced tests of a third provider, a relative unknown called Google Inc. The 45-day public trial will begin on March 4. Details are here. We will let you know the results.
Seven more to go.
Forfeiture cancellations suggest possible path to clearing backlogged complaints (and enforcement holds).
It appears that the Commission may have taken the first steps – baby steps carefully cloaked from public view, perhaps, but steps nonetheless – toward addressing its hopeless backlog of broadcast complaints. In a series of super-low-key actions in recent weeks, the Media Bureau has quietly cancelled a number of previously assessed forfeitures. The actions have been reflected in terse (and we do mean terse – check out this example) letters that provide no explanation for the cancellations. But based on the answers we got to some informal inquiries, we figure that these cancellations could be the harbinger of considerably more dramatic developments on the complaints front.
It appears that the recent forfeiture cancellations have all involved the same general fact pattern. The Bureau issued a notice of apparent liability (NAL) and/or forfeiture order for violations which occurred significantly more than five years ago. The target licensee responded by arguing that, thanks to 28 U.S.C. §2462, the FCC is statutorily prevented from collecting the fines, so they should be cancelled. That argument has been initially rejected by the Bureau in some cases (here’s an example), but the licensees have pressed their argument before the Commission in applications for review.
And now, we understand that the Bureau has been directed by higher-ups in the agency to cancel the forfeitures in light of that Section 2462 argument. The Bureau’s cancellation letters are, we are told, the result of that direction.Continue Reading...
[Blogmeister’s prologue: Kevin Goldberg has a second-to-none track record when it comes to defending the First Amendment and Open Government. Named the outstanding constitutional law student in his graduating class at the George Washington University Law School, he has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the District of Columbia Open Government Coalition, a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the National Press Foundation, a member of the Board of Directors of the Public Participation Project and the Chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the Media Law Resource Center. In 2006, Kevin was inducted into the National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame for his continued and superlative service in pursuit of open government. He is the youngest of the current 56 members in the Hall. When he has something to say about the public’s right to know, we listen. Kevin has something to say about the proposed “Federal Communications Commission Collaboration Act of 2013”.
We expect some of our readers may disagree with Kevin’s views, and we expressly invite those who do disagree to share their views with us in comments, or possibly even in a guest post.]
Nearly 50 years ago, Congress passed the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), giving all of us citizens access to the records of every executive branch agency (subject to nine very narrowly-construed exceptions). The FOIA embodies the fundamental premise that the public has a right to know how the government does the public’s business.
A decade later, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Congress passed the Government in the Sunshine Act (a/k/a the Sunshine Act), again seeking to ensure the public’s right to know. (In Congress’s words, “Government is and should be the servant of the people, and it should be fully accountable to them for the actions which it supposedly takes on their behalf.”) The Sunshine Act gives us all access to the meetings of certain executive branch agencies, much as the FOIA give us access to those agencies’ written records.
Maybe not for long, though, at least as far as the FCC is concerned.
Bills proposing the “Federal Communications Commission Collaboration Act of 2013” have been introduced in Congress – as S. 245 by Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and Dean Heller (R-NV) and H.R. 539 by Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA), John Shimkus (R-IL), and Mike Doyle (D-PA). Under the bills’ provisions, FCC Commissioners would be allowed to engage in a significant amount of regulatory activity outside of the public’s view.Continue Reading...
FCC moves to close down backdoor weakness in EAS system that may have led to “zombie attack” alert.
As many of our readers have probably heard, a number of broadcast stations in various parts of the country found their EAS systems hacked yesterday. The result: the stations issued EAS alerts about zombie attacks. Since the alerts appear to have utilized (probably through the miracle of Internet accessibility) the stations’ own systems, those alerts sounded for all the world – and could, and should, have been accepted by the public – as the Real Deal (except for the part about the zombies).
While this may have amused some, the fact of the matter is that any compromise of the EAS system creates serious risks to the public. It’s not hard to imagine faux alerts with a much more sinister effect.
With that in mind, the FCC has (according to our friends at the NAB) issued the following “Urgent Advisory” outlining “immediate actions to be taken regarding CAP EAS device security”:
All EAS Participants are required to take immediate action to secure their CAP EAS equipment, including resetting passwords, and ensuring CAP EAS equipment is secured behind properly configured firewalls and other defensive measures.
All CAP EAS equipment manufacturer models are included in this advisory.
All Broadcast and Cable EAS Participants are urged to take the following actions immediately.
- EAS Participants must change all passwords on their CAP EAS equipment from default factory settings, including administrator and user accounts.
- EAS Participants are also urged to ensure that their firewalls and other solutions are properly configured and up-to-date.
- EAS Participants are further advised to examine their CAP EAS equipment to ensure that no unauthorized alerts or messages have been set (queued) for future transmission.
- If you are unable to reset the default passwords on your equipment, you may consider disconnecting your device’s Ethernet connection until those settings have been updated.
- EAS Participants that have questions about securing their equipment should consult their equipment manufacturer.
When the Commission refers to “immediate” action, it presumably means “immediate”, like right now, this instant, as soon as possible (if not sooner). Bear in mind that many, if not most, broadcasters will likely be providing coverage of the President’s State of the Union speech this evening. We’re guessing that the FCC is looking to have all the steps outlined above wrapped up before those festivities crank up.
This has been a public service announcement from CommLawBlog.
With a nasty nor’easter threatening to dump its load all the way from the Great Lakes to New York and New England, the FCC has started its anticipatory disaster response. A public notice released this afternoon alerts the public that Commission personnel will be available through the weekend, 24/7, to assist communications providers as they deal with the effects of the storm. Emergency communications providers – a universe that includes broadcasters, cable operators, wireless and wireless providers, and, of course, first responders – should contact that Operations Center if they need help in initiating, resuming, or maintaining communications operations during the weekend. The phone number for the FCC Operations Center is 202-418-1122, and its email address is FCCOPCenter@fcc.gov.
Although the public notice doesn’t mention it, folks in the storm zone might also want to take a look at the FCC’s “advisory tip sheet” on communicating during emergency conditions. The tips, developed by the Commission in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), aren’t what you’d call radical or cutting-edge by any means, but they serve as an excellent reminder that, in emergencies, caution, cool heads and common sense are among the most useful tools available.
Historically, the Commission has also activated its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) in advance of approaching major storms. Such activation has not yet been announced by the FCC (as of 4:30 p.m. on Friday, February 8), but we won’t be surprised if word comes down before too long that the DIRS is open for business. Check back here for updates.
Feds revise triggers for automatic merger and acquisition review.
With the 2012 book now closed on several acquisitions and mergers in the communications field, the federal government has performed its annual ritual of announcing the thresholds it will use for automatic federal review of mergers and acquisitions. The FCC worked on several 2012 “Big Ticket” transactions including the Verizon spectrum shuffle with assets from Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Leap, several cable companies and others. Still under review by the FCC is the Liberty Media acquisition of Sirius/XM.
The FCC can review any transaction in detail before issuing an approval. On the other hand, Congress long ago deemed that the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission must review transactions that cross certain dollar amount thresholds. The dollar amounts of those thresholds were announced in today’s Federal Register. They are set to take effect as of February 11, 2013. Readers considering a merger or acquisition should bear in mind that the administration automatically will be sending at least two agencies to take a closer look at transactions where either:
- the total value of the transaction exceeds $283,600,000; or
- the total value of the transaction exceeds $70.9 million and one party to the deal has total assets of at least $14.2 million (or, if a manufacturer, has $14.2 million in annual net sales) and the other party has net sales or total assets of at least $141.8 million
The new thresholds also affect the filing fees that parties to a deal have to pay the government for the pleasure of going through the review process. (Fees are split between the FTC and the Department of Justice.) For most of 2013, any deal subject to review and valued at less than $141.8 million will pay a $45,000 fee. (Used to be that deals coming in at a mere $100 million got to pay that.) For deals valued at more than $141.8 million but less than $709.1 million, the review fee will be $125,000. And if you’re proposing a deal valued at more than $709.1 million, get set to fork over a tidy $280,000.
When negotiating deals, all parties would be well-advised to bear these thresholds in mind. Once those lines are crossed, the prospect of additional (and considerable) time, expense and hassle to navigate the federal review process is a virtual certainty.
(Blogmeister’s Note: FHH Telecom Law welcomes back guest commentator Catherine McCullough. This month she provides her perspective on trends that will impact communications clients in the 113th Congress. Catherine is a Vice President at DCI Group where she counsels clients in federal policy matters.
The Worst Congress Ever has just wrapped up its business. Where do we go from here?
As I write this, the gavel on the 112th Congress’ last votes fell just days ago. The ignominious 112th Congress is doing its walk of shame back home from Washington and all around town its performance is being summed up: “Worst. Congress. Ever.”
Writing about the specific telecom issues facing Congress at the beginning of the last session, I speculated that the 112th would be heavily influenced by love and money. In other words, Congress needed to confer incentive auction authority on the FCC and pass a few pro-consumer measures (involving, e.g., protection of online privacy). And sure enough, Congress did take care of the auction issue – bringing money into the Treasury seemed to be a priority. Some progress was made on the privacy front, but not all of it through the legislative process.
But at the beginning of the new 113th Congress, rather than talk about specific issues I want to focus more on how two other trends will shape communications policy: cooperation and convergence.Continue Reading...
Disagreeing with the Second Circuit, a district judge in the Ninth Circuit has enjoined Aereokiller from transmitting its opponents’ over-the-air programming.
Remember Aereo, the Barry Diller-backed startup seeking to revolutionize the way we watch television? (Hint: It’s the video delivery service that uses rooms full of dime-sized antennas, each assigned to a different subscriber, enabling said subscriber to watch broadcast television via any mobile, Internet-based device.) As we reported last summer, Aereo won a key legal battle in New York in July, when a federal judge OK’d the continued provision of Aereo’s service at least temporarily. (Technically, the judge refused to issue a preliminary injunction requiring Aereo to shutter its service while it’s being sued by a number of broadcasters claiming that the Aereo service infringes their copyrights.)
You may also recall Alki David, the owner of several services providing online distribution of over-the-air television (and other) programming. The most relevant for our purposes are FilmOn.com and Aereokiller.
David’s Aereokiller service seems to have drawn inspiration (not to mention its name) from Aereo’s service. While not absolutely identical to Aereo, Aereokiller rests on the same general technology and the same basic legal principles as Aereo. (In its court filings, Aereokiller argues that it is not only technologically analogous to Aereo but, in fact, “better and more legally defensible”). And further highlighting the influence of Diller’s Aereo service on David’s Aereokiller service, the latter was originally launched via a website found at www.barrydriller.com (though it has now migrated to David’s FilmOn.com site and is available via an Aereokiller app); it appears to be operated by the David-owned “Barry Driller Content Systems, PLC”. At least I think I’ve got that corporate structure right (there’s clearly a lot going on here).
In any event, it’s easy to suppose that David may have Aereo and Barry Diller in his sights, at least competitively. But a recent decision by a federal judge in Los Angeles could deep-six both Aereokiller and Aereo: Judge George Wu from the United States District Court for the Central District of California has issued a preliminary injunction against at least some aspects of Aereokiller’s operation.Continue Reading...
"Small" TV stations and MVPD operators now have until December 13, 2012 to file streamlined financial hardship waiver requests.
If you’re a “small” TV station or MVPD operator who missed the October deadline for filing for waiver of your obligations under the CALM Act, but you’re still not going to be in compliance with the Act when it takes effect on December 13, 2012 (that's right, the day after tomorrow), DON'T PANIC. Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa has come early this year.
The Commission has announced that it will accept “streamlined financial hardship waiver requests” through December 13, 2012, even though the original deadline was back in October. So if you qualify, you've got two more days to get your request in to the Commission.
Not clear on whether you’re eligible to file such a request, or what you might need to file if you are eligible, or how to file it? You could check out our post from last October, or we can save you the trouble by shamelessly repurposing the relevant portions of that post here, as follows:Continue Reading...
The Commission has extended the deadline for reply comments in its rulemaking proceeding concerning possible expansion of the obligations of video providers with respect to emergency information. (The proposal arises from the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, or CVAA.) We wrote about the NPRM in that proceeding here, noting that the original comment deadlines were pretty darned abbreviated, particularly in view of the complex proposals under consideration. While the comment deadline remains December 18, the reply comment deadline has now been extended to January 7, 2013.
NPRM to implement additional mandates of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act is on the fast track
As our readers know, in the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), Congress aimed to ensure that folks with disabilities have “better access to video programming”. In the two years since the CVAA was enacted, the Commission has taken multiple steps to comply with that statutory direction.
But one important component of “video programming” remains to be addressed: emergency information during non-news programs. Existing rules already provide that all pertinent emergency information broadcast during regular or special newscasts must include an aural component for visually impaired persons. But what about announcements broadcast outside of newscasts?
We all know that emergencies don’t occur strictly at 6:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. (or even at the new trendy 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. hour), conveniently timed for scheduled newscasts. It’s not unusual for broadcasters to interrupt non-news programming to air emergency information short of devastating disaster coverage – such as weather warnings or alerts about dangerous circumstances (flooding, chemical spills, wildfires, etc.). Such information is often displayed on a visual crawl or some similar visual method, without accompanying audio. In such situations, the FCC requires only that the broadcaster include an aural tone that alerts visually impaired viewers so that they can turn on a radio or ask someone else to read the screen for them.
But that might place the visually impaired at a disadvantage by making the emergency information available too late for proper responsive action. In keeping with its CVAA mandate, the FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) looking to expand the existing rules to require that emergency information be provided aurally using the same secondary audio stream that is now used for various purposes. (Those purposes include video description and, sometimes, Spanish or other foreign language soundtracks.) And in a related proposal, the Commission is also inviting comments on how it should implement the statutory requirement to prescribe regulations requiring receiving apparatus to have the capability to decode and make emergency information available.Continue Reading...
Sweeping alert affects communications providers in 150+ counties across 10 states and DC.
As we anticipated, the FCC has activated its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), to enable it to monitor damage to broadcast and telecommunications facilities during Hurricane Sandy. (Note that the activation has occurred even though the FCC itself is shut down because of the storm -- major props to the folks in the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau for stepping up to shoulder this important responsibility.)
The DIRS is a voluntary, web-based system that communications providers – a universe that includes wireless, wireline, broadcast, cable and Voice over Internet Protocol providers – can use to report “communications infrastructure status and situational awareness information during times of crisis.” The FCC is asking that providers submit their reports starting 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 30, 2012, and every day after that by 10:00 a.m. until DIRS is deactivated.
In particular, the Commission wants to know, among other things, the status of communications equipment, restoration efforts, power (i.e., whether providers are using commercial power, generator or battery), and access to fuel, if they provide service to certain affected areas.
What are those areas? Given the enormous size of Sandy, there are a lot of them. Take a deep breath. Here are the areas the FCC has identified:Continue Reading...
With Frankenstorm Sandy muscling its way up the East Coast and preparing to turn inland in a couple of days (if virtually all the current weather reports are to be believed), the FCC has started its anticipatory disaster response. A public notice released late Friday, October 26, alerts the public to an “advisory tip sheet” on communicating during emergency conditions. The tips, developed by the Commission in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), aren’t what you’d call radical or cutting-edge by any means, but they serve as an excellent reminder that, in emergencies, caution, cool heads and common sense are among the most useful tools available.
And in a separate public notice, the FCC has confirmed that its Operations Center will be open all this weekend, 24-hours-a-day, to address emergency communications needs as they arise. (Presumably the Center will stay open during the coming week as the storm makes landfall, but the notice released Friday addresses only this weekend.) Emergency communications providers – a universe that includes broadcasters, cable operators, wireless and wireless providers, and, of course, first responders – should contact that Operations Center if they need help in initiating, resuming, or maintaining communications operations during the weekend. The phone number for the FCC Operations Center is 202-418-1122, and its email address is FCCOPCenter@fcc.gov.
Other emergency contacts listed on the FCC’s website include:
Acting Division Chief
Associate Division Chief, Operations and Security
Associate Division Chief, Plans and Programs
Regional Communications Liasion
Historically, the Commission has also activated its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) in the face of approaching hurricanes. Such activation has not yet been announced by the FCC (as of 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 27), but we won’t be surprised if word comes down before the weekend is out that the DIRS is open for business. Check back here for updates.
Unless you’re confident that you will be in compliance with the CALM Act requirements by December 13, you should NOT neglect the October 15 deadline for waiver requests.
Not quite a year ago, the CALM Act was front and center in the minds of full-power TV broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs). The CALM Act, of course, is the legislation (together with the follow-up agency rules) that’s supposed to make loud commercials a thing of the past. The rules are set to take effect on December 13, 2012 – by which date all affected entities are required to be in compliance with the rules. (For readers who need to brush up on the rules, check out our post from last January.)
When it enacted the CALM Act, Congress thoughtfully authorized the Commission to waive the requirements for a year (with an additional year also possibly available) for entities who could demonstrate that obtaining the necessary equipment would “result in financial hardship”. And pursuant to that authority, the Commission announced two separate “financial hardship” waiver policies: a streamlined approach applicable to “small stations and MVPDs”, and a somewhat more cumbersome approach applicable to all others.
The deadline for filing those waiver requests (whether or not you’re “small” – and read on for more information on that score) is 60 days prior to the December 13, 2012 effective date of the rules. By our calculation, that means the waiver deadline is October 15, 2012. (Technically, the sixtieth day prior to December 13 is October 14, but that’s a Sunday and, under the Commission’s rules, deadlines that fall on a weekend or holiday automatically roll over to the next business day.)
So what’s the drill for these financial hardship waivers? Here’s the scoop on both “small” station waivers and others.Continue Reading...
Commission acknowledges numerous competitive downsides to deal, but still says “No Problem”
In recent years the FCC could justly be accused of never having met a merger it didn’t like. While regularly grousing, huffing, and puffing about consolidation in the wireless industry, the FCC has just as regularly approved all mergers and acquisitions that came before it, with the notable recent exception of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger. This “raise eyebrows but approve” policy is one of the reasons that the wireless industry in the United States is more consolidated than at any time since the break-up of the old AT&T more than 25 years ago.
By mustering up its resolve to derail the AT&T deal, the Commission gave hope to progressives that the FCC and Department of Justice had gotten some trust-busting mojo. But the FCC seems to have now retreated back into its “anything goes” posture. The most recent example is its approval of Verizon’s acquisition of large chunks of AWS spectrum across the United States.
In a blockbuster deal, Verizon proposed to acquire a host of AWS licenses from SpectrumCo (composed of several major cable companies) and Cox Cable, who had bought the licenses in a 2006 FCC auction. The cable companies had intended to use the spectrum to launch their own wireless operations in competition with the major cell phone carriers. After years of trying unsuccessfully to develop a workable business model, however, they decided to throw in the towel and sell out to Verizon. In a separate component of the deal, Verizon sought to acquire 30 or 40 PCS and AWS licenses from Leap Wireless in exchange for Verizon’s 700 MHz license in Chicago. When it became clear that there was some pushback from the Commission, Verizon quickly entered into a deal with T-Mobile to offload 47 of the AWS licenses it would otherwise be getting from the cable companies. This lessened Verizon’s spectrum agglomeration considerably in key markets.Continue Reading...
Obligation to provide viewers with disabilities ALL crisis-related announcements can affect video providers well outside immediate geographic area of the crisis.
Another sign of the season – the hurricane and wildfire season, that is. The Commission has issued its by-now-annual public notice reminding video distributors everywhere – not just in areas prone to particular types of disasters – of their obligation to make all emergency information accessible to people with vision and hearing disabilities. As broadcasters, cable/fiber system operators and satellite television services have learned from past experience, there are no exceptions to this requirement, and no excuses will be accepted for less than full compliance – even in areas well away from the zones directly affected by the emergency conditions. And let’s be clear: this requirement is over and above routine closed captioning or video description obligations. Existing, everyday procedures to meet those routine obligations may not be enough during an emergency.
Section 79.2 of the FCC’s rules requires that all video distributors make “emergency information” “accessible” to those with vision or hearing disabilities (the latter by closed captioning or other visual means). “Emergency information” is defined by the Commission as information
about a current emergency, that is intended to further the protection of life, health, safety, and property, i.e. , critical details regarding the emergency and how to respond to the emergency.
Emergencies covered by the rule include such natural disasters as tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires. The rule also covers man-made disasters such as discharges of toxic gases and industrial explosions.Continue Reading...
The FCC has activated its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) to enable it to monitor damage to broadcast and telecommunications facilities during Hurricane Isaac. DIRS is a voluntary web-based system that communications providers can use to report communications infrastructure status and situational awareness information during times of crisis. (“Communications providers” include the full range of wireless, wireline, broadcast, and cable providers.)
The Commission is requesting communications providers in the following counties and parishes to log into https://www.fcc.gov/nors/disaster/ to report and update information through DIRS regarding, inter alia, the status of their communications equipment, restoration efforts, power (i.e., whether they are using commercial power, generator or battery), and access to fuel:
Alabama counties: Baldwin and Mobile;
Florida counties: Escambia and Santa Rosa;
Louisiana parishes: Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Catahoula, Concordia, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, Saint Bernard, Saint Charles, Saint Helena, Saint James, St John the Baptist, Saint Landry, Saint Martin, Saint Mary, Saint Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana; and
Mississippi counties: Adams, Amite, Franklin, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Lincoln, Pearl River, Pike, Walthall and Wilkinson.
(The FCC’s public notice also suggests that reports/updates can be submitted through the e-filing function on either the Commission’s main webpage or the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau’s webpage. From a quick glance at both those pages, however, it’s not clear that the “e-filing function” is immediately obvious – so you will probably find it quicker to log directly into the DIRS site.)
If you lose Internet access, several FCC staff members involved in disaster preparedness have published their office and cellphone numbers:
Jeffery Goldthorp (202) 418-1096 (office), (202) 253-1595 (cell), email@example.com
Julia Tu (202) 321-4399 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
John Healy (215) 847-8094 (cell), email@example.com
Michael Caiafa (202) 418-1311 (office), (202) 277-5690 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
David Ahn (202) 418-0853 (office), (571) 232-8487 (cell), email@example.com
Jane Kelly (202) 418-2832 (office), (202) 503-0398 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re in the path of the hurricane but are not in any of the counties/parishes listed above, check the FCC’s home page for further additions to the list of reporting areas.
Satellite earth station operators needing to operate emergency facilities may apply electronically at http://licensing.fcc.gov/myibfs; or if they cannot access that system, they may apply by letter, e-mail, and even by telephone. All requests should provide the technical parameters of the proposed operation and a contact point. Requests not made through myibfs should be re-filed through that system as soon as circumstances permit.
Second Circuit affirms injunction preventing would-be online “cable system” from carrying over-the-air content.
ivi TV, the company that burst onto the video delivery scene two years ago with a business plan based on an innovative reading of Section 111 of the Copyright Act, has suffered a major setback at the hands of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The court has upheld a lower court’s order enjoining ivi TV from infringing the copyrights of the broadcast networks that sued ivi TV back in 2010.
The lower court’s injunction effectively put ivi TV’s operation on life support. The Second Circuit’s decision may have pulled the plug entirely.
ivi TV’s idea was relatively simple, if outside the box. ivi TV wanted to stream broadcast stations online in real time. It wasn’t a cable company in the traditional sense: no headend, no wires, no set top box. But according to ivi TV, it was entitled to retransmit over-the-air broadcast signals, without the broadcasters’ permission, because ivi TV’s operation was essentially a “cable system” as that term is used in Section 111. Section 111 gives “cable systems” the statutory right to such retransmission, provided they pay governmentally-established royalties (which ivi TV said it was willing to pay).
The district court disagreed with ivi TV’s reading of Section 111 back in 2011. And now the Second Circuit has piled on, concurring with the district court that Congress “did not intend for § 111 licenses to extend to Internet retransmissions”. That conclusion largely guts ivi TV’s claims.Continue Reading...
Despite the fact that your tax exempt – and, therefore, reg fee exempt – status may have previously been demonstrated to and accepted by the FCC, the Commission’s records may still not reflect that.
As previously (and repeatedly) noted here on CommLawBlog, it’s time again to reach into your wallets and pony up this year’s annual regulatory fees. (The fees are due by 11:59 p.m. ET on September 13.) A lucky few are exempt from having to make this annual contribution – specifically licensee entities that are tax-exempt under federal or state law. To be FCC reg fee free, you’ve got to send the FCC documentation proving that you’re tax exempt.
Since tax exemption tends to be a perpetual status, you might think that, once you have submitted your documentation, you’d be reg fee free forever (unless, of course, the FCC were to be notified at some later point that you had lost your exempt status).
Not so fast.Continue Reading...
NPRM seeks input on overarching goals and nitty-gritty methodology of reg fee process.
We all know that regulatory fees are imposed annually. The precise fees to be paid each year are proposed in the spring and then, after a notice-and-comment period, finally announced in summer, usually to be paid in September. It happens with mundane regularity.
But did you ever wonder how the Commission comes up with the actual numbers?
In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the FCC has pulled back the curtain on that process, inviting us all into the sausage factory so that we can take a look around and maybe provide our own input into possible changes in the system. The deadline for comments is September 17, 2012; reply comments are due by October 16. If you think you might want to toss in your two cents’ worth, you should probably get started now – the NPRM is pretty dense and requires considerable patience (and some NoDoz®) to wade through.
To get you oriented, here’s a thumbnail sketch of what’s going on. (Caution: this is only a thumbnail sketch. If you want to get fully immersed in the NPRM, you’re on your own.)Continue Reading...
Universities, elder care residences, hospitals, hotels – all could be subject to potential penalties for signal leakage if they happen to be non-cable video program distributors using aeronautical frequencies.
Universities, hospitals, hotels, apartment complexes, office buildings, even prisons. Don’t look now, but you might have signal leakage problems that could get you into serious trouble with the FCC.
That’s the take-home message of a recent FCC public notice aimed at non-cable multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), warning them of their obligations to notify the Commission prior to the use of any aeronautical frequency bands by their systems. The public notice coincided with the release of three separate citations – addressed to an inn, an elder care residential facility, and a rehabilitation hospital – seeking more information about possible violations of those obligations and warning of potential fines and other penalties should any violations persist.
Obviously, the FCC is trying to get the word out that enforcement in this area may be on the upswing. So if you’re a non-cable MVPD – whether or not you’re aware that you fit in that category – you’d be wise to pay attention.
A couple of definitions are in order.Continue Reading...
The Fifth Circuit has separated when and where a forfeiture defendant can raise defenses based on fact or on law.
Suppose you receive a Forfeiture Order from the FCC demanding a large check for allegedly violating FCC rules, as happened to Jerry and Deborah Stevens back in 2010. And suppose you want to raise a challenge. When and where do you do that?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has chimed in with a ruling that stirs up these already turbulent waters.
After the usual preliminaries, here and here, the Enforcement Bureau issued a Forfeiture Order that dinged the Stevenses $10,000 for operating a pirate FM station out of their home without a license. Although at very low power, the transmitter nonetheless exceeded the permitted power levels for an unlicensed device. The Stevenses did not pay. Eleven months later, the FCC sued them in a Texas federal district court to collect the money. The Stevenses objected that their FM station reached only one state, and claimed the FCC had jurisdiction only over “interstate” radio communications. Accordingly, they argued, the Forfeiture Order was invalid, and the FCC’s lawsuit should be dismissed. The district court declined to dismiss; the Stevenses appealed to the Fifth Circuit.
The Fifth Circuit’s problem was to reconcile two statutes.Continue Reading...
Out of the ashes of one MVPD wannabe rises another.
To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, this is the way the MVPD wannabe ends, not with a bang but a whimper. . . and a $1.6 million settlement payment.
You remember FilmOn.com. They’re the folks who were going to revolutionize the video biz by legally delivering broadcast signals via the Internet . . . until they got immediately sued for copyright infringement by the major broadcast networks.
“Oh, you mean Aereo, right?”, you reply.
That would be the Barry Diller-financed entity that captures broadcast signals via a series of individual antennas, stores them on individually assigned remote DVRs and allows subscribers to watch programming in (almost) real time or via delay over the Internet. But, no, they’re not who we’re talking about here. Aereo still exists and has even won the first round in its legal battle against the broadcasters, surviving a motion for preliminary injunction.
“Oh, right . . . you’re talking about ivi TV?”, you protest, referring to the wannabe “first online cable system”. No, not them either (but you’re close).Continue Reading...
Some hopefully helpful hints for fee filers
Now that the excitement surrounding the announcement of the deadline for 2012 regulatory fees has died down, we all face the grim process of actually paying those fees. Here are some tips that might help the beleaguered broadcast reg fee filer.
How much are you on the hook for? If you’re looking for a quick way to determine the reg fee applicable to any particular AM, FM, TV, FM translator or TV translator/LPTV/Class A station, you can run a quick search at http://www.fccfees.com/request_all.htm. Provide either the station’s call sign or FCC Facility ID number, hit the “submit” button and voilà – you should see the station in question listed, with its licensee and facilities all spelled out along with the fee due for that particular station. The fee listed there does NOT include any auxiliary licensees – STL’s, remote pickups, that sort of thing – used in association with the listed station. You’re on your own to track those down and make sure any necessary fee(s) is/are paid.
Exempt or Non-exempt? Some licensees are exempt from reg fees. Most of you exempt folks know who you are, but if you have any doubt about what the FCC’s records show on that score, running a fee search at the link in the preceding paragraph will clue you in. Exemptions are available to licensee entities that are tax-exempt under federal or state law. To be FCC reg fee free, you’ve got to send the FCC documentation proving that you’re tax exempt. Such documentation could include the 501(c)(3) letter you got from the IRS or certifications from your state government confirming your tax exempt status. You can submit your documentation by email to ARINQUIRIES@fcc.gov, by fax to 202-418-7869, or by mail to
FCC, Office of the Managing Director
445 12th Street, S.W., Room 1-A625
Washington, DC, 20554
It should go without saying that, in addition to the documentation itself, you should also include enough information to permit the FCC to know precisely which stations would be subject to the exemption.Continue Reading...
It’s official! This year’s regulatory fees must be paid by 11:59 p.m. (ET) on September 13, 2012. The online “Fee Filer” system is now up and running; you can get to it at this link. That’s the first stop you’ll have to make in paying your fees. Once you log into the Fee Filer system (using your FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password), you’ll be able to generate a Form 159-E, which you’ll need to tender with your payment.
While Fee Filer will ordinarily list fees associated with the FRN used to access the system, WATCH OUT: the list of fees shown in Fee Filer may not be complete. The FCC makes clear that it’s the payer’s responsibility to confirm the “fullest extent of [the payer’s] regulatory fee obligation.” Double- and triple-checking other FCC databases, as well as your own records, is prudent, since failure to file any required reg fee, even if inadvertent and even if only for a very small amount – like, say, a $10 auxiliary license fee – can result in very unpleasant complications (thanks to the Debt Collection Improvement Act).
As outlined in the public notice announcing the September 13 deadline, there are a number of ways in which the fee can be paid, once you have your Form 159-E. Helpful tip: the online approach, using a credit card, is extremely efficient. Wire transfer and ACH payments are also good, although they may involve some additional steps. For our money, the least desirable approach is the old-fashioned way, i.e., sending a paper check to the FCC’s bank in St. Louis. Lots of things could go wrong between the times (a) you stick the envelope in the mail box and (b) the payment is ultimately credited by the Commission.
Remember, the FCC will not be sending you a hard-copy reminder of your reg fee bill. And remember, too, the FCC imposes a 25% late filing fee, starting immediately after the deadline. You’ve got just about a month to get your payment in – there is no reason to run afoul of that deadline. Good luck.
From May proposals, big market VHF’s enjoy surprising reduction in final fees, all UHF’s go up a bit, and all radio fees stay the same; Look for payment window in September
It’s official – or, rather, they’re official. The final 2012 regulatory fees have been announced by the Commission. For those of you anxious to cut to the chase, here’s a link to a convenient table setting out the new fees (and comparing (a) the fees the FCC has now adopted against (b) the fees which it proposed last May). There are only a couple of surprises here.
First, it’s good to be a VHF TV licensee in Markets 26-50, since their reg fees have dropped nearly $2,000 between the May proposals and now. And it’s really good to be a VHF licensee in one of the top ten markets, since their fees plummeted a whopping $7,350 – about 8.4% – from the May proposals. On the other hand, it stinks to be UHF licensees in the top 20 markets. They’re looking at increases over the May proposals in the range of 2%. That amounts to increases of less than $1,000, if that’s any consolation. The linked table shows the changes between proposed fees and adopted fees, with increases shown in red and decreases in green. (Interestingly, none of the radio-related fees changed from the May proposals.)
The Commission has not yet announced the dates of the window period during which reg fees can be filed this year, but it does indicate (in Paragraph 1 of its order) that it intends to “collect these regulatory fees during a September 2012 filing window”. So it looks like your beach plans for August are still intact.Continue Reading...
Judge denies broadcasters’ request for injunction.
In the Aereo v. the Broadcasters smackdown, Round One has gone to Aereo. In a thorough 52-page opinion, Judge Alison Nathan, U.S. District Judge in the Southern District of New York, has rejected efforts by the broadcaster plaintiffs (i.e., the major broadcast networks) to get the court to enjoin Aereo’s operation. That means that Aereo can continue to serve its subscribers while the broadcasters’ various substantive claims against Aereo (consisting of claims of various flavors of copyright infringement) are litigated.
That’s bad news for the broadcasters. But what’s worse is how Judge Nathan got to that result.
(If you’re fuzzy on just what the Aereo litigation is all about, take a look at our initial post about the case.)
Judge Nathan concluded that Aereo’s system is, for purposes of copyright law analysis, essentially the same as the Remote Storage DVR (RS-DVR) system that, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, does not infringe copyrights. While her opinion grants a number of points to the broadcasters, her conclusion about the similarities between Aereo and the RS-DVR system deals the death blow to the broadcasters’ injunction request – and, looking down the line, very likely also to its overall claims of infringement.
We’ll delve into Judge Nathan’s decision a bit more below. But first, a brief primer on litigation procedure may give readers not versed in the Litigation Arts an understanding of what has happened thus far and what it means going forward.Continue Reading...
As July slips into August, it’s time again to remind television broadcasters that Copyright Royalty Claim forms – for cable retransmission copyright royalties and/or satellite copyright royalties earned during 2011 – are due at the Copyright Royalty Board by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31, 2012. (The CRB's site doesn't specify that that's 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, but it's probably best to assume that that's what they mean.) This is your opportunity to lay claim to a share of the annual fund from which television broadcast stations get paid for their programming that is retransmitted by cable and satellite service providers outside of their respective service areas.
In general, TV stations that are carried on cable systems as a distant signal, and those stations that provide programming to other stations that are carried as a distant signal, are entitled to royalty payments. A cable system is “distant” vis-à-vis a station if the system is: (1) outside the station’s DMA; and (2) at least 35 miles from the station’s city of license; and (3) outside the station’s predicted Grade B contour. Stations whose programming is carried on satellites to subscribers outside the station’s DMA are also entitled to royalty payments.
The Copyright Office encourages stations to file their Claim Forms online. The forms can be found at: http://www.loc.gov/crb/claims/.
If you would like assistance in the preparation and filing of royalty claims, please contact Davina Sashkin at email@example.com or (703) 812-0458.
[Blogmeister Note: As we reported last September, the FCC has re-imposed the “video description” requirement at Congress’s direction (see the behemoth 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010). Nearly two years after the passage of that Act, the video description rules have taken effect as of July 1, 2012. If you’re a bit hazy on the details of the new rules and want an in-depth review of who’s got to do what when, check out our earlier post, which lays things out in detail. For those of you who need only a quick refresher course, what better (or, at least, quicker or more refreshing) way of getting that to you than with . . . (wait for it) . . . haikus! A CommLawBlog exclusive: Video Description in 51 syllables! ]
Top four stations in
Twenty-five largest markets
Must have 50 hours
Also provide 50 hours
On top five channels
All others pass through
To their blind viewers
Texas AM whacked $25K for statement that might have been inaccurate.
One of the most fundamental axioms of communications law: correctness is essential, whether you’re filling out an application, filing a pleading, responding to an FCC inquiry, or whatever. When you tell the Commission something, you had better be right. We’re not talking about affirmatively lying to the Commission. That, of course, is even higher up on the list of mortal sins in the FCC’s catechism. But nowadays, any inaccuracy in what you tell the agency – even if it’s not an intentional inaccuracy – can land you in hot water, unless you can show that you had a “reasonable basis” for your statement. The FCC enforcement folks, whose contributions to the government's coffers have increased dramatically in recent years, have recently driven this point home with considerable vigor.
As we have previously observed, Section 1.17(b) of the Commission’s rules prohibits what we have referred to as “misrepresentation lite”. As my colleague Mitchell Lazarus described it, the misconduct prohibited by the rule
does not involve “misrepresentation” – what many of us know as “lying” – because that requires some element of deceit. No showing of deceit is necessary to trigger Section 1.17. All it takes is the filing of “incorrect” information “without a reasonable basis for believing” that the information is, in fact, correct. This seems to say that any mistake in an application could subject the applicant to a very substantial penalty, even if the mistake is purely unintentional.Continue Reading...
"Viewability" Rule to Ride Off Into the Sunset in December; Small System HD Carriage Exemption Survives Another Three Years
The video industry continues to experience aftershocks from the seismic 2009 DTV transition.
Several years ago, with the DTV transition looming on the near horizon, the Commission adopted two rules aimed at easing the anticipated effects of the transition on some cable viewers and cable systems. Since those effects were expected to be relatively short-lived, the rules were set to expire, or “sunset”, three years after the DTV transition.
Amazingly enough, we have just passed the third anniversary of the transition. In view of that occasion, the Commission has taken another look at the two rules to determine whether the sunset provision should be allowed to take effect or whether, instead, a continuing need exists for either or both.
The result: one of the two – the “viewability” rule – is gone, or will be gone in six months; the other – which exempts some small cable systems from having to carry HD broadcast signals in HD – will remain in effect for another three years.
The Viewability Rule
The viewability rule applies only to cable operators with hybrid analog/digital systems. Hybrid systems are those that opted, after the 2009 DTV transition, to provide an analog tier of programming (consisting of local TV signals and, in some cases some cable channels) so that subscribers with analog receivers would not require additional equipment.Continue Reading...
It’s official!!! The Commission’s revised antenna structure registration process is now in effect. We know that because the FCC has said so, in the Federal Register – and you can’t get more official than that. The notice announces that the Office of Management and Budget has approved the “information collection” aspects of the new system, so the FCC is cleared to crank it up – which it has now done, effective June 18, 2012.
This is important news for anyone who is:
planning to build any new tower that would have to registered through the FCC’s Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) system. The only exceptions are for (a) towers to be built on sites for which some other federal agency has responsibility for environmental review or (b) cases in which an emergency waiver has been granted; or
modifying an existing registered tower by (a) increasing its overall height by more than 10% or 20 feet, or (b) adding lighting to a previously unlit structure, or (c) modifying existing lighting from a more preferred configuration to a less preferred configuration. (Helpful tip: the “most preferred” configuration is no lights at all; the least preferred is red steady lights. Anything else falls in the middle.); or
amending a pending application involving either of the foregoing situations and the amendment would (a) change the type of structure, or (b) change the structure’s coordinates, or (c) increase the overall height of the structure or (d) change from a more preferred to a less preferred lighting configuration or (e) an Environmental Assessment is required.
If you’re looking for background on what the changes may mean for you, check out our earlier post on the subject. Or you could watch the FCC’s introductory presentation and demonstration of the new system, which is available at the Commission’s website. (Time Management Tip: Before committing to watch the whole show, be prepared to invest 75 minutes of your valuable time.)
If you’ve been worrying about whether the “information collection” aspects of the FCC’s revised Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules would be in effect soon enough to give everybody time to meet the upcoming June 30, 2012 deadline for CAP compliance, you can breathe easy. According to a notice in the Federal Register, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has approved those aspects for six months, effective June 7, 2012. So everything should be good to go for CAP compliance purposes.
While OMB approval normally lasts three years, the Commission had sought “emergency” OMB review, meaning that the FCC had cut some procedural corners in the usual Paperwork Reduction Act clearance process. The abbreviated six-month approval from OMB will give the Commission the opportunity to fill in the gaps.
Interestingly, OMB appears to have approved, as “information collections”, Sections 11.41(b), 11.42 and 11.54(b)(13). That’s interesting because all three sections have been deleted from the rules, so it’s hard to see how they might be deemed “information collections” that might require OMB approval. To be sure, Section 11.54(b)(13) has been re-codified as Section 11.54(a)(3), so the underlying requirements of that particular subsection are still in the books . . . but Section 11.54(a)(3) itself isn’t expressly included in OMB’s list of “information collections” covered by its approval. That’s probably not a fatal flaw, though, since OMB’s list does include a blanket reference to all of 47 C.F.R. Part 11, which comprises the entirety of the revised EAS rules.
Last month we reported on an FCC action that may mark the end of the decade-long “white space” proceeding authorizing the operation of some unlicensed devices in the broadcast television bands. The Commission’s Third Memorandum Opinion and Order (3rd MO&O), released in early April, disposed of a handful of petitions for reconsideration of the agency’s 2010 decision which had in turn tweaked technical “white space” specs adopted back in 2008. The 3rd MO&O has now been published in the Federal Register, which means that, barring any extraordinary intervening event (like the issuance of a stay – the approximate likelihood of which is pretty much zero), the rules as modified last month will take effect on June 18, 2012.
Public interest communications “law firm and advocacy organization” closes up shop
Media Access Project (MAP), a long-time player in the soap opera that is communications law, has left the show. As of May 1, MAP suspended operations “after evaluating the difficult funding environment facing MAP and other progressive public interest groups.”
Founded in 1973, MAP assumed a variety of roles over the course of its 39-year history. To some it was a tough litigator, a thoughtful advocate, and a mouthpiece for a wide range of interests that might not otherwise have had a mouthpiece. To others, it was a self-promoting buttinsky given to advancing positions of questionable (if any) validity. A seemingly constant presence in the mainstream press, it could be a total pain in the tail to those with whom it disagreed. Many – maybe even most – “industry” representatives may have disagreed with many – maybe even most – of MAP’s positions and tactics. But MAP, apparently indefatigable and unquestionably resourceful, made its voice heard, for better or for worse.
MAP prevailed in a number of important cases before the Commission and the courts and succeeded in swaying legislative policy. But MAP’s more lasting impact will likely be the fact that it spawned, directly and indirectly, a new generation of like-minded organizations that will carry on MAP’s work into the 21st Century. The ongoing work of those organizations will be MAP’s true legacy.
The demise of MAP has a particular, personal, effect on this blogger.Continue Reading...
Announcement of OMB approval expected soon
If you’re planning on building a new tower, or significantly modifying an existing tower, in the foreseeable future, listen up. The Commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has issued a public notice laying out the new registration procedures that have been adopted (but not yet implemented) to provide pre-registration notice-and-comment opportunities relative to environmental considerations. We have previously reported on the new procedures; the public notice puts a little more meat on the procedural bones we have already described.
Who needs to worry about this? You do, if you’re:
planning to build any new tower that would have to registered through the FCC’s Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) system. The only exceptions are for (a) towers to be built on sites for which some other federal agency has responsibility for environmental review or (b) cases in which an emergency waiver has been granted.
modifying an existing registered tower by (a) increasing its overall height by more than 10% or 20 feet, or (b) adding lighting to a previously unlit structure, or (c) modifying existing lighting from a more preferred configuration to a less preferred configuration. (Helpful tip: the “most preferred” configuration is no lights at all; the least preferred is red steady lights. Anything else falls in the middle.)
amending a pending application involving either of the foregoing situations and the amendment would (a) change the type of structure, or (b) change the structure’s coordinates, or (c) increase the overall height of the structure or (d) change from a more preferred to a less preferred lighting configuration or (e) an Environmental Assessment is required.
If you’re in one of those categories, here’s what the Bureau will expect you to do once the new process takes effect.Continue Reading...
Commission reverses decision released in January, 2012, but still defers further consideration of TTS technology
Back in January the Commission released its Fifth Report and Order (5th R&O) in its long-running effort to modernize the Emergency Alert System. Under the new rules (many of which became effective on April 23, 2012), EAS participants are required to be able to convert CAP-formatted EAS messages into messages that comply with the EAS Protocol requirements, following the procedures for such conversion as set forth in the EAS-CAP Industry Group (ECIG) Implementation Guide.
One notable exception, though, involved the Guide’s provisions concerning text-to-speech (TTS) conversion. The Commission was not confident in the accuracy and reliability of current TTS technology. Additionally, the FCC figured that it might be preferable to require TTS conversion software to be utilized by the originators of EAS messages, rather than by EAS participants – the goal being to minimize the risk of “differing, and thus confusing” audio messages that might otherwise result.
Bottom line in January: the FCC mandated that TTS conversion would not be permitted, notwithstanding the ECIG Implementation Guide.
That decision was apparently news – and disappointing news, at that – to the FCC’s EAS regulatory partner, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA fired off a petition for reconsideration, pointing out that, by prohibiting TTS conversion by EAS participants, the FCC was discouraging development of TTS technology. What’s worse, the lack of TTS conversion capability could “possibly disrupt dissemination of National Weather Service alerts, delay retrieval of referenced audio files in alerts, and impact the ability of jurisdictions with limited resources, or those with certain, already implemented CAP alerting capabilities, to issue CAP-formatted alerts.”
FEMA’s position was seconded by a number of state and local emergency management agencies, as well as the Commission’s own Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council.
That was enough for the Commission. It has revised its rules to permit, but not require, EAS participants to follow the ECIG Implementation Guide with respect to TTS. In so doing, the FCC made clear that it was still not prepared to embrace the ECIG’s adoption of TTS software configured in EAS equipment to generate the audio portion of an EAS message; rather, consideration of that particular item has been deferred.
With the publication of the rule change in the Federal Register, that change takes effect May 7, 2012.
The FCC has performed that annual rite of spring – its announcement of proposed regulatory fees for 2012. These are the reg fees that, for the vast majority of Commission regulatees, will be due and payable by a to-be-announced date (probably sometime in August or September). As with most ritual activities, there are no real surprises here: the rates are, with very few exceptions, proposed to go up.
In general, the Commission figures that broadcast-related reg fees should get bumped up between 4-7% or thereabouts, depending on the type of facility in question and the market in which it’s located. There are some exceptions, though. For example, commercial VHF TV stations in Markets 51-100 would enjoy a nearly 9% reduction (amounting to $2,205) compared to last year’s fee, if the FCC’s proposal holds. And fees for UHF stations in Markets 11-25 would drop $1,000 (about 3%) from last year’s levels.
We’re attaching a grid providing the proposed 2012 fees along with some comparative information showing the changes from the fees actually imposed last year. (Red entries reflect 2012 fees that would go up over last year’s fees; the small handful of green entries reflect fees that would go down this year.)
As always, the Commission is giving everybody a chance to comment on the proposed fees. If you’ve got something to say about the proposals, you’ve got until May 31, 2012 to file comment with the Commission. Reply comments may be filed until June 7.
Over and above the fees themselves, this year’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) contains a couple of elements of interest.Continue Reading...
FCC to host all TV public files in the cloud, once it figures out how to host all TV public files in the cloud
Coming soon to an Internet near you (well, maybe not that soon)!!! The public files of every U.S. TV station, commercial and noncommercial, all hosted on a cloud-based system that the Commission promises to develop and manage. And radio and MVPD operators can probably expect that they, too, will eventually be required to make their public files available on the same system. In the latest possible culmination of a proceeding that has already lasted more than a decade, the FCC, turning a deaf ear to most of the objections of the broadcast industry, has directed television licensees to upload big chunks of their public files to a yet-to-be revealed web portal the FCC will host.
“Possible” culmination? Well, yes. Those familiar with the recent history of the public file requirement will recall that, in 2007, the Commission mandated that TV public files be made available online. But the Commission never jumped through the hoops that would have been necessary to translate that mandate into regulatory reality. Will this latest effort produce different results? It’s hard to say. The Commission sure seems serious about it, but there are a number of practical problems that could gum up the works, at least in the short term.
For background on the move to make public files Internet-accessible, check out this post from last October. The rules which the Commission has now adopted vary somewhat from the proposal described there, but the core requirements are pretty much the same. In short, TV public files are moving to the Internet (although some vestiges of the old-fashioned paper filing will remain.)Continue Reading...
A week or two ago we reported on a request for further comments in the alien ownership proceeding. The FCC’s notice asking for more comments has now made it into the Federal Register, which establishes the deadlines for anyone interested in chipping in his/her two cents’ worth. Comments in response to the notice are due by May 15, 2012; reply comments are due by May 25.
Tempus fugit! Time for the next five-year assessment of the ban on certain exclusive program access deals – Comments are due by June 22, 2012.
Hard to believe, but it’s that time again – time for the Commission to take a look at competition in the multichannel video programming distribution (MVPD) industry to determine whether the 20-year-old ban on certain exclusive program access deals is still necessary. With the release of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the Commission has started that ball rolling again. Interested parties have until June 22 to let the FCC know their thoughts on the issue.
The last two times the Commission considered this question, it concluded that the ban should remain in place. Thanks to at least one intervening court decision, though, this time could be different.
Back in 1992, Congress was concerned about the choke-hold that the largely monopolistic cable industry then had on video delivery in many markets. Congress understood from the FCC that that choke-hold was at least partly the result of the fact that competitors couldn’t secure programming owned by “vertically integrated cable companies”. (In this context, “vertically integrated cable companies” are cable operators that own attributable interests in companies that provide cable programming.) So Congress just said “no”.
It ordered the Commission (among other things) to prohibit certain exclusivity agreements between a cable operator and a cable program provider in which the operator has an attributable interest. The idea was to assure that all competing cable operators would have access to the primo types of programs most attractive to subscribers.
Congress was aware that the video delivery industry was developing rapidly and that the need for the ban might decline over time. So Congress included a sunset provision: while the 1992 Cable Act required the imposition of the ban, it also required that the FCC revisit the ban in 2002 after the enactment of the Cable Act. Unless the FCC were then to determine that the ban continued to be necessary to protect competition and diversity, the ban would automatically expire. And even if the ban survived the 2002 review, it would be subject to similar reviews every five years thereafter.
The ban did indeed survive the 2002 review, and the 2007 review as well. But the latter decision was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2010. While the court affirmed the FCC’s decision to leave the ban in place for another five years, the court expressed concern because (a) Congress had clearly intended that the ban go away at some point and (b) the video delivery market has “changed drastically” since 1992. One of the three judges issued a dissenting opinion buying into the appellants’ argument that the ban raised serious First Amendment concerns.
Against that backdrop comes the NPRM.Continue Reading...
If you live in Nottoway County, Virginia, you’re in luck.
The FCC has authorized TV white space database coordinator Telcordia to offer service within Nottoway County, Virginia, a mostly rural area toward the southern part of the state. Initial operations will include 20 sites serving rural schools and households. The action comes less than a month after the FCC approved Telcordia’s database, and four months after the first white space operations were approved for Wilmington, NC by coordinator Spectrum Bridge, Inc.
Included in the Nottoway County order are special procedures for registering wireless microphones entitled to protection from white space devices.
We assume the pace of approvals will pick up. At the current rate, we calculate it will take until the year 2797 before white space systems are fully deployed. By then, we expect to be communicating telepathically via devices wired into our nervous systems. Assuming, of course, the FCC can free up enough spectrum.
Commission contemplates forbearance approach to direct alien ownership limits.
Last fall we reported on an FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in which the FCC is considering how to simplify the application of the foreign ownership restrictions that appear in the Communications Act. After digesting the comments submitted in that proceeding, the FCC has asked for more input. It seems that a number of commenters were concerned about the interplay of Section 310(b)(3) of the Act with Section 310(b)(4).
Section 310(b)(3) strictly forbids ownership of a broadcast or common carrier licensee by a corporation which is more than 20% owned by aliens or their representatives or by foreign governments or foreign corporations. In other words, no more 20% of the licensee entity itself may be owned by aliens or their representatives. Section 310(b)(4), however, permits licensee entities to be owned by companies that are themselves owned by aliens or their representatives, so long as the FCC OKs the ownership. In other words, indirect ownership of licensee entities by any quantum of aliens is permissible as long as the FCC approves it. These provisions have long been thought to define two separate classes of ownership, direct and indirect, with distinct restrictions applicable to each.
Apparently Verizon – a company whose Cellco Partnership subsidiary has significant foreign ownership – pointed out that the FCC’s 2004 effort to provide guidance on these matters actually confused things. Those 2004 guidelines seemed to treat indirect interests in licensees as being subject to the strict 20% prohibition of 310(b)(3) rather than the more liberal 25% provision applicable to indirect interests under Section 310(b)(4). Verizon correctly noted that this makes no sense, and the FCC seems to have heard Verizon’s plea.Continue Reading...
Minor changes may signal an end to almost a decade of rulemaking.
The FCC has released yet another decision in its long-running effort to implement rules allowing unlicensed “white space” devices in the television bands. The latest revision does not represent any wholesale changes, but will make it easier for some devices to operate.
White space devices (TV Band Devices or TVBDs, in the FCC’s nomenclature) rely on the fact that every location has some TV spectrum not being used. Those vacant frequencies typically show up as white spaces on a map of spectrum occupancy – hence the name. Technical studies show that properly controlled unlicensed devices can use these channels without causing interference to TV operation and other authorized users, including wireless microphones.
Following a Notice of Inquiry late in 2002, and a 2004 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC first adopted rules allowing white space devices in 2006, but left the technical specifics for a later date. Those came in 2008, and then in 2010 the FCC responded to petitions for reconsideration with a number of revisions. Now the FCC has addressed petitions for reconsideration of the 2010 order.
The rules categorize each white space device as either fixed or mobile. A fixed device must have its location either professionally programmed in or determined by an on-board GPS device, and is subject to limits on operating power, antenna height, and antenna gain limits. Before operating, it must query a database of available spectrum for its location. A mobile device may similarly use GPS to determine its location and then query a database (Mode II devices); alternatively, it can contact another white space device that will in turn query the database (Mode I devices). The FCC has so far approved ten private companies to administer the databases, of which two have completed testing to the FCC’s satisfaction.
In its recent order disposing of the petitions for reconsiderations, the Commission provided the following changes and clarifications:Continue Reading...
Back in February we reported on the release of the Fifth Report and Order (5th R&O) in the on-going EAS proceeding, and then a couple of weeks ago we noted that the effective date of most, but not all, of the new EAS rules had been set (for April 23). We observed that the effectiveness of several of the new rules would be delayed because of the need to run them past the Office of Management and Budget for Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) review.
We may have spoken too soon.
According to a notice in the Federal Register, the FCC has asked OMB to review the new EAS rules “on an emergency basis” with an eye to getting everything approved by April 16, 2012. That might be a bit ambitious schedule-wise, since the deadline for comments in response to the notice is April 17, 2012, the day after OMB approval would be issued if the FCC were to get its way. Perhaps the Commission, figuring that any comments filed in response to the notice are likely to be ignored anyway, is suggesting that OMB can and should act before it ignores those comments, rather than hold off until the comments have been filed, at which point OMB could act after it ignores them.
The Federal Register notice is also unclear as to precisely which “information collections” it would like OMB to approve. As we pointed out in an earlier post, the 5th R&O itself was not a model of clarity on that score. The latest Federal Register notice merely refers vaguely to “a new information collection”, without identifying what that collection entails. The notice does indicate that the Commission will be submitting the information collection to OMB at some point during the 15-day comment period – but, again, that seems to undermine the utility of having a comment period at all. If commenting parties don’t know what they’re supposed to be commenting on, what’s the purpose of a comment period?
We’ll try to keep on top of this and report on any developments that may crop up.
Don’t be surprised when Broadband the FCC Cat pops up on your screen.
The Commission has long bemoaned the fact that the Great Unwashed are “woefully ignorant” of the nitty-gritty details of their Internet access. Not for long. That bell you just heard was signaling the start of classes at the University of FCC, Online Division. Attendance is required. Prepare to get schooled.
In a surprising move – made all the more surprising by the low-key way in which it was disclosed – the Commission is taking aggressive steps to correct the rampant problem of high tech know-nothingism.
Meet NOITALS – the Nationwide Online Information Tracking and Logistics System. (Apparent pronunciation: “KNOW-IT-ALLS”.) In a public notice announcing, among other things, an expansion of the 2012 Measuring Broadband America Performance Study of Residential Broadband Service in the U.S., the Commission mentions NOITALS, pretty much in passing, without any fanfare at all. The Commission plans to use NOITALS to measure everybody’s Internet access speed, along with other parameters of Internet performance).
How’s it going to do that?
It seems that NOITALS enables the Commission to see what’s going on in each individual computer, nationwide, without the intervention of the computer’s user.Continue Reading...
“Specialty station” list updated; MPAA objections rejected
As we reported last November, the U.S. Copyright Office (CO) was then in the process of updating its list of “specialty stations”. Those are stations that, when carried on cable systems as “distant signals”, trigger lower royalty burdens for the cable operator than other “distant” stations do. (Check out our earlier post for a more detailed explanation of how that works.)
The CO has now completed its updating process. In a Federal Register notice, it has announced that all stations that had claimed to be “specialty stations” will be included in its official listing. This should not come as much of a surprise, since the CO has long accepted self-certifications from stations looking to get on the list. Think of it as a kind of honor system.
That didn’t stop the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) from objecting to several of the proposed additions to the list. MPAA’s members receive distributions from the copyright royalty pool generated by (among other things) distant signal royalty payments. So MPAA’s members benefit more from distant signal carriage charged at full copyright rate, rather than carriage at the discounted “specialty station” rate. In its objections, MPAA urged that the CO both can and should wade into – and independently resolve – disputes concerning “specialty station” status. Needless to say, MPAA also argued that some of the claims of “specialty” status were just self-serving noise.
Sorry, the CO has now ruled – we stand by the position we’ve always taken, which is that we don’t have any legal authority to resolve disputes of that kind. We will maintain our self-certification honor system. Here’s our new specialty station list, which includes the stations whose status was contested.
What happens now?Continue Reading...
Operations are still limited to Wilmington, NC.
The FCC has announced that Telcordia Technologies, one of the ten database managers for “white space” operations, has been approved to provide service to the public. See the details here. Telcordia, which completed its test in January, is the second database manager to secure this approval. Eight more are waiting in the wings.
But most of the public that Telcordia is authorized to serve will have to wait for that service. For now the FCC has approved white space operations only in Wilmington, NC.
As we reported last month, in January the Commission released its Fifth Report and Order (5th R&O) in its long-running proceeding aimed at modernizing the Emergency Alert System. The 5th R&O has now been published in the Federal Register, which establishes the effective date for the new rules. And that effective date is (drum roll, please) . . . April 23, 2012. If you and your engineering staff haven’t focused on whether your current facilities conform to the standards set out in the 5th R&O, the countdown has now started and time’s a-wastin’. (The deadline for having CAP-compliant equipment remains June 30, 2012.)
Note that several of the amended rules will still not kick in on the April 23 effective date. That’s because they entail some form of “information collection”, which requires that they be run through the Paperwork Reduction Act drill. According to the Federal Register notice, the particular rules whose effectiveness is temporarily PRA-deferred are Sections 11.21(a), 11.33(a)(4), 11.41(b), 11.42, 11.54(b)(13) and 11.55. Section 11.21(a) relates to the contents of State Plans. Section 11.33(a)(4) sets standards for the display and logging of SAME and CAP messages. Section 11.55 spells out EAS operation during state or local emergencies. With respect to Sections 11.41(b), 11.42 and 11.54(b)(13), there seems to be some confusion. The 5th R&O appears to delete Sections 11.41(b) and 11.42, so it’s not clear why they would be subject to any PRA review. Ditto for Section 11.54(b)(13), although, in addition to deleting that specific subsection, the 5th R&O then recodifies its contents as 11.54(a)(3). Presumably this will all get straightened out eventually.
Last month we reported on changes to the FCC’s tower registration process that have been adopted, but not yet fully implemented. One of the hold-ups in the implementation process is the need for OMB approval (thanks to our old friend, the Paperwork Reduction Act). Never fear. The Commission is working on taking care of that detail. The first step of the PRA review process has been wrapped up and, according to a notice in the Federal Register, OMB has now invited comments on the FCC’s tweaks to the tower registration process. The deadline for those comments is April 18, 2012. The notice does not contemplate any reply comments, so once Patriot’s Day comes and goes, OMB will be in a position to sign off on the changes (assuming that everything is in order – and at this point, there seems little reason to doubt that that’s the case). Once OMB has given them the thumbs up, the FCC will publish a notice alerting us all to that and establishing an effective date. Check back here for updates.
Another day, another way to move video to the Internet . . . and another set of lawsuits.
Welcome to the latest bout in the Alternate Video Delivery System Smackdown Series. In this corner, the upstart challenger, Aereo (formerly known as Bamboom Labs, Inc.); in that corner, pretty much every major broadcast network.
Aereo is the latest innovator seeking to bring video content from one source (in Aereo’s case, over-the-air broadcasting) to subscribers in some alternate fashion – a fashion that ideally makes it attractive enough to cause consumers to fork over $12/month to Aereo. Aereo plans to deliver a full (or at least nearly full) array of over-the-air broadcast programming to you through the Internet. That, of course, means that you would be able to access that programming through whatever Internet-accessible device you might choose – tablet, smartphone, desktop, big screen TV in your living room, etc. The programming could be streamed as it is being broadcast, or it could be accessed on a delayed basis, just like shows you might otherwise save on a DVR.
And that’s Aereo’s angle: as Aereo sees things, its service “enables consumers to access broadcast television via a remote antenna and DVR”. Actually, make that “cloud DVR”, a term Aereo slips into its on-line response to the two lawsuits brought against it by the major TV networks.
What exactly is a “cloud DVR”? It’s a quasi-imaginary device – actually, a combination of devices – that affords the user the ability to access streamed or recorded content from broadcast stations through the Internet. A crucial element of the technology is a teeny-weeny antenna – about the size of a dime (see illustration, above, taken from the Aereo website) – that Aereo uses to receive OTA broadcasts. When you subscribe to Aereo, you are assigned one such antenna – it’s yours and (supposedly) nobody else’s. It’s hooked to “massive amounts of storage and super-fast Internet connections”. You are then given an “elegant interface” with which to “control your antenna”. You can pick a channel to watch or you can tell it to record for later viewing.
So it’s just like sitting in your living room, fiddling with your cable remote, right?Continue Reading...
OMG!! 40+ abbrvs?!? YGTBK . . .
Yes, yes, it’s 96 pages long, and it’s got another 34 pages of appendices, and it’s got 800+ footnotes. We can’t do anything about any of that. But we can provide you with an alphabetical glossary of the abbreviations/acronyms sprinkled liberally throughout the item. We counted more than 40 of them, and that doesn’t include the names of commenting parties referred to in the item (e.g., “NAB”). You’re on your own when the Commission starts to mash abbreviations together (as in “CAP v1.2 IPAWS USA Profile v1.0”), but our glossary may still simplify your reading experience. Just print it out and keep it handy as you peruse the 5th R&O.
Brought to you as a public service by CommLawBlog.Continue Reading...
June 30, 2012 deadline for CAP-compliance remains in place as Commission sets certification requirements, streamlines/clarifies EAS rules
In January, the Commission released its Fifth Report and Order (5th R&O) in the proceeding designed to drag the Emergency Alert System (EAS) into the digital era. With the June 30, 2012 deadline for CAP-compliance (more on that below) fast approaching, the Commission’s action came none too soon.
The 5th R&O is the latest in a series of decisions stretching back five years. As we have described in earlier posts, the goal is a digital emergency alert system that can operate across virtually all electronic communications media, including broadcast, cable, wireless devices and the Internet. The new system has been dubbed the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).
A keystone of IPAWS is the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP). That’s “an open, interoperable, data interchange format for collecting and distributing all-hazard safety notifications and emergency warnings to multiple information networks, public safety alerting systems, and personal communications devices.” In the old days, the public safety folks had to rely on the broadcast EAS system to get emergency warnings out to the public in harm’s way. The CAP approach will ideally enable them to send a single, geo-targeted alert simultaneously across multiple platforms, including cellular, Internet, satellite and cable television providers.
Welcome to Next Generation EAS.
Such radical change does not come easily. That’s especially true when you have not one, but two federal agencies working on the project. IPAWS is being established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is responsible for setting many, if not most, of the relevant technical standards. But while FEMA may be setting the standards, those standards have to be implemented and enforced by the FCC, which regulates most of the facilities which will actually deliver the alerts to the public.
FEMA announced the CAP standards in September, 2010. The FCC had previously decided that, once the CAP standards were on the books, EAS participants would have 180 days in which to assure themselves the capability of receiving and converting CAP-formatted alerts. That initial deadline was extended a couple of times; it’s now June 30, 2012.
The 5th R&O resolves a raft of practical questions raised in the Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued last May. A central focus: how to overlay the CAP-receiving/converting requirement onto the “legacy” EAS system?Continue Reading...
FCC adopts changes in ASR processes for the birds; OMB approval still needed
It looks like new bird-friendly procedures for proposed tower construction could be with us by summer. If you’re thinking about building a tower 200 feet tall (or taller) – and especially if you’re planning to build something taller than 450 feet – you might want to get that proposal on file sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that you’ll end up subject to considerably more burdensome processes.
The new procedures have been years in the making. (We previewed them last April, shortly after the Wireless Bureau solicited comments on a preliminary version.) They arise from concerns raised by a number of conservation groups (e.g., the American Bird Conservancy, the National Audubon Society) who urged that the Commission should afford more opportunity for public comment about proposed tower construction. According to the conservation groups, towers pose risks to birds (particularly migratory birds).
Accordingly, the groups (with a boost from a 2008 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit) have pressed the Commission to modify its Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) program. Those chickens will soon be coming home to roost.Continue Reading...
With passage of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, incentive auctions for spectrum repurposing take a great leap forward.
After more than a year of back-and-forth, it looks like our friends on Capitol Hill have finally come to terms on a plan to encourage – through “incentive auctions” – the so-called “repurposing” of spectrum now occupied by TV broadcasters to make it available for wireless broadband services. Snuggled in the middle of the payroll tax cut extension act, the long-awaited spectrum auction authority has been enacted and sent to the President who has said that he will sign it promptly.
(In signature Washington style, the curiously-named “Payroll Tax” bill – formal name: the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 – dedicates a mere three sentences to tax issues and more than 250 to other matters, like Medicare reimbursements, unemployment benefits, federal employee retirement rules . . . and the federal spectrum policy and telecommunications funds.)
Title VI of H.R. 3630 of the Act includes the particular provisions authorizing incentive auctions of broadcast spectrum and creating an interoperable public safety network. (We plan to provide a link to the Act as finally signed by the President when it’s available.)
The good news is that most, but not all, parties with some stake in the game received at least part of what they were hoping for. Of particular interest to broadcasters: the act requires the FCC to make “all reasonable efforts” to preserve existing coverage of TV stations; prohibits the involuntary moving of broadcasters from UHF to VHF, or from high-band VHF to low-band VHF; provides for a one-time auction and a relocation fund of $1.75 billion; and requires coordination with Canada and Mexico on border concerns.
The bad news, at least for low power TV licensees: the definition of “broadcast television licensee” for the purposes of incentive auctions is limited to full-power television stations and “Class A” television stations. LPTV licensees get only a single provision stating that nothing alters their spectrum usage rights. That language will provide little comfort to some in view of the secondary nature of LPTV operations. Still, the language can be cited by LPTV interests as a Congressional directive to the FCC not to ignore the fate of LPTV stations if and when the TV broadcast spectrum is truncated.
Also of note:Continue Reading...
FCC requests public comment on results of Telcordia system testing
“White space” wireless operation on locally vacant TV channels requires that devices consult a database of users entitled to protection, including broadcast TV stations and some wireless microphones. See a list here. The FCC has authorized ten companies to provide and operate those databases. The second such company, Telcordia Technologies Inc., recently completed a 45-day test that began in December.
There are still eight database providers to go. We will keep track so you don’t have to.
Feds revise triggers for automatic merger and acquisition review
Last year saw some successful (NBC/Comcast) and some not so successful (AT&T/T-Mobile) merger applications in the communications sector. And with hope for continued improvement in the overall economic climate springing eternal, it’s possible that more large scale mergers may be in the pipeline. With that in mind, potential merger/acquisition candidates should be aware that the federal government has performed its annual ritual of announcing the thresholds it will use for automatic federal review of mergers and acquisitions.
If a transaction exceeds a certain amount, both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission must scrutinize the deal and render an opinion about any anti-trust concerns raised by the deal. In addition, as AT&T is acutely aware, when a large merger involves communications assets, the FCC also has no problem sticking its nose into the deal. In fact, the FCC has its own SWAT team (formally called the Office Of General Counsel Transaction Team) to review deals. Unlike the DoJ and the FTC, the FCC’s team is not automatically required to review deals of certain size; they could theoretically refrain from involving themselves in deals that pass the triggers described below. Note, though, that the FCC’s SWAT team – as well as DoJ and FTC – can choose to investigate smaller deals coming in below the triggers.
Readers considering a merger or acquisition should bear in mind that after February 27, 2012, the administration automatically will be sending at least two agencies to take a closer look at transactions where either:
the total value of the transaction exceeds $272,800,000; or
the total value of the transaction exceeds $68.2 million andone party to the deal has total assets of at least $13.6 million (or, if a manufacturer, has $13.6 million in annual net sales) and the other party has net sales or total assets of at least $136.4 million
When negotiating deals, all parties would be well-advised to bear these thresholds in mind. Once those lines are crossed, the prospect of additional (and considerable) time, expense and hassle to navigate the federal review process is a virtual certainty.
On January 10, the Swami and the Blogmeister took a field trip to the Supreme Court to catch the Fox/ABC indecency argument. Here’s their report.
[Blogmeister note: Last year the Supreme Court agreed to consider the constitutionality of the FCC’s broadcast indecency policies in the context of two cases, one involving comments made during awards shows aired by Fox Television, the other involving an episode of NYPD Blue on ABC. Check our previous posts for more background. The argument before the Supremes was held on January 10. Kevin “the Swami” Goldberg and Blogmeister Harry Cole attended.]
Blogmeister: I think we can agree that, from the perspective of a broadcaster, the argument was disappointing. After the Second Circuit’s sweeping endorsements of First Amendment rights for broadcasters in Fox and ABC, it was a let-down to hear the far more cautious tone of the Supreme Court Justices.
Swami: Disappointing – maybe. I also thought “demoralizing” at first – but on further reflection, I don’t think this is a lost cause by any means.
Blogmeister: Interesting. But before we ask you to gaze into your crystal ball and come up with a prediction of the vote, how about your thoughts on the overall arguments? For instance, what happened to the FCC’s interest in protecting children’s innocent ears from the evils of vulgar words? Pacifica was based in large measure on precisely that interest, but there was virtually no discussion of that at all during the argument. Instead, the government harped repeatedly on the notion that broadcasters have been given the use of their spectrum for free by the government, and they have derived “billions and billions of dollars” from that spectrum.Continue Reading...
Despite – or, supposedly, because of – its own 2010 channel-sharing proposal, FCC summarily rejects similar 2008 approach advanced by ION
As part of its push to “repurpose” television broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband use, the FCC has, since 2010, been promoting the idea of channel sharing. The idea is that two or more TV stations would share one 6 MHz broadcast channel, each having its own program stream. One of the primary keys to enticing broadcasters to take the bait is that each station stream would have cable and satellite must-carry rights.
Attentive CommLawBlog readers may have thought that that proposal rang a bell – because (as we reported back in 2008) not only had somebody come up with the idea before, but that somebody had formally proposed its own license-sharing deal with features very similar to the approach the Commission is now pushing.
In November, 2008, an assignment application (FCC Form 314) was filed proposing a “share-time” arrangement for a bunch of TV stations licensed to ION Media Networks. A new company, Urban Television, LLC, would acquire “share-time licenses” permitting it to broadcast on the ION channel. ION would continue to be the licensee of, and would continue to operate, its existing stations on the same channels. (According to the application, Urban is owned 49% by ION and 51% by BET Founder Robert L. Johnson’s RLJ Companies.)
While the application was remarkably sparse on technical details – the contract between ION and RLJ was only two pages long, for crying out loud, and the summary of the transaction was only four (double-spaced, at that) – the basic idea boiled down to splitting up a single station’s 6 MHz channel into multiple, separately-licensed digital streams capable of accommodating separately-owned TV stations. As proposed by Urban Networks, each stream would be designated a “television station” and so would be entitled to the same mandatory cable and satellite carriage afforded to every full power station. Urban Networks sweetened the pot by offering a slew of new opportunities for minority entrepreneurs to participate in broadcast ownership and programming.
The broad strokes of Urban’s technical proposal were pretty close to the Commission’s repacking concept – separate licenses within a given 6 MHz channel, and cable and satellite carriage for everyone.
The FCC invited comments, and then proceeded to ignore the proposal even while advancing its own version of channel-sharing.
But now, after a three-year wait, the Commission has summarily dismissed the Urban Networks applications.Continue Reading...
A run-down on what the new rules governing “loud” television commercials require, and when those requirements will kick in
Back in December, 2010, the CALM Act (short for “Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act”) was signed into law, giving the FCC precisely one year to get its regulatory keister in gear and adopt rules mandated by the Act. We are pleased to report that the Commission met that deadline, with two days to spare. In a Report and Order adopted on December 13, 2011, the Commission established a set of complex technical rules and procedures intended to reduce the problem of “loud” commercials on television.
The CALM Act is intended to lower the volume (or, more accurately, the “loudness”) of televised commercials. We won’t have a sense of whether or not the new rules will work for another year or two (and maybe not even then). As discussed below, even the Commission acknowledges that the CALM Act will not necessarily eliminate the perception that some commercials are loud. But regardless, TV licensees and MVPDs are now under the gun to bring themselves into compliance with the new rules by December 13, 2012 (although, also as discussed below, some stations may be eligible for an additional year or so to bring themselves into compliance).
In crafting the technical specs, the Commission had little heavy lifting to do. That’s because Congress directed the Commission had to deal with the problem, i.e., by mandating a “recommended practice” (RP) devised by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). The ATSC, of course, is the international non-profit organization largely responsible for the design of the DTV standards now in place in the U.S. So pretty much all the Commission had to do on that front was explicitly incorporate the RP – known as ATSC A/85 RP to the cognoscenti – into the rules. (Fuzzy on ATSC A/85 RP? Check out our earlier post on the CALM Act.)
The real problem confronting the Commission was how to craft an enforcement system that divvies up the compliance responsibilities appropriately. And props to the Commission: the system they came up with, although a bit complicated, seems to do the trick.Continue Reading...
The Internet may be the go-to place for job-seekers, but the FCC still insists on an Old School approach when it comes to broadcast jobs and EEO.
Despite the fact that the Commission has itself acknowledged, repeatedly, that the Internet is an important, maybe even “critical”, resource for job-seekers, broadcasters with jobs to offer had better not rely on the Internet alone when recruiting for those jobs. If they do, they’re looking at a fine that could run into five digits. Ask a couple of licensees – one in Virginia, one in South Carolina – who just found out the hard way.
The FCC has long required broadcast employment units with five or more full-time employees to recruit broadly for minority and female applicants for all job openings. A report of recruitment efforts, including the referral sources that are notified of openings, must be placed in the public file of all stations in such employment units every year; they must also be posted on the stations’ websites (if they have websites). At the middle of the license term and at renewal time, those employment units must submit reports on their EEO efforts to the Commission. And each year the Commission also conducts random audits of EEO performance.
We have cautioned clients for at least a couple of years that the FCC insists on a broad spectrum of recruitment sources. The classic “word-of-mouth” approach and “referrals from friends” are not enough. And as we wrote just a year ago, the FCC has also cautioned that Internet-based recruitment cannot be relied on alone. (Irony alert: the fact that some businesses accept job applications only via the Internet has been touted by the Commission as a justification for its National Broadband Plan, which includes repurposing TV broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband.)
In the two recent cases (released on the last business day of 2011), the FCC nicked two station groups for $8,000 and $12,000 for inadequate dissemination of recruitment notices for some of their openings. For some, but not all, of their openings the groups had relied on Internet and word-of-mouth to spread the word. Not enough, the Commission announced. Its FCC’s words are direct and speak for themselves (although we’ve highlighted a particularly noteworthy sentence below):
The Licensee’s reliance on non-public sources such as word-of-mouth referrals and its own employee board, did not constitute sufficient recruitment as contemplated under the Commission’s rules, which require public outreach. …While the Commission does not require the use of a specific number of recruitment sources, if a source or sources cannot reasonably be expected, collectively, to reach the entire community, as here, a licensee may be found in noncompliance with the Commission’s EEO Rule. Further, the Commission’s interpretation of the EEO Rule does not allow a licensee to recruit solely from Internet sources to meet the requirement to widely disseminate information concerning the vacancy.
We have been told over and over again by clients that the Internet is just about the only recruitment source that produces any results and that mailing notices of vacancies to a large list of community organizations is an exercise in futility. That may be so in the Real World, but on Planet FCC things are apparently different – so the wise licensee will continue to keep a good supply of paper and postage stamps on hand.
Previously granted “permanent” exemptions may be gone, but requests for new exemptions can still be filed by January 18; failure to file means programming must be closed captioned by January 19
If you happen to be one of the 298 television programmers who lost closed captioning exemptions last October, heads up – your programming must be fully compliant with the closed captioning rules beginning January 19, 2012. But take heart, you can re-apply for your exemptions. The deadline for re-filing is January 18, 2012.
As we reported back in October, the Commission pulled the exemption rug out from under nearly 300 programmers who thought, not unreasonably, that the exemptions that the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) had granted them five years ago were permanent. Turns out that the full Commission disagreed.
But the Commission did leave the door open for any of those programmers to try to get their exemptions back, as long as they can satisfy the new standards announced in October. The deadline for making such a request is January 18, 2012.
Programmers who are interested in petitioning for a new exemption must submit current, detailed documentation showing that it would be “economically burdensome” to provide closed captioning on the specific programming for which an exemption is sought. (“Economically burdensome” is the standard established by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, but the Commission has provisionally interpreted the new test to mean the same thing as the old “undue burden.”)
Whether closed captioning is considered economically burdensome for a particular provider or program owner will depend on: (1) the nature and cost of the closed captioning; (2) the impact on the operation of the entity; (3) the financial resources of the entity; and (4) the type of operations. Although these factors appear similar to those used in the past, the categorical presumption that CGB used to use – a presumption that allowed it to green light lots of exemptions without carefully inspecting each request – is now gone. Instead, each new petition will now be considered strictly on a case-by-case basis.
Petitions for exemption must include:Continue Reading...
First white space database and end-user devices to begin operation in January in Wilmington, NC.
The FCC has approved the first “white space” database and the first end-user devices to begin operation on January 26, 2012, initially limited to the Wilmington, NC area.
White space devices are supposed to provide Wi-Fi-like services, only better, using locally vacant TV channels. Successful operation will depend on complex databases to help each device identify channels on which it can safely operate, without causing interference to TV stations, radio astronomy, wireless microphones, and several other services entitled to protection. We reported just last month that the first of ten FCC-approved database providers, Spectrum Bridge Inc., had posted the results from a 45-day test of its system. The FCC has now announced its acceptance of that system, and simultaneously, its approval of an end-user white space device that operates in conjunction with the Spectrum Bridge database.
Operators of the various services protected against the devices – see a list here – should make sure their facilities are properly listed in the database.
White space operations will be limited at the outset to the environs of Wilmington, NC. Wilmington was also the city chosen by the FCC a few years back for an early trial of the cut-over from analog to digital TV. We’re not sure why the FCC keeps putting Wilmington’s TV reception at risk. Perhaps the city is an unheralded center for high-tech early adopters. Or the home of someone whom the FCC just doesn’t like.
The job’s not over until the (electronic) paperwork is finished.
A tickler from our Forgotten-But-Not-Gone File reminds us to remind you that Form 3 reports from the nationwide EAS test conducted in early November are due to be filed by December 27 – the first day after the long Christmas weekend. Form 3 is not particularly complicated. In fact, if you’ve already completed Form 1 (which you should have, since it was supposed to be done by the date of the nationwide test), you’ve already taken care of just about all the heavy lifting here.
You can get to the reporting forms at the FCC’s website here. Note that there’s a notation on one page at that site indicating that Form 3 is due to be filed by December 24. That’s kind of true – the final report was due 45 days after the nationwide test, which does indeed take you to the 24th. But since December 24 is a Saturday, the FCC’s conventional rule (Section 1.4(j), if you want to delve into it, which we don’t recommend) provides that the deadline automatically over to the next business day. Since Monday, December 26 is a Federal holiday, the form is due to be filed by Tuesday, December 27.
Telcordia Tech testing to take off 12/7.
Last September we reported on the fact that one of the nine (oops, make that ten) white space database administrators had announced that its system was ready to have its tires kicked. That 45-day test has since wrapped up, and the Commission has since invited comments on the results.
And now a second database administrator – Telcordia Technologies, Inc. – has given the word that it, too, is ready for testing . . . or at least it will be, as of December 7. That date will kick off Telcordia’s 45-day test period, during which members of the public are invited to run the Telcordia system through its paces to ensure that it does what it’s supposed to do. (In case you’ve forgotten, all white space database systems are expected to (1) correctly identify channels in the TV band that are available for unlicensed operation, (2) register facilities in that band that are entitled to protection, and (3) afford protection to authorized services and registered facilities as specified in the Commission’s rules.)
You can access the Telcordia system at https://prism.telcordia.com/tvws/home/trial starting December 7 (but not before) and running through January 20, 2012, possibly longer if the Commission determines that an extension is warranted. The Commission encourages the public to take the system for a test drive to make sure that it's doing what it’s supposed to do. Items available for testing include a channel availability calculator, and separate utilities to register: MVPD receive sites; broadcast auxiliary temporary receive sites; fixed TVWS devices; and wireless microphones. Obviously, if any inaccuracies pop up, they should be reported to Telcordia pronto.
Check out our previous posts for more background on the white space database administrator program.
Last August, in connection with its review of wireless backhaul regulation, the Commission announced that folks holding TV pickup licenses in the 6875-7125 MHz and 12700-13200 MHz bands would be required to register their stationary receive-only sites in the Commission’s Universal Licensing System (ULS). (You can read our report about the wireless backhaul overhaul here.) That new registration requirement, set out in Section 74.605 of the Commission's rules, has not yet kicked in – as with so many things, it’s subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), so it needs the thumbs-up from OMB before it can take effect. And that thumbs up is still probably at least 90 days away, since the FCC has only just now started the PRA drill, which normally mandates an initial 60-day comment period at the FCC and a separate, follow-up 30-day comment period at OMB.
In a notice published in the Federal Register, the Commission has gotten the ball rolling by requesting PRA-based comments on the ULS registration requirement for TV pickup stations in the 6875-7125 MHz and 12700-13200 MHz bands. Comments are due to be filed with the Commission by January 27, 2012. After that, it’ll be on to OMB. (Note: the Federal Register notice refers at one point to Section 74.405. Don't be fooled. That appears to be the kind of typo anybody can make. We're all talking about 74.605 here.)
Could a single petition for reconsideration delay judicial review?
The Commission has announced that it has received one – and, apparently, only one – petition for reconsideration of its Open Internet order released last December (but not published in the Federal Register until September). For the curious among you, the seven-page petition – which is actually titled "Petition for Clarification or Reconsideration" – may be found here. (It asks the Commission to clarify the "special services" aspect of the net neutrality order, particularly as that aspect would affect "enterprise customers".)
The import of this filing lies not so much in the substance of the arguments it presents, but rather in the effect that it might have on the timing of judicial review. As we have previously reported, multiple petitions for review of the Open Internet order have been filed with various federal courts of appeals */; all those petitions are set to be heard in a consolidated proceeding before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. So the train heading toward Judicial Resolution is loaded up and ready to leave the station.
But with the filing of the recon petition, there is now a lingering bit of business still pending before the Commission. Theoretically, the FCC’s disposition of the petition for reconsideration could alter – maybe even eliminate – some arguments that might otherwise have to be resolved by the court on appeal. When such circumstances arise, it is routine – but not absolutely required – for the court to hold its processes in abeyance pending agency action on the reconsideration issues. The abeyance approach often seems the most efficient way of handling such situations. Indeed, if the court steps in and tries to rule before the agency's action has stopped moving around, the result can be (and, in some cases has been) far more disruptive than if the court had chosen to wait. It will be interesting to see whether the FCC (or some other party) files a request for the Court to hold the appeal in abeyance in light of the petition for reconsideration.
In dealing with the recon petition, the Commission will next publish a notice in the Federal Register, alerting the public to the filing of the petition and inviting responses to it. What with the time it will likely take to get that notice into the Register, and then the additional time for responses and replies, the matter won’t be ready for the Commission even to begin to think about it until early next year, at the soonest.
Whether the single petition for reconsideration in the Open Internet proceeding will slow down – or stop entirely – the appellate process is not clear. It’s hard to imagine that a relatively terse recon effort can, or should, delay judicial resolution of the broad range of issues likely to be presented on appeal. But stranger things have been known to happen. We’ll try to keep an eye on things, so check back here for updates.
*/ Speaking of those multiple petitions for review filed in multiple circuits, we note that three of the petitioners are bailing out of the proceeding. The three – People's Production House, Media Mobilizing Project and Mountain Area information Network – had filed their petitions in the 2d, 3d and 4th Circuits, respectively. On October 28, each filed a Motion for Voluntary Dismissal asking the D.C. Circuit to dismiss its respective petition. No reason for the early departures was given (and, truth be told, the Court's rules do not require any such explanation). Suspicious minds might guess that these petitioners filed their initial petitions largely, if not exclusively, in an effort to keep the case out of the D.C. Circuit – but as they hustle out the door now, we'll probably never know for sure.
CO seeks comments on latest “specialty station” list
Like Santa Claus, Oskar Schindler, David Letterman and Joe McCarthy, the Copyright Office (CO) has a list. The CO’s list consists of TV stations which claim to be “specialty” stations, a desirable status for some in the copyright world (more on that below). The CO is in the process of updating its list, and it has invited comments on some possible changes.
Not that the CO is in the business of deciding who should or shouldn’t be on the list.
But before we get into all that, a bit of history may be in order. Back in the 1970s, the FCC’s regulation of the cable TV industry included limits on carriage of TV stations beyond the reach of their over-the-air service (known as "distant signals"). Those rules had been adopted against the background of a continuing policy debate about the implications of extended-area cable carriage for copyright owners, who like to be able to restrict distribution of their product, and the public, which likes to be able to watch more stations. Generally speaking, if a cable system carried a distant signal, the system had to pay more in copyright fees. But the FCC recognized that cable carriage of certain “specialty stations” might be desirable even if they originated far away from the cable system, because specialty stations are usually not locally available outside the largest markets. Accordingly, the Commission established a regulatory classification for such stations, which were defined as stations that
generally carrie[d] foreign language, religious, and/or automated programming in one-third of the hours of an average broadcast week and one-third of the weekly prime-time hours.
With the enactment of an overhaul of the copyright law in 1976 that largely eliminated prohibitions on distant signal carriage while imposing a higher royalty premium for such carriage, the need for Commission involvement waned, and in 1981 the FCC repealed its distant signal carriage rules and generally stopped worrying about “specialty stations”. A station’s self-identification as a “specialty station” may still come into play in some limited circumstances before the FCC – for example, if such a station seeks to be added to a DMA for must-carry purposes, its burden might be a tad lighter – but for the most part it’s a dead issue at the FCC.
Not so in Copyright Land.Continue Reading...
The first of ten database administrators has posted the results of a 45-day test.
We reported back in September about a test of the first database for “white space” devices meant to provide Wi-Fi-like service on unused TV channels. The database – developed by Spectrum Bridge Inc. – is intended to help prevent interference from those devices into TV receivers, wireless microphones, and other authorized users of the bands. The FCC invited public participation in a 45-day online test.
Spectrum Bridge has completed its trials and submitted a “summary report” about it to the Commission. The FCC, in turn, is now requesting public input on the test result and the summary report. The request includes links to the report and three attachments submitted by Spectrum Bridge. We have been unable to access the Spectrum Bridge report and attachments by using the links provided in the FCC’s release. Presumably this is just a slight technical glitch that the FCC will correct. However, since the Commission’s notice came out just before the start of a three-day weekend, we thought our readers might appreciate some working links to the Spectrum Bridge materials now, to give them something to pore through over the long weekend. Here they are:
Attachment 1 – “Dashboard” (statistics concerning traffic to the Spectrum Bridge test site)
Attachment 3, in particular, makes for interesting reading. It reflects a number of comments, criticisms and inquiries submitted to Spectrum Bridge during the test, and Spectrum Bridge’s responses. Some of the problems identified in the test are troubling. For instance, Spectrum Bridge’s database ignored, at least initially, some facilities whose licenses (a) appeared to have expired but (b) were actually still in effect because of pending litigation relative to renewal of the licenses. But it does appear that Spectrum Bridge was responsive to the problems. We shall see.
Comments on the Spectrum Bridge report are due on November 28, 2011, and reply comments on December 5.
House, Senate proposals – S.1784, H.R.3309, S.1780 and H.R. 3310 – look to increase transparency, efficiency, predictability of Commission’s activities
On November 2, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) took the wraps off legislation aimed at improving regulatory process at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Just how might that be accomplished? According to the bills’ sponsors, by imposing a number of procedural constraints on the Commission that would force it to act more transparently, more efficiently, and within more predictable time frames.
As we’ve previously reported, over the last several years FCC process has at times been a source of bipartisan frustration. Concern about the absence of certainty in how – and how fast – the process will run has developed into a mini-movement to revisit agency process. Agency practices that have given rise to this alarm include: texts of orders not being released until weeks or months after their nominal adoption; “shot clocks” for agency action that are inconsistently applied (when they exist at all); unilateral control of the Commission’s agenda being wielded by the Chairman (allowing the Chairman to prevent action on matters that a majority of Commissioners might prefer to vote).
And, perhaps, the attention of a divided Congress is more easily attracted to an agency that asserts itself into areas where its statutory authority is at best indirect and, in the eyes of some, even nonexistent (hard to believe? check out the D.C. Circuit’s 2010 Comcast decision on net neutrality).Continue Reading...
In newly added “note”, FCC requests – but does not require – reports on translators, boosters and satellite stations
It looks like the Commission has revised the instructions for the electronic filing of reports on the Nationwide EAS Test. We have just received word from our friends at the NAB that the Commission has inserted the following “special note to broadcasters” in the introduction to those instructions:
Special Note for Broadcasters: For Form 1, Form 2, and Form 3, Broadcasters are encouraged to provide information only for their main, full-power facilities. As described below in the instructions for Form 3, we request that Broadcasters provide information on their translator, booster and/or satellite facilities so that we may obtain as complete a picture as possible of the extent of EAN dissemination. Broadcasters may note in the Explanation field of Form 3 that they use or own such facilities and may submit information about their translator, booster and/or satellite facilities via paper submission (e.g., Excel spreadsheet). If submitting a paper filing, Broadcasters are encouraged to include each facility’s FCC-issued Facility ID number, the latitude and longitude of the facility, and the main, full-power facility from which it should have received the EAN.
So all you translator/booster/satellite licensees – if you feel like it, you may provide information about your translator/booster/satellite facilities as part of your follow-up report on the Nationwide EAS Test. The Commission would presumably appreciate it if you did, especially if you’re aware of any problems that might have cropped up during the test. But for now, at least, the FCC is merely “request[ing]” that you do so. (For what it’s worth, it’s not clear that the Commission could require the filing of this additional information without first clearing that with OMB, but stranger things have been known to happen.)
Note that the new language seems to say that, if you do choose to tell the Commission about translator/booster/satellite experiences in the Nationwide Test, you will have to do that on paper (although you’re supposed to give the Commission an electronic tip – in the “Explanation” field in Form 3 of the on-line report – that you may be submitting such a paper report). Such a supplemental report is still expected to include the site coordinates for each station (including translators, etc.). While the new note doesn’t say so, we’re guessing that the Commission will be looking for those coordinates in decimal form, using NAD27.
The fact that this change has been made within 72 hours of the test is a bit discomforting, although it appears to be par for the course. (Truth be told, though, the Commission did give us the heads up last Thursday that we might want to be on the lookout for “significant developments” between then and the November 9 test). It’s also discomforting that we learned about this from the NAB, and not directly from the FCC. Indeed, once we had gotten wind of the change, we checked the FCC’s special Nationwide EAS Test webpage and could find no obvious notification about the change (but if you access the on-line instructions, the new language is definitely there).
We’ll try to keep you posted about further changes, if and when we find out about them. Check back here for further updates.
At six days and counting to the first ever Nationwide EAS test, a couple of things got smaller.
To the surprise of many, the FCC and FEMA announced that what had once been billed as a three-minute (or thereabouts) test would in fact last only 30 seconds (or thereabouts). Good to know, especially for stations with crowded schedules who had already been juggling their programming line-ups in order to accommodate a three-minute alert.
No reason was given for the 83% shrinkage, although one report indicated that the change was made at the direction of Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security. At least some folks speculated that the government might have been concerned that a three-minute alert could have caused the 911 emergency phone system to melt down with frantic calls from a public concerned about three full minutes of EAS test.
The FCC’s official notice of the change also announced that a revised Handbook reflecting the new thirty-second test length has been posted at www.fcc.gov/nationwideeastest. It appears from the terse notice that the FCC expects one and all to print out this “updated” version of the Handbook and distribute it to all normal duty positions, etc., where such copies should be posted. Presumably any copies of the earlier edition of the special Nationwide EAS Test Handbook that was available about a week ago should be removed.
According to the Commission’s notice, more “significant developments” relative to the fast-approaching test may be in the works; the FCC encourages us all to visit its Nationwide EAS Test webpage for additional announcements of such developments. But don’t expect things there to be totally up-to-the-minute: the notice about the shortening of the test still did not appear to have been posted there nearly four hours after its release.
The length of the test itself is not the only thing that appears to have shrunk today.Continue Reading...
Just a week away, still a work in progress
With the Nationwide EAS Test just a week away (that would be November 9), it appears that the on-line reporting system the Commission has devised is still a work in progress. Presumably in response to complaints about the original version’s insistence that a cellphone number be provided for the identified contact person, that field has now been made optional. And while the on-line form still mystifyingly requires transmitter coordinates in decimal form, now at least the Commission has inserted a link to the conversion tool (from degrees/minutes/seconds to decimal) that we had linked to in our previous post about the on-line reporting form.
As far as we know, no public announcement of these changes has been made. I just checked the EAS page on the FCC's website (at 6:15 p.m.), and it does not appear to mention the changes that have been made in the last day or so, much less whether any other changes might be in the works. (Note, though, that the EAS page now includes a button which fires up an email program so that you can fire off questions or comments on the EAS system directly to the FCC. If they can adjust their website -- and the form -- so quickly, why did it take them so long to get the on-line reporting system up and running?)
On the one hand, it’s good to know that the FCC is apparently trying to be responsive to the criticisms which have popped up in the few days since the on-line form was finally unveiled. On the other, it’s troubling that the Commission is still having to revise that form this close to the test date. It’s even more troubling that the correction process is apparently being undertaken with the same level of secrecy that kept the initial version of the form under wraps until a scant two weeks before the test. Wasn’t this the Commission that was committed to transparency?
Electronic reporting option, designed by FCC without substantial input from affected industries, perplexes some engineers
UPDATE ALERT -- The FCC has revised the on-line report at least as of approximately 5:30 p.m. on November 1. Read all about it here.
Our friends at Radio World have supplied us with some email threads in which broadcast engineers have been raising questions and sharing thoughts on the Nationwide EAS Test reporting requirements. The following information may be helpful to clarify some of the issues that have arisen.
Geographic Coordinates The electronic reporting option requires the reporting station to specify its transmitter coordinates. While neither the form nor the instructions make this clear, word has it that the on-line form accepts coordinates only in decimal form. Apparently, you can forget the standard degrees-seconds-minutes (DSM) format. The FCC’s website includes a conversion program, if you’re having trouble doing the math yourself. Heads up, though – as indicated at the FCC’s site, the Commission generally uses NAD27 for broadcast coordinates, even though it uses NAD83 for other services. (Why? That’s not clear, as the SBE has tried to make clear.) You should be able to rely on the FCC’s own converter, but we can’t promise that, if some discrepancy pops up, the FCC will necessarily hold you harmless.
[Blogger Observation #1 – Why on earth would the Commission require the submission of transmitter coordinates at all when those data are (or should be) readily available to the Commission in its own existing database? By forcing EAS reporters to manually enter decimal values for their transmitters, the Commission is introducing the potential for multiple innocent discrepancies which could undermine the usefulness of the reported results.]
[Blogger Observation #2 – See comments, below, on whether to report electronically or the old-fashioned hard copy way.]Continue Reading...
We recently reported on the Commission’s reversal of almost 300 closed captioning exemptions dating back some five years. That action has now made it into the Federal Register – not once, not twice, but in three separate entries. One entry merely reflects the actual reversals – presumably this notice constitutes the starting gun for any of the presumably disappointed former exemptees who might want to seek reconsideration or review. A second entry expressly announces the Commission’s interim policy with respect to the term ‘‘economically burdensome’’ for purposes of evaluating requests for individual closed captioning exemptions. And the third entry solicits comments on the Commission’s proposal to continue to apply a four-part test to determine whether a request for individual exemption satisfies the “economically burdensome” standard. Additionally, in order to conform to changes in the Communications Act, the language of Section 79.1(f) would be changed to delete the passé term “undue burden” and to sub in “economically burdensome”.
The effective date of the first two entries is November 1, 2011 (the date of Federal Register publication) The publication of the third entry establishes the comment and reply comment deadlines with respect to the proposed changes. Comments on those changes are due by December 1, 2011; reply comments by December 16.
New Handbook must be available at all participating stations; Initial report forms can be filed starting October 26
The Commission has updated the Nationwide EAS Test page on its website to include: (a) a new version of the EAS Handbook specially devoted to the nationwide test; and (b) the on-line forms to be used by all EAS participants to report on their experience in the Big Test.
IMPORTANT: Every EAS participant is required to have a copy of the new Handbook at “normal duty positions or EAS equipment locations where an operator is required to be on duty”. It would be a good idea to click on the link to the Handbook provided above, print out as many copies of the Handbook as may be necessary for your operation, and get them distributed NOW.
While you’re deploying the Handbooks, you should be sure to familiarize yourself with its contents. It provides step-by-step instructions for the Nationwide Test, helpful tips to assist in preparation for the event, and directions for dealing with the unexpected. (The unexpected, in this case, includes what to do if you don’t receive the alert code or can’t send the code along. The instructions don’t seem all that helpful, however: “Determine why you did not receive [or are unable to send] the EAN alert code, [then] Take appropriate corrective action”. Looks like "Throw your hands up in frustration and move on to some other chore" is NOT an acceptable response.)Continue Reading...
With the nationwide EAS test fast approaching, the FCC has yet to unveil the electronic reporting format it promised last February – but that doesn’t stop US from providing a look-see
Two weeks and one day to go -- and counting down. Counting down, that is, to the first ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). This is a Big Deal, as the FCC has made a big point of telling us. One of the primary goals of the exercise is to determine whether the nationwide EAS will actually work as planned. (Let’s not forget that it’s never been fully tested during its 15 years of existence.) To that end, when the Commission formally committed itself to the Big Test last February, the Commission emphasized that it would require all EAS participants to report back on their experiences during the test. The Commission even promised to set up a spiffy on-line reporting system that would facilitate the reporting process. In early February (that would be eight, nearly nine, months ago), the Commission promised that “we will shortly be releasing a public notice establishing a voluntary electronic reporting system that EAS test participants may use as part of their participation in the national EAS test.”
“Shortly”? To date (that would be October 25), no such public notice has been released, even though the national EAS test is still scheduled for November 9.
No problem. We here at CommLawBlog have what you want: a preview of what the FCC’s electronic reporting requirement will likely entail.Continue Reading...
“Permanent” exemptions granted in 2006 prove to be less than advertised, as FCC reverses grants and announces new, more stringent exemption standards
What a difference five years make. Back in 2006, over the course of about a month, more than 300 video programmers were granted permanent exemptions to the closed captioning rules. But now the Commission has taken another look and – bad news for 298 of those lucky programmers – has decided that the wrong standard was applied in 2006. Good-bye “permanent” exemptions (although the Commission has invited those programmers to ask for new exemptions, which could be granted if a newly-revised standard is satisfied) – and hello to a new set of standards for determining when captioning may be deemed “economically burdensome”.
The problem dates back to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which allowed the Commission to grant two separate types of exemption to the captioning requirements. One type would exempt entire categories of programming; the other involved individual programs or program providers, assessed on a case-by-case basis. To obtain an individual exemption, a program provider had to demonstrate that providing captions would impose an “undue burden” (the language of the statute has since been revised to require a demonstration that captioning would be “economically burdensome.”)
In late 2005 the Commission’s rules requiring captioning of 100% of non-exempt English and Spanish-language programming were about to go into effect. Since that would impose a significantly heavier burden on program providers, a large number of providers sought individual exemptions. Two of those providers were Anglers for Christ Ministries and New Beginning Ministries.
In September, 2006, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) granted permanent exemptions to Anglers for Christ and New Beginning.Continue Reading...
In August we reported on an FCC proposal to liberalize its approach to alien ownership of common carrier and aeronautical radio station licenses. The Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has now been published in the Federal Register. As usual, that means that the deadlines for comments and reply comments have been set. If you’re inclined to file comments on the proposal, you’ve got until December 5, 2011; reply comments may be filed by January 4, 2012.
Leaving the gate at five-to-one odds, D.C. Circuit lands in Victory Lane
The Joint Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) wasted no time in conducting a circuit lottery with respect to the FCC’s net neutrality order and the winner is (drum roll, please) – the D.C. Circuit! As we reported yesterday, petitions for review of that order were filed in six different U.S. circuit courts of appeals. And as was common knowledge, Verizon was doing everything it could to make sure that the case landed in the D.C. Circuit – up to and including filing a Section 402(b) notice of appeal as well as a Section 402(a) petition for review there.
Turns out Verizon needn’t have worried. Lady Luck was smiling on it when the JPML folks reached into their drum, pulled one of the six entries, and came up with D.C. Sorry to the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Ninth Circuits -- better luck next time.
Presumably this will obviate the need for Verizon to respond to the FCC’s motion to dismiss Verizon’s 402(b) notice of appeal, but who knows?
The moral of this story is simple. If you’re standing behind Verizon in the line to buy a Powerball ticket, take a look over its shoulder and be sure to buy the same numbers that it does.
Verizon’s Plan C? Plan A Redux!
Judicial junkies and appellate aficionados everywhere, rejoice! The next round in the net neutrality donnybrook has started, and it’s already delivering the kind of rock ‘em/sock ‘em litigation observers could have expected.
Leading the action is Verizon, which picked up where it left off last April . . . literally. As readers will recall, in January – just weeks after the FCC released the full text of its net neutrality order – Verizon lobbed a “notice of appeal” relative to that order into the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. (It also filed a separate motion asking that a specific three-judge panel – the same panel that had trashed the FCC in the 2010 Comcast decision – be appointed to hear its appeal.) This was an effort to secure a kind of home-court advantage, since Verizon obviously figures that the D.C. Circuit is likely to be receptive to its arguments.
But the D.C. Circuit rejected that ploy. In a terse order, the Court noted that the net neutrality order was a “rulemaking document” that, under the fine print of the FCC’s own procedural rules, could not be deemed to have been “released” until published in the Federal Register. Since the right to seek judicial review of any FCC order generally doesn’t kick in until the agency’s decision has been “released”, Verizon’s notice of appeal was premature. Court to Verizon: Concentrate and ask again later. The Court left open – sort of – the question of whether review of the net neutrality order could or should be sought under Section 402(a) or 402(b) of the Communications Act.
That last question is of crucial importance, at least as far as Verizon and the FCC seem to think.Continue Reading...
Last August we reported on some changes, and proposed changes, relating to the Commission’s wireless backhaul rules. Both the Report and Order component of that action (addressing the rule changes that were actually adopted) and the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking component (addressing the changes that are only proposed at this stage) have now been published in the Federal Register. As a result, we now know that the effective date of the new rules will be October 27, 2011. The only loose end is Section 74.605, which mandates registration (in the Commission’s Universal Licensing System) of stationary receive sites for TV pickup stations in the 6875-7125 MHz and 12700-13200 MHz bands. That registration requirement is an “information collection” subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act, so the Commission will be shipping that particular aspect of the new rules over to OMB for its review before the requirement can be finally imposed.
Federal Register publication also establishes the comment deadlines relative to the proposed rules, but those deadlines (October 4, 2011 for comments, October 25, 2011 for reply comments) had already been announced by the Commission back in August; the Register notice confirms them.
Elsewhere in the Federal Register, the Commission has also published the revised rules it adopted last August to align the use of local and toll free numbers by Internet Telecommunications Relay Service (iTRS) users more closely with the way that hearing users use such numbers. (We reported on that decision here.) Those revisions are now set to take effect on October 27, 2011, except for several sections (§§64.611(e)(2), 64.611(e)(3), 64.611(g)(1)(v), 64.611(g)(1)(vi), and 64.613(a)(3), if you’re keeping track) that still need OMB/Paperwork Reduction Act approval.
Anyone can visit the test site to try out the white space channel availability calculator, the wireless microphone registration utility, and other functions.
Those long-promised “white space” devices, delivering super-Wi-Fi performance on locally unused TV channels, are moving a small step closer to reality.
The delay in actual availability – initial rules were adopted almost three years ago – results from the fact that these devices must protect several other services from interference. The main mechanism to achieve that protection is a set of databases that list the locations and frequencies of the services entitled to protection. A white space device is supposed to check in with a database for a safe frequency assignment before transmitting. The first of those databases is now ready for testing.
The services that qualify for protection, and which hence must be listed in the databases, are:
- broadcast television stations (including full power, TV translator, low power TV, and Class A stations);
- fixed broadcast auxiliary service links;
- receive sites (and received channels) of TV translator, low power TV and Class A TV stations and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs);
- private land mobile radio service and commercial mobile radio service operations
- offshore radio telephone service operations;
- radio astronomy operations at specific sites; and
- certain wireless microphone operations.
The FCC has approved ten database administrators to keep track of these services. The idea is for each administrator to set up its own separate database. Each of the ten will extract information on protected services from the FCC’s licensing databases, or from the rules (except for some MVPD and wireless microphone information, which must be entered by hand by interested parties). This information need be entered into only one database, which will automatically share that information with the other nine – so that, as a result, all ten reflect the same protected services. Similarly, no matter which of the ten databases a white space device chooses to consult, it should get back the same information on available channels.
That is the theory, at least. Coordinating ten very large, constantly changing databases, each of a different fundamental design, is likely to present problems in practice.
The first of the ten databases is now ready for a 45-day period of public testing. Beginning on September 19, anyone can visit this site to test the white space channel availability calculator, the cable headend and broadcast auxiliary temporary receive site registration utilities, and the wireless microphone registration utility. Unfortunately the all-important sharing function among databases is not yet ready to try out.
Give it a try, and let us know what you find.
American Jobs Act calls for spectrum fees
As it waves a metal detector over every inch of the country’s economy, looking for any stray nickel or dime with which to fund its ambitious American Jobs Act (Jobs Act), the Obama Administration apparently thinks it’s hit a minor jackpot: spectrum fees. That’s probably not good news for spectrum users of any stripe (although TV broadcasters may get a pass, at least initially). As the national debate on the proposed bill develops, all spectrum users should keep their eye on this particular detail. Things could get pricey if this proposal finds its way into law.
The issue arises in Section 278, which would require the Commission to collect nearly $5 billion over the next ten years through such fees. The fees would come in through annual assessments for spectrum use. The universe of fee payers would include pretty much anybody who holds any kind of spectrum license – except broadcast television and/or public safety licensees, and initial licensees/permittees who got their authorizations through the competitive auction process. (But note – that last exemption for auction winners gets them only through the initial license term or until their license is modified, at which point they join the ranks of the fee-eligible.)
The Jobs Act doesn’t say anything about the regulatory fees that licensees already pay, so presumably the proposed user fees would be in addition to reg fees. The likely rationale: regulatory fees are supposed to cover the cost of the FCC’s regulatory operations; spectrum user fees, by contrast, constitute a tax on the commercial benefits licensees can realize through utilization of their spectrum.
How exactly would the spectrum fee be calculated for licenses in the various services?Continue Reading...
Last minute reprieve gives FCC, EAS participants nine extra months of breathing space
The Commission has announced that the deadline for complying with the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) requirements has been extended until June 30, 2012. Good thing, too, since the previous deadline was September 30, 2011, a scant two weeks away. Of course, given the number of still unresolved issues on the CAP front, most observers figured that an extension was an odds-on mortal lock, but “most observers” don’t carry quite the same clout as five (or even just three) Commissioners.
If you’re still a little hazy on what CAP entails, check out our post from April, 2010. The fact that all EAS participants are going to have to be CAP-ready eventually has been a given since at least 2007. However, the transition to CAP technology has involved both the FCC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a lethal mixture when it comes to scheduling anything. Both agencies had to adopt new rules and standards, and before the FCC could do its thing it had to wait for FEMA to do its thing. As a result, while the Commission’s rules currently mandate that “all EAS Participants must be able to receive CAP-formatted alerts”, even the Commission admits that nobody can comply with that requirement just yet, because the Commission still hasn’t finalized the specs which will establish precisely what it means to “receive CAP-formatted alerts”.
The Commission may be on the final lap of its work, but until it hits the finish line, loose ends will remain. Because of that, the deadline for EAS participants to comply has been put off twice already – from the original March, 2011 date to September 30, 2011, and now to June 30, 2012. While that should be plenty of time for the Commission to wrap things up, you never know. Still, for planning and budgeting purposes, all affected folks should probably assume that the June, 2012 deadline will stick this time. We’ll let you know of any further developments.
One word of caution. Since the Commission doesn’t have its new CAP rules in place, it also is not in a position to certify any particular equipment as CAP-compliant. But that hasn’t stopped some equipment suppliers from marketing “intermediate” devices designed to provide some CAP capabilities. With such devices in mind, the Commission has “reminded” all EAS participants that
equipment that meets the definition of an encoder or a decoder under our rules must be certified under Section 11.34 of the Commission’s current rules. In addition, equipment used to receive CAP-formatted EAS alerts must, at a minimum, comply with the CAP requirements the Commission adopted in the Second Report and Order.
Bottom line – anybody that has bought some such “intermediate device” should be sure to verify, with the gear’s manufacturer and/or vendor, that the gear does in fact comply with Commission rules that are already on the books.
This just in: the FCC has extended the deadline for the 2011 regulatory fees! If you haven’t paid yet, no problem: you now have until 11:59 p.m. ET on September 16, 2011, to get the cash into the Commission’s hands. The terse public announcement of the extension provides no insight into why the deadline is getting pushed back two days – but who cares? If you didn’t get your fees in by the original deadline (i.e., September 14), you can still avoid that pesky 25% late charge if you just can scrape together enough to cover what you owe the Feds by the extended deadline. Good luck.
It looks like all the pieces are now in place for the video description rules: OMB has signed off on the two information collection components of those rules, and that sign-off has made it into the Federal Register. So Sections 79.3(d) and (e) will become effective October 11, 2011. Those two sections involve, respectively: the process by which a video programming provider may request an exemption (based on “economic burden”) from the overall video description requirements; and the process by which anybody and his little brother may complain about perceived violations of the video description rules. As we have previously reported, broadcasters and MVPDs have until July 1, 2012 to bring themselves into full compliance with the overall video description regime.
All you TV broadcasters and MVPDs – mark your calendars! July 1, 2012 is the current deadline for full compliance.
Let’s have a big “welcome back” for the video description rules – they’ve been gone for years, but as we reported last March, Congress figured it was time to bring them back and now, voilà!
As required by the behemoth “21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010,” the FCC has adopted rules requiring the provision of video description. (“Video description” involves voice-overs describing a program’s key visual elements. Check out our earlier post for a quick refresher course on video description.) The FCC tried almost ten years ago to impose such rules on broadcasters and certain multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), but the rules were struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The court concluded that Congress hadn’t given the Commission the necessary authority. That was then, this is now: the FCC now has authority in spades, with explicit instructions from Congress to reinstate the original rules – with a few tweaks.
The new rules are nominally “reinstated” as of October 8, 2011 – that’s what Congress required, and the Commission timed Federal Register publication of the rules accordingly. (One exception: Section 79.3(d) and (e) have to be run through the Paperwork Reduction Act drill before they can become effective.) But take heart – broadcasters and MVPDs have until July 1, 2012, to come into full compliance.
Broadcaster and MVPD obligations under the new rules include the following:Continue Reading...
With the first National EAS Test just ten weeks away, more details regarding the exercise are emerging. The test is set for Wednesday, November 9 at 2:00 pm EST. (If you happen to have been in a sensory deprivation tank for the last several months and are drawing a blank on the whole National EAS Test question, check our previous posts to get caught up.)
At the appointed time, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will send out a “live” Emergency Action Notification (EAN) code activating the EAS for “a national emergency”. To forestall panic, the alert will include an audible “this is a test” notice. It’s a little iffy, though, whether the “live” EAN video message transmitted will be able to flash “this is a test” on video screens, which might be problematic for deaf or hearing-impaired viewers. FEMA and the FCC are working with EAS participants on possible technical solutions to mitigate the impact of this limitation.
Some of nitty-gritty details recently clarified include:
- The test will conclude with transmission of an End of Message (EOM) code rather than an Emergency Action Termination (EAN) code. This means that EAS participants should not need to reconfigure their EAS encoder/decoder equipment.
- The “location code” for the test will be Washington, D.C. The FCC presumes that most encoder/decoder devices will automatically forward an EAN with a Washington, D.C. location code without reconfiguration. But EAS participants unsure whether their device will do so need to check with either (a) the manufacturer of the box or (b) FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Office at IPAWS@dhs.gov. Better to tie that detail down sooner rather than later.
- The test will last approximately three minutes. (Author’s comment: Really? After the President – or whoever is speaking – goes through the standard script (repeat after me: “This is only a test. If it had been a real National Emergency, you would have been instructed ….”), he’ll have about two minutes and fifteen seconds left. What’s next – a national “Sweet Caroline” sing along? An abbreviated version of John Cage’s 4’33”?)
- FEMA is working with selected states, EAS participants and manufacturers to conduct statewide pre-tests. A national pre-test will not be conducted. To find out if your state is among those doing a test-in-advance-of-the-test, check with your state’s EAS contact) or FEMA’s IPAWS Office.
Stay tuned for further details as Test Day nears.
NPRM proposes lower hurdles for alien ownership -- and alien investment.
With the issuance of an extensive Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the FCC is looking to liberalize its approach to permitting alien ownership of common carrier and aeronautical radio station licenses. While it’s not exactly a re-opening of Ellis Island, the plan should significantly expand opportunities for aliens to acquire or increase license ownership. The FCC correctly recognizes that its current policies and processes are burdensome to prospective foreign investors, unnecessarily impeding, delaying and obstructing the ability of aliens to buy, or buy into, FCC licensees – and thus also creating barriers to investment capital that could benefit U.S companies and U.S. consumers.
The starting point for any discussion of alien ownership of domestic U.S. communications interests is Section 310(b) of the Communications Act, a provision that dates back to the original 1934 version of the law. Drafted in an era when foreign Fascists and Communists had to be prevented from acquiring control of our communications media, Section 310(b) strictly prohibited – and continues to prohibit – aliens from directly owning a broadcast, common carrier, or aeronautical radio license or even from owning more than 20% of a company that holds such a license.
However, having erected a seemingly impenetrable fortress against evil foreign influences, Congress left the back door wide open.Continue Reading...
Get out your calendars . . . and your checkbooks! The Commission has announced the deadline for filing this year’s regulatory fees. And that deadline is (drum roll, please): 11:59 p.m. ET on September 14, 2011. (Ahem -- that would be the date our colleague Davina Sashkin predicted in her post a couple of days ago . . . not that we're looking for any credit or anything just because she had it right.) As Davina reported there, the payment window opened as of August 12, 2011 (when the Fee Filer system started accepting reg fee payments), for those of you who want to (a) avoid any last-minute rush, and thereby also (b) avoid the 25% late fee that gets tacked on for folks who miss the deadline. Of course, the 2011 reg fees (formally announced last month) won’t technically become “effective” until September 9, since the order establishing those fees didn’t make it into the Federal Register until August 10. But it appears that the FCC isn’t going to let its knickers get wadded up about that kind of hyper-technical detail when cash coming into the Commission’s coffers is involved.
As we have previously cautioned, the Commission has stopped sending out any hard copy “pre-bills” to remind you that reg fees are due. If you want to know what the Commission thinks you owe, there’s a handy feature in Fee Filer that should give you the information that would, in the olden days, have been included in the “pre-bill”. But as we have also previously cautioned, heads up there – the Commission has been known to make mistakes, so “trust but verify” should be the order of the day. And in that vein, let’s not forget that the Commission does NOT routinely include the fees for auxiliary licenses in its own determination of fees owed – even though it still expects you to pay reg fees for such licenses. So don’t forget to inventory all your auxiliaries before you start the payment process, just to be sure that you’re paying everything you owe.
Enjoy the rest of your summer.
Newly adopted and proposed fixed service rules add flexibility, especially in rural areas.
We wrote last summer about how the proliferation of wireless devices has created a corresponding need for wireless backhaul capacity – “backhaul” being a term that refers generally to the “middle mile” links that move end-user traffic between cell towers and the core network. Traditionally, backhaul was carried on copper wires or fiber, but that 20th Century approach isn’t necessarily the most practical, particularly in rural and remote locations. In those situations, a wireless approach, using point-to-point links on microwave frequencies allocated by the FCC for “fixed service”, does the trick better. The FCC has now adopted the proposals it put forth a year ago to facilitate the use of fixed service spectrum for wireless backhaul. In a concurrent notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), the Commission seeks comment on additional wireless backhaul matters.
During the meeting at which the Commission adopted the new rules, Chairman Genachowski admitted that when he first heard about the proposals to change the fixed service rules, his eyes “glazed over.” Now, however, the subject is generating a lot of enthusiasm at the FCC. At the meeting, Genachowski and the other Commissioners rhapsodized that more flexible fixed service rules will increase rural buildout, spur 4G deployment, create jobs, and stimulate technical innovation.
Specifically, the new rules will:Continue Reading...
The Commission’s 2011 reg fees still aren’t technically effective, and the FCC has yet to announce the deadline for paying those fees . . . but the Fee Filer system is ready – NOW – to take your reg fee payments.
If you’re the type of person who prefers to pay bills early to avoid pesky late charges and the like, here’s your chance. The Commission has opened up its Fee Filer system to accept payments of 2011 regulatory fees. The Pay Here/Pay Now window on the FCC’s website was apparently opened for reg fees as of sometime on August 12, even though there doesn’t appear to have been any formal announcement to that effect – just a fine-print notice at the top of the Fee Filer page reading “Fee Filer is presently ready to accept filings for 2011 regulatory fees.”
Of course, the 2011 reg fees adopted by the Commission last month won’t be effective until September 9 (that’s according to the Federal Register notice that popped up a couple of days ago), so technically the new fees aren’t yet really on the books. But niggling details like that probably won’t stop the Commission from accepting your payment now.
The Commission has also not yet officially announced the deadline by which reg fees must be paid. Our sources indicate that that date is likely to be September 14, but we won’t know for sure until the Commission spreads the official word. We’re guessing that could happen this coming Monday, August 15. Check back here for updates.
After a relatively fast start, it’s been something of a rocky road for the Commission’s rulemaking aimed at encouraging the use of consumer-owned “CableCARD” devices for accessing MVPD services. The Commission got the latest stage of this proceeding cranked up in April, 2010, with a Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking teeing up a number of new rules that the Commission adopted a scant six months later. That kind of quick turn-around seemed to indicate that the agency was intent upon getting its new rules into the books as soon as possible.
Nine months after their adoption, though, they’re still not there. But now, at long last, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Part of the intervening delay may be attributable to the fact that the Commission had to tweak the still-not-in-effect rules on its own motion back in January. But after that happened, the cone of silence descended over the proceeding until, finally, the text of the October, 2010, report and order was published in the Federal Register on July 8, about nine months after it was first adopted. That publication announced that the new rules would become effective on August 8, 2011 except for several sections (to be specific, Sections76.1205(b)(1), 76.1205(b)(1)(i), 76.1205(b)(2), 76.1205(b)(5), and 76.1602(b)). Those exceptions involve “information collections” requiring OMB prior approval (thanks to our pal, the Paperwork Reduction Act).
Good news. According to a notice in the Federal Register, OMB approved those sections on July 12, so they, too, can take effect on August 8. Here’s a link to the record of the OMB proceeding (which apparently didn’t get started until May 31, 2011, when the FCC got around to sending the file over to OMB).
Of course, the July 8 Federal Register publication also opened up the opportunity to file for reconsideration or judicial review of the new rules – but let’s take things one at a time. For the time being, at least, the new rules are set to take effect on August 8.
[Update: In a public notice released July 26, 2011, the Commission has confirmed the August 8 effective date of the CableCARD rules – with two exceptions. Those two exceptions are: (1) Section 76.640(b)(4)(iii), which requires cable operators to include a home networking output on high-definition set-top boxes (except for unidirectional, non-recording settop boxes) – effective date, December 1, 2012; and (2) the requirement in Section 76.1205(b)(1) that cable operators provide the means to allow subscribers to self-install CableCARDs – effective date, November 1, 2011 only with respect to operators that did not previously offer self-install options for leased boxes or cable modems and needed to time to gear up for that.]
No significant changes from May proposals; look for a September filing window
Sometimes the best surprise is no surprise at all. And the FCC has surprised at least some of us with its release of the final 2011 regulatory fee schedule. The surprise? As it turns out, with one very minor exception, the final fees are identical to the fees the Commission proposed back in May. (The one exception: the fee associated with satellite TV construction permits is $670, which is a whopping $5 less than the fee that was proposed back in May.)
Click here for a handy table listing the final 2011 reg fees. We’ve also included in the table listings of the differences between this year’s fees and last year’s, in case you’re interested in that kind of thing.
If you wade into the fine print of the Report and Order accompanying the new fee schedule, you find some routine caveats. For instance, you’ll be expected to use the FCC’s Fee Filer system to pay your reg fees (no real surprise there), and the Commission will not be sending out hard copy “pre-bills” to let everybody know what they’re on the hook for (ditto). (Helpful tip: the information that you would have received in a paper pre-bill will be available at Fee Filer, but don’t forget to doublecheck that information – the Commission has been known to make mistakes, and its calculations have historically not included fees for any auxiliary licenses you might have.)
The Report and Order does include an interesting statement relative to low power TV/Class A/TV translator fees.Continue Reading...
As July slips into August, it’s time again to remind television broadcasters that Copyright Royalty Claim forms – for cable retransmission copyright royalties and/or satellite copyright royalties earned during 2010 – are due at the Copyright Royalty Board by August 1, 2011 (since July 31, the normal deadline, falls on a weekend this year). This is your opportunity to lay claim to a share of the annual fund from which television broadcast stations get paid for their programming that is retransmitted by cable and satellite service providers outside of their respective service areas.
In general, TV stations that are carried on cable systems as a distant signal, and those stations that provide programming to other stations that are carried as a distant signal, are entitled to royalty payments. A cable system is “distant” vis-à-vis a station if the system is: (1) outside the station’s DMA; and (2) at least 35 miles from the station’s city of license; and (3) outside the station’s predicted Grade B contour. Stations whose programming is carried on satellites to subscribers outside the station’s DMA are also entitled to royalty payments.
The Copyright Office encourages stations to file their Claim Forms online. The forms can be found at: http://www.loc.gov/crb/claims/.
If you need our assistance in preparing the forms, please let us know.
Group that decries hidden interests keeps its true interests well hidden.
Here in Washington, we’re used to a certain amount of hypocrisy. It’s part of the atmosphere, like exhaust fumes from the high school tour buses.
But once in a while even we get taken aback. No, not about the debt-limit debate, although that also strains our tolerance. We are referring to an unusual spate of filings in one of the FCC’s rulemaking dockets.
The rulemaking itself is an inside-the-Beltway matter. The FCC allows interested parties to file views on its proceedings even after the published comment schedule has expired. These late submissions are called “ex parte” filings, from the Latin for “one-sided,” which they generally are. In the past, they offered a way to put useful technical and policy information before the FCC staff. With the advent of electronic filing, the ex parte process has also become a way for special interest groups speaking through complaisant individuals to flood the FCC with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of nearly identical statements.
The rulemaking in question asks for comment on whether groups filing ex parte statements should have to identify who they really are. After all, an organization called “Citizens for Better Phone Service” may in fact be a telephone company seeking relief from regulation. “Coalition for a Free Internet” may be a front for a cable company opposed to network neutrality rules. And so on. Such groups are often called “AstroTurf®” entities: an artificial construct masquerading as a grass-roots organization. (AstroTurf ® is a registered trademark, even if the registration doesn't cover this particular use of the term.)
In addition to the usual suspects – lobbying groups that make frequent ex parte filings with the FCC – this rulemaking has attracted well over 200 identical submissions signed by individuals. They all read as follows:Continue Reading...
Ten days after initial comments on proposed standard are filed, turns out there’s a different standard in the works
Talk about moving targets! The FCC has just extended (to August 1, 2011) the reply comment deadline in its CALM Act proceeding. (For a trip down Memory Lane vis-à-vis the CALM Act, click here.) The original reply comments deadline had been July 18, but that had been extended at the last minute to July 21.
But the deadline, while obviously fluid, is not the most important moving target here.
The latest extension was granted at the request of the Advanced Television Systems Committee, Inc. (ATSC). ATSC, of course, are the folks who brought us the DTV technical standards. Those standards include the A/85 Recommended Practice (A/85 RP) which Congress has ordered the Commission to use as the regulatory standard for controlling loud commercials. But get this – according to ATSC’s request for extension of the reply comment deadline, a new version of the A/85 RP is going to be approved (by ATSC) on July 26. (The Commission reports that the new A/85 RP will be available for review on the ATSC’s website on that date.)
So it turns out that all the folks who filed comments addressing the proposed mandatory standard were addressing a standard that won’t be applicable after July 26.
Remind us again what the point of filing those initial comments was?Continue Reading...
All you STELA watchers who have been waiting on tenterhooks for more than six months can now breathe easy: the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has approved Section 73.686(e). As a result, that section has become effective as of June 30, 2011. For those of who may have lost track of all this, last November the Commission adopted amendments to its broadcast satellite rules as provided in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA). Most of the rule changes became effective back in January. But Section 73.686(e), which addresses procedures for measuring the field strength of digital television signals, involved some “information collection” requirements which – thanks to the Paperwork Reduction Act – had to be reviewed by OMB before they could kick in. OMB has now blessed the FCC’s handiwork and, by notice in the Federal Register, the FCC has announced that Section 73.686(e) has become effective.
With FCC’s blessing, CGB proposes to toss 1,000 – 1,500 (or so) “dormant” proceedings.
In February, 2010, the Commission issued a low-profile Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing a number of procedural issues of seemingly minor interest to most of us. In a section titled “Management of Dockets”, the Commission observed that it has more than 3,000 open dockets on its books, many of which “have seen little or no activity in years.” No surprise there. Conjuring dark images of Docket Death Panels, the Commission ominously opined that “some open dockets may be candidates for termination.” The Commission then proposed to authorize its Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) to “review all open dockets”, identify “candidate[s] for termination”, consult with the relevant Bureaus and then, WHACK, pull the plug on dockets in which, for example, “no further action is required or contemplated.”
Fast forward to February, 2011. In a similarly low-key order, the Commission did indeed empower CGB to euthanize what the FCC now characterized euphemistically as “dormant proceedings”. In doing so it gave CGB virtually no guidance to help it identify such proceedings. Candidates for termination with prejudice “might include dockets in which no further action is required or contemplated and dockets in which no pleadings or other documents have been filed for several years” – but would not ordinarily include “proceedings in which petitions addressing the merits are pending”, unless the parties consent.
Armed with that nebulous mandate, CGB has released for comment its initial list of “dormant proceedings” which, absent objection, will be summarily flushed down the tubes in a couple of months. That list is set out in a 97-page table containing more than 1,000 separate line entries. When you dig into them (see below for how you can do this – the process is not as simple as you might think), you find that a fair number of those individual line entries in turn contain as many as 30 or 40 separate and distinct items. From a casual back-of-the-hand calculation, we’d say that CGB is proposing to dump somewhere close to 1,500 separate and distinct proceedings.
So the FCC could be relieving itself of up to half of its open dockets with little more than a single perfunctory notice.
One question: When can we get CGB to come to our office to work its magic with our backlog?Continue Reading...
EAS: FCC Asks Questions, Suggests Extension Of CAP Compliance May Be In Store, Sets Date For National Test
Deadlines for comments on Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking now set: comments due July 20, replies August 4; Nation-wide test set for November 9
The future of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) is here . . . almost. With the release of a Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (3rd FNPRM), the Commission has raised a welter of questions which, once resolved, should set the penultimate stage between the 20th Century’s Emergency Broadcast System and the 21st Century’s Next Generation EAS (NG-EAS). Perhaps the most important immediate question for broadcasters: should the current September 30, 2011 deadline for implementing the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) for emergency messaging be extended? (Hint: In view of the number of open questions, the preferred answer is “Yes”.) The deadlines for comments on that and the rest of the questions posed by the Commission have now been announced.
And on a separate but related note, the date for the long-awaited national EAS test – which we wrote about back in February – has now been set. Mark your calendars: November 9, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. EST. (Everybody take note: that date occurs just after the switch back to standard time.)
The process of converting from old-school, broadcast-centric EAS to a more ambitious NG-EAS, which will feature simultaneous messaging across multiple platforms (including cellular, internet, satellite and cable television providers, as well as broadcast radio and TV), has been in the works for several years. (Check out this post for more details.) The goal is to implement the CAP across the board. CAP is “an open, interoperable, data interchange format for collecting and distributing all-hazard safety notifications and emergency warnings to multiple information networks, public safety alerting systems, and personal communications devices.” It’s part of the federal government’s deployment of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).
Plain language: The Commission wants to move emergency messaging from the historic but limited analog approach to a digital system that can take advantage of all modes of electronic communication.Continue Reading...
Well, that didn’t take long. Barely a week after the release of the CALM Act Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, that NPRM has been published in the Federal Register. As a result, we now have comment/reply comment deadlines to pass along. Mark your calendars: comments are due July 5, 2011, and reply comments are due July 18.
As we noted in our post describing the NPRM, it’s probably best not to expect any extensions of these deadlines. Despite the fact that it took five months to crank out the NPRM, the Commission’s now in hurry-up mode, presumably because of the deadline that Congress imposed on the Commission. Under the CALM Act, the FCC has until mid-December to wrap the proceeding up and adopt new rules intended to put the kibosh on loud commercials. That means that, as of July 18 (the close of the reply comment period), the Commission will have a scant five months to get the job done. The pressure’s on.Continue Reading...
FCC NPRM seeks input on implementation of legislation targeting “loud commercials”
As we noted back in December, when the President signed the CALM Act into law, the action on the loud commercial front shifted from Congress to the FCC. The CALM Act, intended to lower the volume (or more accurately, the “loudness”) of commercials on television, did not itself change any rules. Instead, the Act merely instructed the FCC to change the rules. To move things along quickly, Congress spelled out, in considerably more detail than is often the case, just how the Commission is supposed to lower the Cone of Silence onto the TV industry (including broadcasters and MVPDs) – and Congress imposed a tight schedule for getting things done. Now, nearly six months later, with the issuance of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) the FCC has taken its first formal step toward meeting that schedule.
If you’re not up to speed on all this, you can find a number of posts tracking the history of the CALM Act here.Continue Reading...
When you agree to pay a fine, the FCC really does expect you to pay the fine.
It turns out that, sometimes, the job’s not over even after the paperwork is done. An AM licensee found that out the hard way when it got slapped with a $25,000 notice of apparent liability for failing to take care of a couple of items on a to-do list that it had promised the Enforcement Bureau it would take care of.
The story starts back in 2005, when the licensee (real name: “A Radio Company, Inc.”) received a notice of apparent liability for a short laundry list of problems, including incomplete public file, inadequate tower fencing, and operating with unauthorized facilities (seems the directional AM was using its daytime directional pattern at night). Total damage: $15,000.
The licensee dickered over the details and managed to get the fine backed down a grand (in 2007), but it kept the ball in play by appealing parts of the remaining $14K fine. In 2008, the licensee entered into a Consent Decree with the Enforcement Bureau that shaved another $6,000 off the bottom line. So at that point the licensee was looking at an $8,000 fine, a bit more than half the original amount. According to the Consent Decree, all the licensee had to do was pay the fine, set up a “Compliance Plan” designed to prevent future violations, and file three (count ’em, three) “compliance reports” with the Commission – one 90 days after the Consent Decree, the second a year after, the third two years after – confirming that the Compliance Plan was up and running. Good deal, right?
Apparently not good enough.Continue Reading...
And so it begins . . . on Friday the 13th.
A couple of weeks ago we reported about Congressional interest in FCC process reform, and the likelihood that hearings on that subject might be just around the corner. And sure enough – the Communications Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has announced that it will hold a hearing on FCC Process Reform, May 13 at 9:30 a.m. (if you’re in town and want to pop in for a look-see, stop on by Room 2123 in Rayburn Building). Note that this is a rescheduling – the hearing was originally set for May 3. The listed witnesses are Chairman Genachowski and the four commissioners.
As noted in our earlier report, Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) believes basic reforms can be addressed in a “positive and constructive way.” With issues such as net neutrality, merger review (AT&T/T-Mobile anyone?) and agency sunshine rules in play, the upcoming hearing will provide an early public test of that theory.
More signs of the need for a fresh approach to copyright licensing for audiovisual content
In recent months I’ve suggested – here and here, for example – that changes in the video delivery landscape around us demand a good, hard look at the various laws which govern transmission and, especially, retransmission of audiovisual content usually seen on television. It’s fair to say that, while I don’t advocate any particular approach, I support change that brings the various laws in this area into line with the viewing habits of an increasing amount of television watchers.
But that would entail a herculean effort involving potential changes to the regulations of two major government agencies: the FCC and the Copyright Office. The FCC would be looking, or re-looking, at such things as the definition of an MVPD as well as rules governing must carry, retransmission consent, fin/syn and program exclusivity. The Copyright Office would have to examine its regs covering cable and satellite compulsory licenses. Changes there and elsewhere would have to be justified in light of actual evidence that the media delivery landscape is changing. (I’m sold on this, but – if you can believe this – the Administrative Procedure Act requires more than my personal stamp of approval).
So that’s why I’m happy to see signs of serious inquiry on two fronts.
One such sign is the FCC’s Further Notice of Inquiry in the Matter of Annual Assessment of the Status of Competition in the Market for the Delivery of Video Programming (FNOI), released on April 21. On its face, this is a pretty mundane request by the FCC for information relating to competition in the video marketplace. In fact, it’s the Commission’s 14th annual review since Congress first directed the FCC to conduct such reviews back in the 1992 Cable Act.Continue Reading...
Remember last Spring, when the FCC issued its proposed 2010 reg fees and they had all gone down from the previous year, so we got all excited, and then when the final 2010 fees were announced, they had gone back up again and we were disappointed? Good news! This year, the FCC is sparing us that emotional whipsaw. It has just released its proposed 2011 regulatory fees, and with only few exceptions, they reflect increases – in some cases, significant increases – over last year’s numbers. This way, we won’t be surprised and disappointed in a couple of months when the final fees are announced.
While pretty much everybody’s fees are proposed to go up, the folks who would get hit hardest are full service UHF TV in Markets 11-25 and Market 26-50. Their fees would increase by 9.5% and 10.8%, respectively. We have prepared a table reflecting the proposed 2011 reg fees here. The numbers in parentheses reflect the amount of the proposed changes from last year’s fees – as a visual aid, we have indicated proposed fee increases in red, and proposed reductions in cool green.
As always, the Commission is giving everybody a chance to comment on this year’s proposed fees, but you’ll have to act fast. The deadline for comments on the proposed fees is May 24, 2011; reply comments may be filed through June 1.
This year’s notice includes a couple of noteworthy points.Continue Reading...
Additional proposals for increased reporting after ex parte meetings out for comment
Folks trying to get their way at the Commission routinely engage in what we professionals refer to as “ex parte” contacts – which usually consist of face-to-face, one-on-one meetings with Commissioners or Commission staff. Such meetings theoretically provide an up close and personal opportunity for the outside party to pitch its side of some issue to the regulators.
Ex parte meetings can be useful, but they also can be problematic from the perspective of due process and fairness. The term “ex parte”, after all, derives from the Latin for “one-sided”. If the issue which the private party is pitching in the meetings is contested, what are the chances that the other side of that issue will be fairly and accurately presented? (Non-FCC illustration: how would you feel if you found out that your soon-to-be-ex-spouse had had a private tête-à-tête with the judge presiding over your hotly-contested divorce case?)
In order to assure itself maximum access to potentially useful information (through, e.g., ex parte contacts) while still preserving at least the illusion of fairness and openness in the decision-making, the Commission has crafted a number of rules to govern the ex parte process. Those rules prohibit ex parte contacts in certain types of proceedings; in other types, such contacts are permitted as long as the private party follows up the meeting by submitting a notice summarizing the gist of the meeting (including any written materials that might have been handed out during the meeting). That notice is then placed in the FCC’s public files so that, theoretically, anyone with an interest in the proceeding at issue will be alerted to the meeting.
As happens periodically, the Commission has now adopted new rules clarifying, and expanding, the post-ex parte disclosure requirements. Although the Commission announced the new rules back in February, they aren’t scheduled to take effect until June 1. (A couple of the changes involve “information collections” and, as a result, won’t be effective until approved by the Office of Management and Budget.) Additionally, the Commission has proposed further changes to those requirements.Continue Reading...
Key Congressional figures signal interest in examining the way the FCC does business
Have any thoughts on how the FCC could operate better? Increasingly, a number of influential members of Congress seem to believe they do. Momentum continues to build on Capitol Hill for reform of the Federal Communications Commission with recent statements – and hints of action – from key members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Speaking at the American Cable Association’s annual summit on April 13, House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden suggested there would be a hearing and movement on legislation on FCC reform in the near future. Expectations are that the five FCC commissioners will be called to testify before the subcommittee within a few weeks of Congress’ return from recess.
Walden made a strong pitch for Congress to actively oversee the agency, stating: “Failure to do that only gives them license to do other things they don't have the authority to do.” Walden, of course, introduced a House-passed resolution to invalidate, as an overreach of FCC authority, the Commission’s recent net neutrality rules.
Walden expressed his belief that both the Democrat and Republican FCC commissioners agree on the basic need to improve how the agency functions (see, e.g., “Copps, Commissioner, sunshine rules” and “Baker, Commissioner, merger review”) and that such reform can be done in a “positive and constructive way”.
And Walden is not alone in his interest in Commission process reform.Continue Reading...
Thanks to Paperwork Reduction Act, public file rule now out for comment
Here’s a surprise! The FCC has invited comments on whether or not the local public inspection file requirement is really necessary. Since the Commission has assiduously ignored – for more than five years – a petition for rulemaking seeking the abolition of those requirements, this invitation should puzzle some and thrill others.
As it turns out, the obligations imposed by the public file rules constitute “information collections” (in the parlance of our old friend, the Paperwork Reduction Act), and we all know what that means: periodically (like every three years) the FCC must justify such requirements to the Office of Management and Budget. The current OMB approval is set to expire on September 30, 2011, which means that, if the Commission plans to keep those rules on the books, it’s got to re-justify the rules to OMB’s satisfaction. That process entails two opportunities for public comment stretching over at least 90 days. With less than 180 days to go before expiration, the FCC has now started that process.
Unlike other Commission proceedings that get kicked off with much fanfare – public notices, Commissioners hailing “vibrancy”, “robustness”, “transparency” and the like, maybe even a webcast or blog – this one is more like a stealth item wrapped in an invisibility cloak flying under the radar. So far all we’ve seen is a blander-than-bland Federal Register announcement.
But that doesn’t mean that the party hasn’t started, so come on down.Continue Reading...
Copyright, Content Distribution And Technological Innovation: The Need To Re-Think The Compulsory Licensing System
Signs point to tensions between the laws of the past and the technology of the present and future
Not to go all chicken little on you, but the world may be coming to an end – the world of copyright and compulsory licensing as we have known it for the past several decades, that is. I’ve been following the evolution of content delivery across all platforms (including the legal systems which underlie content delivery), and have in recent months noted a recurring theme: the legal rules governing delivery of content – and audiovisual programming, especially – are falling farther and farther behind the state of the technological art. Traffic rules developed during the horse-and-buggy days don’t really help anybody in an age of superhighways and high-performance cars. So maybe it’s time for legislators and regulators to roll up their sleeves and get to work developing a copyright licensing system for the 21st Century.
Examples? How about online streaming providers ivi, Inc. and Filmon.com, who have been trying to cram the square peg notion of an “on-line cable system” into the round hole system of traditional compulsory licensing. They’re clearly outliers making long shot attempts to revolutionize television viewing. From a legal standpoint they’re still on the outside looking in, as both have been told by federal courts that they are not acting within the boundaries of the Copyright Act. Yet, as we reported on these cases, we prophesied that ivi.Inc and Filmon.com may simply be ahead of their time.
Our predictions weren’t far off the mark.Continue Reading...
Tach it up! Tach it up! FCC moves to DefCon1 in anticipation of government shutdown
We’ve posted a couple of alerts about the possible shutdown of the federal government and the effect that that could have on licensees (read them here and here). Now the FCC itself is getting into the act. It has just posted on its website a “Plan for Orderly Shutdown Due to Lapse of Congressional Appropriations”. The Commission’s plan allots a total of four hours to complete “orderly” shutdown procedures. (The clock on that four-hour period apparently will start with the issuance of a “notice of decision to furlough” that will be emailed to all Commission employees to be sent home. Comforting factoid: All five Commissioners will stay on board through the shutdown.)
Proposed changes, and consequent delays, may stick in some craws
Looking to build a new tower, or maybe make changes to an existing tower? If your proposal involves an antenna structure that requires an Antenna Structure Registration (ASR), you can expect delays ahead if new procedures recently proposed by the Commission are adopted.
This latest development is just one more wrinkle in the years-long effort by a number of bird-loving groups to force the Commission to consider the impact of its ASR program on birds. We have written about that effort – which the birders appear to be winning – previously. The Commission is already in the middle of its own (court-ordered) Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) relative to the ASR program. And while the Commission wades through the PEA process, it is now proposing new processing rules and interim procedures designed to give the public an opportunity to comment on proposed ASR-dependent towers (and proposed changes to existing towers) even before they’re formally proposed!
All of this is set out in a Public Notice recently published in the Federal Register.Continue Reading...
“Incentive Auction Incentive Program” could eliminate need for Congressional authorization
Proving yet again that where there’s a will, there’s a way, the FCC has announced that it is proceeding with incentive auctions “promptly”. This is noteworthy, of course, because Congress still hasn’t gotten around to authorizing the sharing of auction proceeds – and the conventional wisdom has been that, without such authority, incentive auctions were a non-starter.
So much for the conventional wisdom.
As outlined in a public notice, the Commission has devised a novel work-around: an Incentive Auction Incentive Program. Instead of promising broadcasters actual cash payments from auction proceeds in return for relinquishing their spectrum, the FCC will offer its own currency, “in the form of scrip”, which can then be redeemed for various “non-cash resources” already available to the Commission.Continue Reading...
Three weeks ago we reported on the release of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) addressing the thorny issue of retransmission consent. With the publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register, the deadlines for comments and reply comments have now been set. Comments are due by May 27, 2011; reply comments are due by June 27, 2011. Additionally, if you would like to comment on the “information collection” aspects of the Commission’s proposals (in connection with the Paperwork Reduction Act), you have until May 27, 2011. Check out the Federal Register notice for details.
A week or two ago we reported on the release of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which will lead eventually to the reimposition of video description rules. Those rules have been effectively mandated by Congress, so it’s just a matter of when, not whether, they will return. Still, anyone hoping to influence the ultimate shape of the video description rules – and that universe could include TV broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors, among others – may submit comments or reply comments in response to the NPRM. And with the publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register, the deadlines for comments and reply comments have now been set. Comments are due by April 18, 2011; reply comments are due by May 17, 2011.
Additionally, if you would like to comment on the “information collection” aspects of the Commission’s proposals (in connection with the Paperwork Reduction Act), you have until May 17, 2011.
Initial deadline: April 5, 2011
If you’re a TV licensee providing over-the-air feeds to one or more distant translator/LPTV/Class A stations, cable head-ends or satellite local receive sites, heads up. You need to act soon if you want reception of your signal at those sites to be protected from unlicensed devices operating in the TV band. April 5, 2011 is the deadline for TV stations with receive sites more than 80 kilometers beyond their protected contour to seek a waiver of the Commission’s geographic limitation to be able to register such receive locations. Note: this is a one-time-only opportunity.
Back in 2008, when the Commission adopted rules to govern the operation of unlicensed devices in the so-called “TV white spaces”, it sought to protect existing TV operations by establishing a database in which certain locations requiring protection could be registered. While receive locations that happen to be within a TV station’s protected service area were already routinely protected, that wasn’t the case for receive sites serving distant TV translator/LPTV/Class A TV stations, satellite or cable (MVPD) services, all of which deliver the signal to viewers outside the originating station’s protected contour. The Commission decided to protect, within reasonable bounds, the ability of such stations and services to receive programming over-the-air for retransmission. “Within reasonable bounds” in this context meant within 80 kilometers of the originating TV station’s protected contour. Translator/LPTV/Class A stations and MVPD services with receive sites so located were thus allowed to register their sites in the TV bands device database.Continue Reading...
At Congress’s direction, Copyright Office opens inquiry on alternatives to compulsory licenses
While much attention in the MVPD/broadcaster world has recently been focused on the FCC’s inquiry into possible changes to the retransmission consent process, a separate proceeding is cranking up over at the Copyright Office that could eventually lead to far more fundamental changes to the must-carry/retrans system. The Copyright Office is exploring the possible elimination of the compulsory copyright licenses that form the core of the system that determines how, and by whom, over-the-air broadcast programming can be retransmitted. So while the FCC may be contemplating various changes, significant or otherwise, within the existing box, the Copyright Office is not just thinking outside that box; rather, it’s contemplating a situation in which that box no longer exists at all.
Are we surprised? Not at all (and not just because we have predicted eventual changes in this area as television delivery methods continue to evolve). Anyone familiar with the minutiae of STELA (i.e., the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010) has seen this coming, because a provision (Section 302, if you’re looking) in STELA ordered the Copyright Office to report on possible “mechanisms” or “methods” that might be used to “phase-out” compulsory licensing requirements. Are we scared? Not really, since this is just a very preliminary step in a process that might go nowhere.
Nevertheless, when a majority of both Houses of Congress makes noises about “phasing-out” the compulsory licenses, attention should be paid.Continue Reading...
FCC looks to resuscitate rules rejected by Court in 2002 – but unlike last time, the rules now have Congress’s explicit blessing
They’re baaaaack . . . almost. The video description rules, dealt a death blow by a federal appeals court nearly a decade ago, are one step closer to resurrection with the release of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) looking to their reimposition.
As we reported previously, the FCC’s original video description rules were struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2002. According to the Court, the FCC did not have the requisite statutory authority to impose such rules. (Quick refresher course on video description: it’s a process that gives blind and visually impaired people a way to “watch” video programming by adding a spoken narrative describing the visual elements of a scene during natural pauses in dialog. Example: “Workers throw Kane’s belongings into a burning furnace. One item is a sled with the word ‘Rosebud’ stenciled on it.”)
In light of the 2002 decision, only Congress has the power to rescue the rules by granting the Commission the authority it was (and has since been) lacking. Congress did so last October, in a sweeping omnibus disabilities law: the “21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.” (Back then we coined the abbreviation “21CenComVidAccAct”, but the FCC has since opted for “CVAA”. Even though the FCC’s choice of abbreviation seems a bit too abbreviated – what century are we talking about again? – we’ll bow to their will and use “CVAA”. )Continue Reading...
Last month we reported on the steps the Commission has taken toward conducting a national test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Those steps include revisions to Section 11.61(a)(3) necessary to flesh out some of the details of the unprecedented national testing process. The revised rule was spelled out in Appendix B to the Third Report and Order (Third R&O). And now it’s been published in the Federal Register.
The notice as published indicates that the Third R&O is effective as of the date of publication, i.e., March 8, 2011. Presumably that means the revised Section 11.61(a)(3) is now effective, although the Third R&O didn't include the usual paragraph specifically identifying the rule's official effective date. But not to worry: any question about the precise meaning of the Federal Register publication is almost certainly of no practical consequence because the revised rule does not impose any immediate obligations on EAS participants (except, of course, to stand ready for the FCC's eventual announcement of the national EAS test).
FCC proposes modest – but possibly significant – changes to rules regulating MVPD/broadcaster retransmission consent negotiations
The long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) addressing the thorny issue of retransmission consent has been released. When it comes to the ebb and flow of the on-going debate about the retrans system, some had hoped that the Commission might jump into the deep end while others had hoped that it would stay comfortably high and dry in the lifeguard’s chair – but it looks like the FCC isn’t inclined toward either of those options. Instead, it proposes, in effect, to dip its toe, maybe even roll up its pants to wade in a bit. In other words, even if some change in the retransmission consent negotiation process is possible, the likely scope of the change on the immediate horizon appears limited.
Then again, the Commission has invited comments, so who knows where this may end up?
Retransmission consent is one component of the perennial tug-of-war between television broadcasters and multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs, i.e., cable, satellite systems, and the like) relative to carriage of broadcast programming on MVPD systems. Broadcasters periodically elect either “must carry” or “retransmission consent” status. Must carry status more or less guarantees carriage within the stations’ local markets, but without compensation to the broadcaster for such carriage.
By contrast, retransmission consent allows broadcasters to negotiate for compensation for carriage, the risk being that carriage must cease if the parties can’t come to terms. Occasionally a broadcaster and a cable operator fail to reach an agreement; in that case, the cable operator must cease carriage of the station at issue, which in turn deprives cable subscribers of cable-fed access to the programming (including, in some instances, high profile items like the World Series, football play-offs, special award shows and the like). This typically results in a burst of consumer outrage, a bout of finger pointing between the cable operator and broadcaster, and a round of concerned statements from elected officials and the FCC.Continue Reading...
Effective date TBD
On the same day that it was cranking out hundreds of pages of Very Important Documents (including an NPRM on retransmission consent, a Report and Order on rural radio and related items concerning spectrum opportunities for Native Americans, updated rules governing accessibility for citizens with disabilities), the Commission also managed to slip out, with virtually no fanfare, a new schedule of application fees. It’s been more than two and a half years since the last revision to that schedule was announced. Since the Commission is required to review its fees every two years, this latest update is a tad late – but the last revision didn’t take effect until April, 2009, so if things move smoothly this time around, the process should be back on its biennial track.
It should come as no surprise to anybody that, at least on the broadcast side, almost all fees will be going up. In general, the increases are in the 3%-3.5% range – a figure tied to the Consumer Price Index. Note, however, that the fees for Ownership Reports ($60 per station), call sign changes ($95 per change), TV Translator/LPTV renewals ($60 per application) and AM remote control applications ($60 per) won’t be changing at all.
The Commission’s announcement left up in the air precisely when the new rates will kick in. Historically, this is where the fun begins. Long-time readers may remember our “Pursestrings” series of posts, starting in September, 2008, and stretching out until mid-May, 2009. That series began with a simple announcement that new fees had been adopted and would be taking effect 90 days after notice of them was given to Congress. Easier said than done, apparently. After a number of odd twists and turns, those fees didn’t take effect until April 28, 2009, and weren’t incorporated into CDBS’s fee calculator until a couple of weeks after that. Read all about it in our archives.
This year’s notice specifies that the effective date of the rates will be 30 days after the order is published in the Federal Register. Perhaps so, but Section 158(b) of the Communications Act appears to require that the Commission notify Congress of application fee adjustments “not later than 90 days before the effective date”. Since the announcement of the new schedule is included in an Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, with the comment dates on the proposed rulemaking portion tied to Federal Register publication, our guess is that the Commission would like to get that order into the Register sooner rather than later. But if the order is published less than 90 days before notice of the new fees is sent to Congress, . . . well, you see where this could end up. We’ll keep an eye out for developments. Check back here for updates.
If you’ve been paying attention to the inexorable march of the STELA amendments, you will recall that the rule changes adopted by the Commission last November (on an expedited basis, at Congress’s behest) took effect in December and January, EXCEPT for the new version of Section 73.686(e). That last piece of the puzzle involves the procedures for measuring the field strength of digital television signals. Because it involves an “information collection”, it’s got to go through the standard Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) drill before it can become effective.
Step One in the drill: the FCC invites PRA-related comments on the revised rule. Step Two: the FCC bundles up the proposed rule with any comments that get filed and ships the package over to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Step Three: OMB invites more comments. Step Four (best case scenario, FCC-wise): OMB approves the new rules. Step Five: the FCC announces the approval, and the rule takes effect.
Where are we on Section 73.686(e)? Step One. In a notice in the Federal Register, the Commission has spread the word that comments on that proposal may be filed with the Commission until April 19, 2011. (If you’re keeping track, that means that that particular rule isn’t likely to take effect until June or thereabouts, at the earliest.)
A week or so ago the FCC released a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (R&O) addressing changes in its ex parte rules – an area so arcane that even we here at CommLawBlog have refrained from blogging about it so far. The R&O is a healthy 37-page item, complete with a detailed table of contents that looked like this when it was originally issued:
But now the Commission’s General Counsel has issued a one-page Erratum, the sole stated purpose of which is to “correct[ ] the paragraph numbers listed in the Table of Contents of the R&O.” The corrected version is reproduced below:
We’re glad they took the time to get that all straightened out . . .
A couple of days ago we reported on the Commission’s announced plans to conduct a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System. Those plans include a required report that all participants will have to file once the test has been conducted – but (as we also reported) the Commission’s order were, um, a bit unclear when it came to when the report might be due. (“Unclear” in the sense that at some points the order said the report was due within 30 days of the test, while at other points the due date was said to be within 45 days of the test.) Just as we predicted, the Commission has now issued an Erratum clearing up that particular question. Answer: 45 days after the test.
“Only” a test? Maybe so, but it’s a first-of-its-kind NATIONAL test.
If all goes as planned, sometime later this year it’s at least theoretically possible that we may hear the President himself reach out to all of us through the Emergency Alert System (EAS) for the very first time. Which is odd, because for nearly two decades the EAS has been available (as was its predecessor, the Emergency Broadcast System, for still more decades) to enable the President to do just that. Even so, the nationwide capability of the EAS has never been formally tested (with or without the participation of the Commander-in-Chief). But now, as part of its overall review of the EAS, the Commission has adopted a Third Report and Order (3rd R&O) which will, among other changes, lead to the first-ever national test of the EAS.
Weekly and monthly EAS tests and EAS activations at the state and local level have for years been SOP for EAS participants, “EAS participants” being a broad universe including broadcasters, cable operators, direct broadcast satellite operators and others. But there has never been a national test (much less an actual nationwide activation, thank goodness) of the EAS. About a year ago, acknowledging the need for “top-to-bottom” national testing of EAS to ensure that the system would in fact work should the necessity arise, the Commission issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) looking to establish practices for nationwide testing. The 3rd R&O is the result.Continue Reading...
Inadvertent errors in applications draw $20K fine for Cricket
FCC enforcement procedures continue to baffle us.
Take the case of Cricket Communications. They are a cell phone company, as you probably know – their ads are hard to miss. To move their phone traffic from place to place, they operate dozens of microwave stations. The FCC rules require licenses for these. If you want one, you have to apply for it, but you need not wait for the license to be granted. Rather, you can begin operating as soon as the application is filed, assuming certain conditions are met. Once the FCC does grant the license, the licensee has 18 months to get its station built and on the air (if it isn’t already), and has 15 days beyond that to certify to the FCC that it has done so. Without that certification, the license cancels automatically.
Cricket had trouble with two of its microwave licenses.
As to one, it filed the construction certification on time, stating it had built the station within the 18 months allowed. But it later found the certification was in error, and had to amend. The new certification showed it had built and begun using the station much earlier, before it had even filed the license application. That amounts to unauthorized operation, which is a violation of FCC rules.
As to the other license, Cricket got the contents of the construction certificate right the first time. But it filed the certificate late, after the 18-months-plus-15-days had elapsed. And this certificate likewise showed that operation had commenced before the application was on file.
The Enforcement Bureau has proposed a fine of $20,000, which is exactly the expected penalty for two instances of unauthorized operation.
That should be the end of the story.Continue Reading...
Comcast panel denies Verizon motion to assign net neutrality appeal to it
Well, that didn’t take long. On February 2, less than two weeks after Verizon filed its unusual motion asking that its appeal of the net neutrality decision be assigned to the same panel that trashed the Commission in the Comcast opinion last April, that panel has denied the motion. Don’t count on sifting through a detailed opinion to obtain subtle nuances of potential significance. The panel’s order consists of a single sentence: “Upon consideration of the appellant’s motion to assign the case to the panel that decided Comcast Corp. v. FCC, it is ordered that the motion be denied.”
Verizon’s appellate strategy has thus suffered a serious blow, but an important element of that strategy is still alive, at least for the time being. Its “notice of appeal” is still pending, although the FCC has moved to dismiss that as well. If the Court denies the FCC’s motion to dismiss and accepts the appeal, then Verizon will at least have secured review by the D.C. Circuit (as opposed to any other federal circuit court of appeals). Chances of that happening? You never know. (Note that the legal arguments underlying Verizon’s “notice of appeal” are separate and distinct from those advanced in its motion for the Comcast panel. In other words, the denial of the latter is not necessarily the kiss of death for the former.)
And even if the Court grants the FCC’s motion and tosses Verizon’s appeal on the theory that Verizon jumped the gun, Verizon will still presumably be able to file a “petition for review” along with any other party unhappy with the net neutrality order once that order is published in the Federal Register. But there is no guarantee that that review proceeding would necessarily end up in the D.C. Circuit. Check back here for updates as developments warrant.
(Blogmeister’s Note: FHH Telecom Law welcomes back guest commentator Catherine McCullough. This month she provides her perspective on the impact recent committee appointments are likely to have on communications issues in the 112th Congress. Catherine is a principal in Meadowbrook Strategic Government Relations, LLC and a specialist in Congressional relations.)
January is over, and the House and Senate Committees that oversee telecom issues have officially organized – issuing full lists of members, deciding on the rules by which the committees will work, and dividing up the budgets between Democrats and Republicans (thus setting the tone for how well the parties will work together in the 112th Congress).
So what will the legislative priorities of these committees be? The two themes of love and money – constituent votes and budget issues – that we identified in an earlier post still dominate. However, now that we know who all of the players are, including the subcommittee chairs, we can take these policymakers’ legislative pasts into account, and perhaps identify which specific bills we should see introduced in the coming months.Continue Reading...
Four months after adopting them, the FCC is already clarifying its CableCARD rules
Remember last October, when the Commission hustled through a rulemaking aimed at encouraging the use of consumer-owned “CableCARD” devices for accessing MVPD services? The FCC has decided that the rules it adopted less than four months ago could already use some tweaking. The tweaks, contained in a terse “Order on Reconsideration” issued sua sponte (translation: on the FCC’s own motion), appear designed to correct some looseness in the regulatory language.
For example, the original Order’s requirement that cable operators provide access to bandwidth-efficient “switched digital video” (SDV) programming could be read to apply not just to cable operators and devices subject to the CableCARD rules, but to ALL cable operators and ALL set-top boxes. Since the FCC didn’t intend the rule to be that sweeping, the text has been tightened up.
A similar fate befell the rule preventing MVPD operators from subsidizing the cost of operator-provided set-top boxes through the imposition of service fees on subscribers who own their own boxes. As originally written, the rule appeared to protect any subscriber who happened to own a set-top box of any kind, even if that box was not going to be used to access the MVPD’s programming. The rule has now been clarified to specify that the anti-subsidization provision applies only if the subscriber-owned box is used in lieu of operator-provided gear.Continue Reading...
2011 threshold triggers for federal scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions announced
Broadcasters and telecommunications operators contemplating possible deals for the coming year should remember that, as far as the federal government is concerned, there may be such a thing as Too Big. The Feds will step in to review an anticipated deal for potential antitrust problems if the deal exceeds certain threshold dollar amounts. The law mandates that those threshold amounts be revised every year for inflation. The 2011 thresholds have just been announced, and will take effect on February 24, 2011. If your deal exceeds one of the revised thresholds, you should plan for increased government scrutiny, with all the additional hassle, expense and delay that such scrutiny entails.
Under federal antitrust law, certain mergers or acquisitions which exceed the specified thresholds must be submitted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice for Uncle Sam’s review before the transaction can be consummated. (The theoretical basis for federal concern here: any transaction big enough to pass the thresholds is presumably big enough to affect interstate commerce.) The government’s internal process for adjusting these thresholds – based on the traditional measure of the gross national product – has been on the books for decades.
The newly-adjusted thresholds require pre-transaction notification if either:
- the total value of the transaction exceeds $263,800,000; or
- the total value of the transaction exceeds $66 million and one party to the deal has total assets of at least $13.2 million (or, if a manufacturer, has $13.2 million in annual net sales) and the other party has net sales or total assets of at least $131.9 million.
When negotiating deals, all parties would be well-advised to bear these thresholds in mind. Once those lines are crossed, the prospect of additional time, expense and hassle to navigate the federal review process is a virtual certainty.
Another appellate round before the Comcast panel? Could be, if Verizon gets its way
Wasting no time, Verizon has taken a bold move designed to herd the next round of appeals in the Net Neutrality proceeding back before the same panel of judges who slammed the FCC in the Comcast decision last April. Verizon has filed a “notice of appeal” with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit relative to the Commission’s latest Net Neutrality decision. That alone might raise some eyebrows. But taking it one step further, Verizon has filed a separate motion asking that the Comcast panel be assigned to Verizon’s appeal.
Appellate litigation aficionados take note.Continue Reading...
C-SPAN calls on CommLawBlog contributor
If you had the bad judgment to stick with the Saints-Seahawks game on Saturday of Wildcard Weekend, you may have missed our friend and occasional contributor, Catherine McCullough, who appeared on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators” program. Catherine was one of two former Hill staffers (and current lobbyists) discussing likely developments in telecom and technology policy in the 112th Congress. (If you did miss it, no worries – the whole 30-minute show is available at C-SPAN’s site.) Props to C-SPAN for its excellent judgment in bringing Catherine on.
Props, too, to Catherine for her useful insights. No surprise there, though – regular readers of CommLawBlog are accustomed to such insight from Ms. M. Check out her previous posts here, here and here.
And speaking of our readers, we couldn’t help but notice how the C-SPAN moderator set up his opening question of the program: “You wrote in a recent blog on CommLawBlog.com . . .” Hey, that’s us! Schweeet! Needless to say, we’re grateful for the shout-out, and we’re happy to be a go-to place for folks like C-SPAN who want to stay on top of developments in the law of communications.
The final element of the Commission’s late November STELA trilogy has been published in the Federal Register. As we reported last month, at Congress’s behest the Commission rammed through a number of revisions to its rules relative to satellite carriage of broadcast programming. One set of changes involved the signal strength measurement procedures used to determine the actual – as opposed to the predicted – DTV signal at any specific location. The Report and Order setting out those changes has now made it into the Federal Register, which in turn establishes their effective date: January 27, 2011. (Note, however, that because Section 73.686(e) requires prior OMB approval, that section will not become effective on that date.)
As we reported the day before Thanksgiving, the Commission – acting at Congress’s direction – adopted a number of changes in its rules relating to satellite carriage of broadcast programming. Included among the FCC’s actions was a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (R&O/FNPRM) in which the Commission addressed prediction of digital TV field strength levels at particular locations. (Such predictions are an important factor when it comes to carriage of “significantly viewed” stations by satellite carriers.) The Commission adopted a modified Longley-Rice model, but also (in the FNPRM portion of its order) solicited comments on some further changes suggested by an earlier commenter. Among other things, the Commission is curious about the commenter’s suggestions relative to [WARNING: Intense techno-speak dead ahead; deploy shields as needed]: “1) calculation of diffraction loss close to an obstacle or leading up to and following a pair of obstacles and 2) a factual or scientific basis for explaining the additional losses in the line of sight range above and beyond the free space loss and two-ray-loss.”
The R&O/FNPRM has now been published in the Federal Register (in separate chunks: the R&O may be found here, and the FNPRM may be found here). That in turn sets the effective date of the changes adopted in the R&O and the comment deadlines for the FNPRM. The effective date is January 21, 2011. Comments in response to the FNPRM are due by January 21, 2011, and reply comments by February 7, 2011.
CALM Act signed by President
It’s official! President Obama signed the CALM Act on December 15, so it’s now the Law of the Land. Fans of the new law wishing to show their appreciation are encouraged to applaud quietly, with any cheers kept to “indoor voice” levels. Opponents can grimace all they want – just keep the noise down, please.
For those of you who have been walking around with cotton stuffed in your ears (to avoid loud commercials on TV) and who may, as a result, have missed out on the background of the CALM Act, you can check out our posts on the matter here. But don’t be throwing all that cotton away just yet. While the Act has now made it through the peristalsis that is the legislative process, that means only that Congress and the White House have dumped the hot potato of loud commercials onto the FCC’s lap. It’s now up to the FCC to change its rules to incorporate the remedy prescribed by the Act, and then it will be up to video providers to bring themselves into compliance. The Act gives the FCC a year to get its part of the job done, and it gives video providers a year to get their own act together once the new rules are in place. Check back here for updates.
As we reported last month, the Commission – at Congress’s insistence – is gearing up to prepare a “Report on In-State Broadcast Programming”. Congress’s interest in this arose from claims that some satellite subscribers are wrongfully denied satellite access to broadcast stations located in the same state because the station and subscribers are in different DMAs. Those claims surfaced during the legislative deliberations leading up to the enactment of STELA, so Congress included a section in STELA specifically directing the Commission to check into the matter and report back.
The report, due to be submitted to Congress next August, will: (1) analyze the number of households in a state that receive the signals of local broadcast stations assigned to a community of license located in a different state; (2) evaluate the extent to which consumers in each local market have access to in-state broadcast programming over-the-air or from a multichannel video programming distributor; and (3) consider whether there are alternatives to DMAs to define “local” markets that would provide consumers with more in-state broadcast programming. The FCC will be looking to identify counties and associated populations within specific states that have limited access to in-state broadcast programming.
Also as we reported, the Commission issued a public notice requesting comments and reply comments to assist in the preparation of the report. The FCC’s public notice has now been published in the Federal Register, which sets the comment deadlines. Mark your calendars: comments are due by January 24, 2011 and reply comments are due by February 22, 2011.
At Chairman's insistence, Commission will vote on new net neutrality rules in December despite shaky legal foundations and opposition in Congress.
On December 1, Chairman Genachowski announced that he has circulated a draft net neutrality order to be voted on at the Commission’s December 21 meeting. While the draft has not been made public, the Chairman’s announcement provides some insight into its contents. Here is an overview of the Chairman’s proposed approach, the Commission’s authority to implement that approach, and the likelihood of its success.
The Proposed Rules
Genachowski’s remarks indicate that the current proposal is broadly similar to the one he introduced last Fall (you can read our report on that earlier effort here), with some refinements on specific issues like usage-based pricing and wireless. The draft is reportedly modeled on a net neutrality bill developed by departing House Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) earlier this Fall in an unsuccessful attempt to help the FCC out of its Comcast hole through legislative compromise. In particular, it appears that the proposed rules would include:
- a transparency provision, with a requirement to provide consumers with information regarding network management;
- a non-discrimination clause prohibiting the blocking of lawful content, apps, services, and devices as well as “unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic”. The non-discrimination clause would allow for “reasonable network management”, taking into account the nature of the network in determining what is reasonable; and
- some latitude for usage-based pricing to consumers and other measures to match price to cost.
For wireless, the proposal would include transparency and a “basic” no blocking rule. The FCC would monitor the mobile market and take such further steps as may be necessary to counteract any “anti-competitive” or “anti-consumer” behavior.Continue Reading...
CALM Act (S. 2847) passes Congress, heads to President for signature
The CALM Act (S. 2847) – aimed at preventing “loud” commercials – has negotiated its final legislative hurdle. By voice vote, the House has passed the bill with an amendment to correspond to the version the Senate passed back in October. The House was actually the first to act on the commercial-quieting bill a year ago. The Senate didn’t get around to it until October, at which point a new section was added. The amended bill then had to schlep back to the House for its consideration of the new section, with which the House apparently had no problems.
As a result, Congress’s work on the bill is done, so it’s time for the bill to toddle on over to the White House for the President’s signature, which appears to be a foregone conclusion.
Public support for the bill has reportedly been substantial. Broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors subject to its requirements may not be as pleased, though. The new law will require them all to comply with standards approved by the Advanced Television Systems Committee. Those standards have, up to this point, been characterized as mere “recommended practices”; once the President signs the CALM Act, those standards will be The Law.
Complying with the new law may entail acquisition and installation of potentially costly new equipment. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Act specifically provides for “financial hardship” waivers. (Of course, the fact that the prospect of “financial hardship” shows up at all at this early date in the process may be cause for some alarm, but let’s not over-react too quickly.)
When can broadcasters and MVPDs expect to see the new rules in place? The Act requires the FCC to have its rules amended consistently with the Act within one year of the Act’s enactment. The new rules in turn will become effective one year after their adoption by the Commission. So round about Christmas, 2012, we can expect all to be CALM.
At Court’s direction, FCC examining the environmental effects of its tower registration process
The worm is turning.
Having long required various applicants to undertake “Environmental Assessments” (EAs) in connection with their proposals, the Commission now finds itself in the unenviable position of having to do its own EA relative to the effects of its Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) Program on migratory birds. The Commission has kicked off its EA with a public notice announcing a series of three public meetings and an opportunity to submit written comments.
Not surprisingly, this is not something the FCC seems particularly eager to dash into. In fact, its obligation to perform the EA came about when the Commission lost a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit nearly three years ago – and before then, the issue of the impact of towers on birds (or vice versa) had already been a subject of considerable controversy for at least five years. In 2009 the Commission solicited comments on bird-related issues, and earlier this year a private compromise was reached by a number of tower-related groups and bird-related groups; that compromise was submitted to the FCC, which has taken no action on it to date.) But now, at long last, the Commission is moving forward to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The first step in this process is an EA, which is a preliminary investigation of the likely environmental impact of the ASR program. If the EA indicates that the program will result in no significant environmental effects, the Commission will issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (that’s right, a FONSI – not to be confused with Fonzie from Happy Days). But if the EA indicates that any “significant” environmental impacts might result from the ASR program, then the Commission must carry out a more extensive analysis – the dreaded Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Why has the FCC been sucked into the NEPA vortex?Continue Reading...
As we reported the day before Thanksgiving, the Commission – acting at Congress’s direction – adopted a number of changes in its rules relating to satellite carriage of broadcast programming. The changes relating to carriage of “significantly viewed” stations have now made it into the Federal Register, which means that those rules are slated to become effective on December 29, 2010. Effective dates for the other recent STELA-induced changes haven’t been set yet – check back here for updates.
FCC meets Congressionally-imposed Thanksgiving deadline for revised satellite carriage rules
As we reported last August, the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (you may know it better as “STELA”) – the legislation extending local station carriage rights for satellite providers – required the FCC to change certain of its rules relating to “significantly viewed” stations and “unserved households”. In response, the FCC dutifully, and quickly, launched proceedings to address those issues.
And now, a remarkably short four months later, the FCC has released three orders implementing the new rules. As a bonus, it has also given us a public notice requesting comments and data for an upcoming FCC report to Congress on the availability of in-state broadcast stations over satellite systems. For the most part, the orders simply put into the FCC’s rules the requirements laid out by STELA.Continue Reading...
Commission persuades itself that waiver of the original deadline is warranted.
With Thanksgiving less than 36 hours away, the Commission has given us all something to be thankful for: it has extended until September 30, 2011, the deadline for all EAS participants to implement the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) reception requirement. As we reported last month, that deadline originally fell on March 29, 2011, which would have given all affected parties precious little time to make the necessary arrangements. The additional six months provides some breathing room – but whether it will be enough remains to be seen. If you have questions about the CAP requirement, check out our posts from last month and from last April for background and related links.
Interestingly, the Commission says that it is waiving the March 29, 2011 deadline “on its own motion”. That’s interesting because not only had a bunch of folks questioned the adequacy of the original deadline months ago, but a petition specifically seeking extension of the deadline was filed in October.Continue Reading...
But (some of) the show still goes on at Internet cable operation
Bad news for FilmOn.com. On November 22, a federal judge in New York ordered it not to “infring[e] by any means, directly or indirectly”, any copyrights owned by CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox. Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald made sure that the scope of her order included (but wasn’t limited to), the “streaming over mobile telephone systems and/or the Internet of any of the broadcast television programming in which any plaintiff [that would be any of the networks] owns a copyright”.
The order – technically termed a Temporary Restraining Order or (among the cognoscenti) a TRO – will be in effect pending a full hearing on the nets’ related request for a preliminary injunction against FilmOn.com.
This isn’t necessarily the end of the road for FilmOn.com, though. As we pointed out when we first described FilmOn.com to our readers last month, there are many moves to be made on the various litigation chessboards already in play. And even in this particular case, a TRO is just a first step in the process. The networks have asked for more permanent relief – in the form of an injunction – against FilmOn.com’s allegedly infringing activities. But before an injunction can issue, the court will let all the parties submit written arguments and then hold a hearing. The hearing date hasn’t been set yet, but the judge’s order specifies that all papers must be filed by December 13, so it doesn’t look like there’s going to be much foot-dragging here.
Nor does the fact that a TRO has issued necessarily mean that the court will issue an injunction. It just means that the judge was satisfied that the networks had a good enough case to warrant putting a hold on FilmOn.com’s activities until a hearing could be held to sort everything out.
According to a statement issued by FilmOn.com, it has “temporarily ceased retransmission of free network television” on its service. It’s still “open for business”, though, relying on its own “library of content” along with several independent broadcasters who have apparently signed up with it. Check back here for updates.
Mediation yields no winner, so back to court we go!
As we reported last month, the Tennis Channel and Comcast initially opted for an off-the-court approach to try to resolve their differences regarding the latter’s carriage of the former. That is, rather than hammer away at each other in front of an administrative law judge, the players chose instead to use the FCC’s alternative dispute resolution (ADR) route. Optimistically, they advised the Commission back in October that they expected to have things wrapped up before Thanksgiving.
And sure enough, they did just that . . . sort of. On November 18 the parties notified the Commission that they had been “unable to resolve” their dispute through mediation. Which means, apparently, that it’s back to the courtroom for all concerned. (Simultaneously with the joint notice of unsuccessful end of mediation, The Tennis Channel filed its own unilateral notice of appearance advising that it’s all set to go to trial.)
There’s no word yet on when the next set in this match will start. Check back here for updates.
Love and money are likely to be the keys to the game.
[Blogmeister’s Note: CommLawBlog welcomes back Catherine McCullough, who provides us with the following insight into the upcoming Congressional session. Catherine, who has guest-blogged for us previously, is a principal in Meadowbrook Strategic Government Relations, LLC and is a specialist in Congressional relations.]
Welcome to the 112th Congress. Notice anything missing? Like a third of the House Energy and Commerce Dems? Or a Congressional mandate on net neutrality? Or Chairman Boucher? Me too. So let’s take a few minutes to figure out what it all means.
Let’s start with the larger picture. This year’s midterms have put Members on notice that voters are not afraid to fire them. And each party is looking to 2012 to capture complete control of both houses of Congress and the White House.
So in the upcoming Congress look for Members to be feverishly competing for two things: love and money. Love in the form of votes (from an unusually angry electorate, eager to hold officials accountable). And money in the form of, well, money, i.e., the ability to spend government funds on their preferred projects (without, of course, looking fiscally irresponsible).
As we shall see, both love and money can be found in telecom policy. So it’s likely that telecom issues will get considerable attention from Congressional leadership, including precious “floor time” for debate. Here is how I see the 112th playing out.Continue Reading...
The holidays are still a few weeks off, and the FCC just can’t wait.
The FCC is opening a new “Technology Experience Center.” Its purpose? To give “FCC employees and invited guests hands-on experience with the latest communications devices and solutions.”
Let us explain what this is really about.
Part of our job here at FH&H is persuading the FCC to adjust its technical rules, when needed, to accommodate new technologies. This can be a slow and difficult process. We find it helps, when visiting the FCC, to put on the table a specimen of the gadgetry at issue, preferably smooth and shiny with blinking lights. The FCC engineers inevitably play with the item, push the buttons, and pry off the cover to see the insides. (Interestingly, most lawyers refuse all hands-on contact.) Once the staff gets a close-up, first-hand look at the technology, the rule changes seem to come more easily.
Apparently, though, people like us are not bringing in new gadgets often enough. So the FCC is asking for more. Sure, they dress up the request by calling it a “Technology Experience Center”, whatever that is. But we think the real purpose is plain: more toys. Manufacturers and vendors who want to donate devices now have a phone number to call. Of course, the FCC tells contributors not to expect any benefit, and warns that acceptance of a gadget does not constitute endorsement. But even so, we think UPS is going to see a lot more boxes than usual headed for the Portals. We picture a big playroom with lots of shelves filled with blinking lights.
For us, the goal will be, somehow, to get on the list of “invited guests.”
Still hoping to hit the jackpot with a “gateway” device, FCC asks public to pick a card, any card
Would you like a cable box that (a) you don’t have to pay the cable company to rent, (b) you install yourself, (c) puts the Internet on your TV and (d) has a ton of new and innovative features? Well, the FCC wants you to have one and, acting quickly on a set of proposals issued just last April, the Commission has now issued new rules to try to get it for you. Of course, those new rules are actually updates on the rules that were supposed to get you that box over a decade ago. Still, hope and regulations spring eternal here in Washington.
The push to bring competition to the cable set top box universe began with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Congress instructed the FCC to make rules that would encourage the development of third party equipment that consumers could use to access video programming and other services offered by cable companies and other multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs). The hope was that consumers would be able to buy fully functional equipment that the consumers could move between different service providers. This, in turn, would not only make it easier for consumers to switch providers (encouraging competition, lower prices and better services from providers), but also produce new and innovative set top boxes.
Most set top boxes, however, don’t just enable navigation of MVPD services. They also restrict access to those services – unscrambling and decrypting only those services for which the subscriber has paid. Thus, to protect the security of MVPD systems while still allowing third party navigation devices, the FCC and the affected industries adopted the “CableCARD” system. The CableCARD system separated the security functions of the set top box from the navigation functions. The security functions were segregated into a credit card sized element to be provided by the MVPD that could be plugged into various set top boxes, including third party boxes.
The idea was that consumers could go out and buy any box they wanted and then rent the CableCARD from whatever MVPD they happened to choose. If the consumer moved or switched providers, they could use the same box and just switch out the CableCARD. After several false starts, CableCARDs became available and several hundred different devices were certified for use with CableCARDs.
Then no one bought them. (Well, almost no one. The FCC estimates that just one percent of all navigation devices are purchased at retail.)Continue Reading...
Mediation may be completed before Thanksgiving
Comcast and the Tennis Channel have opted to try to resolve their differences through “private mediation using a third-party neutral selected by the parties.” So if you were planning on camping outside the FCC’s offices in hopes of snagging courtside seats in the FCC’s hearing room to watch a full-blown public hearing, your calendar just got freed up. The parties filed a “Joint Notice” advising the Commission of their decision to go the Alternative Dispute Resolution route. Since the notice was a mere two sentences long, it was somewhat lacking in detail – although Comcast and the Tennis Channel did say that they have agreed to “complete the mediation by November 24, 2010” and that they’ll be sure to let the FCC if they wrap things up before then.