Peter Tannenwald

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Mr. Tannenwald has worked with virtually every communications industry for over forty years, including commercial and public broadcasters, common carrier, wireless, and satellite telecommunications providers; governmental and educational institutions; and developers of new technologies.

Articles By This Author

FCC Spanks T-Mobile for $819,000

Hearing aid compatibility shortfall draws big fine.

More than two years ago we reported that the FCC had proposed to fine T-Mobile a whopping $819,000 for violations of hearing aid compatibility (HAC) requirements. (Under those requirements both manufacturers and mobile carriers must offer a broad range of handsets that (a) don’t cause interference to hearing aids and (b) do work with the telecoil add-ons that many hearing aid wearers use.) As is customary, T-Mobile was given a chance to respond to the proposed fine, which it did (in May, 2012), arguing not that it hadn’t violated the rules, but rather that the fine was “unduly punitive” and should be sliced in half.

The FCC was not convinced. We know this because the Commission has now finalized the fine, leaving it at $819,000 – no reduction for effort, good behavior, or anything else.

This case is unusual for a couple of reasons.

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Regulatory Weed-Whacking: The FCC Cleans Up its Antenna Structure Regulations

Nearly a decade in the making, FCC tower rules brought into the 21st Century

If you’ve got one or more tower structures, you may be in luck. The FCC has at long last taken a weed-whacker to Part 17 of its rules, a long-overgrown regulatory briar patch governing the construction, painting and lighting of antenna structures. While the substantive requirements remain largely intact, a number of procedural changes should make life at least a little easier for tower owners as well as the Commission’s Staff. At a minimum, the changes should make the rules easier for real people to grasp.

The only real question here: What took so long?

Tower Inspections. The current rules require that tower lights be monitored at least once every 24 hours, either by observation of the tower itself or through an alarm system that takes care of the process automatically. In addition, any automatic or mechanical control devices, indicators, and alarm systems associated with a tower-lighting system must be inspected quarterly to confirm that the gear is working properly. Some major tower owners have set up Network Operations Centers (NOCs) which are staffed at all times, have highly sophisticated equipment that sounds an alarm at any tower lighting malfunction, and stores records of all alerts. An alert is sent not only if the lights fail at a tower but also if the monitoring system fails. Historically, the FCC has granted several waivers of the quarterly inspection requirement to companies that have demonstrated that their NOCs are adequately staffed and equipped.

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Looking for a Way Around a Statute of Limitations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FCC Looks to Help the Lost Get Found

Proposed revisions of Maritime and Personal Radio rules would increase effectiveness of emergency location beacons.

Most people know that the FCC is taking steps to improve the ability of the 911 telephone system to identify a caller’s location automatically. But think about how much more complicated it is to pinpoint the location of a person in distress at sea or in the desert or on a mountain top, where there are no street addresses or buildings to help guide rescuers to the victim.

The FCC has authorized a surprisingly large number of devices to assist search and rescue efforts in finding you in uninhabited areas (assuming that you’re smart enough to carry such a device). And in a recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the Commission has proposed a number of changes in Parts 80 (Maritime Services) and 95 (Personal Radio Services) of its Rules, which include provisions covering search-and-rescue devices.

Like Heinz’s 57 products, the devices come in an impressive array, each with its own particular features and its own particular alphabet soup acronym.

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Update: Appeal Clock Starts for Class A and LPTV Digital Construction Deadlines

FCC’s September, 2013 denial of reconsideration finally makes it to the Federal Register

While the transition of full-power TV stations from analog to digital occurred nearly five years ago, the DTV transition for Class A and LPTV stations is still far from complete. In 2011 the FCC set deadlines for the construction of Class A and LPTV stations and the termination of all LPTV operation on Channels 52 and above. (Read out post about that decision here.) And as we reported last September, the Commission denied reconsideration of that decision.

For unexplained reasons, the order denying reconsideration was not published in the Federal Register . . . until now. Its publication there on March 6 starts the 60-day clock for seeking judicial review of the deadline rules. In other words, May 5, 2014 is the last day for getting to the court house.

For anyone who might (understandably) have lost track of this proceeding in the five months or so since the FCC formally addressed it, here’s what’s on the table.

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More 411 on 844: New Toll Free Numbers Up For Grabs as of 12/7/13

With toll free numbers fast running out, FCC declines to delay roll out of new toll free code despite concerns about possible abuses.

If you’ve got your eye on a vanity toll free telephone number you’d like to use – or if you might want to expand an existing vanity number to include another toll free area code – listen up: New toll free area code 844 is about to make its debut. And now the FCC has announced how numbers in that area code are going to be assigned.

Last summer we wrote about the new toll-free code, which is set to become available at noon (ET) on December 7, 2013. At that point area code 844 will join the ranks of 888, 877, 866, and 855, along with the original toll-free 800 code. 

All toll free numbers are administered by SMS/800, Inc., which oversees the toll free Service Management System for the North American Numbering Plan. Entities known as “Responsible Organizations” – usually referred to simply as “RespOrgs” – can access the SMS/800 database and reserve particular numbers. If a subscriber wants a particular toll free number, it contacts a RespOrg, which in turn obtains the number for that subscriber from the database.  A RespOrg is not supposed to reserve any number unless the RespOrg is doing so at the specific request of a telephone subscriber.

Anticipating an initial rush for numbers using the new 844 code, the FCC asked for comment on how distribution of those numbers should be handled. Its conclusion: limit each RespOrg to 100 numbers per day for the first 30 days. (The FCC imposed a similar limit when area code 855 first came on line.) After the first 30 days, the usual rule will come back into effect for numbers in the 844 code: like other toll free numbers, they will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Foreign Control of Broadcast Licensees: The Regulatory Door Is Gradually Opening

FCC announces case-by-case approach to possible increases in indirect foreign control of broadcast licensees.

Indirect alien control of U.S. broadcast stations, long thought a taboo, may be on the way to acceptance at the FCC. In a Declaratory Ruling, the Commission has announced that it will consider easing up on such indirect foreign ownership of U.S. stations.  But exactly when any easing up will occur, and how much alien control  the FCC will eventually permit, remains to be seen.

Section 310(b)(3) of the Communications Act requires that entities holding certain FCC-issued licenses (for broadcast and common carrier services and radios serving aircraft while en route) must be organized under U.S. law AND may have no more than 20% foreign ownership. By contrast, Section 310(b)(4) of the Act permits such licensees to be indirectly controlled by separate entities up to 25% of which is owned by alien interests.  In other words, while the license holder itself cannot be more than 20% foreign-owned, up to 25% of its parent company may be owned by foreign individuals or companies (even if the parent, which must be a domestic U.S. entity, is a 100% owner of the licensee).

The convoluted structure of Section 310(b)(4) suggests that the Commission might be able to allow entities with more than 25% alien ownership to control such FCC licensees – as long as an appropriate public interest determination is made. Historically, though, the Commission has strictly adhered to the 25% benchmark: it has never made such a public interest determination and, consequently, it has effectively established 25% as a hard and fast maximum not to be exceeded.

But now the Commission says that, going forward, it will be more open-minded to – and is, indeed, effectively inviting proposals for – greater indirect foreign ownership and control of broadcast licensees.

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FCC Stays the Course on Digital Transition for LPTV/Class A Stations

Deadlines set in 2011 remain in place; Channel 6 LPTV's cautioned on potential for NCE FM interference.

The FCC has nixed requests submitted by a number of LPTV and Class A stations looking for relief from spectrum-clearing measures put in place two years ago.

In 2011, the FCC announced the end of the transition to digital broadcasting for Class A and Low Power Television stations (to make life simple, we’ll call them both “LPTV” for now). In so doing, it set a number of deadlines.  In response to a handful of petitions of reconsideration, the FCC has now reaffirmed those deadlines. It has also addressed complaints from noncommercial (NCE) FM broadcasters that increased power levels for LPTV stations operating on Channel 6 could cause interference to NCE FM stations.

Under the deadlines set in 2011, all TV operation of any kind, analog or digital, on Channels 52 and above had to end by December 31, 2011, and all analog LPTV broadcasting on any channel must end by September 1, 2015. 

The December, 2011 deadline put a particular squeeze on out-of-core LPTV licensees. Some had a hard time finding an in-core channel by the deadline. Others who did find such a channel still had to go dark on December 31, 2011 if they had not received a permit for, or completed construction of, their in-core facilities. Going dark, of course, poses its own major problem: Section 312(g) of the Communications Act says that a broadcast station that fails to operate for 12 consecutive months automatically loses its license.

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Older Entries

August 20, 2013 — FCC Simplifies Protection Process for AM Signals

August 5, 2013 — The 411 on 844: A New Toll-Free Area Code Coming Soon

July 7, 2013 — FCC Blesses SoftBank/Sprint Union

June 25, 2013 — Harmonic Convergence? FM Interference to 700 MHz LTE Service

May 13, 2013 — Enforcement Relief for "Student-run" NCE Stations

December 10, 2012 — FCC Bars Non-Emergency Robocalls to PSAP Numbers

December 6, 2012 — FCC Looks to Bring More Emergency Information to the Visually Impaired

October 31, 2012 — For "Reasonable Access" Purposes, Predicted NLSC Determines a TV Station's Service Area

October 5, 2012 — No-Pix Six Nixed

August 14, 2012 — Qwest Quest for Forbearance Quashed

July 27, 2012 — Student-Run College Radio: A Species Endangered by FCC Fines?

July 17, 2012 — Update: Online TV Public File System Unveiled!

June 25, 2012 — FCC Eyes Easier NCE Fundraising for Third Parties

June 20, 2012 — From the FCC Police Blotter: No Blood from the Stone? Demand More Blood!

June 19, 2012 — From the FCC Police Blotter: Misrep Lite - When Thinking You're Being Honest Just Isn't Enough

May 29, 2012 — Multiline Telephone Systems and 911 Caller Location - Room for Improvement?

April 24, 2012 — FM Boosters: The Next Source of Originated Programming?

March 30, 2012 — Copyright Office: We Have a List . . .

March 12, 2012 — More Steps Toward TV Band Clearing

March 7, 2012 — Missing KidVid Reports Lead to $13K Fines for Class A Stations

February 28, 2012 — First Steps Toward TV Band Clearing Start

January 23, 2012 — Time for a Change in the FCC's Contest Rule?

January 15, 2012 — Commission Dismisses TV Channel-Sharing Proposal

December 31, 2011 — EEO: Web-only, Word-of-Mouth-only Recruitment NOT Enough

December 30, 2011 — FCC Proposes to Reform Video Relay Service

December 28, 2011 — AT&T Gets More Spectrum with Buy from Qualcomm

November 12, 2011 — Copyright Office: Making a List, Checking It Twice

November 2, 2011 — HD Radio: Yet Another Tweak Proposed

September 18, 2011 — Auditory Assistance Devices - Crossing the Language Barrier?

August 26, 2011 — FCC Seeks Status Reports from Hurricane-Affected Communications Providers

August 23, 2011 — Wireless vs. Broadcast: Chalk One Up for Wireless

August 8, 2011 — Reins Tightened on iTRS Providers

July 25, 2011 — 700 MHz Public Safety Service: Being a Governmental Entity Is Just Not Enough

July 17, 2011 — Analog LPTV: The End is . . . September 1, 2015

July 15, 2011 — Reminder: Narrowband Transition Deadline Approaching

July 12, 2011 — LPFM v. FM Translator: The FCC Moves to End the Stalemate

June 29, 2011 — IXC v. CLEC: Tariff Tossed Due To "End User" Definition

June 8, 2011 — Rural Interconnection Direction Correction

June 1, 2011 — Broader Broadband For 4G Networks?

January 3, 2011 — Media Bureau Cracks The EEO Whip

January 3, 2011 — Update: Commission Sets Hooks Into USF Windfall

November 22, 2010 — Point-Counterpoint: Peter Tannenwald Responds To The Chairman

November 3, 2010 — Coming Soon To A Screen Near You: "Energy Guide" Labels

October 28, 2010 — The Big Chill: LPTV Plunged Into Deep Freeze

October 27, 2010 — BAS Application Coordination Clarification

September 27, 2010 — A Closer Look At Some White Spaces Fine Print

September 23, 2010 — FCC Okays White Space Devices

September 22, 2010 — Commission Cracking Down On Toll-Free Numbers For iTRS Use

September 21, 2010 — Analog LPTV: The End Is Near . . . Maybe Really Near

September 7, 2010 — USF Bonanza Broadband-Bound?

July 15, 2010 — TV On The Move Means Less to Watch

July 1, 2010 — Narrowband Transition Deadlines Adjusted

June 28, 2010 — Nationwide LPTV/TV Translator Filing Opportunity Postponed, Again

June 8, 2010 — Personal Radio Made Simple?

May 24, 2010 — FCC Puts New Time Limits On "Porting" Phone Numbers

April 4, 2010 — Evolve Or Die: Turn-of-the-Century LPTV/TV Translators Applications Must Go Digital

March 27, 2010 — NBP And Energy: There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

February 22, 2010 — FCC Opens E-Rate Facilities To The Public At Large

January 25, 2010 — FCC Tells Sky-High And Down-To-Earth 7/10/13 GHz Users How To Co-exist

January 18, 2010 — FCC Attaches Strings To Wireless Mics

January 14, 2010 — Annual National EAS Test Proposed

December 4, 2009 — Verizon Early Termination Fees In The FCC's Crosshairs

June 12, 2009 — Next On Our Agenda . . .

May 29, 2009 — Reminder Time!!!

May 18, 2009 — "Come and Get It" Update

May 14, 2009 — "Come And Get It!"

May 5, 2009 — Time For A New Spin On "Pay For Play"

April 16, 2009 — The $175,000 Question: When Is A Computer Circuit Card Not A Computer Circuit Card?

February 16, 2009 — The Commission Hunkers Down For D(TV)-Day

February 13, 2009 — Valentine's Eve DTV Massacre??

February 13, 2009 — FCC Applies Over-the-Air Contest Rules to On-Line Contest

January 16, 2009 — FCC Leaves The Light On

December 24, 2008 — In the DTV Christmas Stocking: Replacement Translators!!

November 4, 2008 — Welcome to the White Spaces - No License? No Problem!

October 21, 2008 — FCC Eases Rules for Smaller C-band/Ku-band Stations

October 13, 2008 — Commission Inquisition To Focus On Cable Carriage Discrimination Claims

October 2, 2008 — PSIP-itation

September 9, 2008 — FCC Grants Wirelines Forbearance From ARMIS Reports

August 14, 2008 — "WARN" Act Rules Released

July 25, 2008 — 8th Circuit Upholds Gross Receipts Taxes for Cell Phones

July 24, 2008 — FCC Rejects Request for Dirt on AT&T Contracts

July 14, 2008 — Class A Displacement/Expansion Freeze Lifted

May 12, 2008 — NCE-FM Fined $9K for Families and Ice Cream

February 5, 2008 — Leased Access Becomes More Accessible