If you have the vague sense that you might like to file comments in response to the bizarre invitation for comments relative to the FCC’s indecency policies, but you’re still trying to figure out exactly what those policies are in the first place, you're in luck. The General Counsel’s office and the Enforcement Bureau have extended the deadlines. Comments are now due by June 19, 2013 and reply comments by July 18. Unfortunately, the public notice announcing the extensions does not shed any more light on the indecency inquiry. As previously reported here, the inquiry posed on April Fool’s Day is, at best, cryptic and unilluminating, so much so that it’s difficult to imagine that anything useful could possibly come from it. But for those of you who may be champing at the bit to toss in your two cents’ worth, you now have a little more time within which to hone your prose.
The full FCC agrees with the Wireless Bureau that FiberTower’s failure to construct resulted from its own business decisions.
FiberTower loses again. The full FCC has backed the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s decision to cancel 698 licenses held by the company in the 24 GHz and 39 GHz auctioned fixed microwave bands, for failure to construct sufficient facilities.
As we explained last December in our sister publication FHH Telecom Law, FiberTower is not alone in its difficulties. Nearly all of the area-wide licensees in the four auctioned bands used to communicate between fixed points – at 24, 28, 31, and 39 GHz – have had difficulty in meeting their renewal obligations. In part the problems trace to a shortage of suitable equipment, and in part to markets that did not develop as expected. FiberTower, ironically, was one of the more commercially successful licensees, so the FCC action against it seems particularly harsh.
The usual duration for microwave licenses of all kinds is ten years. When an area-wide licensee applies for renewal after that period, it must show it is providing “substantial service.” The FCC rules define this, unhelpfully, as “a service which is sound, favorable, and substantially above a level of mediocre service which just might minimally warrant renewal during its past license term.” (Confusingly, this says the level of service required for renewal is substantially above the level of service required for renewal.)
Thanks to a “safe harbor” policy, a licensee is deemed to be providing “substantial service” if it demonstrates that it has constructed four links per million population in its service.Continue Reading...
Request reopens matter laid to rest just six years ago.
The FCC has reopened the difficult question of technical standards for radio receivers.
Everyone agrees that poor receivers impair efficient use of spectrum. In particular, receivers that respond to a wider swath of frequencies than necessary can receive interference from unwanted signals close by the intended signal. Just ask LightSquared, whose plans to use mobile satellite frequencies on terrestrial towers failed because its signal was close enough to GPS frequencies to overpower some GPS receivers.
Less selective, more interference-prone receivers are cheaper to manufacture. Market forces are not much help because a more selective (and hence more expensive) receiver is rarely of immediate benefit to the purchaser. The improved receiver does benefit other users seeking to operate on frequencies nearby, as better GPS receivers would have benefited LightSquared. But the manufacturer gains no competitive advantage to offset the higher price. So manufacturers, especially of consumer equipment, tend to supply the least selective (and least expensive) receivers that will work in the current spectrum environment.
A situation like this, where market forces act against the public good, is a classic set-up for regulation.
The FCC tried. Just over ten years ago it issued a Notice of Inquiry on whether to include “receiver interference immunity performance specifications” in its rules. After sifting through sixty-odd comments, and then waiting a few years, the FCC terminated the proceeding in a terse one-pager.
Now the issue is back.Continue Reading...
In February we reported on the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to revamp its equipment certification process. That notice has now hit the Federal Register. As a result, we now have the deadlines for comments and reply comments in response to the notice. Comments are due by June 17, 2013, and replies by July 17.
In December of last year we reported on the Commission’s “Fifth Order on Reconsideration and Sixth Report and Order” (we refer to it as the 6th R&O) in which it (a) tied up some loose ends relative to LPFM and FM translator matters and (b) adopted new rules and policies governing LPFM applicants. The 6th R&O was published in the Federal Register the following month, but (as we reported in January) that didn’t mean that all the new rules went into effect back then.
Rather, the changes to Sections 73.807, 73.810, 73.827, 73.850, 73.853, 73.855, 73.860 and 73.872 – and the revised version of FCC Form 318 – all had to be run past the Office of Management and Budget for its approval. (Those changes all involved “information collections” requiring OMB review thanks to the Paperwork Reduction Act.)
The Commission has now announced that OMB is happy with the changes. As a result, they will all take effect on May 23, 2013. It’s unlikely that the changes will have any immediate impact, since they relate primarily to LPFM applications, and there’s currently no opportunity to file for new LPFM authorizations. However, as we all know, the Commission is hoping to be able to open a window for new LPFM applications sometime in the near future – October, 2013 is one target date, although many are doubtful that the Commission will be able to hit that target. Anyone who expects to be filing any LPFM apps in that window should be sure to make note of the effectiveness of the 6th R&O changes.
Indecency public notice hits the Federal Register.
Earlier this month we reported on an odd public notice soliciting comments about the FCC’s indecency policy. That notice has now been published in the Federal Register – but that doesn’t mean that the notice makes any more sense now than it did when it first appeared.
The title of the notice still says that the FCC is seeking “comments on adopting egregious cases policy”, but that’s the only time the term “egregious cases policy” shows up. As a result, it’s far from clear exactly what we’re supposed to be commenting on. You would think that, if the FCC does have some “egregious cases policy” currently in effect – which is what the full text of the public notice released on April Fool’s Day indicated – the Commission might let us all in on the precise details of that policy so that we might be able to comment on it at least quasi-intelligently. Apparently not.
As we noted in our initial post, the utility of any record likely to be compiled in response to the notice’s nebulous invitation for comments is dubious. How, after all, is a commenter supposed to organize his/her/its comments in a coherent and useful way? And how can the Commission’s staff be expected to process those comments? Without any apparent context or direction, it’s hard to see what the staff can do with them.
If this is how the Commission proposes to deal with the indecency issue, that issue is likely to be with us, unresolved, for many years to come.
In any event, the Federal Register publication establishes the deadlines for comments in response to the notice. Comments are due by May 20, 2013, and reply comments by June 18.
New quarterly form would theoretically shed more useful light on chronic problem, but proposed exceptions could gut the form’s effectiveness.
Although perhaps not widely acknowledged or often discussed, the problem of “blocked” or unsuccessful long-distance telephone calls to rural customers is a serious one. For at least a couple of years interested parties have urged the Commission to do something about it. And now the FCC thinks that it’s come up with a way to begin to address this failure to communicate: new recordkeeping requirements, and a new report to be filed quarterly by facilities-based originating providers (with some notable exceptions).
The report would theoretically allow the Commission to better monitor the delivery of long-distance calls in rural areas. In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the FCC has invited comments on the proposed requirements.
So what’s the problem the FCC is addressing here?Continue Reading...
With just 12 days to go before Auction 94 is set to kick off, the FCC has identified the 85 bidders who have qualified to participate in this year’s FM Construction Permit Sell-a-Thon. At the same time, the Commission has laid out the final ground rules that will govern both the auction and everybody who filed an application, whether or not they actually opt to participate in the auction.
As we previously reported, the FCC initially received 109 applications, but, as so often happens, the herd got thinned along the way: two dozen applicants have dropped out of the running and will only be watching from the sidelines when the action cranks up on April 23, 2013.
In order to assure their place in the race, each of the 85 surviving bidders ponied up upfront payments ranging from a paltry $750 to a considerably more robust $250,000+. Upfront payments establish a bidder’s initial eligibility for the auction and the permit(s) which each bidder may bid for. When the bidding starts, however, nothing – other than common sense and financial ability – limits the amount(s) that can be bid.Continue Reading...
With interoperability issues still unresolved, FCC gives many B Block licensees a few more months of breathing room.
If you’re an active Lower 700 MHz band B Block licensee with an interim four-year construction benchmark deadline before December 13, 2013, here’s some good news: unless you happen to fall within a couple of exceptions, the FCC has extended your construction deadline to December 13, 2013. This tracks a similar extension granted to Lower 700 MHz A Block licensees a couple of months ago.
The construction deadline in question stems from Section 27.14(g), which requires 700 MHz B Block folks both to provide signal coverage and to offer service over at least 35% of the geographic area of their licenses by one of two dates, either (1) June 13, 2013 (if the initial authorization was granted on June 13, 2009 or earlier), or (2) within four years of the initial license grant.
Since at least 2009, a number of 700 MHz licensees have been complaining that the FCC’s approach to the 700 MHz band – i.e., developing two separate and distinct band classes within the Lower 700 MHz band – has given rise to interoperability issues that have in turn impeded construction. In March, 2012, the Commission agreed to explore interoperability issues, but beyond the issuance of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, nothing has come of that “Interoperability Proceeding” to date. Meanwhile, the construction clock has continued to tick down.
The announced extension reflects the FCC’s recognition that its own failure to act thus far has put some folks in a bind.Continue Reading...
Last February we reported on the FCC’s adoption of a new comprehensive regulatory approach to cell phone boosters. The Report and Order setting out that approach has now made it into the Federal Register. As a result, many – but not all – of the new rules will take effect as of May 13, 2013. Which of the amended rules won’t kick in then? Why, those would be Sections 1.1307(b)(1); 20.3; 20.21(a)(2); 20.21(a)(5); 20.21(e)(2); 20.21(e)(8)(i)(G); 20.21(e)(9)(i)(H); 20.21(f); 20.21(h); 22.9; 24.9; 27.9; 90.203(q); 90.219(b)(1)(i); 90.219(d)(5); and 90.219(e)(5). Those all involve “information collections” and, thus, must first be blessed by the Office of Management and Budget thanks to the hilariously-named Paperwork Reduction Act. Check back here for further updates on that front.
Please keep in mind the crucial distinction between cell phone boosters (at issue here) and cell phone jammers. The latter remain illegal.
Need for a “stable database” to assist in development of “repacking methodologies” puts TV mod applications on ice.
Attention all full-power and Class A TV licensees!!! The Media Bureau has placed a freeze on the filing and processing of most modification applications for full power and Class A television stations, effective April 5, 2013.
As of April 5, the Bureau will no longer routinely accept any applications from full-power or Class A television stations proposing modifications that would increase the station’s currently authorized (by license or granted construction permit) contour in any direction. The single exception to the freeze applies to certain Class A stations filing minor change applications to implement their transition to digital broadcasting. (The freeze may also be waived for other licensees in exceptional circumstances.)
Also frozen is the processing of any already pending application that would increase a station’s protected service area in any direction. However, in announcing the freeze the Bureau has provided that applicants with such pending applications will have a 60-day period to amend to specify facilities that do not increase the station’s service area. Any such applications that are not amended will be held by the Commission and processed only after the adoption of final rules regarding the Incentive Auction.Continue Reading...
Window follows rejection of Request for Declaratory Ruling looking to get multiple NCE applications dismissed.
We’ve got good news for you if (1) you’ve got an FM translator application still pending from the 2003/Auction 83 filing window and (2) you identified yourself as a noncommercial educational (NCE) applicant when you first filed the application. The Media Bureau has announced that, between April 8-17, you will have an opportunity to “de-select” that NCE filing status. If you want to keep your application alive, you’ll take advantage of that opportunity.
In announcing this amendment window (and in a separate letter ruling), the Bureau made short work of a recently-filed Request for Declaratory Ruling which looked to thin the herd of pending applications by effectively prohibiting such amendments.
The problem being addressed here arose when the Auction 83 window first opened in March, 2003. Back then, applicants seeking NCE authorizations were permitted to participate in such proceedings. At the time, NCE applicants were explicitly instructed to designate their status as “noncommercial educational” in the box provided on the Form 175.Continue Reading...
Remember the Commission’s proposal to accord its new Earth Station Aboard Aircraft (ESAA) service co-primary allocation status for its 14.0-14.5 GHz uplink operations? (Hint: ESAA is the service that’s expected to give us all easy Internet access on airplanes.) If you’re planning on filing comments on that proposal, you’re in luck! It turns out that the FCC miscalculated the comment deadlines when it first published the deadlines in the Federal Register a couple of weeks ago. So you can disregard the previously announced dates (which we reported on here. According to a corrective notice in the Federal Register, comments are due by May 22, 2013 and reply comments are due by June 21.
[Blogmeister's Note: These comment dates affect only the details of spectrum sharing between ESAA and other satellite services. If you have views on the wisdom (or its absence) of Internet use on airplanes, the FCC no longer wants to hear about it. You can, however, write to your congressional representative or your senator.]
Bureau gently prods applicants in the proper direction with a public notice that reads like “Preclusion Showings for Dummies"
As we have previously reported, FM translator applicants whose applications are still alive and kicking are subject to a variety of filing deadlines looming in the very near future. Different deadlines apply, based on whether the application has been identified by the Media Bureau as (a) one of 713 “singleton” applications or (b) one of a separate batch of 639 applications not satisfying the “singleton” criteria.
Some, but not necessarily all, of those 1,352 applicants must file “preclusion showings” as part of their required submissions. Apparently, from the filings that have already rolled in the door, the Bureau’s staff has concluded that at least some of the affected applicants haven’t fully grasped what’s expected of them. Accordingly, the Bureau has tried, tried again, this time by issuing yet another public notice providing further “guidance” or “clarification” of the filing requirements.
The notice, which reads like “Preclusion Showings for Dummies”, is relatively short and to the point. Where preclusion showings are required, the notice thoughtfully bold faces the word “required” as an additional helpful visual cue. The concepts don’t appear to be particularly complicated (but then we didn’t think they were particularly complicated when they appeared in the Fourth Report and Order or in the previous public notices). In any event, anybody with a translator application still in the hunt should be sure to review the public notice carefully and to follow its directions thoroughly.Continue Reading...
639 surviving applicants face the next hurdle in the now decade-long contest.
In the long-running reality show “Survivor – 2003 FM Translators”, if you happen to be a player whose FM translator applications haven’t yet been kicked off the island, heads up: the Media Bureau has just announced the next challenge. This time affected applicants have been given a 19-day window (from April 1-19, 2013) within which to submit their Preclusion Showings.
Which applications are subject to the challenge? Any of the 639 still-pending FM translator application originally filed in the 2003 window (for Auction 83) which specifies a transmitter site that is (1) inside a Spectrum Limited market and/or (2) within 39 km of any Spectrum Limited Market Grid. For those of you who may be unclear about whether you’re still in the game (and, thus, facing this next chore), the Commission has provided a list of all 639 lucky applications. You can find a PDF version of the list at this link, but we suspect that you may find this MS-Excel version a bit more useful in terms of slicing and dicing the data on the list, which spans ten single-spaced pages. Here’s the Bureau’s explanatory description of the list:
Attachment A lists each Auction 83 Filing Window tech box proposal for which a Preclusion Showing amendment must be electronically submitted by the April 19 deadline. The list is sorted by the state in which the specified community of license is located. The “Market” column lists, if applicable, the Fall 2011 Arbitron Market number as set forth in Appendix A in the Fourth Report and Order. Each market designation was based on the location of the proposal’s specified transmitter site. The “In SL Buffer” column identifies with a “Yes” each proposal that specifies a transmitter site that is within 39 km of at least one Spectrum Limited Market Grid.
And what the heck is a “Preclusion Showing” anyway?Continue Reading...
Audio Division to Permittees: Get License Applications Filed Within 30 Days of Permit Expiration . . . Or Else!
Facilities covered by a permit must in any event be completely constructed by the expiration date.
Attention, everybody who is currently sitting on, or may someday be sitting on, a construction permit for a new radio station. The FCC’s Audio Division has announced, in no uncertain terms, that when the rules say that a covering license application must be filed before the expiration of the underlying construction permit, they really mean it . . . sort of.
The problem here arises from Section 73.3598(e) of the Commission’s rules, a section admirable for its concision and directness:
Any construction permit for which construction has not been completed and for which an application for license has not been filed, shall be automatically forfeited upon expiration without any further affirmative cancellation by the Commission.
Your ordinary person reading that would likely understand it to say that any permittee who doesn’t get the covering license application on file by the permit’s expiration date is out of luck. Period. End of story. That is, after all, precisely what the rule says.
But thanks to the Audio Division’s latest reading of the rule, permittees will have an extra 30 days within which to file their license applications, provided, of course, that they did in fact complete construction before the permit’s expiration.
The underlying story starts back in 2004, when an FM station in West Virginia obtained a CP to construct new facilities after its then-authorized tower had been destroyed. The permit specified the conventional three-year construction period, with an expiration date in 2007.
Wouldn’t you know it, 2007 came and went, but no license application got filed.Continue Reading...
Auction 94, featuring 112 FM construction permits, is on track. The FCC has issued a notice announcing that 109 potential bidders submitted applications to participate in the upcoming auction of 112 FM construction permits. The auction is still scheduled to begin on April 23, 2013.
A total of 109 prospective bidders tossed in applications. Of those, 88 made the initial cut: the Commission has concluded that their applications were complete and acceptable, so they are assured of a bidding paddle and a seat in the bidders’ section (assuming, of course, that they get the necessary upfront payment filed in time). The other 21 applicants? Their submissions were lacking in one or another respect, so for the time being they’re on the outside looking in. But we don't need to exile them to Loserville yet. All 21 of the not-yet-in-the-door applicants should be receiving an overnight letter from the Commission laying out “the information that is required to make its application complete.” They’ll have until March 18, 2013 to resubmit corrected applications.
Any bidder – whether one of the 88 or one of the 21 – who wants to participate in the bidding is required to wire the upfront payment to the FCC within the next week by 6:00 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, March 18, 2013. Readers who plan to participate in the auction are advised to send your money to the FCC well before the deadline to avoid any unexpected delays. The FCC is not sympathetic to bidders that wait until the last day; historically, the FCC has disqualified some late-paying bidders who claimed that their lateness was the fault of their banks.Continue Reading...
Last December the Commission released its Fifth Order on Reconsideration and Sixth Report and Order in the long-running LPFM proceeding. Five parties weren’t 100% happy with the results so – surprise, surprise! – they have filed for reconsideration of various aspects of the FCC’s decision. The petitioners (with links to their respective petitions) are:
According to a notice in the Federal Register, if you want to oppose any (or all) of these petitions, you have until March 21, 2013. Replies to any oppositions will be due by April 1.
While the opening of a new pleading cycle – with the consequent opportunity for a pleading war – is often a harbinger of delay, our guess is that that’s not the most likely scenario here. As we have reported, the Media Bureau is doing its darnedest to tee the next LPFM application window up as quickly as possible (maybe even by next October, if the Chairman gets his wish). It’s unlikely that a handful of recons will distract the Bureau from that mission, but you never know. In the meantime, look for continued progress in the Bureau’s efforts to clear the FM translator application dead wood, a necessary antecedent to the LPFM window.
Proposed change in the form would allow individuals to identify themselves as members of as many as five separate racial categories, simultaneously. But the results may not help the Commission get to where it seems to want to go.
The Federal Register on March 1 has informed us that the FCC’s Broadcast Ownership Report (FCC Form 323) is back at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. According to the notice, the Commission is proposing a change in the question seeking the racial identification of attributable interest holders. You can get to the OMB’s files on the matter at this link.
The form currently in effect lists five racial categories and then a catch-all “Two or more races”; respondents are required to select only one of those six options. Apparently, though, OMB changed its policies governing collection of data relative to race and ethnicity last September. (According to the FCC, that change is reflected in an OMB action dated September 13, 2012, cited by the FCC as “Notice of Office of Management and Budget Action (NOA), dated 09/13/2012”. We were unable to track down a copy of that action, but we’re willing to take the Commission’s word that it exists somewhere. If any reader can point us to a site where we might find the OMB action in question, we’d be much obliged.) As a result, the Commission is proposing to eliminate the “Two or more races” option and to allow respondents to select as many of the other racial options as may apply to the individual who is the subject of the response.
While the elimination of the generally uninformative “Two or more races” might be thought to provide a greater degree of useful data concerning the racial composition of commercial broadcast ownership, we’re not confident of that.Continue Reading...
Postponement allows time after March 13 workshop.
Last December we reported on a proceeding that proposes novel spectrum management techniques to accommodate small cell operation in the 3.55-3.65 GHz band.
Last September we reported on a request advanced by the Coalition for Broadcast Investment seeking "clarification" of the FCC's broadcast ownership limitations on alien ownership. You can find a copy of the Coalition’s letter request here. As summarized by the Commission, the proposal asks the Commission to “clarify that it will conduct a substantive, facts and circumstances evaluation of proposals for foreign investment in excess of 25 percent in the parent company of a broadcast licensee, consistent with and in furtherance of its authority under 47 U.S.C. § 310(b)(4)
The Commission has now solicited comments on the proposal. If you have any thoughts about the Coalition’s suggestion that you’d care to share with the Commission, you’ve got until April 15, 2013 to submit them; reply comments may be filed by April 30. You can file on paper, or electronically through ECFS (referencing MB Docket No. 13-50).
The FM translator application juggernaut rolls on.
Having processed the Selections Lists and Caps Showings filed in January and having, as a result, tossed several thousand applications earlier this month, the Media Bureau has sifted through the remaining rubble and identified 713 singleton applications that may be grantable in relatively short order. The lucky 713 applications: (a) are apparently not mutually exclusive with any other applications filed back in the 2003 filing window and (b) don’t run afoul of the technical limitations imposed in last year’s Fourth Report and Order. (Helpful reminder: To satisfy those limitations, an application must be: (1) outside all Spectrum Limited markets and (2) not within 39 km of any Spectrum Limited market grid.)
Heads up, though. If you’re on the singleton list, you’ve only got until March 28, 2013 to prepare and file your long-form application (Form 349), along with any required filing fee and Form 159, in order to stay in the game.
The public notice announcing the singleton list also includes some guidelines relative to what you can and can’t do in the long-form application. Attention should be paid to those details, because a failure to comply could result in dismissal. It would be a shame to have come this far in the application process only to crater on a technicality at the ultimate (or maybe penultimate) stage of that process.Continue Reading...
Statute requires the band to be cleared of public safety users by 2021 and auctioned by 2023.
In most parts of the country, the frequency band 470-512 MHz, also called the “T-band,” is better known as TV channels 14-20. But 11 major metropolitan areas use parts of the band for public safety communications, like the two-way radios in police cars, ambulances, and fire vehicles. These users include some of the nation’s biggest first responders, such as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the New York City Police Department. Other licensees also use the band for two-way communications.
Last year, as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief Act (most of which has little to do with middle class tax relief), Congress gave public safety entities access to additional spectrum in the 700 MHz band for a nationwide first responder broadband network. But it also required that public safety licensees give back spectrum they use in the T-band, which would then be auctioned for commercial services. Public safety users would have to vacate the T-band by 2021 for a spectrum auction by 2023. The auction revenue is supposed to be made available to current public safety licensees to help offset the cost of relocating their systems to other frequencies. Oddly, the statute is silent as to the non-public safety users of T-band.
There has been talk among public safety licensees of asking Congress to repeal the T-band “give back” provisions. Unless and until such a repeal occurs, though, the FCC has its marching orders. In keeping with those orders, the FCC has released a public notice to investigate the implications of the law for public safety and other land mobile radio licensees. The public notice seeks detailed information on the extent and nature of public safety radio systems in the T-band, whether some of the current users can migrate to the new first responder broadband network or other public safety frequency bands, and the potential costs of such a relocation.
Comments in response to the public notice are due on May 13, 2013, with reply comments due on
Attention, all you CommLawBlog readers!
We’re presenting a webinar this Thursday, February 14 at 3:00 p.m. EST in cooperation with a number of our state broadcast association friends. It turns out that we have a limited number of open spaces – so if you would like to listen in, for free, here’s your chance.
The webinar will feature Kevin “The Swami” Goldberg addressing a number of hot button issues on the intellectual property front and Dan Kirkpatrick updating us all on the FCC regulatory front. Serving in the color commentary/peanut gallery role will be Frank Jazzo, Scott Johnson and Harry Cole.
The 90-minute agenda will include discussions of:
- ASCAP/BMI/SESAC issues
- The Mission Abstract Data litigation
- The Aereo/Aerokiller cases
- Webcasting/streaming royalty calculations
- Royalties for performance of sound recordings
- The FCC Ownership Proceeding
TV JSA attribution
- The incentive spectrum auctions/repacking
- TV online public file
- Ownership reporting
If you’d like to sign up, click on the button below to get to the registration page. Remember, space is limited.
OET seeks comments on alternative to traditional OET-69 methodology.
The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) wants to sharpen its pencil when it comes to predicting TV station coverage. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) doesn’t think that that’s a good idea – not just now, at least.
Who cares? You should, if you’re a full-service or Class A TV licensee about to be forced into deciding whether (and if so, how) you will participate in the incentive auction process currently being devised by the Commission.
OET has announced, pretty much out of the blue, that it has developed new software – dubbed TVStudy – which the Commission “plans to use in connection with” the incentive auctions. At issue is the way the FCC plans to utilize OET-69 in the implementation of the auction process.Continue Reading...
Telecom Providers and Manufacturers: Accessibility-Related Recordkeeping and Certification Requirements Are Now in Effect
For some time already many, if not most, communications service providers and equipment makers have had to ensure accessibility to the disabled; now they’ve got to keep records of those efforts AND separately certify to the FCC that they’re in fact keeping those records.
If you happen to be subject to Section 255, 716 and/or 718 of the Communications Act, the FCC wants to make sure that you know you’ve got some recordkeeping to do – and some reporting, too. (Fuzzy on whether you’re in that club? If you are not a communications service provider or equipment manufacturer, you need read no further. If you do happen to fall into one or both of those categories, you should read on, although it may turn out that you, too, are off the hook.)
The new recordkeeping requirements – which took effect on January 30, 2013 – arise from Congress’s repeated efforts to ensure that telecommunications services and equipment are accessible to folks with disabilities. Thanks to those efforts, certain service providers and manufacturers must take affirmative steps to provide accessibility to the extent achievable.
And now, in addition to actually taking those steps, the affected companies must also maintain records of the steps they’ve taken . . . and they’ve also got to confirm to the FCC, once a year, that they are indeed maintaining such records.
What kind of recordkeeping are we talking about?Continue Reading...
As drive toward an LPFM auction moves forward, applications get tossed for real while Selection Lists/Caps Showings get released, sort of.
That loud flushing noise you may just have heard was the sound of about 3,000 FM translator applications heading down the tubes. Having analyzed the various Selection Lists and Caps Showings submitted by translator applicants late last month, the Media Bureau has announced that it has now tossed “approximately 3,000” vintage 2003 translator applications. In the same public notice, the Bureau has also announced the “release” – and we use that term loosely – of all of the underlying Selection Lists and Caps Showings submitted during the recently closed Selection Filing Window.
Which applications got thrown out and which didn’t? Good question. The Bureau’s one and only (apparently) public notice on the subject doesn’t include a list of the dismissed applicants, or applications, or file numbers, or any of the other conventional data you might expect. If you want to know any specifics, the staff apparently expects you to head online to CDBS, where you can probably figure out precisely which applications got dismissed and which continue to live on if you’ve got boatloads of (a) time and (b) motivation and (c) luck.Continue Reading...
Another element of the FCC’s overhaul of the wireless backhaul system is now in place.
Looks like it’s full speed ahead for another aspect of the Commission’s overhaul of the wireless backhaul regime. As we reported two days ago, the effective date of the rule requiring registration of TV pickup licenses has just been announced (that would be April 1). And the FCC has followed up with a Federal Register announcement that the Rural Microwave Flexibility Policy adopted last August – another component of the backhaul overhaul – has now been approved by the Office of Management and Budget. As a result, the Policy is now in effect.
For those not up on the details of the Policy, here’s the scoop. Ordinarily, the FCC requires that Fixed Service licenses be able to carry a minimum payload per megahertz of radio bandwidth. But the Commission will “favorably consider” requests for waiver of those requirements if the following criteria are satisfied:Continue Reading...
Some TV Broadcasters Relieved of Obligation to Upload Some (But Not All) Issues/Programs Lists to Online Public Inspection File
But paper copies of those lists must still be maintained for public inspection at the station, and the waiver is subject to some limiting conditions
Full-service and Class A TV licensees take heart! The Media Bureau may have let many of you off the hook with respect to one component of the online public inspection file requirement. In particular, the Bureau has announced that stations whose licenses were not renewed during the previous renewal cycle may opt not to post to the FCC’s online public file system their quarterly issues/programs lists relating to the earlier license terms covered by those filed-but-not-yet-granted renewal applications.
Before you start doing the Snoopy dance, be aware that there are at least three gotchas here.
Some background first.
As we all know, full-service and Class A TV folks are required to upload their public inspection files to the FCC-maintained online system by February 4. The public file rules (for both commercial and noncommercial licensees) require that those files include quarterly issues/programs lists dating back to the date on which the grant of their last renewal application became final.
The problem is that the last renewal grant, for many TV licensees, dates back into the 1990s. That’s because many TV renewal applications from the last renewal cycle still haven’t been granted, in many (if not most) cases thanks presumably to the dreaded “enforcement holds” arising from pending complaints lodged against the station. As a result, in order to comply precisely with the public file rule, a TV licensee whose last renewal is still in deferred status would have to upload an extra eight years’ or so worth of issues/programs lists.Continue Reading...
Mandatory registration is one element of FCC's expansion of wireless backhaul opportunities.
If you’ve got a TV pickup license in the 6875-7125 MHz or 12700-13200 MHz bands, you’ll be needing to register your stationary receive-only sites in the Commission’s Universal Licensing System (ULS) in the near future (if you haven’t done so already). Section 74.605, the Commission’s rule requiring such registration will finally become effective April 1, 2013, according to a notice in the Federal Register.
Long in the works, the “new” requirement was actually adopted nearly 18 months ago – back in August, 2011 – as part of the Commission’s overhaul of the wireless backhaul process. That overhaul is intended to make more spectrum available for fixed wireless operations serving as the “middle mile” links that move end-user traffic between cell towers and the core network. The increased spectrum availability is to be accomplished by allowing such services to share spectrum already used by TV pickup licenses in the 6875-7125 MHz or 12700-13200 MHz bands. But effective sharing will require coordination of use of the frequencies, and mandatory registration of receive-only sites will obviously facilitate such coordination.
Of course, it’s been a good idea to register such sites for some time, as we (and our friend and reader, Dane Ericksen) were recommending nearly two years ago. The Commission has permitted ULS registration of TV pickups since 2008 as an optional aid to coordination in the band. But come April, “optional” registration will become “mandatory” registration.
The delay in making Section 74.605 effective is a bit puzzling. Since the rule constitutes an “information collection”, it had to be run through the Paperwork Reduction Act process at the Office of Management and Budget. But according to the FCC’s Federal Register notice, OMB had signed off on the rule back on March 27, 2012. Whatever the reason for the one-year hold-up in making the rule effective, though, the fact of the matter is that we now know that it will be effective on April Fool’s Day. If you’ve got a TV pickup license in the 6875-7125 MHz or 12700-13200 MHz bands and you’ve been dragging your feet as far as registration goes, now would be a good time to get that job done.
Webcasters have until JANUARY 31 to file Statement of Account forms, pay annual fees to SoundExchange
According to famed lyrical poet Paul Hewson (“Bono” to his millions of friends), “nothing changes on New Year’s Day”. He reportedly started writing the song as a love paean to his wife, although it eventually morphed into a political statement inspired by the Polish Solidarity Movement. Regardless of the song’s broader political statement (or anybody’s personal notions about the significance of New Year’s Day), the plain statement isn’t true: things do change on New Year’s Day.
Compliance with the statutory license applicable to webcasting is one of those things.
When the ball drops in Times Square, webcasters are faced with updated forms to fill in and submit, a new cycle for reporting, and a clock ticking down the 31 days until the annual minimum fees of $500 per channel must be sent to SoundExchange.
Thankfully, much like last year, the changes from 2012-2013 are pretty minor. The rates have increased slightly. The forms have changed a little (with a new look and feel), although that shouldn’t be anything to worry about if you’ve done this before. And, in perhaps the most noteworthy change, there are actually fewer forms for some webcasters to file. Here’s an overview of what will be expected of webcasters in 2013.Continue Reading...
The deadline for completion of the upload process is nearly here – are you ready?
TV licensees (that is, full-power and Class A licensees) – this is your final warning from us here at CommLawBlog. You’ve got until February 4 to get your public inspection file uploaded to the FCC’s online system. That’s only two weeks from now, so if you haven’t gotten started on this yet, now would be a good time.
We have previously provided a number of tips on this topic: how to access the system; once you’re in, how to upload the required materials; what documents have to be uploaded. If you missed those posts, click here and here to get started.
We’re not going to re-visit the myriad details of the new rules, their genesis, their implementation, etc., etc. Been there, done that.
We do, though, want to offer a cautionary reminder.
We haven’t canvassed the status of everybody’s public files. It’s possible – maybe not likely, but possible – that everyone has already done everything that they need to do, and our warning here is a churlish and unnecessary bit of hectoring. If you, dear reader, have uploaded your public file already, congratulations, and please accept our apologies for suggesting otherwise. But for everybody else, we do want to underscore one consideration that should motivate any folks who have been dragging their feet.
The FCC’s online public file system is, ahem, an ONLINE public file system. Because of that, anybody anywhere anytime is in a position, unbeknownst to you, to check the status of your file. Once the deadline for completing the upload process arrives – that would be on February 4 – any shortcomings will be rule violations for which the Commission could issue fines. And anybody, anywhere, anytime will be in a position to identify such violations and bring them to the FCC’s attention. Even if the Commission opts not to start handing out fines immediately (and while the Commission may indeed restrain itself, particularly in the initial phase, such self-restraint is not mandatory), it’s hard to imagine a greater incentive to get your file in order by February 4.
If you’re a telecommunications carrier or interconnected VoIP provider, now’s the time to get out your calendar, turn it to early February or so, and mark in big red letters: “CPNI CERTIFICATIONS DUE MARCH 1, 2013”. And don’t forget to follow up by that important deadline.
CPNI here refers, of course, to Customer Proprietary Network Information (but you probably already knew that), and the certifications that are due at the Commission by March 1, 2013 are required by the FCC’s rules (as you hopefully already knew as well.) The FCC has issued a convenient “Enforcement Advisory” to remind one and all of the deadline. Like similar advisories in past years, this year’s includes a helpful list of FAQs and a suggested template showing what a certificate should look like. Heads up, though – this year’s advisory specifies that CPNI includes the numbers of calls made and received; advisories in past years referred only to “phone numbers called”. Additionally, in this year’s advisory voicemail is specifically included among the services covered by CPNI.
As we have explained annually for the past several years, the CPNI rules are designed to safeguard customers’ CPNI against unauthorized access and disclosure. The rules themselves are set out in Subpart U of Part 64 of the Commission’s rules, if you want to check them out yourself. Here’s a link that will take you there, but you might want to stock up on No-Doz® before heading there.Continue Reading...
FCC proposal would abandon “special use FRNs” in Ownership Reports, require social security number-based FRNs instead . . . for noncommercial licensees, too!
If you’ve got an “attributable interest” in a broadcast licensee, you might want to make sure that you’ve got your social security number (SSN) handy. The FCC is trying – again – to insist that all attributable interest holders provide SSN-based FCC registration numbers (FRNs) when the time comes to file biennial Ownership Reports on FCC Forms 323 (for commercial licensees) and 323-E (for noncommercial licensees).
In a Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (6th FNPRM) the Commission has proposed deep-sixing the “special use FRN” (SUFRN, as in “SUFRN succotash”) alternative that has been available since the July, 2010 filing of the biennial Form 323. The Commission has also proposed expanding the SSN-based FRN requirement to Form 323-E for noncoms, which would meant that folks on the controlling boards of NCE stations would have to get SSN-based FRNs. And the Commission has also renewed a proposal first bandied about in the Fifth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (5th FNPRM) back in 2009. (In the nearly four years since the 5th FNPRM, that proposal – which would expand the FRN reporting requirement even more – apparently never made it to the Federal Register . . . until now!)Continue Reading...
Advanced Wireless Services proposed for H Block spectrum – as long as the NKOTHB are in sync with PCS
Nearly a year ago Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The 47% famously referred to by former Candidate Romney may be surprised to learn that more than 53% of the text of the law dealt with matters largely unrelated to tax relief or job creation. By contrast, Title VI of the law – what we in the biz refer to as the “Spectrum Act” – comprises a whopping 55 out of the law’s 102 pages. That amounts to nearly 54% by our math (don’t worry, we used a calculator). Not surprisingly, we have reported on numerous aspects of the Spectrum Act here over the last year.
Don’t fret if you’ve missed out – there’s plenty more Spectrum Act fun still to come.
For example, we have the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), released last month and recently published in the Federal Register, seeking comment on proposed service rules for the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) H Block spectrum. Licenses in the block are anticipated to be offered for competitive bidding in 2013.Continue Reading...
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.
As we reported last month, in December the Commission released its “Fifth Order on Reconsideration and Sixth Report and Order” (we refer to it as the 6th R&O) in which it (a) tied up some loose ends relative to LPFM and FM translator matters and (b) adopted new rules and policies governing LPFM applicants. The 6th R&O has now been published in the Federal Register, which means that most (but not all) of the new rules are set to become effective on February 8, 2013.
The changes to Sections 73.807, 73.810, 73.827, 73.850, 73.853, 73.855, 73.860 and 73.872 will not take effect on that date, though. All those sections involve what we call “information collections”. As a result, they are subject our old friend, the Paperwork Reduction Act, which means that they will have to run past the Office of Management and Budget first before they can be implemented.
Note that the establishment of effective dates for the new rules should not affect the fast-approaching deadline by which FM translator applicants must file their “Selection Lists” and “Caps Showings”. As we have previously reported, the window for filing those lists and showings opens on January 10 and closes on January 25.
With January 25 deadline fast approaching, the Media Bureau has provided some (non-binding) guidance to FM translator applicants.
If you’re one of the folks with a bunch of FM translator applications still pending from the 2003 filing window, you’re probably hard at work trying to figure out what, if anything, you should be filing in response to the Commission’s public notice announcing the deadline for “Selection Lists” and related “Caps Showings”. (You might have missed that notice, since it was released the afternoon of December 21 – that is, the Friday of the long Christmas weekend.)
As we pointed out, in the wake of that notice a considerable amount of work must be done, and there’s not a lot of time to do it in. The window for filing Selection Lists and Caps Showings opens in two days (on January 10), and closes on January 25.
But the Media Bureau feels your pain, and in an effort to assist translator applicants, the Bureau has released a set of 12 clarifying examples (actually, it’s 17, if you count the five sub-examples tacked onto Example 12). They provide reasonably specific directions for what is and is not expected of applicants in a variety of possible scenarios. (They’re especially helpful if you happen to have five applications pending in the Atlanta area, three of which are Inside the Atlanta Market.) So translator applicants currently struggling with making selections and assembling showings would be well-advised to take a few minutes (and a couple of deep breaths) and check out the Bureau’s examples. That may save some time and aggravation.
But heads up. While the examples are “intended to provide general guidance reflecting the staff’s initial interpretation of the application selections and cap showings procedures”, they may not be the last word. The Bureau’s notice specifically disclaims that the examples “are not intended to establish binding precedent”. Further, “[t]he staff will make specific rulings in response to actual selections and submissions on a case-by-case basis.” In other words, applicants should feel free to rely on the examples, but such reliance will not necessarily safeguard an applicant’s selections or showings from adverse determinations by the staff down the line.
“Selection Lists” may be filed by email.
Last month we reported on the Media Bureau’s announcement of the deadline and procedures for filing lists of FM translator applications to be dismissed pursuant to the provisions of the “Fifth Order on Reconsideration and Sixth Report and Order” (which we’ve previously referred to as the 6th R&O). In our post, we said that “[a]ll showings will be submitted on paper – there will be no electronic filing.”
Oops. As a helpful member of the Audio Division has pointed out to us, the Bureau’s public notice DOES provide for submission of the Selection Lists (and related “Caps Showings”) by email, which is technically “electronic filing” (even if it doesn’t involve CDBS).
The address to use: FXshowings@fcc.gov. While that address may or may not be operational as of today (January 3, 2013), we have been advised that it’ll for sure be up and running by January 10, the day the window for filing Selection Lists and Cap Showings opens.
But heads up. The FCC’s email system will not accept attachments larger than 10 MB. The Bureau’s notice instructs that “files beyond that size [i.e., 10 MB] should [be] divided into multiple sub-10 MB documents and sent via separate e-mails.”
Our apologies for any confusion that we may have caused. And many thanks to our sharp-eyed reader who brought this to our attention.
With February 4 deadline fast approaching, some more helpful tips for the upload process
As we roll into the New Year, it’s important that full-power TV and Class A TV licensees (we’ll refer to them collectively as “TV licensees” here) keep their eye on February 4. That’s the date by which all TV licensees must have uploaded their public inspection files to the FCC-maintained online site. If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to inventory your public file, determine what documents have to be uploaded, and start the upload process inmediatamente.
As we have been explaining in a series of posts that started last spring (or even earlier) when the new online public inspection file requirements were first adopted, TV licensees must move most (but not all) of the materials in their existing public files to the online system. Earlier this month the Commission officially announced that the deadline for completing that project is February 4, 2013.
What has to be uploaded?Continue Reading...
Public notice spells out showings that must accompany applicants’ choices of which 2003-era FM translator applications will stay and which will go
If you’re one of the lucky folks who happens to have translator applications still pending at the Commission from the famous 2003 filing window, heads up – depending on how many applications you have and what markets they propose to serve, you could have a lot of homework to do between now and January 25. That’s because the Media Bureau has announced that the window period for submitting “translator application selection” lists (“Selection Lists”) and related “Caps Showings” will run from January 10-25, 2013.
So much for taking any time off during the Christmas/New Year’s/MLK extended holiday season.
The Bureau’s public notice is not unanticipated. As we noted just ten days ago, the Commission is highly motivated to wrap up the long-running face-off between FM translator applicants and would-be LPFM applicants. The culling of the herd of translator applications that have been sitting around for nearly ten years is an essential step in achieving that goal.
As those of you who have been following the LPFM/FM translator imbroglio through our blog already know, the Commission has devised a highly complex set of technical guidelines to govern which translator applications will be processed and which will be dismissed. The applicants themselves will have the first say, but their ability to pick and choose among their pending applications is subject to the Commission’s complex guidelines.Continue Reading...
Media Bureau offers tips on keeping commenters’ ID’s on the QT.
In an effort to coax otherwise reticent TV broadcasters to join in the public discussion about the Commission’s plans for incentive auctions, the Media Bureau has issued an unusual public notice providing “additional guidance” relative to the fine art of filing comments anonymously. (Exactly when the Bureau had previously provided any such guidance isn’t clear – we certainly don’t remember any – but they’re claiming that this new guidance is “additional” to something, and who are we to say them nay?)
The notice reflects the Bureau’s recognition that some, perhaps many, broadcasters might be reluctant to chime in on the auction proposals because public disclosure of auction-related sensitivities now might be disadvantageous come auction time. It’s always wise to keep your cards close to your vest, so individual TV folks might logically prefer not to reveal questions or concerns that might signal their ultimate auction strategy if and when the auction actually happens. (Even Congress, in mandating the incentive auction process in the first place, provided for confidentiality relative to some information submitted by reverse auction participants.)
Logical though that close-to-the-vest approach may be, it’s contrary to the Commission’s effort to assemble the most comprehensive record possible. As the Commission sees it, the more information it can gather relative to the interests of broadcasters now, the more likely the Commission will eventually be able to design incentive auctions that will attract maximum broadcaster participation. And the more broadcasters that participate in the auction, the greater the likelihood that the auction process will free up maximum spectrum for the Great God Mobile Broadband.
So the Bureau is making clear not only that you can file anonymously, but also how to file anonymously.Continue Reading...
The FCC has proposed an innovation that might vastly increase the ability of multiple users to share the same band.
The FCC has proposed a set of rules that look innocuous enough, and would apply only to a single, underused band. But they may herald a new way of managing spectrum – a suite of techniques having the potential to vastly increase the number of users that can share a given range of frequencies.
All of the radio spectrum is occupied – at least, all of the most useful parts, below about 60 gigahertz. But the demand for spectrum continues to increase. What the FCC needs most is a way to squeeze new users into spectrum that is already in use, without causing interference to either the incumbents or the newcomers.
Current spectrum management relies on “allocating” each band of frequencies to (usually) several categories of users. Those categories, in turn, come in three different priorities. Those designated as “secondary” may not cause harmful interference to, and must accept all interference from, those called “primary.” Unlicensed users, permitted in most bands, must protect all other users (except each other) from interference, and must accept all interference that comes their way. A few bands, like that used for GPS reception, have only one active user category; a few have as many as seven or eight. Three to five is about typical.
Yet even supposedly occupied spectrum is quiet in most places, for much of the time. Some services, like those using two-way radios, occupy their frequencies only sporadically; others, like some types of satellite earth stations, operate only at wide separated locations. All such users, however, vigorously resist letting others into their bands. A police officer at the scene of an accident, picking up his microphone to request an ambulance, hopes to find an empty channel to make the call. The satellite operator may want the option of installing earth stations at new locations, without interference from other kinds of transmitters nearby.
As we explain below, the FCC thinks it can fully protect all such users while still letting new entrants share the same frequencies.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...
Updated “water files” also released as FCC works to advance LPFM/FM translator plan
Having settled on a framework for clearing the FM translator logjam and getting the LPFM application process up and running (at least in theory), the Commission is losing no time in its efforts to implement that framework. The “Fifth Order on Reconsideration and Sixth Report and Order” in the ongoing LPFM/FM translator saga has now been published in the Federal Register. (We wrote about that order last week.) Barring a stay of the effectiveness of the order – and such a stay is unlikely in the extreme – the new rules will become effective on January 10, 2013. (That will also be the deadline for petitions for reconsideration, should anybody be inclined to seek reconsideration. Parties interested in seeking judicial review will have until February 9 to get their petitions for review filed with an appropriate court.)
The Federal Register publication (and consequent effective date) probably won’t have any immediate impact on things, though. What will have an immediate impact will be the FCC’s public notice concerning the deadline by which applicants with more than the permitted number of translator applications must elect which of their applications they plan to dismiss. That public notice could show up any time now. Since (1) the Commission appears keen on getting the LPFM show on the road, and (2) the LPFM window process won’t be able to proceed until the translator backlog is cleared, and (3) the translator backlog won’t be cleared until dismissal elections have been made, and (4) dismissal elections won’t be made until the FCC sets a deadline for them, our guess is that that deadline is likely to be announced sooner rather than later. Check back here for updates.
And also on the LPFM front, the Commission has released some updated “water files” for certain markets. These files clarify or correct certain “minor discrepancies” with respect to the possible exclusion of grid points at locations over water or not within the United States. (For more on the significance of “grid points” and related matters, see our post from last April.) The communities affected by the updated water files: Chicago; Detroit; Los Angeles; and Jacksonville (the one in Florida). The code, updated water files and other relevant materials may be accessed in a zip file at http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/MB/Databases/source_code/lpfm/lpfm6.20121206.zip.
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...
Commission adjusts FM translator application caps as process to clear FM translator backlog looms; LPFM window tentatively set to open in October, 2013
It looks like the long-running tug-of-war for spectrum between low-power FM (LPFM) advocates, on the one hand, and FM translator advocates, on the other, may be close to wrapping up, at least as far as the FCC is concerned. With a “Fifth Order on Reconsideration and Sixth Report and Order” (we’ll just refer to it as the 6th R&O), the Commission has tied up some loose ends remaining from last March’s “Fourth Report and Order and Third Order on Reconsideration” (4th R&O) and adopted new rules and policies governing LPFM applicants.
With these changes, the Commission is positioned to move forward on two related fronts. First, it should be able to clear the logjam of 6,000 or so translator applications remaining from the 2003 FM translator window. And second, it can establish a timeline for the first LPFM window filing opportunity in more than a decade.
Anyone new to the LPFM/FM translator imbroglio – or anyone who may not recall the monumental effort the Commission made earlier this year to solve that seemingly insoluble conundrum – may want to take a quick look at our coverage of that effort. You can find some relevant posts from last April, here, here and here. Having dealt with all that heavy regulatory lifting, the Commission was able to make the 6th R&O relatively straightforward and limited in scope (although it still weighs in at a hefty 83 pages, not counting appendices and Commissioners’ statements). In it, the Commission fine-tunes its approach to the translator backlog and sets the stage for a window for new LPFM applications tentatively set to open on October 15, 2013.
Here are the highlights:Continue Reading...
Not surprisingly, the FCC has extended the comment deadlines in the wireless microphone proceeding again. In that proceeding, of course, the Commission is looking into how best to accommodate wireless mics in the face of the dwindling amount of vacant television spectrum space on which those mics have historically been allowed to operate. We reported on the last extension just a couple of weeks ago. The goal of that first extension was to sync up the comment deadlines in the wireless mic proceeding with those in the Incentive Auction proceeding, since the latter is likely to have a significant impact on the former.
But since then the Commission extended the comment periods in the Incentive Auction docket. To maintain the synchronicity between those deadlines and the wireless mic deadlines, the Commission has, on its own motion, moved the wireless mic deadlines as well. Comments are now due by January 25, 2013, and replies by March 12, 2013.
We recently reported that the FCC had invited comments (and reply comments) with respect to test results that may show interference from Progeny LMS, LLC, a licensed provider in the 902-928 MHz band, into some of the myriad unlicensed devices in that same band. The invitation was issued on November 20, and provided that initial comments were to be filed by December 11, a scant three weeks later (with the long Thanksgiving weekend taking up a significant chunk of those three weeks).
The FCC has now extended the comment periods, but not by much. Progeny opposed any extension, but the Commission was persuaded that at least some additional time was warranted. As a result, comments are now due on December 21, 2012 (a whopping ten extra days) and reply comments on January 11, 2013. That latter date is curious because, in the text of the order, the Commission says that it’s “provid[ing] ten additional days for filing reply comments”. But since the original reply deadline was December 21, an extra ten days should have landed the deadline – if our math is correct – on December 31. Despite that, the order clearly specifies January 11 as the new reply deadline, which seems to constitute (again, if our math is correct) a 21-day extension. Let’s just assume that the Commission threw in the extra time in view of the intervening year-end holidays and leave it at that..
Overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of the Incentive Auction NPRM (which it took us six – count ‘em, six) separate posts to summarize)? No problem. Thanks to the NAB and CTIA-The Wireless Association®, who jointly requested more time, the FCC has extended the deadlines for comments on the NPRM. Mark your calendars: comments are now due by January 25, 2013, and reply comments are due by March 12.
If you’re broadcasting video in digital, we’re talking to you.
Attention, all DTV broadcasters! Your Form 317 is due at the FCC by
December 3. You get an extra couple of days this year (since the normal December 1 due date falls on a Saturday), but those two days should give you plenty of time to complete and file the form.
Having trouble recalling just what Form 317 is all about? No problem. Form 317 is the “Digital Ancillary/Supplementary Services” Report on which you have to report whether, between October 1, 2011 – September 30, 2012, your DTV station provided any ancillary or supplementary services for a fee and, if so, how much revenue the station received. If you did provide any such services, then you’ve got to fork over five percent of the gross revenues you got from them (the payment to be accompanied by a completed Form 159, thank you very much.)
“Ancillary or supplementary services” include any services that are provided using the portion of a facility’s spectrum that is not needed for its required one free broadcast signal. Multiple video streams that are received free by the public are not considered to be ancillary or supplementary services.
The filing requirement applies to all digital broadcasters of television programming, including TV translators, LPTV and Class A television stations, whether operating pursuant to a license, program test authority, or Special Temporary Authority. And it applies whether or not the broadcaster in fact offered any ancillary/supplementary services for a fee. Obviously, if you offered no such services, the report will be short and you won’t have to do any calculations or pay any money to the Commission – but, if you have a facility that is operating digitally to broadcast television programming, the FCC wants a Form 317 report from you, and it wants that report by December 3.
In a public notice reminding one and all of the requirement, the Commission darkly observes that failure to file “may result in appropriate sanctions”. Consider yourself warned.
As with most forms these days, the Form 317 must be filed electronically through CDBS. Also, keep in mind for planning purposes that only one station goes on each report. Thus, if you are a licensee with a number of digital translators, you’ll probably need to allow more time for filing.
If you would like any help in navigating the electronic filing or have any questions about the form and what needs to be included, please let us know. While we won’t help with any payments that may be due, we can assist you in the filing process.
[Blogmeister’s Note: This is the last in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series by clicking here. Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]
Once the “reverse” and “forward” auctions have both been completed and TV licenses have all been tucked away in their newly-compacted space, the fun will really begin for the Commission.
Once the “reverse” and “forward” auctions have been completed and the broadcast TV industry has been repacked, the FCC will finally be able to reconfigure the vacated UHF spectrum for mobile. But determining, now, precisely how that reconfiguration will ultimately look, then, poses a unique challenge in view of the number of unknowns currently in play.
Until the “reverse” auction is completed, questions will remain regarding the amount of spectrum that will be available for reconfiguration, the particular frequencies comprising that available spectrum, and the geographic locations covered by that spectrum. Therefore, the band plan described in the Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is more of a “framework” based on the expectation of cleared frequencies. In admirable bureaucratese, the NPRM describes its goal as “a band plan that balances flexibility with certainty.”
The certainty includes proposing a fixed amount of downlink spectrum nationwide with uplink spectrum possibly varying in different geographic areas. The idea is to best utilize what are expected to be varying amounts of cleared spectrum in different geographic areas. By providing uniform downlink spectrum throughout all geographical areas, the Commission hopes to assure a more interoperable universe at the device level, where each mobile device can use the same receive filters while the carriers’ base stations can be modified to allow for multiple uplink spectrum signals. A level of interoperability at the device level is expected to lead to lower device costs while allowing for greater economies of scale.
Consistent with the uncertainties surrounding the final reconfiguration process, the Commission advises that its general “focus” is on five “key policy goals”, to wit: utility, certainty, interchangeability, quantity, and interoperability.Continue Reading...
[Blogmeister’s Note: This is another in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series by clicking here.Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]
The “forward” auction to be used to dole out reconfigured spectrum to wireless operators may seem traditional, but watch out.
If the “reverse” auction designed to clear TV broadcasters out of large chunks of their current spectrum isn’t complicated enough, consider the “forward” auction. That’s the component of the Incentive Auctions in which hopeful wireless licensees will bid on the to-be-vacated spectrum sight unseen at the same time that the spectrum is being cleared. Because the availability of wireless licenses is dependent upon the results of the reverse auction in different geographic areas, wireless bidders won’t know exactly which spectrum band they’re bidding on or even whether any band will actually be available when the reverse auction is over.
This double helix of descending bids on spectrum simultaneously coupled in sequential stages with parallel ascending bids on that same spectrum is audacious. But it is theoretically an efficient and quick way of re-assigning a precious resource.
Complexity in the computer age is not necessarily a deal breaker, but human (and computer) fallibility gives us some pause about this plan. Through the Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the Commission is still looking for input on its plan, so we can expect experts from the world of Academia to chime in knowledgeably on the concept.
In the meantime, we lay out here the Commission’s preliminary thoughts. The three basic auction design elements are: bid collection procedures, assignment procedures, and pricing.Continue Reading...
[Blogmeister’s Note: This is another in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series by clicking here. Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]
Once the final participants in the repacking of the TV band have been identified through the "reverse" auction process, the shuffling of stations necessary to accomplish the repacking will raise a number of practical considerations and conundrums.
Once the auctions have been completed, the Commission and the TV industry will have to grapple with the practical implementation of repacking: who gets what channels, how will stations moving from one channel to another effectuate that transition, what (if any) reimbursement of transition costs will be available, and to whom. This phase of the process will affect all TV broadcasters, whether or not they opted to participate in the “reverse” auction.
Initially, the post-transition channels to which full power and Class A station will be assigned will be determined by the FCC, without input from licensees. The Commission will use a software program to figure out the optimal way to squeeze the TV industry into the portion of the current TV band that will remain, post-auction, available for TV operations. Although stations are not to be involuntarily moved from UHF to VHF, almost any other move will be fair game as long as it’s consistent with the auction results. Licensees unhappy with whatever “new” channel they are assigned to will have very limited recourse: the Spectrum Act denies stations the right to protest modifications of their licenses (i.e, channel changes)imposed by the Commission to accomplish the repacking.
Re-licensing Procedures. Once the Commission announces its repacked TV band, a number of procedural steps will have to be taken: as we all learned from the transition to DTV several years ago, it’s one thing for the FCC to specify where stations are supposed to operate on the spectrum; it’s an entirely different thing to get those stations up and running on the appointed channels.Continue Reading...
[Blogmeister’s Note: This is another in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series by clicking here. Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]
Whether or not you plan to participate in the “reverse” auction, if you’re a TV licensee, you should be aware of what the FCC has in mind for the spectrum around you.
It’s important to understand that the Incentive Auction program is merely a device designed to facilitate the “repacking” of the spectrum. That is, the FCC is dead-set on freeing up space for mobile broadband use in spectrum currently occupied by TV broadcast stations. In other words, many TV licensees can be expected to be moved off their current channels, whether voluntarily (through the “reverse” auction process) or by forced relocation. So while TV licensees not planning on participating in the “reverse” auction” may not be terribly concerned with the mechanics of submitting bids, all TV broadcasters need to pay attention to the FCC’s proposed approach to repacking the spectrum.
Under the Spectrum Act, when the Commission relocates TV stations in its repacking efforts, it must take “all reasonable efforts” to preserve the “coverage area” and “population served” of every surviving full power or Class A station. For these purposes, “coverage area” and “population served” are to be determined using the methods set out by the Office of Engineering and Technology’s Bulletin No. 69 (OET-69). LPTV and translators station will receive no protection during the repacking process and will be subject to displacement by any relocated full power or Class A station, although the NPRM does request comment on some measures designed to help LPTV and translator stations survive in a post-auction world.
As for full power and Class A stations, the Commission in the Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is looking to determine just what “coverage area” and “population” must be protected. Under OET-69, the term “coverage area” is not defined, but it is used synonymously with “service area” as that latter term is defined in Section 73.622(e) of the rules. While “coverage area” (or “service area”) does not account for interference from other stations, OET-69’s measurement of “population served” does, counting only population that is both within the “coverage area” and where the signal is not masked by interference.Continue Reading...
[Blogmeister’s Note: This is another in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series by clicking here. Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]
Hint: Maybe fewer folks than you might have thought.
Who will be eligible to participate in the “reverse” spectrum auction? Not, it would appear, everybody who might want to.
As required by Congress in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (which the FCC prefers to refer to as the “Spectrum Act”), in its Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the Commission proposes significant eligibility limitations as far as the “reverse” auction goes.
First and probably most important, the only folks who could participate in the “reverse” auction would be licensees of full power and Class A television stations, both commercial and noncommercial. That automatically eliminates LPTV licensees and TV translator licensees.
But Class A licensees should not necessarily be breathing easily, particularly in light of the Commission’s recent attempts to downgrade a number of Class A stations to LPTV status. The NPRM proposes that any station whose Class A status has been revoked by the Commission would not be eligible to participate in the auction, even if the order downgrading the station has not become final by the time of the auction. (Licensees who get downgraded can seek reconsideration or review of the decision to downgrade, thus avoiding finality and keeping alive – or so they hope – the possibility that the decision might be reversed during the appeals process. Under the FCC’s proposed eligibility criteria for the reverse auction, however, any effort to reverse a downgrade might be pointless if the auction, and consequent repacking, occurs before the downgraded station could be restored to Class A status.)
There are some potential limiting considerations for full power licensees, too.Continue Reading...
With the deadlines for FM Auction 94 now on the books, the Commission has also announced that it will not accept ANY commercial or noncommercial minor mod applications between January 28 and February 6, 2013. That’s the filing window for short form (Form 175) applications for Auction 94.
These freezes are standard operating procedure when it comes to broadcast auctions. The goal is to avoid the creation of any conflicts (unforeseeable or otherwise) with auction proposals that could muck up the auction process. So if you have any intention of filing for a minor mod in the near term, you’d best be sure to get it filed before January 28 or be prepared to cool your heels for ten days until the freeze thaws on February 7.
For more information on the auction itself, see our related posts here.
The FCC has released a notice setting the procedures for Auction 94, the FM bid-fest set for next Spring. Get out your checkbooks . . . and your calendars – since, as we predicted a couple of months ago, the schedule of events initially announced back then has been changed.
The auction will look much the same as previous sales conducted by the FCC, at least in terms of the procedures. But be prepared for disappointment if, based on the Commission’s initial listing of channels up for bids, you had your heart set on getting a station in: Newark, Maryland (not New Jersey, or even Delaware); or Arlington, Oregon (not Texas or even Virginia); or Rocksprings, Texas, Chincoteague, Virginia, or Baggs, Wyoming. All five of those channels have been pulled from this year’s auction because they had been inadvertently omitted from a 2006 version of the Table of FM Allotments. Oops. No problem, though – they’ll all presumably be available in a future auction. And anyway, you’ve still got 112 channels to bid on this time around.
Anybody looking to set up shop in the Great Northwest should be pleased, because the minimum opening bids on three Washington State channels have been slashed dramatically. Class A channels at Oak Harbor, Sequim and Sedro-Wooley (presumably not to be confused with Sheb Wooley of “Purple People Eater” fame) initially commanded minimum bids of $25,000, $20,000 and $45,000, respectively. Forget all that. Bidding for Oak Harbor will now be starting at a paltry $15,000 – that’s a 40% reduction! But wait, there’s more. Sequim and Sedro-Wooley have both been slashed by nearly 90%. The opening -- and potentially only -- bid for Sequim is a mere $1,500, and Sedro-Wooley, originally listed at $45,000, is now down to $5,000.
All of the remaining 109 permits will start with the same prices proposed by the FCC back in September.
Potential bidders should mark their calendars with the following important dates – and note that there has been a change in one of those important dates since our last report:Continue Reading...
[Blogmeister’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series as they are posted by clicking here. Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]
An overview of the FCC’s proposed approach to spectrum-clearing/spectrum-repopulating incentive auctions and some of the myriad factors at play in that process.
The Incentive Auctions are coming. No doubt about it. TV and Class A licensees will be given the opportunity to cash in in return for making some or all of their spectrum available for repurposing (the beneficiaries of the repurposing being wireless broadband operators). The innovative concept floated out two years ago in the National Broadband Plan is now targeted for implementation in 2014 . . . if about a million different moving parts all happen to align just right.
Recently, Commission officials (including Commissioner Rosenworcel and Incentive Auction Task Force co-leader Gary Epstein) have emphasized the importance of making the auction process understandable and easy to participate in. As Rosenworcel put it, “[s]implicity is key . . . [A]t every structural juncture [of the auction design], a bias toward simplicity is crucial”.
Perhaps. But that brings us to the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in which it lays out – over 140 pages of single-spaced text plus 26 pages of proposed rules plus 22 pages of additional appendices plus 15 pages of separate statements by the Commissioners plus a 20-page “Incentive Auction Rules Option and Discussion” – the agency’s thoughts on the Incentive Auctions’ design.
“Ease” and “simplicity” do not spring to mind as the reader slogs through the dense, highly technical NPRM.Continue Reading...
Potentially at stake: the utility of the 902-928 MHz band for unlicensed operations
We recently reported on test results that may show interference from Progeny LMS, LLC, a licensed provider in the 902-928 MHz band, into some of the myriad unlicensed devices in that same band.
The FCC has now asked for public comment on those test results.
Comments are due on December 11, 2012 and reply comments on December 21.
Ten-month-old proposal takes first step toward possible rulemaking.
Last January, we wrote about a proposal by Entercom Communications Corp. to change the FCC’s on-air contest rule. As we all know, that rule requires that, when a station promotes a station-conducted contest on the air, the station must disclose – on the air – all the material terms of the contest. Such disclosures can be a real drag programming-wise, even when they’re jammed into the kind of compressed super-fast babble normally reserved for extended disclaimers about sketchy products.
Entercom has sensibly suggested that broadcasters be permitted to post contest rules on their stations’ websites, rather than subject listeners to the fine-print recitations the Commission currently requires. (Note that the Enforcement Bureau has expressly held that, under the current on-air contest regulation, licensees may not rely exclusively on website posting of contest rules to satisfy Section 73.1216.)
Ten months after Entercom’s petition rolled in the FCC’s door, the FCC has finally gotten around to asking how anybody else feels about the proposal. If you would like to chip in your two cents’ worth, you’ve got until December 20, 2012 to let the Commission know. This invitation for comments does not mean that the Commission will for sure change the rule, or even issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (which would be a necessary step before the rule could in fact be changed). But the invitation does give interested parties the opportunity to let the Commission how they really feel about this issue. A solid show of support at this stage could improve the prospects for the eventual adoption of Entercom’s proposal.
The comment deadlines have been extended in the FCC’s inquiry about how best to accommodate wireless microphones in the face of the dwindling amount of vacant television spectrum space on which those mics have historically been allowed to operate. The original comment deadline was the day before Thanksgiving, but that date has now been pushed back 30 days. The extension was granted at the request of a number of parties who want to coordinate (a) their comments in the wireless mic proceeding with (b) their comments in the separate Incentive Auctions proceeding, which will have an impact on (among other things) accommodation of wireless mics in the repacked spectrum contemplated by the Incentive Auctions proposals. Comments are now due by December 21, 2012, and replies by February 19, 2013 (the same deadlines as in the Incentive Auction proceeding).
LightSquared proposes to move its cell-type service away from GPS frequencies . . . and into a Weather Satellite Band.
The FCC has requested comment on a Petition for Rulemaking filed by LightSquared Subsidiary LLC seeking a new co-primary allocation permitting non-Federal terrestrial mobile use of the 1675-1680 MHz band.
You remember LightSquared – the company that wanted to deploy a tower-based wireless broadband network in the 1545-1555 MHz satellite downlink portion of the L Band, close to GPS frequencies. GPS users objected, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) which administers federal spectrum, decided GPS interference concerns could not be overcome, whereupon the FCC pulled LightSquared’s tentative authorization.
With its recent Petition for Rulemaking (and other documents filed in late September), LightSquared seeks a work-around to its GPS headache (and possibly a Hail Mary to resurrect the company, which is now in bankruptcy).Continue Reading...
FCC opens inquiry into whether, and how, and how much, wireless spectrum holdings should be limited.
It’s undeniable that a small handful of carriers control an overwhelming amount of mobile spectrum in the U.S. Many observers of the communications landscape believe that that intense concentration has reached alarming proportions. Unfortunately, to date federal regulators have not tended to be among those hand-wringers.
As a result, Verizon and AT&T, and to a lesser extent Sprint and T-Mobile, have increasingly gobbled up huge chunks of spectrum both through auctions and in secondary market transactions, leaving only the crumbs for smaller carriers to squabble over. Often the FCC auctions the spectrum in increments covering huge territories – Regional Economic Area Groupings (REAG) or Major Economic Areas (EA) – that span as many as ten states. Such vast areas are too big for a small or medium sized carrier to handle and usually more than even the largest carriers can hope to build out in a reasonable timeframe. So a considerable amount of spectrum lies moldering in the larders of the largest carriers for a rainy day while smaller carriers cannot fulfill their customers’ basic needs.
Now the FCC has decided to take a fresh look at its policy on mobile spectrum holdings. In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released in September (and published in the Federal Register in early October) , the FCC has opened a far-ranging and much needed inquiry into all aspects of the spectrum accumulation issue.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...
You can win $50,000 and a trip to Washington. And the undying, everlasting gratitude of your fellow telephone subscribers.
Sometimes technology just takes a wrong turn. Yes, it has vastly improved our lives. No one wants to go back to the days before smallpox vaccine, or power steering, or existential cat videos. But technology also provides its share of daily annoyances. High on that list is the “robocaller”: a machine that dials your phone, and when you answer, delivers a recorded message.
The economics of robocalls works much like email spam: the perpetrators can reach so many people, at such a low cost per contact, that they don’t care if 99.9% hang up without hearing the message. But robocalls are much more intrusive than spam. They prompt the victim off the couch to answer a ringing phone. And, unlike other kinds of telemarketing calls, robocalls even deny us the satisfaction of telling off the person who called.
The Federal Trade Commission has decreed most robocalls to be illegal. But the rules do allow some kinds. Political parties can robocall at will, thanks to that pesky First Amendment – and in these final days leading up to an election, they exercise that right with a vengeance. Also legal are robocalls from charities and health care providers, and “reverse 911” calls that warn people about local emergencies – for example, calls to a particular neighborhood about contamination of the water supply.
But the FTC is confident that illegal robocalls make up the vast majority (even though it does not provide any hard supporting data). And enforcement has been lax. We know that because we get so many of them. As yet there is no easy way for the recipient to block robocalls – no equivalent of the email “junk filters” that protect us from most email spam.
That is where the FTC comes in.Continue Reading...
We recently reported on the FCC’s inquiry about how best to accommodate wireless microphones in the face of the dwindling amount of vacant television spectrum space on which those mics have historically been allowed to operate. The Commission’s request for comments has now made it into the Federal Register, which as we all know by now establishes the relevant filing deadlines. Comments in response to the FCC’s request are due by November 21, 2012, and reply comments are due by December 12, 2012.
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...
The FCC wants help in squeezing more wireless microphones into ever-shrinking spectrum.
Traditional wireless microphones – the kind you see on TV, big stage shows, and in lecture halls and churches – operate on locally vacant TV channels. But those channels are becoming scarce. The FCC has asked for comment on how to accommodate these microphones in the future.
In the old days of analog TV, there were a lot of TV channels, and the shortcomings of analog receivers meant a lot of those channels in each market could not be used for TV. That left plenty of room for wireless microphones. The picture began to change in 2009, when the last full-power analog stations went off the air. Because digital TV stations can be packed more tightly than analog stations, the FCC was able to free up 18 channels for other uses, which left fewer empty channels for wireless microphones. Then, a year ago, the FCC approved the first operation of “white space” devices that provide Wi-Fi-like service in some of the remaining vacant TV channels. The FCC reserved two channels in every market for wireless microphones, and provided for additional channels where needed in a complicated set of regulations; but there is no getting around the fact that a lot more devices will be trying to operate in a lot less spectrum. Then, last month, the FCC proposed “incentive auctions” designed to encourage broadcasters to give up still more channels.Continue Reading...
COMING SOON TO SCREENS ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY!!!
YOUR OCTOBER, 2012 ISSUES/PROGRAMS LIST!!!
If you’re a full-power or Class A TV licensee (for convenience, we’ll refer to that universe as “TV licensees” here), you’d better get used to it: your quarterly issues/programs lists, once consigned to the comfortable privacy of your on-site local public inspection file, will soon be available for review anywhere, anytime, by anyone with an Internet connection. If you’re absolutely, positively 100% confident that your lists would pass muster if subjected to rigorous scrutiny, congratulations. You may not need to read further.
But if you haven’t really thought too much about your lists for a couple of years and are concerned that they could use some spiffing up before their online debut, read on. Our goal here is to provide some guidance about (a) the Commission’s specific requirements relative to issues/programs lists and (b) how to get your next list uploaded to the FCC’s online TV public file system.
Important reminder: for TV licensees, the next issues/programs list is required to be uploaded to the FCC’s online public file system no later than OCTOBER 10, 2012.
What goes into an issues/programs list?Continue Reading...
- All applications proposing to modify any of the 117 vacant non-reserved band FM allotments scheduled for Auction 94 (currently slated to kick on next March 26);
- All petitions and counterproposals that propose a change in channel, class, community, or reference coordinates for any of the Auction 94 allotments; and
- All applications, petitions and counterproposals that fail to fully protect any Auction 94 Allotment.
Filings in any of the above categories that happen to be submitted after the release of the FCC’s public notice will be dismissed. (Can’t remember what channels are up for grabs in Auction 94? Click here for the current list.) This freeze will remain in effect until the day after the deadline for Auction 94 long form applications – which will likely be sometime in early Summer, 2013, at the earliest.
The freeze notice does not announce a freeze on any and all minor mod applications (for commercial or noncommercial stations) during the filing window for short form (Form 175) applications for Auction 94. (The Form 175 filing window hasn’t been announced yet – look for that announcement in a month or two.) Such blanket freezes barring all minor mods during the Short Form window have been standard operating procedure in the last four FM auctions. Given that precedent, if you have a minor mod you’d like to file that doesn’t fit into any of the three freeze categories noted above, you might want to plan on getting it filed before the opening of the Form 175 filing period, just to be on the safe side. Otherwise, your ability to file could be delayed by a month or more. Check back here for updates on the auction schedule.
Freezes like this are routine when it comes to broadcast auctions. The goal is to avoid the creation of any conflicts (unforeseeable or otherwise) with auction proposals that could muck up the auction process.
For more information on Auction 94 itself, see our related post here.
117 FM construction permits now available for inspection on the showroom floor . . . but the bidding action won’t start until next March.
If it’s September, it’s time to gear up for the next FM auction. In keeping with that recent tradition, the FCC has announced that, come March 26, 2013, 117 new FM construction permits will be up for grabs through the usual auction process. Heads up, though: March 26, 2013 also happens to be the first day of Passover, and the Tuesday of Holy Week, and maybe even the probable day before regular season Major League baseball begins. So there's at least a chance that the date might move some (and if you'd support some such movement, you can file comments letting the FCC know). But one way or another, the gears have begun turning for the next FM construction permit auction.
You can find a list of the available allotments here. While the Commission refers to 117 “new” permits, that’s not an entirely accurate description. Of the 117 permits, 26 are re-treads from earlier auctions: 22 are back again from Auction 93 (conducted last spring), two are from 2011’s Auction 91, one hearkens back to Auction 70 (vintage 2007), and one goes all the way back to Auction 62 in 2006. The last two were sold back when, but the buyers defaulted. The other 24 didn’t move off the lot when they were first put up for grabs.
If you’ve followed the Commission’s auction process, you know that there’s plenty of paperwork to get out of the way before the bid paddles start going up on March 26 and the gavel starts coming down some time later. The first step? A request for comments on proposed procedures, upfront payments and minimum opening bids. Comments are due by October 10, 2012, replies by October 24, 2012.
It appears that the procedures the Commission has put out for comment don’t contain anything different from past FCC broadcast spectrum auctions. Still, true auction aficionados should take a close look at the fine print to make sure that they’re on top of the details. Also, if one or another permit on the list catches your eye but you think the minimum opening bid for that permit is too pricey, you can let the FCC know in your comments. (Be prepared to support your thoughts with “valuation analyses” and don’t forget to include in your comments suggested amounts or formulas for reserve prices or minimum opening bids.) The FCC has created a special e-mail address -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- to which comments or reply comments should be sent in addition to the standard FCC filing procedures.Continue Reading...
FAA seeks public input on draft report to Congress that relies on foreign airlines’ lightly used cell service.
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the ironically-named Ministry of Love oversees the torture of people disloyal to Big Brother. Within that ministry is Room 101. And inside Room 101 is the worst thing in the world, according to the private terrors of each offender. No one reading the book can help wondering what he or she would find there.
For us, the answer is easy. Room 101 is set up like the inside of an airplane. One of the center seats is ours. The people on either side of us, barely a foot away, are yammering into their cell phones through every minute of a flight that never ends.
Keeping that horror at bay, for now, is an FCC rule barring handsets from using some (but not all) cell phone frequencies while aloft, and an FAA rule against operating most portable electronic devices, including cell phones, on U.S. aircraft. The FAA has told the airlines they can allow use of some kinds of electronic devices above 10,000 feet, but not cell phones. (As we reported recently, the FAA is considering whether to allow some kinds of devices throughout the flight.)
Now the FAA is taking another look at the cell phone ban as well.Continue Reading...
Last May we reported on the release of a Report and Order in which the FCC authorized Medical Body Area Network (MBAN) devices that will operate in the 2360-2400 MHz region, immediately below the heavily-used unlicensed band that houses Bluetooth, and most Wi-Fi, along with many other applications. For some reason, though, that Report and Order didn’t make it into the Federal Register, so the new rules haven’t taken effect . . . but some will next month.
We are pleased to let you know that the Commission’s magnum MBAN opus from last May has at long last found its way into the Federal Register. That in turn establishes the effective date of many (but not all) of the rules. The effective date will be October 11, 2012 ]. But several of the revised rules – §§95.1215(c), 95.1217(a)(3), 95.1223 and 95.1225, to be precise – still won’t kick in as of that date. That’s because they involve “information collections” subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act, so they have to be run past the Office of Management and Budget. Check back here for updates on that front.
FCC invites input on proposal that would allow actions against carriers with results that would be binding even on customers unaware of the dispute.
[Blogmeister’s Note: Peter Tannenwald and Mitchell Lazarus collaborated in the authorship of this post.]
You’ve see the ads: “Did you use Acme brand dynamite in 2011? And miss the Roadrunner? You might be entitled to compensation!!” – followed by columns of mind-numbing fine print. This is the visible tip of a “class action.” It works like this: A law firm sues some hapless (but rich) company on behalf of a category of persons alleged to have suffered the same harm at the hands of the defendant. The class of plaintiffs must be well defined – this is a legal requirement – but its members need not all be named. If the action succeeds, the class members who heard about it and came forward receive compensation – typically very small, sometimes worth just a few dollars. And the law firm that brought the action can recover very substantial legal fees. (Keep this last point in mind.)
A newly formed company called Solvable Frustrations, Inc. (SFI) has asked the FCC for a rule change that would allow lawyers to file class action complaints at the FCC on behalf of consumers. So far SFI is targeting only common carriers, not broadcasters or cable companies. How Internet Service Providers might fare under a class action regime remains to be seen, but we can image mega-cases over issues like net neutrality and privacy.
The proposal is win-win for everyone, at least according to SFI. Where it would not pay an individual consumer to sue a phone company or cell carrier over a few dollars’ worth of overcharge, a large group of consumers might get meaningful relief by joining together and exploiting the might of large numbers.
Even the carriers, says SFI, would benefit from the economies of scale. They would have to defend a complaint case only once; the issues would be presented by qualified professionals; and the outcome would be binding on all of the other potential complainants waiting in the wings, who would then not be permitted to sue separately. And the FCC would have to go through the decision process only once. Today the backlog of small complaints is humongous. Wouldn’t it be better to reduce a million complaints to half a dozen or so?
There remain just a few legal problems.Continue Reading...
Last month we reported on (a) some fine-tuning the Commission had performed on its wireless backhaul rules and policies, and (b) some additional changes the Commission is considering in that area. The FCC’s decision has now been published in the Federal Register – in two separate parts, one reflecting the Report and Order portion of the decision, the other reflecting its Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry components.
Federal Register publication sets the comment deadlines for the proposed rulemaking/inquiry aspects. If you want to give the FCC the benefit of your thinking on the Commission’s proposals, you have until October 5, 2012 to get your comments in. Reply comments are due by October 22, 2012.
FedReg publication of the report and order establishes the effective date of the rule changes adopted in that report and order . . . for the most part. All of the newly-adopted rules will take effect on October 5, 2012. All, that is, except for the “Rural Microwave Flexibility Policy,” which provides for waiver of the spectrum efficiency requirements for links in rural areas. Because that policy includes “information collections” that have to be run past the Office of Management and Budget first for its approval (thanks to the Paperwork Reduction Act), the policy won’t become effective along with the rest of the rules. Rather, the FCC and OMB will afford the public further opportunities to comment on the flexibility policy. If OMB gives it the thumbs up, the FCC will publish a notice to that effect, specifying a separate effective date for the policy. We’ll let you know when that happens.
A feature of modern air travel is the ritual shutting down of electronic gadgets before take-off and landing. The FAA is taking another look at whether this is really necessary.
A little-loved feature of modern air travel, along with security lines, cramped legroom, and overstuffed overheads, is the pre-takeoff ritual where the flight attendant says, “You must now turn off all personal electronic devices. Anything with an on/off switch must be in the off position.” And the same thing again as the plane is preparing to land.
The FAA is taking another look at whether this procedure is really necessary.
Current FAA rules prohibit the operation of all personal electronic devices (PEDs) at all times during the flight, except for hearing aids and heart pacemakers (understandable) and also electric shavers and portable voice recorders (less so). The FAA rule is here. Individual airlines can authorize departures from the rule; most have followed an FAA recommendation to allow use of a PED without an active transmitter at altitudes above 10,000 feet – about five minutes after takeoff and fifteen minutes before landing. Most airlines prohibit transmitters throughout the flight (this includes cell phones, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, except to use airline-provided Wi-Fi services), and still require all devices to be turned off below 10,000 feet.
These rules date back to the mid-1960s, when the FAA’s main concerns were electrical interference into the aircraft’s communications and navigation gear. Since then, as aircraft have become increasingly computerized and electronic displays proliferated in the cockpit, the possible on-board targets of interference have increased. Over the same time period, passengers’ gadgets have likewise become computerized and have proliferated. And passenger complaints about being cut off from their devices have steadily mounted.
The FAA has now launched a comprehensive review of PEDs and their actual risk to aircraft safety.
We hope the FAA will address some of the present inconsistencies.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...
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.
Meanwhile, back at the FM translator application backlog . . .
In March, the Commission announced the process by which the pile of several thousand FM translator applications, still pending since the infamous 2003 filing window, would be trimmed down. (You can read the Commission’s full 35-page – not including appendices – decision here, or our punchy, far more abbreviated recap of it here.) As we reported in May, the process by which the Commission intends to thin the herd involves “information collections” (as they are known in Paperwork Reduction Act parlance). Such collections must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before they can be implemented.
According to a notice published in the Federal Register, OMB has given its thumbs up to the Commission’s process. (The imprimatur was technically handed down on July 24.) This clears the way for the FCC to get the culling started. Look for a public notice in the near future setting deadlines and the like. The Commission has been under considerable pressure to move things along on the LPFM front, and clearing the FM translator backlog is an essential first step. Because of that, we won’t be surprised if things start to happen pretty fast at this point. Folks with FM translator applications pending from the 2003 window should familiarize themselves with the FCC’s process as outlined back in March (if they haven’t done so already), determine how that process affects their applications, and be prepared to act in short order. Check back here for updates.
After fits and starts – and an 80-minute delay – FCC’s second online demonstration of its new electronic public file system for TV stations finally got off the ground late yesterday afternoon. And for those of you who gave up when the Commission couldn’t get the audio to work for more than an hour, take heart – they’ve scheduled yet another demo for today – AUGUST 1 – at 12 Noon (ET). (The link is to the FCC's "events" webpage. As of 9:00 a.m. today that page had not yet been updated to include a sign-in option for today's meeting.)
If you haven’t yet taken a look at the system the FCC has come up with, these demonstrations give you a very useful glimpse. Additionally, as of yesterday (July 31), the upload site is live for preview/test purposes – although the usefulness of visiting it today (i.e., the day before the online public file rule takes effect) may be limited if you haven’t had at least the basic introduction the demos provide.
The good news is that the system isn’t CDBS. To the contrary, the interface that the uploading station sees appears to be cleanly and logically laid out, with conventional buttons and options that – if they work – should make uploading reasonably simple. CommLawBlog gives a big thumbs up to the design. Kudos to Greg Elin, who reportedly headed up the design team and who was the principal presenter during the demonstration. (I did, however, have occasion to observe that the depiction of the station’s service area on the sample screen the FCC showed us looked disturbingly like a drawing of a breast. Good thing that image isn’t going to be broadcast . . .)
As to the way the system will function in the real world, we here at CommLawBlog are cautiously optimistic. It looks like it should work.
But without having had the opportunity to test drive it at all, we’re not yet prepared to take a position. And there’s reason to suspect that the FCC may not have been completely thorough and thoughtful in all respects.Continue Reading...
With the August 2 effective date of the online TV public file rule just a couple of days away, more information about the FCC’s system is bubbling to the surface.
As we reported on Friday, this morning (Monday, July 30) the FCC presented another demonstration of its online TV public file system. Peter Tannenwald, who attended the July 17 demonstration at the Commission, sat in on this one, too. Good thing he did, since today’s show provided more details about the operation of the public file system than had previously been made generally available. Below you’ll find a list of some of the more salient take-home points Peter took home.
Also, even though the revised public file rule still hasn’t technically taken effect, the FCC has already waived the political posting requirement (probably the most time-consuming part) for one station. Read on for details about that development.
Helpful stuff to know (from the FCC’s 7/30/12 online presentation, as gleaned by Dr. Tannenwald):
To access the system, you’ll need to start with the FCC Registration Number (FRN) for the licensee of the station whose file is being uploaded. (That point was made in the July 17 session, too.) Each licensee may use only one FRN to access the upload system, although a company with different licensee subsidiaries may have a separate FRN for each sub. To permit multi-station owners to control access to their various stations’ separate account for uploading purposes, such owners will be able to assign different passwords to their different stations’ accounts. (That way personnel at Station WAAA can be prevented from inadvertently uploading information to commonly-owned-but-separately-operated Station WZZZ’s public file.) The FCC will assign the initial password, but anyone with the master FRN password for that licensee may then go online and change public file passwords for upload access. [Blogmeister’s Update: Since this item was originally posted, we have been informally advised that the FCC’s system will automatically assign a separate upload access password for each station. If the licensee wishes to change that password, it can do so – but the system itself will create the new password. Ideally, the Commission will formalize all of this at some point.]Continue Reading...
Late Friday afternoon notice announces early Monday morning demo (and another demo the following day)
Yesterday afternoon we reported that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had denied the NAB’s request to stay the effective date of the revised online TV public file rule. That action clears the way for the rule to kick in on August 2, 2012. We predicted that the FCC would in short order be issuing a public notice alerting affected licensees of exactly how they’re supposed to comply once the effective date rolls around.
And sure enough, at about 3:30 p.m. on Friday, July 27, we received a notice from the Commission. Yay! But wait – it’s not the notice we expected. Darn.
The Friday afternoon notice simply advises that the Commission is going to be conducting two online “screensharing” demonstrations of the public file system that it has developed. The demonstrations will “cover the material presented during the July 17, 2012 demonstration”, according to the notice. (The July 17 demonstration was conducted at the FCC’s headquarters; while it was supposedly also available to online viewers, several published reports indicated that online viewers encountered considerable difficulties when they tried to watch.)
In other words, this notice does not announce the official kick-off of the new rule, nor does it purport to give us all the precise chapter and verse for assuring compliance with the new rule. It’s a pretty good bet that such a notice is indeed in the works. We’ll keep our eye out for it and get word posted here as soon as it’s available.
Meanwhile, as to the upcoming demonstrations.Continue Reading...
It looks like, barring some unanticipated last-minute development, the FCC’s online public file rule for TV stations will take effect on August 2, 2012. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has denied the NAB’s effort to get that effective date stayed.
The court’s order – totaling two sentences (not including a citation to a couple of case precedents) – is short and to the point. The NAB’s petition was denied because the NAB had not, in the court’s view, “satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review.”
With the court’s action, we can probably look forward to a public notice from the FCC very soon, describing the process for uploading materials to the online public file system the Commission has developed. Check back here for updates.
Those of you who have been following the NAB’s efforts to get the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to stay the effectiveness of the TV online public file rule should be interested in the NAB’s reply. Our favorite NAB line, in response to the FCC’s claim that the revised public file rule increases competition: “Allowing some poker players to peek at their opponents’ hands does not make the poker game more competitive; it makes it unfair.”
This closes out the pleading cycle with respect to the NAB’s stay request and tees up the matter for resolution by the court. Since the effective date at issue (that would be August 2, 2012) is only about a week away, look for a quick decision by the court.
Rules that vastly increase numbers of available codes take effect on August 24.
The expansion of “grantee codes” (issued by the FCC in connection with equipment certifications) will take effect on August 24, 2012, according to a notice published in the Federal Register. This will have no effect on any current regulatees – it’s more of an internal housekeeping matter for the FCC, designed to give the Commission a greater resource of codes to issue in the future. (As we previously reported, thanks in no small measure to the success of the wireless device industry in the U.S., the FCC foresees running out of grantee codes.) So if you happen to receive a grantee code after August 24 and it looks different from the codes you’re used to seeing (because it has more characters and starts with a numeral), don’t fret – it’s just the new system kicking in.
Action affects devices in the 1920-30 MHz band.
A rule change the FCC adopted (and we reported on) last March, to simplify the technical rules for unlicensed PCS devices in the 1920-30 MHz band, has finally hit the Federal Register. The new rules take effect on August 22.
Just in time to slip into the tote along with your sunscreen, towel and iPod, so you’ll have something to read at the beach over the weekend – here’s the FCC’s opposition to the NAB’s motion for stay of the online TV public file rule. We doubt you’ll find any unexpected plot twists here (particularly since the Media Bureau already told the NAB how the Bureau feels about the NAB’s arguments), but you never know. The NAB has until July 24 to reply to the Commission’s opposition, and then we all sit around waiting for the court to act.
And if you’re keeping a scorecard in the NAB’s appeal of the online TV public file rule, be sure to add the following names to the line-up on the FCC’s side: Benton Foundation, Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Free Press, New America Foundation and Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Inc. All six have been granted “intervenor” status by the D.C. Circuit. This means that they are now official parties to the case, and will be permitted to brief the issues, but only in a single, joint brief (unless they can convince the court that multiple intervenor briefs are warranted). Apparently eager to wield their brief-filing powers, the Intervenors have already warmed up by filing their own opposition to the NAB’s stay motion. Intervenors are also theoretically able to offer oral argument, although the likelihood that any intervenor will in fact get to present oral argument when the appeal finally gets to that point -- probably sometime early next year -- is probably very, very small.
The court’s order granting the intervention motions reminds anyone who might want to intervene on the NAB’s side that they have until August 2, 2012 to get their motions in. Failure to seek intervenor status by that deadline could leave you on the outside looking in when it comes time to file briefs.
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...
Initial reviews are cautiously positive following FCC demonstration.
Astute readers will recall that today was the day that the FCC was to debut its new online public file system for TV stations. You know, the system that the TV industry, en masse, will be expected to be tapping into as of August 2.
We dropped by the FCC this morning to take a first-hand look at what the Feds have cooked up.
We were favorably impressed.
As cumbersome as some of the FCC’s online systems have been and still are, this one seems reasonably approachable and usable by people who don’t live and breathe FCC air every day. The interfaces are pretty intuitive, both for stations that upload and for people who want to look up any item on the laundry list of materials required to kept in the public file. If you can master the system for filing Children’s Television Reports, the public file upload should be a breeze.
The Commission told us that the system is just about ready to go live, and that it should be available for stations to start uploading by the August 2 target date. There is, however, at least one issue remaining to be ironed out.Continue Reading...
Several months ago we reported on the FCC’s adoption of some highly technical standards for hearing aid compatibility of wireless phones. The Third Report and Order setting out those standards has now been published in the Federal Register, which establishes their effective date, i.e., 30 days from FedReg publication, or August 16, 2012.
As we indicated in April, the effective date itself triggers a 24-month period during which Tier I service providers (you know who you are) will have to come into compliance, and a separate 27-month compliance period for non-Tier I providers.
OMB approval, issued in 2009, finally makes it into the Federal Register in 2012.
Back in 2008, the Commission devised the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) (a/k/a the “Personal Localized Alerting Network” (PLAN), a/k/a “Wireless Emergency Alerts” (WEA)). It’s a voluntary service through which wireless providers deliver emergency alerts and warnings from FEMA to their customers. The FCC came up with the CMAS at Congress’s direction in the Warning Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act.
Wrapped up? Well, not entirely, as it turns out . . . at least until now.
CMAS participants (i.e., wireless providers who have chosen to participate in the FEMA-FCC joint effort) are subject to record-keeping and information-sharing requirements, according to related rules adopted in 2008. Under those rules, CMAS participants must receive and distribute monthly test messages sent from Federal Alert Gateway Administrator. In order to ensure that the system is working properly, the wireless provider’s own gateway must send an acknowledgement to the Federal Alert Gateway upon receipt of these interface test messages. The provider must also maintain logs of these monthly tests.
As required by our old friend the Paperwork Reduction Act, such administrative burdens must be approved by the OMB, which they were – back in 2009. But, presumably because the Commission’s 2008 orders setting up the CMAS provided that the testing and record-keeping requirements weren’t set to take effect until the CMAS’s full deployment, the effective date of those testing/record-keeping chores was put on ice for nearly three years. By the time the CMAS finally went live in April, 2012, the fact that OMB had signed off on the testing/record-keeping end of things three years earlier appears to have been overlooked. Whatever the reason, the Commission didn’t bother to issue a Federal Register notice of OMB’s 2009 approval, and as a result, the testing/record-keeping requirements didn’t kick in in April, along with the rest of the CMAS.
But they’ve kicked in now. A notice of OMB’s approval of those requirements has just now made it into the Federal Register, and they are now effective.
In a move that should surprise nobody, the Media Bureau has denied the NAB’s request that the effective date of the online public file rule (currently August 2, 2012) be stayed. This is not a particularly significant development, though, since the NAB, apparently expecting precisely this result, had already asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (where the NAB is appealing the new online public file requirements) to step in and stay the effective date. The Bureau’s denial of the stay request addressed to the Bureau does not affect the separate effort at the court to secure a stay.
The Bureau’s order does provide a preview of what the Commission is likely to be telling the court in response to the NAB’s stay request there. And on that subject, the D.C. Circuit has ordered the FCC to file its response by 4:00 p.m. on July 20; the NAB will have until July 24 to reply. As a result, the court will have slightly more than a week to review the pleadings and decide whether a stay is in order.
Check back with CommLawBlog.com for updates.
With August 2 effective date looming, NAB looks to court for relief.
Things continue to percolate on the TV public file front. Remember last week, when we predicted that the NAB would eventually be asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to stay the FCC’s seemingly irresistible juggernaut toward implementing the new public file rule as of August 2? Boo-yah!! That’s just what the NAB has done.
The FCC has not yet acted on the NAB’s stay request that the NAB filed with the FCC last week. But time’s a-wastin’, and last week’s filing with the Commission wasn’t going anywhere anyway. In fact, it was likely filed primarily so that the NAB could tell the court that the agency had been given its own opportunity to stay the case. That’s because the courts tend to be reluctant to weigh in on such things if the agency in question hasn’t been given first shot at addressing the issues.
Last week’s stay request, addressed to the Commission, served precisely that purpose. Having waited a decent interval and received no response from the FCC, the NAB was in a position to represent to the court (as it does on Page One of its stay motion) that the Commission had its chance.
Next up – the FCC’s opposition. As required by the court’s rules, before filing its stay request with the court, the NAB advised the FCC that that request was about to be filed and asked whether the FCC planned to oppose it. Answer (and here’s a surprise): The FCC will be filing an opposition.
Stays are notoriously difficult to obtain, either from the FCC or from the courts. A party seeking a stay must normally demonstrate, among other things, that it will suffer irreparable harm if the stay is not granted. That’s a rough showing to make. We suspect that that issue will be a focal point of back-and-forth arguments in the coming weeks.
Check back here for updates.
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.
Mark your calendars! July 17 is the date,10:00 a.m. ET is the time! That’s when All Will Be Revealed about the cloud-based online system by which the FCC plans to maintain the public files of several thousand TV stations. Well, maybe it won’t be revealing everything – but the Commission will be conducting a “public demonstration” of that system.
According to a public notice released by the Commission late on July 6 (a Friday afternoon in the middle of summer, for what that’s worth), “[t]he demonstration will inform broadcasters and others of the design and content of the online file, how stations will upload information to the file, how file sharing tools like Dropbox and Box can be used for uploading, and other ways in which the FCC is working to facilitate access to its public databases.”
Also according to the FCC's notice, “[t]he demonstration is part of the commitment made by the Commission to test the online public file . . .” Hold on there. “Test the online public file”? It’s not clear how a one-time dog-and-pony show constitutes a “test” in any meaningful sense. That’s especially so where, as here, the FCC’s filing system will have to be ready to handle a very substantial level of data upload as soon as it opens for business, i.e., barely more than two weeks after the “test”. (As we have previously reported, August 2, 2012 is currently the magic date.)
But, apparently, the FCC views this as a test of the system – and, given the scant time between July 17 and the currently anticipated start date, it may be the only test. So we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes.
You can attend the show live and in person, at the FCC’s Headquarters, or you can watch it on the Internet at http://www.fcc.gov/live.
[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
FCC alludes to online filing system in the works; NAB asks for stay
As we reported, an announcement in the Federal Register on July 3 advised that the FCC’s revised public file rule for TV stations is set to take effect on August 2. After we had posted that news, the Commission issued a public notice which (a) re-confirmed the date, and (b) didn’t say diddly about any possible flexibility in the date arising from any need to comply with the Privacy Act. So the FCC, at least for the time being, is sticking to the August 2 effective date.
What about the fact (which we mentioned) that the Commission hadn’t announced that it had developed an online filing system to accommodate TV public files. No problem. According to the public notice, “[t]he Commission will soon schedule user testing and educational webinars for the online public file to ensure that the uploading of materials by broadcasters can be conducted smoothly and efficiently.” Without actually saying so, that suggests that the FCC’s got some kind of system in the works. OK then. The fact that that system hasn’t been publicly revealed – much less test-driven by any of the several thousand licensees who will be expected to be using it routinely in less than 30 days – seems not to be of concern to the Commission. Its optimism is impressive.
And in our earlier post, we suggested that the NAB, which already has an appeal of the revised public rule pending, might be inclined to seek a stay of the August 2 date. Sure enough, before the end of the day on July 3 the NAB had done just that.Continue Reading...
TV broadcasters, start your scanners. The era of online public files is set to take effect on August 2, 2012 . . . maybe.
According to a notice in the July 3 Federal Register, the Office of Management and Budget has approved the Commission’s revised public file rule. Thanks to that notice, the rule – which now requires full service TV and Class A TV stations to post their public files on a Commission-maintained, cloud-based, online system – will become effective 30 days hence.
That means that, at least theoretically, as of August 2, 2012 all full-power and Class A TV licensees will have to start uploading to the FCC’s online file system all newly-created documents required to be placed in the public file except for letters/emails from the public and, in some-but-not-all cases, political file materials. Those licensees will have six months in which to upload all pre-existing public file documents to the online system (again, with the exception of communications from the public and, in all cases, political materials). (A quick look ahead on the calendar indicates that six months from August 2 would ordinarily be February 2, 2013, a Saturday.)
Who has to upload political materials and when? Nobody has to upload existing political file materials – they’ve been exempted from the online file requirement. The first folks to feel the brunt of the online rule as far as political materials go are the stations (a) affiliated with one of the top four commercial networks and (b) located in a Top 50 market. If you’re one of them, you have to start uploading your newly-created political documents as of the effective date of the rules, just in time for the crush of a national election.. (Previously-created political documents need not be uploaded to the online file.) Everybody else – i.e., Top 50 stations not affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC and all non-Top 50 stations – can relax until July 1, 2014 on the political file front.
We say that the initial upload date may still be theoretical for a couple of reasons.Continue Reading...
For an FCC blog, that’s a little like saying “dog bites man” – not really news.
You have to admire their persistence. ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio, has yet again challenged the FCC’s rules for Broadband-over-Power-Line (BPL), just as it has at every opportunity since the FCC first proposed BPL back in 2003.
As you would expect from the name, BPL transmits broadband over the same lines that carry electric power along the street, siphoning off signals to houses and apartments along the way. Its proponents once hailed BPL as the “third wire” into the home for broadband service, the other two being the cable TV and telephone (or FIOS) connections. But in recent years BPL providers have scaled back their ambitions. Now they mostly help out electric utilities with internal communications for meter reading, load management, and the like. Few consumers receive their Internet service via BPL.
But ARRL has not scaled back its opposition.Continue Reading...
CRB seeks input on last piece of NCE royalty rate puzzle for next five-year period.
A couple of months ago, we reported that the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) had invited comments on a number of proposals to govern copyright royalties owed by noncommercial (NCE) broadcasters to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC from 2013 through 2017. The various proposals covered a substantial portion of the NCE universe, with one important exception. As we noted, the CRB’s notice did not mention proposed rates for NPR or PBS stations.
Now we know why.
It appears that NPR and PBS were still working on their proposed rates. But that work has now been concluded. In joint comments filed in May with the CRB, NPR and PBS have outlined their proposed approach, which would require payment based on the use of the musical work (or piece of art), the type of station performing it, and the manner in which it is performed. And now the CRB wants to know what everybody else thinks of the NPR/PBS proposal.
As in our earlier post, we’ll forego a detailed listing of all fees in favor of a general overview:
The overall structure would be unchanged from the 2008-2012 period. Unlike non-NPR, non-PBS stations – which will pay a blanket fee to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (with a reduced fee option available to stations that favor news/talk/sports over music) – NPR and PBS stations would pay for the use of each individual piece of music.Continue Reading...
Interruption of regular programming might be permitted without prior waiver; reporting, certification requirements also in play
The Commission is asking whether noncommercial educational (NCE) radio and TV stations should be routinely permitted to interrupt their regular programming for fundraising activities for the benefit of any non-profit entity other than the station itself. The proposal is in response to a study published last June by the FCC’s Working Group on Information Needs of Communities.
Historically, because of their noncommercial nature, NCE stations have been prohibited from breaking into their regular programming for extended third-party fundraising even when the entity to be benefited was itself non-profit. (PSA’s and brief paid-for underwriting announcements are OK.) While sometimes an extraordinary need for such fundraising might arise – relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for example, or the Japanese earthquake/tsunami, or the Haitian earthquake – in such circumstances the Commission has been willing to waive the rule (which, technically, appears in Section 73.503(d) (for radio stations) and 73.621(e) (for TV stations). But such waivers have been limited to “a specific fundraising program or programs, or for sustained station appeals for periods which generally do not exceed several days.” And waivers are not invariably granted. (Case in point: Back in the 1970s a proposal to run an on-air auction to benefit a financially-distressed local symphony orchestra was nixed by the Commission.)
Lurking in the background of the latest proposal is the FCC’s apparent discomfort with the amount of air time already being devoted by NCE stations to begging for bucks. That factor is a primary reason for the existing limitation on third-party fundraising efforts. (One question the Commission poses in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM): Just how much airtime do NCE stations actually spend on fundraising?)
Any relaxation of constraints on third party fundraising would likely be limited.Continue Reading...
FCC to report on frequency congestion in the 11, 18, and 23 GHz microwave bands.
Chances are you have forgotten about the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, passed back in February, ostensibly to extend a cut in payroll taxes. But the FCC hasn’t forgotten. Because the 250+ pages of the Act unrelated to extending tax cuts include a provision telling the FCC to report to Congress next October on a topic that, frankly, we didn’t know Congress cared about: common carrier point-to-point microwave applications in the 11, 18, and 23 GHz bands that fail to make it through frequency coordination. Read the details here.
The FCC has now released a public notice inviting input on that subject. And it may indeed need help.
The FCC’s first problem: Congress has ordered it to report on the application “rejection rate”, which Congress defines as
the number and percent of applications (whether made to the Commission or to a third-party coordinator) for common carrier use of spectrum that were not granted because of lack of availability of such spectrum or interference concerns of existing licensees.
But applications go only to the FCC, not to frequency coordinators. And by FCC rule, they reach the FCC only after successful coordination. So the rejection rate, as defined by Congress, is necessarily zero.
Rather than just tell that to Congress and get back to its real work, the FCC obligingly broadened the question to one that perhaps Congress meant to ask: the numbers of requests to frequency coordinators that could not be accommodated, and the reasons why.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...
Last month we reported on an Inquiry initiated by the FCC with respect to implementation of Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture (DACA) techniques. Those techniques include use of small unmanned aerial vehicles, weather balloons or high altitude long distance unmanned vehicles to restore communications capabilities in disaster situations. The Notice of Inquiry has now been published in the Federal Register, as a result of which the comment deadlines have been set. Comments are due by July 25, 2012, and replies are due by August 14.
Facing steady declines in contributions under the existing system, the FCC is trying – for the third time – to come up with a successful Plan B. Here’s hoping that three’s the charm.
As we have reported, the Commission recently overhauled the way it doles out the Universal Service Fund (USF), a fund that last year exceeded $8 billion. Now the Commission has turned its attention to the all-important question of how it should be rounding up the cash to be doled out. In a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM), the FCC is exploring a number of potentially significant changes to the USF contributions process.
Historically, the USF has been funded through contributions from common carriers and certain other telecommunications providers. While 2,900 (or so) telecommunications providers currently chip in to the USF, nearly 75% of USF contributions come from five companies: AT&T, CenturyLink, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon. But these contributors don’t pay out of their own pocket, as they routinely recover their USF contribution costs from their customers, usually through a line item for USF pass-through charges which is included on each consumer’s monthly bill. Since the bill for USF is thus ultimately footed in large measure by Joe and Loretta Average-Phone-User, USF funding is an important consumer issue.
The Commission is under considerable pressure to expand the universe of USF contributors or otherwise pump up contributions. That pressure arises from decreasing contributions and increasing USF demands.Continue Reading...
Coalition asks FCC to adopt service rules at 41-42.5 GHz.
Almost every new service nowadays involves some degree of sharing, and this band is no exception. The 41-42 GHz segment is allocated not only to the Fixed Service – spectrum-speak for point-to-point microwave links – but also for Fixed Satellite Service downlinks, plus broadcast satellite and a few additional services. The adjacent 42-42.5 GHz region has no Fixed Satellite Service allocation, but does have the same allocations for the Fixed Service, broadcast satellite, and others. To date there has been no actual licensing in either part of the band.
Fixed Service users are willing to share the lower part of the band with satellite interests, according to the FWCC. It points out that sharing arrangements between the satellite and fixed microwave services are highly asymmetrical, tipped strongly in the satellite industry’s favor, so that sharing will have relatively little impact on satellite operations. In both parts of the band, though, the FWCC asks the FCC to follow through on an earlier proposal to delete the broadcast satellite allocation, on the ground that its continued presence would make sharing impractical.Continue Reading...
On July 2, NTIA set to close the door on applications for grants to reimburse costs of digital conversion
Last call at the LPTV Free Money Bar. That would be the grant program opened by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) three years ago to help Low Power TV, Class A TV, TV translator and TV booster stations (for simplicity’s sake, we’ll refer to them all as “LPTV folks”) through the digital transition. If you’re an LPTV operator hoping to tap into the cash flowing from the NTIA program, you’ve got until 5:00 p.m. ET on July 2, 2012 to get your application into NTIA’s hands.
We described NTIA’s two-part program when it opened up back in 2009.
To refresh your recollection, the first part of the program helped pay for analog-to-digital converters necessary to allow LPTVs and translators to pick up digital input signals and convert them to allow rebroadcast through an analog transmitter. That ended in June, 2009.
The second part of the program – which is now coming to a close – is designed to help LPTV folks upgrade to digital transmission capability. Two grant classes are available: one with a $6,000 per-station cap (for converting existing analog transmitters to digital) and the other with a $20,000 cap (for replacing a transmitter that can’t be converted).
Priority is given to non-profit organizations and rural broadcasters. Yes, that means that stations that serve primarily urban areas are completely disqualified. NTIA uses a point system in conjunction with recommendations of its program staff and geographic distributions to rank all eligible applicants. While a good point score does not necessarily guarantee a grant, it looks likely that enough funds remain in NTIA’s coffers to fund any qualified applicant.Continue Reading...
Commercial FM channel preference policy established in Rural Radio proceeding kicks in July 2.
In January we reported on the release of the Third Report and Order (3rd R&O) in the long-running Rural Radio proceeding. That’s the decision that created a short-cut available to Native American Tribes seeking new commercial FM stations primarily serving Tribal Lands. (As used by the Commission, “Tribes” is a collective term referring to federally-recognized Native American Tribes and Alaska Native Villages.) We're pleased to report that the revised versions of Section 73.3573 and Form 301 adopted in the 3rd R&O have received OMB’s seal of Paperwork Reduction Act approval. It says so right here in the Federal Register. And according to that notice, the revised rule and related form will become effective on July 2, 2012.
List of applicants to be disclosed on June 13.
The universe of Internet addresses will soon be expanding. On June 13, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization formed in the late 1990s to oversee the global domain name system, will unveil the 2000+ applications for a host of new “Generic Top Level Domains” (gTLDs). Once in place, these will change how all of us use the Internet.
First things first. A top level domain (TLD) is the term that appears “to the right of the dot” in Internet addresses. It comes in two flavors: a “country-code” top level domain, or ccTLD (e.g., “.US”, “.FR”, “.UK”) and a “generic” top level domain (or gTLD), including most of the ones we use every day, such as “.COM”, “.ORG”, and “.GOV”.
Since ICANN took over domain name management in 1999, it has added a few gTLDs, but there are only 21 now available for the world to use. Each gTLD is entrusted to a Registry which is responsible for the TLD’s technical management, including proper operation of the registry zone servers and dissemination of the TLD zone files. Registries play a role key in the technical management of Internet infrastructure and in stability and security of the Net.
Registries do not sell domain names to the public. That task is reserved for “Registrars,” who handle the retail side of the domain name operation. They register “second level domain names” to the left of the dot, e.g., “fhhlaw” in fhhlaw.com. GTLD Registrars, like gTLD Registries, are under contract to ICANN, which encourages competition among them. GoDaddy, famous for its Super Bowl commercials, is the largest of these.
ICANN is now introducing competition to the top level as well.Continue Reading...
The Great FM Translator Application Purge has moved one step closer: the FCC has formally initiated the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) process which must be completed before the “information collection” aspects of the herd thinning measures can be implemented. With respect to the several thousand new FM translator applications still pending since 2003, the new rules adopted last March in the Fourth Report and Order (4th R&O) impose application caps of (a) 50 nationwide and (b) one in each of the 156 markets identified in Appendix A of the 4th R&O. Any applicant with more than 50 apps nationwide and/or more than one app in any of the listed markets must dismiss enough applications to bring themselves under the limits. The letters necessary to seek those dismissals constitute “information collections” subject to the PRA.
Additionally, the 4th R&O affords pending FM translator applicants some limited opportunities to amend their applications. Those amendments, too, are “information collections”.
With its notice in the Federal Register, the Commission has invited the usual PRA comments on both aspects. We'd like to be able to tell you exactly what the "information collections" actually look like, but the notice doesn't contain any examples. Instead, it provides instructions for how to find copies on the OMB website -- but when we tried to follow those instructions, we came up empty. Ideally this problem will be corrected before comments are due.Continue Reading...
At Congress’s direction, FCC explores feasibility of more precise caller-location capability for 911 calls from MLTSs.
When you make an emergency call to 911, it’s helpful – and often crucial – for the person on the receiving end to be able to figure out where the call is coming from, particularly if you the caller can’t speak or aren’t familiar with your surroundings. The receiving operator, stationed at a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), generally sees both the number from which the incoming call is made and the address associated with that number in a database available to the PSAP. This occurs through the magic of Automatic Number Identification, similar to the Caller ID system with which we’re all familiar. Even cellphones must report their location to the PSAP, meeting FCC-prescribed accuracy standards.
But if the 911 call is made from a phone system that operates through multiple extensions (including Centrex, VoIP, PBX, hybrid, and key systems) – systems referred to as Multi-Line Telephone Systems (MLTSs) – the magic may not work. MLTSs, used by businesses and institutions, usually use shared outgoing trunks that may not even have a conventional phone number and are tied only to the location of the central phone system and not the location of the calling extension. So when a 911 call comes in from an MLTS, the PSAP must hope that the caller can report his/her location and callback number. Without input from the caller, the PSAP operator may know only the general location of the business or institution, but not the particular room, floor, or even building from which the call is coming.
It doesn’t do a lot of good to send an ambulance to a university campus if you don’t know where on the campus to look for the patient.Continue Reading...
The Commission’s initial, bare-bones TV channel-sharing rules, adopted late last month, are set to take effect on June 22, according to a notice published in the Federal Register. As we reported a couple of weeks ago, those rules don’t seem to change much -- indeed, Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake managed to cram a presentation on the new rules into a PowerPoint consisting of three pages (not including a title page and a second page consisting exclusively of a photo and the title "What Is Channel Sharing?") -- but they do get the ball rolling for the anticipated incentive auctions and TV channel re-packing process that appear to be high on the FCC’s to-do list.
Note that the Federal Register publication not only establishes the effective date of the new rules, but it also sets the deadlines for seeking reconsideration or judicial review of the Commission’s channel-sharing Report and Order (R&O). Anyone who finds fault with the R&O but is inclined to give the FCC a chance to fix the problem(s) itself can file a petition for reconsideration by June 22. Fault-finders inclined to ask a court of appeals to review the R&O have until July 23.
If you’re in the latter category, don’t forget that about the judicial lottery factor. That is, if you’re hoping to have a particular circuit review the R&O, Section 1.13 of the rules requires that a petitioner file with the FCC’s General Counsel within 10 days of the Federal Register publication a copy of its petition for review with the court of appeals of its choosing; that copy must bear a date/time stamp from that court proving that it was in fact filed. If more than one petitioner specifying more than one circuit jumps through all those hoops, the Commission will ship all the candidates over to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which will pick a lucky circuit at random.
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.
Meanwhile, FCC cranks up the Paperwork Reduction Act process
If you’re thinking about asking the FCC to reconsider its recent decision to move TV public files to an FCC-maintained cloud-based online system – or maybe if you’re more inclined to ask the courts to take a look at that decision – your deadlines for doing so have now been set. The Commission’s Second Report and Order, which we reported on last month, has now been published in the Federal Register. That means that (as dictated by Section 1.429 of the rules) petitions for reconsideration are due to be filed with the Commission no later than June 11, 2012.
On the other hand, thanks to 28 U.S.C. §2344, petitions for judicial review may be filed by July 10. Those can technically be filed with any of the federal courts of appeals, but heads up. If you’re hoping to have a particular circuit review the FCC’s order, you need to be mindful of the judicial lottery process and Section 1.13 of the rules. As implemented by the Commission, that process requires that, to be part of the judicial lottery, a petitioner has to file with the FCC’s General Counsel within 10 days of the Federal Register publication (in the case of the Second Report and Order in the public file proceeding, that would be May 21) a copy of its petition for review with the court of appeals of its choosing; that copy must bear a date/time stamp from that court proving that it was in fact filed. In other words, if you’re going to be picky about what circuit should hear the appeal, you’ve got to act much faster than the rules would otherwise allow.
This flurry of procedural dates does not, however, mean that the new public file rules are going to become effective in the immediate future. Before that can happen, the FCC has to run the new rules through the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) process, a process which the Commission has also just cranked up with a Federal Register notice. If you have any PRA-related thoughts to offer, you’ve got until June 11, 2012 to lob them in to the Commission. After that, the Commission will bundle up all the comments it receives and ship them over to the Office of Management and Budget, along with a supporting statement explaining why it think the new rules are consistent with the PRA. (The rules will then go into effect 30 days after the FCC announces in the Federal Register that OMB has approved the rules. Check back here for updates on that score.)
By the way, according to the notice, PRA-related comments are supposed to address:
- whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the Commission, including whether the information shall have practical utility;
- the accuracy of the Commission's burden estimate;
- ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information collected;
- ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on the respondents, including the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology; and
- ways to further reduce the information collection burden on small business concerns with fewer than 25 employees.
In its sprawling Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Universal Service Fund (USF) and Intercarrier Compensation, released last November, the Commission adopted (among a lot of other things) a number of changes to the various reporting requirements. Those requirements affected certain carriers, including competitive eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) and incumbent local exchange carriers. (Last December we described how many, but not all, of the extensive changes would affect wireless providers.)
Because many of the modified reporting requirements involved “information collections” subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act, they could not take effect right away. Rather, they had to be reviewed and approved by the Office of Management and Budget. That process has now been completed, according to a notice published in the Federal Register. As a result, a number of the rule changes adopted last fall have now become effective or applicable as of May 8, 2012.
The rules that have become effective are: Sections 54.312(b)(3); 54.313(b); 54.313(h); 54.314; and 54.320(b). The rules that have become applicable are: Sections 54.305(f); 54.307(b) and (c); and 54.313 (a)(1)-(a)(6).
Additionally, the Federal Register notice provides official notification to ETCs and other unspecified stakeholders that information required to be filed pursuant to Section 54.313(a)(2)-(6) and (h) must be filed by July 2, 2012. Section 54.313 sets out the annual reporting requirements for high cost recipients.
$300 million to be available for areas with poor broadband access
Following up on the landmark USF Order last fall in which it first adopted a plan to distribute Universal Service Fund money for broadband build-outs, the FCC has released a Public Notice setting out the basic ground rules for the “reverse auction” by which the money will be distributed. The Notice fills in some important gaps in how the whole process is supposed to work.
As we have previously reported, the FCC is proceeding for the first time with an unusual reverse auction under which rights will be determined by the party which bids the lowest amount for the area in question. In this case, carriers will be bidding to provide service to relatively high cost parts of the country provided they receive certain subsidies. The company asking for the lowest subsidy to do the job will get the money and the attendant service obligation. Many of the key features of this auction remain subject to petitions for reconsideration, but the Wireless Bureau is nevertheless plunging forward to set the ground rules on the assumption that the auction will proceed largely as laid out in last fall’s USF Order.
In addition to the usual provisos, warnings, disclaimers, and notices that accompany every FCC auction, the Public Notice alerts us to the following: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...
If you don’t think you can meet the January 1, 2013 deadline, NOW is the time to ask for a waiver.
Do you operate a commercial or public safety private land mobile radio system in the VHF (150-170 MHz) or UHF (450-470 MHz) bands? If so, you must convert your systems to “narrowband” operation by January 1, 2013. If you don’t, you face the possibility of interference from other users, FCC fines, or losing your license. If you can’t make the switch by the deadline, now is the time to seek a waiver from the FCC to ask for an extension
Licensees have been on notice for about ten years of the impending narrowbanding deadline. Most radios purchased since the late 1990s already have narrowband capability (i.e., they operate on 12.5 kHz channels or equivalent efficiency) and only need to be reprogrammed. However, most older radios are destined for the trash heap.
The FCC will entertain requests for temporary waivers of the deadline. Last year, the FCC spelled out what it wants to see in a waiver request, including reasons why the licensee cannot meet the deadline, its funding requirements, a description of what steps have been taken so far to comply, a schedule of work that must still be completed, and evidence that the delay will not harm other licensees in the region.
Until last week, land mobile radio licensees in the so-called “T-Band” (470-512 MHz) were also subject to the narrowband deadline (broadcasting industry readers may recognize the band as the home of TV channels 14-20, which is shared with land mobile radio in 11 major metropolitan areas). However, since Congress has now mandated that spectrum occupied by public safety licenses in the T-Band be auctioned within nine years, the FCC relieved all licensees in that band of any narrowbanding obligations. On the flip side, the FCC also imposed a freeze on applications for new T-Band systems and certain modifications to existing systems. In a nutshell, the freeze bars any modifications that would expand the service area of a T-band system; it does not preclude adding units to existing systems or making other changes that do not expand the system’s service area.
Last month we reported that effective dates for some, but not all, of the rules revised as part of the Commission’s reform of its Lifeline program had been set. It looks like the effective dates of the rest have now also been set, although the Commission’s own Federal Register notices concerning those dates leave at least some room for doubt.
The Lifeline reforms were adopted back in February. In a Federal Register notice published in March, the Commission announced that Sections 54.411, 54.412, 54.413 and 54.414 were to take effect April 1, 2012 and Section 54.409 will take effect June 1. No problem there. But it then said that Sections 54.202(a), 54.401(c), 54.403, 54.407, 54.410, 54.416, 54.417, 54.420 and 54.222 wouldn’t kick in until after the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had given them the Paperwork Reduction Act once-over.
According to the latest Federal Register notice, OMB has completed its review and given its thumbs up. So the FCC has announced that Sections 54.202(a), 54.401(d), 54.403, 54.405(c), 54.407, 54.416, 54.417, 54.420(b), and 54.422 have become effective as of May 1, 2012, while Section 54.410(a)-(f) will take effect June 1, 2012.
Careful readers will note a couple of minor discrepancies between the March notice and the most recent. Where the March notice referred to Section 54.401(c), the April notice refers to Section 54.401(d). Also, the April notice indicates that Section 405(c) is among the sections taking effect on May 1. But that particular section wasn’t among those listed in the March notice. And, in the most recent notice, the Commission mentions, pretty much in passing and without explanation, that it has also removed certain provisions (in particular, the temporary address confirmation and recertification requirements set forth in Section 54.410(g), the chunk of Section 54.405(e)(4) relating to temporary address de-enrollment, and the biennial audit requirements of Section 54.420(a)). It's not clear what that means. The rules have, after all, been formally adopted by the Commission and are therefore technically in the books, but if OMB hasn't signed off on them (which appears to be the case), they can't become effective. So they'll presumably just be dead wood in the rule book, at least for the time being.
These discrepancies, though, may be relatively minor, particularly given the enormity of the changes the Commission is making to the overall Lifeline program. Look for the Commission to tie up any loose ends eventually.
One final observation. While the standard OMB approval extends for three years, this OMB approval is for a paltry six months. That means the FCC will be back knocking on OMB's door before you know it. Interestingly, the FCC asked OMB to act on this particular request on an emergency basis. What was the emergency? According to the FCC: “The Commission has set a budget target to eliminate $200 million in waste in 2012, which is dependent on certain rules going into effect as soon as possible.” Ah, a self-created emergency. We can't wait to see what they come up with in six months.
FCC seeks comment on unlicensed operation in three bands.
The FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on outdoor and in-tank radars in the 5.925-7.250, 24.05-29, and 75-85 GHz bands has now appeared in the Federal Register. As regular readers realize, that establishes the official deadlines for anyone wishing to chip in their two cents’ worth. Comments are due on May 30, 2012 and reply comments on June 29.
Comments, objections, due by May 25, 2012
If you’re a noncommercial educational (NCE, a/k/a “public”) broadcaster, heads up. The Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) has issued proposed rates and terms for the use of various copyrighted works by public broadcasters from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2017. You’ve got 30 days – to May 25, 2012 – to sift through the complex series of rate schedules the CRB has put on the table.
So just what’s on the table? The rates that NCE broadcasters will have to pay to copyright holders (through those holders’ agents, including ASCAP, BMI and SESAC) for the right to broadcast, during 2013-2017, the underlying music and lyrics in all those copyright holders’ songs. (Technically, the CRB proposal also covers the use of pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, but those tend to have less impact on broadcasters.) For the CRB’s purposes, the universe of NCE broadcasters encompasses all entities treated as NCE licensees by the FCC, including educational institutions and large scale public radio and TV licensees.
The proposed rates are the product of an arcane ratemaking process that began on January 5, 2011. First, the CRB invited potentially interested parties to, in effect, sign up to participate. Who showed up? The usual suspects. For the copyright holders, there were: ASCAP; BMI; SESAC; the National Music Publishers Association and the Harry Fox Agency; and the Church Music Publishers’ Association. Broadcasters on board included: the Educational Media Foundation; NPR/PBS/CPB; the National Religious Broadcasters Noncommercial Music License Committee; the Catholic Radio Association; and the American Council on Education.
The CRB then turned all the players loose for a three-month negotiation period. The goal was to see if the parties could come to agreement on the rates to be applied to the various subsets of noncommercial broadcasting. Some specific agreements were reached between specific public broadcasting entities and specific copyright owners (or their representatives). Those were not, and will not be published, in the Federal Register, as their reach is limited to the particular parties to the various agreements.
The more generally applicable agreements are submitted to the CRB for its approval.Continue Reading...
FCC invites preliminary comment on Geo Broadcasting proposal for program origination by FM boosters.
Now that the DTV transition has been in effect for almost three years, multi-channel TV broadcasting is fairly commonplace. But what about FM radio? Thanks to digital FM technology designed by iBiquity and authorized by the FCC, FM stations have for years been able to provide up to two additional programming streams beyond their main channel. And yet, development of an economically sound model for multi-channel audio services has been much slower than on the TV side.
Enter Geo Broadcasting Solutions, LLC (Geo). The folks at Geo have come up with an alternative approach to multi-channel FM service. They are proposing that on-channel analog FM boosters be permitted to originate programming separately from the parent station. The concept is that each booster could transmit hyper-local material to the audience in its immediate vicinity – mostly commercial spots, but also other material if a licensee so desired.
Boosters are like translators – low-power transmitters that permit licensees of full-power stations to improve the coverage of their full-power stations within their already protected contours. The difference between boosters and translators is that a booster operates on the same frequency as the full-power station whose signal it is “boosting”. Translators, of course, operate on different frequencies from their primary stations. (Boosters are authorized only to the licensee of the primary station and may not expand the primary station’s service area. Commercial translators funded by the primary station also may not expand the primary station’s service area – a restriction that does not apply to non-commercial translators or independently-funded commercial translators.)
Since boosters are on the same channel as the primary station, booster operation generally poses considerable potential for interference. That’s one reason why boosters have not been widely used over the years, even though the FCC’s rules have provided for them for more than four decades. In recent years, however, modern computer control techniques allowing precise synchronization of the parent and booster signals have improved performance. A quick glance at the FCC’s database indicates that a few hundred FM boosters are currently authorized.
Geo claims to hold patents on techniques that shape signal coverage to avoid interference both (a) between a booster and its parent station and (b) between multiple boosters each rebroadcasting the same parent. According to Geo, its technology will allow the insertion of separate material into the programming on each booster. In other words, a licensee with multiple boosters could include different programming on each separate booster – allowing the licensee to direct different content to specific areas within its main station’s primary contour.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...
Got something more to say about the FCC’s Lifeline reform? You’re in luck, because at least one more chance to share your thoughts with the Commission is here – as long as those thoughts have something to do with any of the petitions for reconsideration filed with respect to the Lifeline reform order released back in February.
According to a notice in the Federal Register, a total of eight reconsideration petitions were filed. The publication of that Register notice sets the deadlines for oppositions and replies to the petitions. If you want to oppose any of the petitions, you’ve got until May 7, 2012. Replies are now due by May 15.
In the underlying order, the Commission adopted various reforms to reduce Lifeline fraud, waste and abuse, and otherwise overhaul the Lifeline program. Read the full order here – or if you’re not up for 231 pages of fine print bureaucratese, followed by another 100+ pages of appendices – you can read more about it in our post from last month.
If you would prefer to read only the petitions for reconsideration, you can find them at the links below:
Think you're late in getting those April, 2012 Children’s TV Reports filed? Think again!!!
If you’re a television licensee who didn’t get your April, 2012 children’s TV report (FCC Form 398) filed in time, you’re in luck. The Commission has extended the deadline for that filing from April 10 to April 27.
Didn’t happen to catch the public notice announcing that extension? No surprise there – it appears that, in a demonstration of the Commission’s commitment to transparency, the Commission didn’t bother to issue any announcement. Instead, it buried news of the extension on its not-particularly-user-friendly website.
We’ll make it easy for you: just click on this link, which will take you to the entry in the FCC’s “encyclopedia” providing general information about "Children’s Educational Television Reporting - Form 398". The information appears to be aimed at an audience that has been trapped in a cave for a couple of decades and knows nothing of the kidvid requirements at all. (Sample: “The form [that would be Form 398] identifies the programming that a commercial television station has aired to serve the educational and informational needs of children.”) Keep scrolling down the page to the “Headlines” section (it’s below the list of links headed “Services”, and also the helpful links to the FCC’s “Parents’ Place” and “Kids Zone” sites). There you will find the following under the heading “April 9, 2012”:
During this filing window, some filers reported to us a connectivity problem and some have filed their form successfully. The FCC is aware of the problem and working to resolve it, please be patient.
The FCC has extended the deadline to April 27, 2012. However, continue to try and file your reports during this extended time frame.
If you are getting cross scripting errors and you have Internet Explorer 8, please follow these steps to correct the problem.
We assume from the "April 9, 2012" heading that this notice (which is quoted in its entirety above) was posted the day before the initial filing deadline. Note that the next most recent entry in the “Headlines” section is dated September 24, 2010, which gives you an idea of how often this particular section gets updated. In other words, it’s something of a mystery why the FCC would expect anybody at all to be checking this particular webpage for useful, current information, but maybe that’s just us.
In any event, as noted above, the FCC’s website is saying that kidvid reports for the first quarter of 2012 can be filed by April 27. You should act accordingly.
Manufacturers and service providers have at least two years to comply.
Following its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking late last year, the FCC has updated its technical standards for hearing aid compatibility of wireless phones. The details are highly technical and defy accurate summary. Those interested should consult the FCC’s Third Report and Order.
The new rules take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, following which manufacturers and Tier I service providers will have 24 months to come into compliance. Non-Tier I service providers have three months longer.
. . . but with one exception, the new rules still aren’t effective
The FCC’s Fourth Report and Order and Third Order on Reconsideration (4th R&O) designed to break the longstanding logjam involving the LPFM and FM translator services has been published in the Federal Register. (You can read more about the 4th R&O here.) While such publication would often mark the end of the rulemaking process by establishing the effective date of the newly-adopted rules, not so here. Since most of the new rules and policies adopted in the 4th R&O involve “information collections”, they all must first be run through the Office of Management and Budget’s Paperwork Reduction Act drill before the FCC can implement them. The Commission has not yet gotten that particular ball rolling, but we expect it to happen shortly, as the Commission seems highly motivated to wrap up the LPFM/FM translator imbroglio sooner rather than later. Check back here for updates.
The Federal Register publication does establish May 9, 2012 as the effective date of the amended Section 74.1232(d). That’s the rule that allows AM stations to rebroadcast their signals on FM translators. As we reported earlier, the 4th R&O expanded the universe of translators eligible for such cross-service operation. Despite the effective date, though, the rule revision is not likely to have much immediate effect.
That’s because the rule as revised in the 4th R&O provides that AM signals can be broadcast not only on translators that were authorized as of May 1, 2009, but also on translators that had been applied for as of May 1, 2009. That tweak means that, once granted, any of the 6,500 or so translator applications still pending from the infamous 2003 window could be used for AM translation. However, since none of those applications will be granted until the rest of the 4th R&O takes effect, the May 9, 2012 effective date of the revised Section 74.1232(d) is largely symbolic for the time being.
Complex process aims to preserve LPFM opportunities while allowing grants of some long-pending translator apps
In 2003 the Commission opened its doors to new FM translator applicants – and more than 13,000 applications walked in. Now, nearly a decade later, some 6,500 of those applications are still pending. But never fear. With some Congressional prodding (in the Local Community Radio Act (LCRA)), the FCC has knuckled down and devised a complex system for processing the remaining translator applications while assuring that translators will not gobble up all the available spectrum to the exclusion of new low power FM (LPFM) applicants. That system, first proposed last summer, has now been officially adopted in a Fourth Report and Order and Third Order on Reconsideration (4th R&O).
Congress insisted in the LCRA that the LPFM service be treated as “equal in status” to FM translators and boosters. Congress was less clear as to what, precisely, it meant by the phrase “equal in status”. Sorting that out was left to the Commission. The first 14 or so pages of the 4th R&O are devoted to identifying the “broad interpretive principles” underlying the LCRA. Feel free to read through them if you’re interested. For our money, your time would be better spent on pages14-25, particularly starting on page 19. That’s where the Commission explains its “revised translator application processing and dismissal policies” – i.e., how it’s going to cull grantable translator applications without shutting out LPFM wannabes.
It’s not necessarily pretty, and it certainly isn’t easy, but the Commission’s system seems to do the trick, preserving theoretical opportunities for future LPFMs while still allowing relatively prompt grant of more than 1,000 (by the Commission’s estimate) new translators from the applications filed in 2003.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.
Less than two weeks ago the FCC released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) exploring basic questions of interoperability of wireless services in the 700 MHz band. Acting with lightning speed, the Commission has hustled the NPRM has into the Federal Register. Publication in the Register sets the deadlines for comments and reply comments in response to the NPRM – and in this case the Commission has been generous to would-be commenters. Comments are due by June 1, 2012 and reply comments by July 16.
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.
CMS providers who opted into the CMAS are looking at a fast-approaching deadline; so are providers who didn’t opt in.
Four years ago the Commission devised the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS). You may know CMAS as the “Personal Localized Alerting Network” (PLAN) or “Wireless Emergency Alerts” (WEA). Whatever you call it, it’s a voluntary service through which wireless providers deliver emergency alerts and warnings from FEMA to their customers. In 2009, the Commission announced the timetable for roll-out of CMAS – a 28-month period that just happens to end in about three weeks, on April 7, 2012.
About 98% of all commercial mobile services (CMS) providers have signed up to be part of the CMAS. If you’re one of them, heads up. You’ve got until April 7 to begin sending the alerts out to cell phones and other mobile devices. Since the 28 months since the timetable announcement have supposedly been devoted to an extended process of development and testing (over the first ten months) and implementation and deployment (the last 18 months) involving all concerned, the fast-approaching deadline shouldn’t be a big surprise. But if this particular chore has somehow slipped off your to-do list, now would be a good time to put it back on the list, probably toward the top.
And those 2% of you who chose not be CMAS participants, you’re not off the hook. The CMAS rules require that you notify your customers and prospective customers that you will not be providing emergency alerts throughout all or part of your service area. And those notifications have got to be in place by May 15, 2012, according to a recent notice from the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.
The Commission’s rules provide the specific language to be used for these notifications. With respect to new or prospective customers, non-participating CMS providers who are not participating at all in CMAS must provide “clear and conspicuous” notice, at the point-of-sale, as follows:Continue Reading...
After rejecting serial petitioner 11 times, FCC confirms that he’ll have to ask permission before he can file anything more on the topic.
Long-time readers will recall the individual who, as of last July, had been turned down by the FCC eleven separate times on the same matter. In the ninth turn-down, the FCC said, “We plan to give no further consideration to this matter, and the staff is hereby directed to dismiss summarily any subsequent pleadings . . . .” Number ten followed that guidance by dismissing in two short paragraphs.
When the individual came back yet again, turn-down number eleven deemed his last several submissions to have been frivolous, and imposed a rare sanction: it required the individual to seek advance permission from the relevant bureau before filing any further documents. Think “Mother May I” or “Simon Says”, but for grown-ups, in official pleadings. In a passage it may have come to regret, the FCC gave him time to comment before the sanction went into effect.
You will not be surprised to learn the affected individual had something to say. The FCC has now responded.Continue Reading...
It’s that time of year again – all telecoms and VoIP providers must file their annual Form 499-A by April 2.
That “other” April deadline is right around the corner: all telecommunications carriers are required to file FCC Form 499-A by April 2, 2012. If you’re an intrastate, interstate or international provider of telecommunications in the U.S., this probably means YOU (but check below for the short list of exemptions).
Form 499-A is used to true up the carrier’s Universal Service Fund contributions reported during the previous year. The revenues reported on the form will also be used to calculate upcoming 2012 contributions to the Telecommunications Relay Service, the North American Numbering Plan, and the Local Number Portability Fund. (For 2012, the proposed “contribution factor” – i.e., percentage of revenues that must be paid – will be a whopping 17.9 percent, up from 15.3 percent in the last quarter of 2011. Ultimately, these contributions come from consumers, who are assessed a surcharge as a percentage of their phone bill.)
The new 2012 form was released on March 5, giving carriers less than a month to get on file. It’s mostly the same as last year, except that now non-interconnecting VoIP providers must file to fulfill their new obligation to contribute to the Telecommunications Relay Service Fund. (That new obligation comes courtesy of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.)
A reporting company’s initial 499-A filing must be paper and ink; after that, carriers can file online through USAC’s website.
Before starting to fill out the form, a reporting company will need to pull together some financial information – i.e.,billed revenues for 2011, broken down into various categories. There is a safe harbor percentage available for entities that have difficulty separating their telecommunications versus bundled non-telecoms revenues. There is also a safe harbor for cell and VoIP providers to use in breaking out their interstate versus intrastate revenues.
Additionally, carriers with a lot of international revenue should take note of the “limited interstate revenues exemption” (LIRE). That allows companies whose interstate revenues are 12% or less than their international revenues to exclude international revenues in their “contribution base” (the amount upon which their contribution is assessed). Don’t look for this exemption in the Form 499-A instructions; it’s buried in a worksheet in an appendix.
If you’re not sure whether you’re a telecommunications carrier or not, you probably are. The category of mandatory 499-A filers is broad, including resellers, non-common carriers and VoIP providers. However, there are limited exemptions for:Continue Reading...
The Commission’s magnum opus setting out new rules for the Lifeline program – and proposing more new rules for that program – has been published in the Federal Register. (Click here for the portion containing the proposed rules; click here for the portion containing the new rules that have already been adopted.)
This publication establishes the deadlines for comments and reply comments relative to the proposed rules. If you would like to submit comments, you have until April 2, 2012; reply comments are due by May 1.
The Federal Register publication also establishes the effective dates of some (but not all) of the adopted rules. Get a pencil and paper out – you may need to take notes. Sections 54.411, 54.412, 54.413 and 54.414 will take effect April 1, 2012. Section 54.409 will take effect June 1, 2012. What about Sections 54.202(a), 54.401(c), 54.403, 54.407, 54.410, 54.416, 54.417 54.420 and 54.222? They all involve “information collections” and thus must first be blessed by the Office of Management and Budget thanks to our old friend, the Paperwork Reduction Act before they can take effect.
Looking to rein in fraud, waste, and abuse in the federal Lifeline program, the FCC has pulled out almost every bureaucratic tool in the box.
As we all know, the federal Lifeline program, overseen by the FCC, provides subsidized phone service to low-income households. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office released a report revealing a significant lack of direction and control within the Lifeline program. In response, the FCC has now adopted comprehensive measures to combat fraud, waste, and abuse in the program. By doing so, it hopes to trim “up to” $200 million from the Lifeline program this year and $2 billion over the next three years.
The FCC’s Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (R&O/FNPRM) spans 231 pages (and another 100 pages or so of appendices). Eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) will want to familiarize themselves with the many specific requirements detailed in the R&O/FNPRM in order to assure compliance. The following provides an introductory overview of the highlights of the FCC’s action. (Important note: this post does not address (a) Lifeline issues specific to Tribal lands or (b) state-conducted eligibility review.)
The R&O/FNPRM focuses on two main problem areas: (1) support for more than one person per household; and (2) support for ineligible consumers.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...
It’s that time of year again – that is, if you happen to be a telecommunications carrier or interconnected VoIP provider. If you’re one of them, your Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI, for short . . . but you already knew that) certifications are due at the Commission by March 1, 2012. The FCC has issued a convenient “Enforcement Advisory” to remind one and all of the deadline. Like similar advisories in past years, this year’s includes a helpful list of FAQs and a suggested template showing what a certificate should look like.
As we have explained before (last year, for example), the CPNI rules are designed to safeguard customers’ CPNI against unauthorized access and disclosure. (If you’re a glutton for punishment and want to read the actual rules, you can find them in Subpart U of Part 64 of the Commission’s rules. Here’s a link that will take you there, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.) Since 2008, the rules have required that telecommunications carriers and interconnected VoIP providers have an officer sign and file with the Commission a compliance certificate, annually, stating that he or she has personal knowledge that the company has established operating procedures that are adequate to ensure compliance with the rules. The carrier must also provide: (a) a statement accompanying the certification explaining how its operating procedures ensure that it is or is not in compliance with the rules; and (b) an explanation of any actions taken against data brokers and a summary of all customer complaints received in the past year concerning the unauthorized release of CPNI.
The Commission takes this reporting requirement very seriously – so seriously, in fact, that it has in many instances initiated forfeiture proceedings against carriers who, as it turned out, had fully complied with the rules.Continue Reading...
Request for input follows grant of waiver to Location and Monitoring Service licensee that shares unlicensed band.
The FCC has asked for comment on whether the licensed Location and Monitoring Service (LMS) at 902-928 MHz will cause interference to unlicensed devices in that band.
The request is startling, to those of us who work on spectrum issues. Part 15 of the FCC rules, which governs unlicensed devices, incorporates a fundamental tenet of U.S. spectrum policy: an unlicensed device must accept interference from any source, and may not cause harmful interference to any licensed service. Every unlicensed device bigger than a few inches carries a label saying just that. Why, then, is the FCC asking whether licensed LMS operations interfere with unlicensed use?
When the FCC adopted the current LMS rules in 1995, it estimated that several million Part 15 devices were using the 902-928 MHz band. The FCC mentioned the examples of cordless telephones, wireless local area networks, and automatic reading of utility meters. Recognizing the “enormous benefits” of those devices, the FCC added two provisions that remain unique in its rulebook. One specified that Part 15 devices meeting certain safe-harbor tests would be deemed not to cause harmful interference to certain LMS systems, even if they did in fact cause such interference.
The other provision, of more immediate interest here, requires certain LMS systems to demonstrate through actual field tests that they do not cause “unacceptable levels of interference” to Part 15 devices.Continue Reading...
Auction 93, featuring 119 FM construction permits on the block, is on schedule. The Commission has issued an update notice describing generally the applications that have been filed and the procedures and relevant deadlines governing the process from here on out. Quick summary: 111 complete applications; 32 incomplete applications; two rejected applications. Upfront payments due February 22, 2012 (by 6:00 p.m. ET). The auction is scheduled to begin March 27, 2012.
Anyone who filed an application for any of the channels should be sure to read the public notice carefully, as it contains information concerning important ground rules for everybody’s conduct between now and the end of the auction process. (If you happen to be on the list of “incomplete” applications, you’ve got until February 22 to re-submit your application, with any deficiencies corrected, in order to qualify to participate in the auction. Oh yeah, and you’ll have to pony up the upfront payment by February 22 as well.)
FCC plunges ahead despite pending appeals and reconsideration petitions
The FCC has released a Public Notice announcing proposed ground rules for its planned “reverse auction” to award $300 million in funding for mobile service to under-served parts of the country. In a reverse auction, bidders vie to accept the lowest payment from the FCC to provide a slate of designated services by a certain date. The Commission is inviting comments on its proposed approach, but interested parties will have to act fast (as will the Commission): the auction is tentatively scheduled for September 17, 2012, but there is a lot of work to be done before the auction can actually take place.
No one can say the FCC isn’t moving quickly on this auction – perhaps too quickly. It issued this public notice only a month after the new Mobility Phase I process became effective as part of the watershed USF/ICC reform order adopted last fall. The problem is that petitions for reconsideration were filed in December challenging the timing and structure of the proposed auction. Until those are resolved, the FCC can hardly proceed too far with the auction.
At the same time, the source of the funds to be distributed in the auction remains up in the air. Long-time observers of this space will recall that the FCC in 2010 took the unusual step of “re-purposing” some $500 million dollars that has been designated under the USF program for CETCs. (When Verizon and Sprint agreed to forgo USF payments that would have been due to them over the next five years, the FCC decided to put that money into a rainy day fund for broadband build-out rather than distributing it to the remaining CETCs.) That highly unusual and suspect action remains under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Depending on the outcome of that case, there may not be any money to hand out.
Curiously, the FCC failed to alert folks interested in the auction that the auction and the money are both still very much up in the air.
Assuming that the auction proceeds in something like its present form, however, the FCC’s notice sheds some light on what is likely to be in store.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.
The FCC must decide who will suffer the consequences of inferior GPS receivers.
In the ongoing dispute between LightSquared Inc. and the GPS industry, LightSquared has requested an FCC ruling that GPS users are not entitled to protection from LightSquared’s interference. And the FCC’s International Bureau, in turn, has asked for the public’s input on LightSquared’s request.
Back in January, 2011, the FCC gave LightSquared a waiver authorizing it to provide terrestrial, tower-based mobile data service on frequencies once set aside exclusively for mobile satellite communications. The waiver was (and remains) subject to some conditions – one of which requires LightSquared to satisfy a formal “Interference-Resolution Process” to address concerns about potential interference to GPS receivers. Meeting that condition has been a problem for LightSquared.
Because LightSquared’s frequencies are just below those coming down from the GPS satellites, GPS users feared interference. So the FCC set up a working group to run tests.
The working group, which includes people from both LightSquared and the GPS industry, subsequently filed a report that found that LightSquared’s operations resulted in “potentially significant interference” into various GPS devices in the upper 10 MHz portion of LightSquared’s band (i.e., the portion that closely abuts the GPS frequencies). The report also identified interference issues in the lower 10 MHz portion of the band, which is farther from GPS. One chilling example: “LightSquared deployment plan[s] are incompatible with aviation GPS operations absent significant mitigation, and would result in a complete loss of GPS operations below 2000 feet above ground level (AGL) over a large radius from the metro deployment center.”Continue Reading...
Less than hard-and-fast 90- and 150-day time limits for state/local actions on wireless tower permit requests affirmed
Cellular tower builders and wireless companies can breathe a sigh of relief: the “shot clock” presumptions imposed by the FCC on local government permitting processes have been upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. As a result, those presumptions – i.e., that state and local officials should ordinarily take no more than 90 days to act on wireless “collocation” applications and 150 days to act on all other wireless siting applications – remain in effect. But in affirming the Commission’s judgment in the face of challenges brought by two Texas communities, the Fifth Circuit acknowledged that local governments may still be able to rebut the presumptions – and, thus, drag out the permitting process – in individual cases.
The issue of local foot-dragging in antenna siting processes got on the Congressional agenda back in the 1990s. Out of concern that local governments might be reluctant to authorize new or modified transmission facilities in their particular bailiwicks (can you spell NIMBY?) and that such reluctance might in turn stymie the spread of wireless services, Congress weighed in. In the 1996 Telecom Act, Congress required that state and local governments act on requests to “place, construct, or modify” wireless facilities “within a reasonable period of time” after the filing of such requests.
That statutory mandate, however, proved less than effective because – here’s a surprise – tower builders, wireless operators and municipalities tended to differ over what constituted a “reasonable period of time”. Is a year too short? Is ten years too long? In 2008, more than a decade after the 1996 Telecom Act, CTIA-The Wireless Association® asked the Commission to tie down the concept of “reasonableness” a bit tighter than Congress had.
After soliciting and considering a broad range of comments, the Commission obliged.Continue Reading...
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.
Meet the new year, same as the old year, as webcasting royalty regimen remains largely unchanged.
“Evergreen” stories – The kind of stories that recur regularly. Stories like “NFL reminds non-paying universe never to utter the words ‘super bowl’”. You’ve seen them before.
And if you haven’t yet figured it out, you’re reading one right now.
Welcome to the annual reminder materials that have to be filed with SoundExchange under the statutory license applicable to the digital transmission of sound recordings. This applies to webcasters and streamers.
The fact that this is an evergreen, of course, doesn’t mean you should stop reading right now. Quite the contrary. An evergreen – well, at least this evergreen – comes back every year because it relates to stuff that merits attention every year.
And the webcasting requirements are especially right for the over-and-over-and-over evergreen treatment because I know that, no matter how often I expound on the subject – here on CommLawBlog, at broadcast conferences, in e-mail outreach – there are broadcasters out there who still don’t get it. Maybe they’re unaware of the requirements, maybe they’re aware of but confused by them – or maybe they regard the requirements as something less than “real law”, despite the fact that those requirements have become more and more ingrained into the fabric of the radio industry with each passing year.
Whatever. My mission is to do what I can to lay out the annual SoundExchange filing requirements so that everybody that has to comply with them can know what to do.
Let’s get to it.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...
Late last month we reported on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking contemplating use of the 78-81 GHz band to detect “foreign object debris” at airports. If you feel moved to comment on that proposal, your deadlines have now been set: comments are due by February 10, 2012, and replies are due by February 27.
Last August we reported on new rules imposing a number of restrictions on providers of Internet Telecommunications Relay Service (iTRS). Those rules took effect in October, but if you have an interest in iTRS, heads up. A petition for reconsideration of the new rules was filed, and the deadline for commenting on, or opposing, the petition has just been announced.
Among other things, the new rules put an end to the previous practice of some iTRS providers of assigning free “800” numbers to iTRS users. While iTRS users may still have toll-free numbers, they now have to obtain those numbers like everyone else – from the same companies that provide them to the public at large, subject to whatever fees may be involved (unless a hardship waiver is granted). Each toll-free number must be mapped to a regular “plain old telephone service” (POTS) number and be portable from one carrier to another; numbers that aren’t so mapped must be removed from directories.
The sole petitioner seeking reconsideration – Sorenson Communications, Inc. (Sorenson) – says that the FCC put an unjustified burden on its back.Sorenson, which controls the lion’s share of the iTRS market, complains that iTRS service providers should not be responsible for mapping toll-free numbers to POTS numbers. According to Sorenson, if an iTRS provider doesn’t issue the toll-free number, the provider won’t know (other than by burdensome case-by-case investigation) whether a number provided by its customer is legitimate. The number might not work at all, it might be discontinued after a while, or it might be used for spoofing or other deceptive practices. If the FCC won’t let iTRS providers issue the numbers, it would be better just to take toll-free numbers out of the iTRS database, in Sorenson’s view.
Oppositions to Sorenson’s petition may be filed by January 24, 2012; replies may be filed by February 3.
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...
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.
Sure, the Commission’s been sitting on the petitions for months (in one proceeding) and years (in another), but so what? You’ve got two weeks (including Christmas and New Year’s) to check them out and respond to them.
Got your 2012 calendar yet? Better get on it, because deadlines for the new year are starting to pile up.
For instance, remember the rural radio proceeding, which (among other things) established new, and considerably more rigorous, criteria for radio station “move-in” applications? You could be forgiven if that particular item has been swept out of your short-term memory, because the Commission’s Second Report and Order there was released back in early March. In any event, the FCC has now announced that six petitions for reconsideration of that decision have been filed. Apparently time is not of the essence here, because the petitions were filed back in late April and early May, right around the time the new rules became effective. Never you mind about that, though, because the clock is now ticking if you want to respond to any or all of the petitions. Oppositions to the petitions are due by January 5, 2012, and replies to oppositions are due by January 17, 2012.
In case you want to check out the petitions yourself, here are links to each:
You may as well keep your calendar opened to January 5 and January 17, because the Commission has also announced that two petitions for reconsideration were filed with respect to the FCC’s Report and Order permitting FM translators to rebroadcast the signals of AM stations.Continue Reading...
A semi-brief overview, from the wireless perspective, of the massive order overhauling the Universal Service Fund and Intercarrier Compensation system
The FCC released its historic 751-page Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Universal Service Fund (USF) and Intercarrier Compensation on November 18, providing a sumptuous repast for the communications industry to feast on over the Thanksgiving holiday. It took many readers a few weeks to fully digest the vast smorgasbord of items resolved by the Commission in this one proceeding. But having pushed ourselves away from the table at last, we can now comment on particulars of the Order that most affect wireless providers. The Order also very radically affects the rules governing intercarrier compensation and USF for wireline service, but we are reporting on those developments separately out of compassion for our readers.
Definition of Supported Services. The first big step taken by the Commission was to bring broadband within the universe of services supported under the USF umbrella. The FCC chose not to simply define broadband as a supported service, but instead to expand its definition of supported “voice telephony” to include VoIP. At the same time, the FCC is requiring supported voice telephony providers to provide broadband.
This awkward dance permits the Commission to continue ducking the issue of whether broadband should be re-classified as a “telecom” service regulated under the common carrier regime of the Communications Act or an “information” service regulated only under the FCC’s ancillary jurisdiction. But this dance creates problems of its own.Continue Reading...
The Commission’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) teeing up the new and (supposedly) improved version of Form 355 has made it into the Federal Register. You can read our post about the NOI here. As a result, we now know the deadlines for comments (and reply comments) on the FCC’s latest effort to force TV broadcasters – and, the smart money figures, all broadcasters eventually – to provide detailed quarterly reports about certain types of programming. Get out your calendars: comments are due by January 17, 2012 and reply comments by January 30, 2012. This proceeding is still in a relatively early phase. Before the Commission can impose any new rules here, it will still have to issue a separate notice of proposed rulemaking inviting more comments and reply comments, and then weed its way through all those. That process won’t crank up until the FCC has had a chance to sift through comments filed in response to the NOI.
But for anyone who believes that the approach suggested in the NOI is misguided, now is the time to start building that case in the FCC’s record.
Lockheed Martin wants a new RFID rule at 433 MHz that allows higher power and imposes fewer restrictions.
Our friends over at Lockheed Martin have asked the FCC to update its RFID technical rules.
RFID (short for radio frequency identification) is one of those technologies that most of use every day without giving it much thought. Automatic toll collection, variously branded E-ZPass, I-Pass, Fast Lane, etc., is one example. Many workplaces use electronic keys in the form of a card that, when touched to a sensor, unlocks doors and starts elevators. Modern cars will not start until the key makes a successful radio communication with a sensor in the dash.
All of these devices work the same way. A “reader,” such as the one mounted over the E-ZPass toll lane, sends out a radio signal. A “tag,” such as the little box mounted on a car’s windshield, accumulates energy from that signal, and when it is sufficiently charged, uses the stored-up power to transmit the tag’s specific ID number back to the reader. The reader passes that number on to a database for appropriate action, such as debiting the driver’s E-ZPass account.
The FCC regulates this kind of RFID as an unlicensed device under Part 15 of its rules. (Another kind of RFID uses battery-powered tags for greater range.) A manufacturer must comply with either of two rule sections. One allows operation on any frequency above 70 MHz, but only at very low power, and only in short bursts with long waiting times in between. The other rule section allows longer transmissions and shorter waiting times, but can be used only to identify the contents of commercial shipping containers at ports, warehouses, and the like, and must use the band 433.5-434.5 MHz.
Lockheed Martin likes the 433 MHz band, which is becoming a global standard. It has asked the FCC to adopt a new, third rule that includes the following elements:Continue Reading...
Last month we reported on the FCC’s proposal to update its technical standards for evaluating the compatibility of wireless devices and hearing aids. As noted there, updating to the new standard is important. It will improve testing procedures, and also expand the standard to cover frequencies (including the new 700 MHz band, which some wireless carriers have recently begun using to provide 4G data service) beyond basic cellphone bands. Without the update, new technology products soon expected on the market might be exempt from compatibility requirements. (The FCC allowed the iPhone to be exempt when it first appeared.) Issues in the rulemaking include a cut-off date after which the current standard may no longer be used, and whether manufacturers must apply one standard or the other, rather than cherry-picking parts of each.
The Commission’s Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has now been published in the Federal Register, which in turn sets the comment and reply comment deadlines. Comments are due by January 13, 2012, and reply comments by January 30, 2012.
Last month we reported on the much delayed publication of approval by the Office of Management and Budget of the reporting requirement that applies to certain 700 MHz licensees. Now (just like we predicted in last month's post), the FCC has announced the new date by which interim status reports are due: January 13, 2012. By that date, licensees in the EA Block A, CMA Block B, EA Block E and REAG Block C must advise the FCC of the status of construction and operation of their systems. While no penalty attaches to failure at this point to have made progress, the interim report serves as a reminder and prod to 700 MHz licensees to get cracking. By June 13, 2013, they will be expected to have met some pretty serious build-out and service obligations (35% of their geographic area in the case of the CMA licensees). With that deadline only a year and a half away, it’s not too early to start worrying if your system is not up or in the planning stages.
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.)
Now’s the time to toss in your two cents’ worth on possible asymmetric sideband operation
Earlier this month we reported on the Media Bureau’s invitation for comments on a proposal (advanced by the proponents of HD Radio) to allow “asymmetric sideband” operation for digital radio operators. That would mean that an FM station providing digital signals on its sidebands would be permitted to use different power levels on each of its digital channels. The Bureau’s invitation has now been published in the Federal Register, which triggers the 21-day comment period. The deadline for comments is December 19, 2011; reply comments are due by January 3, 2012. Historically, the Bureau has shown a decided proclivity to embrace modifications to the HD Radio system proposed by that system’s proponents and cheerleaders, so don’t be surprised if the newly-proposed tweaks get adopted promptly. (Another tip-off: the fact that the Bureau is affording only a relatively abbreviated 21-day comment period occurring immediately before Christmas, and an equally abbreviated reply comment period spanning Christmas and New Year’s Day.) Check back here for updates.
Last week we provided a reminder that Form 317 (for reporting broadcast DTV stations’ revenues from ancillary/supplementary services) is due by December 1. We also emphasized that this is the first year that LPTV/TV Translator/Class A TV operators will be required to file that report (and pony up the five percent fee, if applicable). In providing that last factoid, we failed to point out that the rule change expanding the reporting requirement to the lo-po universe had not technically become effective. As we reported back in July, since that requirement is technically a new “information collection” (at least as far as LPTV/TV Translator/Class A operators are concerned), it couldn’t be implemented until all the Paperwork Reduction Act hoops had been jumped through.
No problem, though. In a notice published in the Federal Register on November 28 – a comfortable three days before the December 1 filing deadline – the FCC has announced that OMB signed off on the revised language of Section 73.624(g) on November 17. And with the November 28 Register notice, the rule has become effective as of November 28, 2011.
While the FCC may take its own sweet time when it comes to getting its processes cranked up for some proceedings, that’s not always the case. Take, for instance, the proposal to move all TV “local” public files onto the FCC’s servers. That proposal popped up in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released on October 27 and now, not even a month later, it’s shown up in the Federal Register. That FedReg publication, of course, establishes the comment deadlines – and there again, the Commission is wasting no time. Comments are due on December 22, 2011 (yup, that would be the Thursday before Christmas), and reply comments are due on January 6, 2012. Happy New Year!
Note that this proceeding is different from the proposed Form 355, which is separate and distinct from (but still clearly related to) the TV public file proposal. No word yet on when comments on proposed Form 355 will be due, but we’re guessing it’ll be sooner rather than later. Check back here for updates.
It may be tempting to write the on-line public file proposal off as a fait accompli – with the comment/reply comment process just an elaborate charade designed to afford technical compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act. After all, in the Form 355 Notice of Inquiry, the Commission acknowledges up-front that its goal there is to create a new form that “will be included in the new online public file.” (That quote is from Paragraph 2 of the NOI, if you’re looking.) Call us crazy, but that seems to suggest that the online public file is a done deal in the Commission’s mind. Still, it’s probably a good idea for interested parties to submit detailed, fact-based comments when they have the chance. Such comments could provide a useful record on appeal.
And this year we DO mean ALL DTV broadcasters
Hey, all you DTV broadcasters! Before you start to carve the turkey and settle in for a long Thanksgiving weekend of football later this week, don’t forget to make a note in your calendar that Form 317 is due at the FCC by December 1. Form 317 is the “Digital Ancillary/Supplementary Services” Report on which you have to report whether, between October 1, 2101 – September 30, 2011, your DTV station provided any ancillary or supplementary services for a fee and, if so, how much revenue the station received. If you did provide any such services, then you’ve got to fork over five percent of the gross revenues you got from them (the payment to be accompanied by a completed Form 159, thank you very much.)
“Ancillary or supplementary services” include any services that are provided using the portion of a facility’s spectrum that is not needed for its required one free broadcast signal. Multiple video streams that are received free by the public are not considered to be ancillary or supplementary services.
This year, we truly mean all digital broadcasters of television programming, including TV translators, LPTV and Class A television stations, whether operating pursuant to a license, program test authority, or Special Temporary Authority.Continue Reading...
From our Better Late Than Never File: Build-out reports for 700 MHz licensees now in effect
The November 21, 2011 Federal Register includes a notice of the effectiveness of certain record-gathering rules adopted by the FCC in July, 2007. The 2007 Second Report and Order established substantive service requirements for 700 MHz licensees, but also required those licensees to file a report on the progress of their efforts to build out their market. Oddly, there was an impressive four-year gap between the adoption of the Second Report and Order and publication of the required notice that the Office of Management and Budget had approved the new paperwork burden. (Without that approval, the requirement could not become effective.) The terse Federal Register notice sheds no light on why, exactly, it took more than four years to wrap this seemingly ministerial chore up. This is disturbingly reminiscent of the situation involving Form 477, which we recently reported on, in which the Commission failed for some two years to notify the public of OMB approval of a reporting requirement.
The initial build-out report required by the rules was to have been submitted on June 13 of this year, but the FCC had to delay that filing due to the ineffectiveness of the rule. 700 MHz licensees can now expect the Wireless Bureau to issue a Public Notice establishing a new date for the filing of the status report. We’ll let you know when that happens.
759-page tome hits the streets, with surprisingly brief comment periods
Call me Ishmael!
That’s how the Commission might have opened its leviathan Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (R&O/FNPRM) in the proceeding to overhaul the Universal Service Fund. Weighing in at a hefty 489 pages – with an additional 16 appendices and four separate Commissioners’ statements bringing the total package to a whopping 759 pages – the document is physically daunting. And to be perfectly honest, we haven’t read it yet. But we plan to, and we expect to get a summary of it posted as soon as possible.
However, in a time-honored Washington tradition, the Commission unleashed the R&O/FNPRM at about 6:00 p.m. on a Friday evening. That would be the Friday before Thanksgiving. So the prospects for getting a post up in the next couple of days are limited.
But we have previously reported on an “executive summary” released by the Commission last month, describing the outlines of the ambitious R&O/FNPRM, so interested readers may use that as a sort of Cliff’s Notes intro to the full version for the time being. And anyone interested in participating in the proposed rulemaking portion of the proceeding better get reading. Comments on some aspects of the FNPRM are currently due to be filed by January 18, 2012, with replies by February 17. Comments on other aspects aren’t due until February 24, with replies by March 30. With Thanksgiving and the year-end holidays fast approaching, those deadlines will arrive sooner than you know it.
Check back here for updates and further information.
Back in July, the Commission announced its plans for the final digital transition of LPTV/TV Translator/Class A TV stations. Those plans were hustled over to the Federal Register in less than two weeks, an apparent indication that the Commission intends to hold fast to the transition schedule it had plotted out. But seven parties – including NPR and the National Translator Association – have different ideas. They filed petitions for reconsideration of the Second Report and Order. Formal notice of the filing of those petitions has now hit the Federal Register, which means that anyone looking to chip in his or her two cents’ worth on any (or all) of the petitions has until November 30, 2011 to do so; reply comments can also be filed until December 12.
If you want to read any of the petitions, here are the links:
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.
Holy Epiphany! No FM minor mods will be accepted from January 3-12, 2012
Last month we reported on a freeze, imposed in light of the impending Auction 93, on certain types of FM-related proposals. As we observed there, the notice was a bit unusual because it did not follow the Media Bureau’s standard operating procedure for FM auctions in at least one respect. That is, in past auctions the Bureau has frozen any and all minor mod applications (for commercial or noncommercial stations) during the filing window for short form (Form 175) applications for the auction channels.
Never fear – the standard operating procedure is still standard and still operating. With the release of the separate order establishing the dates and procedures for Auction 93, the Bureau has also announced that it will not accept FM commercial and noncommercial educational minor change applications during the Auction 93 Form 175 application filing window – a window which will open on January 3, 2012, and close on January 12, 2012.
“Effective dates” can be hard to pin down, thanks to contradictions, omissions and an overall lack of clarity by the FCC – take Form 477 as an example
The November 7, 2011 edition of the Federal Register contained what appeared at first blush to be a fairly routine notice that certain rules had received approval from the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) and were therefore going into effect as of the publication of that notice. But when we lift up that seemingly innocent flat rock of a notice, we observe a swarm of ugly questions about just how and when FCC rules become effective. Because FCC regulations have the force of law and are enforceable by fines in thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is critical that the public know exactly when compliance is required. Yet that seemingly simple detail – when do we have to obey a new rule? – can be hopelessly obscure, as was certainly the case in the proceeding referenced in the November 7 notice.
That proceeding involved amendments to Form 477, but the same question – i.e., when does a requirement become “effective” – applies to many other FCC proceedings.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?