Possible Ramifications for TCPA After FCC Reclassification of Text Messages

On December 12, the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC” or “Commission”) three Republican Commissioners were in a self-congratulatory mood for standing with consumers against unwanted robotexts by classifying text messaging as a Title I service, but did the Commission’s classification decision really mark a major TCPA victory for consumers? Probably not. As Sekoia Rogers detailed on CommLawBlog, the FCC’s decision clarifies the regulatory classification of SMS and MMS messages under Title I of the Communications Act. Yet, instead of focusing on the legal or policy rationales for its classification decision the FCC chose to focus on the TCPA benefits of treating text messages as a Title I information service. So what does the Commission’s decision accomplish from a TCPA standpoint?

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FCC Classifies Texting as an Information Service

On December 12, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) adopted a Declaratory Ruling that finds Short Messaging Service (SMS) and Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) are “information services” under the Communications Act and that these services are not “telecommunications services” or “commercial mobile services”.  As a result, SMS/MMS won’t be subjected to the regulatory burdens that apply to telecommunications and commercial mobile services and, according to the FCC, consumers will be able to continue benefiting from measures put in place by SMS/MMS providers to block unwanted text messages.

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FCC Proposes Elimination of EEO Mid-Term Report for Broadcasters

On January 3, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) released a proposed Report and Order which would eliminate the requirement that certain broadcast television and radio stations file a Broadcast Mid-Term EEO Report (Form 397). The Commission released the proposed Report and Order for adoption at its public meeting scheduled for January 30, notifying the public of how it would potentially conclude the proceeding begun in March 2018.

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Shutdown Uncertainty: What Broadcasters Should Do Now

Wondering how the federal government shutdown affects your broadcast station’s regulatory compliance obligations? Because some of the FCC’s online systems are up and running while others are not, it can be confusing as to what is still required of broadcasters. We have sorted through the confusion to help you understand what should still be prepared and/or filed, looking ahead through the beginning of February.

Aside from filings related to the post-Incentive Auction TV Transition (a/k/a the Repack) and certain political file matters, regulatory compliance filings for broadcast stations technically are not due during the shutdown. However, because the FCC has directed that any reports and filings that were due during the shutdown will be required to be filed within two (2) days of the federal government reopening, we recommend that you still prepare reports and make filings on time. This will allow you to be ahead of the curve when the FCC’s systems come back online. Continue Reading

The FCC Sets the Wheels in Motion to Clear More Spectrum for 5G

At its December open meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) took a significant step toward facilitating the deployment of fifth-generation (5G) wireless advanced services. For those still wondering what exactly 5G is, we have written about the highly touted mobile broadband technology several times, including here and here.

The FCC has already cleared some important regulatory hurdles necessary for 5G deployment, but the spectrum scarcity issue remains. Many wireless carriers capitalized on the recent broadcast incentive auction to get their hands on airwaves in the 600 MHz range, but 5G will likely rely on a combination of low, medium, and high frequency spectrum, so there is much more work needed to be done by the Commission. The FCC has, for some time, had its eye on the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands to free up some all-important millimeter wave spectrum.

The most recent Report and Order set the wheels in motion for an incentive auction for those bands, which the FCC hopes to have underway by the end of 2019. An incentive auction would achieve the goal of clearing incumbent licensees in the 39 GHz band. Continue Reading

FCC Commences Review of Media Ownership Rules

On December 12, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) commencing the 2018 Quadrennial Review of the Commission’s media ownership rules.  The FCC is required under Section 202(h) of the Communications Act to review most of its broadcast ownership rules every four years to determine whether the rules continue to be in the public interest (and to repeal any rules that no longer serve the public interest) because they ensure a competitive broadcast marketplace. (importantly, the national television ownership cap is excluded from the quadrennial review process).  These proceedings usually involve court challenges and typically take years to complete – as demonstrated by the fact that the Commission did not complete the 2010 and 2014 quadrennial reviews until 2017.

In the NPRM, the Commission is specifically reviewing its local radio and television ownership rules, as well as the “dual network” rule.  The FCC is also considering the adoption of several diversity-related ownership proposals proffered by the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (“MMTC”).

Each of these items under the Commission’s consideration are reviewed below.  Despite its name, the NPRM does not in fact propose any specific rules, but rather requests comment broadly on any changes that should be made to these ownership rules.  Instead, Chairman Ajit Pai requested an “intellectually honest conversation” about the current state of the media marketplace, and that any changes to the rules would “follow where the facts take us.” Continue Reading

FCC Adopts TCPA Changes that Include (Very Limited) Safe Harbor

On December 12, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) adopted an order that creates a reassigned number database to help callers avoid Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) violations that can occur when telephone numbers get reassigned to new users. We covered some of the details in a previous CommLawBlog post when the FCC pre-released its order in draft form. Now that the final version of the order has been adopted, there’s one major change to note: the Commission added a very limited (more on this below) safe harbor for callers that use the reassigned number database. Continue Reading

FCC Eliminates Posting of Broadcast Licenses

Two years into Ajit Pai’s chairmanship, a central theme at the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) is deregulation. Sometimes framed in terms of “modernizing media rules,” the topic is at the forefront of just about every proceeding.  This was true for one of the most recent decisions at the Commission, as a Report and Order was adopted on December 10, 2018 which will eliminate the need to post and maintain broadcast licenses at a physical location. Continue Reading

Webcaster Wake Up Call!

We usually publish our “Webcaster Wake Up Call!” post each January.  This post reminds webcasting services of their compliance obligations for the upcoming year under the statutory licenses found in Sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act (the “statutory licenses”) allowing them to publicly perform sound recordings via digital audio transmission.  Part of the reason we usually wait until January is because the first of those obligations, the filing of an Annual Minimum Fee Statement of Account form and payment of $500 per webcasting channel, must occur on or before January 31 of each year (and the paper-based forms in question sometimes were not available until the beginning of the year). Continue Reading

Upcoming FCC Broadcast and Telecom Deadlines for December/January/February

December (the most wonderful time of the year) often carries with it a sense of retrospection.  We start looking back on the year that was, compiling “Best of” lists, tying up loose ends, getting those last donations and expenses in under the wire. Of course, there’s also plenty of forward-looking at what the new year might bring.  This post falls into the latter category and it’s looking at the wonderful FCC-related deadlines that will await us as we return from our holiday breaks.

Please note that the list is NOT exclusive, so there may be others. For help meeting these deadlines or answering questions about any that may not be listed here, please contact FHH at 703-812-0400. Continue Reading