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 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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FCC Simplifies Protection Process for AM Signals

Commission adopts new comprehensive standards for determining both the adverse effects of construction on nearby AM signals and who should be liable for correcting those effects.

If you’re an AM licensee looking to protect your signal from distortion caused by newly-built (or modified) structures nearby, the FCC has made your life a bit simpler.

The Commission has decided that ALL FCC-regulated services – broadcast and non-broadcast alike – will have to protect AM stations from signal distortion arising from construction or modification of nearby towers. (For purposes of the new rules, the term “tower” includes a building or any other structure on which a new or modified antenna or antenna-supporting structure is being installed.)

Why do AM’s get this special treatment?  

Unlike most other radio services – in which the signal is transmitted from an antenna which is mounted on a tower or other structure – AM towers are themselves the antenna. The entire AM tower structure radiates the signal. Other nearby metallic structures can unintentionally re-radiate the signals and distort the AM station’s pattern. The problem is aggravated when the AM is directional, because directional AM stations have more than one radiating tower/antenna, with signals phased so as reinforce and/or cancel one another to create the desired directional coverage pattern. Distortion caused to the signal coming off any one of the towers will affect the overall pattern; if the interfering feature(s) – buildings, water towers, etc. – distort(s) the signals coming off more than one of the towers, the effect is exacerbated.

Fixing such distortion usually involves a process called de-tuning, where insulators are installed on one or more structures to alter the electrical height and make the structure a poor re-radiator. De-tuning is often not a cheap or easy process.

The FCC has traditionally required newcomers – i.e., anybody constructing new or modified facilities – to take corrective action for the benefit of pre-existing stations. However, the specific requirements imposed by that “newcomer” policy have varied from one service to another; and as far as protecting AM broadcasting is concerned, there are no rules at all for some services, including those covered by Parts 24 and 90. 

The FCC’s new approach eliminates all that by establishing a uniform set of rules applicable to all services.

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The 411 on 844: A New Toll-Free Area Code Coming Soon

Toll-free phone numbers using the next area code in the 800 series will be up for grabs starting this December.

A new toll-free area code is about to become available. Put your hands together for 844, which is set to join the ranks of 888, 877, 866, and 855, and, of course, the venerable 800.  844 will be the sixth toll-free code. Two more are on deck for future use – 833 and 822. Note: 811 is not a toll-free area code; rather, that has been reserved for the “Dig Safe” (formerly known as “Miss Utility”) three-digit dialing code used to notify the appropriate folks of planned excavation that might disrupt underground pipes or wires.

The establishment of a new toll-free area code gives rise to potential opportunities and problems. You’ve got four months to figure out what it might mean for you.

Before we get into all that, though, we must express our surprise that the demand for toll-free numbers continues to mushroom. After all, many people are migrating from conventional landlines to cellphones and IP-based services which don’t charge for what we used to call “long distance” calls. If there is no toll, why worry about setting up toll-free numbers? We don’t know, but we do know that the demand continues unabated. 

How unabated?

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FCC Blesses SoftBank/Sprint Union

Celebrating the Fourth of July, the Commission approves alien take-over of U.S wireless carrier.

As was expected, the FCC has approved SoftBank Corp.’s acquisition of majority control of Sprint Nextel, as well as Sprint’s acquisition of 100% control of WiMAX broadband provider Clearwire.  As is also the FCC’s somewhat inconvenient custom, the Order was released at the end of the day on Friday of a holiday weekend, so that the common folk had to read it during the holiday, even if we were trying to relax on the nearest beach.

The decision contains nothing earth-shaking.  It’s apparent that the FCC has become increasingly uncomfortable with the growing monopoly strength of AT&T and Verizon in the wireless marketplace, so it’ll do anything it reasonably can to help Sprint and T-Mobile become stronger marketplace competitors.  SoftBank is going to dump big bucks into Sprint, and Sprint has agreed to decommission its equipment from Chinese suppliers that some people worry might have subversive back-door software, so to quote a legendary comic character, “What, me worry?”

Antitrust considerations didn't give the Commission heartburn because SoftBank does not operate in the U.S., so there will be no competition-reducing horizontal merger of competitors.

Of interest to our clients who hold Educational Broadband Service (EBS) licenses and lease their spectrum to Clearwire, several EBS entities complained that Clearwire’s EBS spectrum lessors might not be complying with the regulatory requirement that at least 5% of the capacity of an EBS system be reserved for educational uses.  The FCC said that the charges had not been adequately proven, the complaining parties who lease spectrum to Clearwire should hold perhaps their tongues because they had previously certified that they themselves were in compliance, and there was nothing to indicate that Clearwire would not continue to honor its leases.

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Harmonic Convergence? FM Interference to 700 MHz LTE Service

700 MHz licensees (with some apparent FCC support) complain of FM interference to hypersensitive LTE gear – but must FM licensees foot the bill to correct the problem?

The introduction of different species into an established ecosystem tends to be a dicey proposition.  Almost invariably, co-habitation requires the sharing of scarce resources.  And more often than not, the different species approach the whole sharing thing in different, not entirely compatible, ways.  The result: occasional dissatisfactions and frustrations – leading to occasional inter-species frictions and fisticuffs.

Take the RF spectrum ecosystem, for example.

Most inhabitants of the spectrum have historically figured out ways to coexist in relative peace (at least for the most part) – thanks largely to the fact that the potential impact of one service on another has been taken into account in the frequency allocation process. But as the demand for spectrum increases, and every little niche is filled up, it is becoming more difficult to avoid inter-service conflicts. And sure enough, the introduction of a recent new species – 700 MHz wireless systems using LTE equipment – seems to be causing some unexpected problems. 

Since January, 2012, spectrum that used to constitute TV channels 52 and up has been reallocated to 700 MHz wireless services. Television still occupies channels 51 and down (at least for the time being), and there has been much hand-wringing over how the relatively low power wireless services will be able to coexist in such close proximity to high-powered TV stations.

Now it turns out that another problem – less anticipated – has reared its ugly head. Wireless operators using high gain LTE antenna systems and high gain LTE receivers have experienced interference which, they claim, is caused not by TV but by nearby FM stations. 

FM stations? How can that be, since FM stations operate in the 88-108 MHz band, far away from 700 MHz?

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Enforcement Relief for "Student-run" NCE Stations

New Media Bureau policy opens door for reduced fines for first-time violators of some paperwork rules.

The FCC’s enforcement actions often leave us shaking our heads wondering if the bureaucracy recognizes the challenges faced in real life by those it regulates. But occasionally there are rays of hope.  Case in point: the Media Bureau has revised its policy for enforcing certain paperwork obligations against student-staffed noncommercial educational (NCE) radio broadcast stations. The revised policy provides an opportunity for such stations to avoid crushing forfeitures which could end up shutting the stations down.

Last July, we blogged about the stifling impact of the FCC’s forfeitures on student-operated stations. Because of frequent student staff turnover, such stations can be prone to rule violations, which in turn result in steep forfeitures often amounting to a substantial portion of -- indeed, sometimes even more than -- the station’s annual budget. That happens when the fine is based on the Commission’s schedule of “standard” forfeitures even without any upward adjustments.

While some stations hit with fines have argued to the Commission that their budgets can’t sustain the forfeiture amount, the FCC has historically ignored such claims. Instead, it has looked to the resources of the entire educational institution, rather than just the station itself, presumably (but unrealistically) assuming that the institution would pay up.  Unfortunately, as we reported in our earlier post here,even though many institutions do pay up, the threat of further severe regulatory enforcement has apparently led some institutions to sell their stations, thereby eliminating opportunities for entry and training of young people in the art of broadcasting.

But now the Bureau has a new policy.

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Older Entries

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