FCC Approves Voluntary ATSC 3.0 Next Gen TV Implementation

New Opportunities for Next Gen Broadcasters and Simulcast “Host” Stations, but Controversies Remain.

Photo courtesy of Flash.Pro via Flickr through the Creative Commons License

Yesterday, the FCC adopted a Report and Order authorizing television broadcasters to use the “Next Generation” broadcast television (Next Gen TV) transmission standard (also called “ATSC 3.0”) on a voluntary, market-driven basis. This Order may herald a revolutionary change in TV broadcasting, opening new business models for Next Gen broadcasters as well as for other stations that act as “hosts.”

The Order requires full power TV stations voluntarily transmitting in ATSC 3.0 will be required, however, to continue transmitting current-generation digital television (DTV) service using the ATSC 1.0 transmission standard to their viewers. This requirement to simulcast ATSC 1.0 with ATSC 3.0 is to be accomplished by stations partnering with other stations acting as “hosts” to transmit the “guest” station’s 1.0 or 3.0 format signal. Class A and low power TV (“LPTV”) stations will be allowed to “flash cut” directly to transmission in ATSC 3.0. In connection with the release of the Order, the Commission also issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on issues related to exceptions and waivers of the simulcast requirement, and on whether to let broadcasters use vacant TV channels to encourage use of Next Gen TV. These changes will also likely impact MVPDs and even wireless carriers. However, the Order has generated significant controversies that may not go away quickly. But let’s take a few steps back before we address all that.

First off, what is Next Gen TV? Glad you asked.

ATSC 3.0 is the new TV transmission standard developed by Advanced Television Systems Committee as “the world’s first Internet Protocol (IP)-based broadcast transmission platform.” It is designed to merge the capabilities of over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting with the broadband viewing and information delivery methods of the Internet, while using the same 6 MHz channels presently allocated for DTV service. The promise of this new TV transmission standard is the potential to enable broadcasters to provide consumers with a “more immersive and enjoyable television viewing experience” both at home and on mobile screens. Live TV transmission to mobile phones would open a potentially huge new market for TV broadcasters. Additionally, ATSC 3.0 is designed to enable delivery of “Ultra High Definition” television, with greater spatial resolution, higher dynamic range and frame rate, along with enhanced audio.

Lastly, ATSC 3.0 is also designed to allow broadcasters to geographically localize, as well as personalize, the delivery of TV programming. Geographic localization can be used to provide targeted public safety messages. But most importantly for the broadcast industry, it can provide targeted advertising, a la the Internet. Put this all together, and implementation of this next standard may not only be more revolutionary than the implementation of DTV, but it holds the promise of providing broadcasters significant new bases for revenue streams. That’s big. Notably, by requiring the simulcasting of ATSC 3.0 and 1.0 for full power stations, the Order establishes an important role for LPTV, Class A, and independent full power stations as “host” stations. This may be a temporary but multi-year economic lifeline for such stations.

A number of regulatory issues are triggered with the authorizing TV stations to commence broadcasting on the ATSC 3.0 standard.

While the text of the Order has not been released as of the time this blog publication, based on the FCC’s fact sheet and draft order (released last month), here are some of the most important elements of the Order:

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One Small Step for Cell Sites: FCC Finds that Replacing Utility Poles is Unlikely to Affect Historical Properties

Photo courtesy of Adam Jones via the Creative Commons License

The Federal Communications Commission has taken a very tiny step toward eliminating unnecessary obstacles to the installation of communications facilities on existing structures without triggering historic review obligations. For the last year, the FCC has been reviewing the various regulatory obstacles that are hindering, delaying, and making more expensive the process of establishing new cell sites. The need for reform in this area is widely acknowledged to be increasingly urgent since 5G technology will require the installation of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of small cell locations in the next five years. Both large and small cells are currently covered by onerous environmental and historical review. These obligations require archeological excavations, extensive (and expensive) consultation with Indian tribes, and other machinations to ensure that no historical or tribal artifacts will be affected by the installation of a new communications facility on an existing telephone pole, a building, a treehouse, or other structure.

The FCC has somewhat dubiously declared that installation of communications facilities in, or on any new or existing structure (with a few exceptions), constitutes a “Federal undertaking” that triggers review obligations under historic preservation laws. It is now, to its credit, taking steps to ameliorate the significant adverse effects of subjecting virtually all communications installations to these procedures.

The FCC in a 2014 Order eliminated, or severely circumscribed, the circumstances where historic review is required for small, unobtrusive installations in or on existing structures. It then opened a wider inquiry into the entire gamut of municipal, tribal and historical obstacles to prompt cell site construction. The comment cycle in that Docket has been closed since the summer, so a decision on those matters may be out as early as the first quarter of next year. In the meantime, on Nov. 15, the Commission adopted a brief Order dealing with the low-hanging fruit of that policy review. Continue Reading

Christmas Has Come Early: Media Bureau Waives Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report Filing Requirement

Acting with commendable promptness, the Media Bureau has relieved virtually all television stations from the requirement to file ancillary/supplementary service reports, at least for this year and likely for future years as well. These reports are traditionally due on Dec. 1 of every year.

As we reported back in October, the reports are the ones that require that all stations broadcasting in DTV (digital television) to state whether they have offered any ancillary/supplementary services detail any revenue earned from those services.  In light of the fact that the reports over past years have shown that virtually no stations offer any such services, the Commission has proposed that only stations that do provide ancillary or supplementary services, which do not include broadcasts of subchannels, be required to file any reports.

Since the Commission has already tentatively concluded that the costs imposed for all DTV stations outweigh any conceivable public interest benefits, the Media Bureau applied the same reasoning and decided that there is “good cause to waive” the deadline for the report this year. The waiver will remain in effect so long as the proceeding which has proposed to eliminate the reports for most stations is still pending.

Keep in mind, though, that if your station is among the handful of digital broadcasters that does offer feeable ancillary or supplementary services, you will still need to submit the ancillary/supplementary services report by Dec. 1 to provide information about those services and the revenue received during the past fiscal year.  For everyone else, enjoy Thanksgiving with a clear conscience!

New Equipment Rules Take Effect

Changes to the equipment authorization rules the FCC adopted last July appeared in the Federal Register this morning and take effect today.

Major changes include the option of putting required labeling on a device’s display screen, and combination of the former verification and Declaration of Conformity procedures into a new procedure called Supplier’s Declaration of Conformity.

Manufacturers can, if they wish, continue to use the old procedures for a year, starting today. Equipment approved under the old procedures can be sold until the end of time.

Do You Know Where Your Domain Names Are?

At CommLawBlog, we follow domain name issues closely. Unlike lightning, we find two recurring problems striking regularly. These problematic issues are: the failure to renew domain names and a continuing tendency to register valuable domain names in someone else’s name. While both may seem innocuous, they can cause major problems down the line.  Let’s took a look at the reasons why.

1. Failing to Renew Domain Names

Failure to renew a domain name can cause your website to go down. The need to renew your domain names seems obvious and simple enough, but numerous companies and individuals have gotten famous for forgetting and letting domain names lapse, including Microsoft, Jeb Bush, the Dallas Cowboys, and, recently, Sorenson Communications.

Last year, Sorenson Communications let a domain name lapse. It was SORENSON.COM which it used for providing access to its Video Relay Service (which Sorenson operated under the brand name “SVRS”). The domain name expired, the website was inaccessible, and Sorenson’s customers could not receive or place video relay service, 911, and other calls during the outage. Sorenson’s SVRS customers lost their telecommunications relay services, which left individuals with hearing and speech disabilities without the ability to communicate using a phone to call. Although Sorenson notified the FCC the morning the outage began, the domain name was not renewed – nor the website available — for another two days. Although the SVRS services were restored, the FCC was not amused by what it called at “preventable, internal operational failure.”

In the FCC’s September Order, Sorenson agreed to “reimburse the TRS Fund the sum of $2,700,000, and pay a settlement to the United States Treasury in the amount of $252,000.”

But it could have been worse. Sorenson was able to renew its expired domain name and reestablish its SVRS services quickly. Unfortunately for many domain name registrants, expired domain names are picked up by third parties using “domain drop catch” services which are designed to grab newly-expired domain names. It can be expensive and time-consuming to regain your domain name once a third party has pounced on it.

Accordingly, set your domain names to Auto Renewal. Whether you have registered your domain names for one year or ten years, you will probably forget when they expire (and inevitably the email reminder will be sent to your spam file). Auto-renewal service is found under various names for different domain name registrars, but it operates in the same manner and allows you to post a credit card on file and automatically renew your company’s domain name(s) in case someone on staff forgets, avoiding unintended expiration. Even if you don’t actually want to renew the domain name, the cost of renewing the name – even to “park” it for the short term – pales in comparison to the expense of getting it back.

2. Leaving Your Domain Names in Vendors’ Names

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Upcoming FCC Broadcasting and Telecommunications Deadlines for November-January

Note our list is not comprehensive. Other proceedings may apply to you. Please do not hesitate to contact FHH if you have any questions. 

November 13, 2017 –

EAS National Test – Participants’ ETRS Form Three Due – All EAS participants must submit Form Three, which reports the results of the the national EAS test held on September 27 by this date.  If a station successfully received and passed on the test, it must report from which source it first received the test, when it passed on the alert, and other details of what was received.  If the station did not receive the test properly, it will be asked to explain what it knows of why not.

December 1, 2017 –   

DTV Ancillary Services Statements  – All DTV licensees and permittees must file a report in the LMS filing system stating whether they have offered any ancillary or supplementary services together with its broadcast service during the previous fiscal year.  Please note that the group required to file includes Class A TV, LPTV, and TV translator stations that are offering digital broadcasts.  If a station has offered such services, and has charged a fee for them, then it must separately submit a payment equal to five percent of the gross revenues received and an FCC Remittance Advice (Form 159) to the Commission.  The report specifically asks for a list of any ancillary services, whether a fee was charged, and the gross amount of revenue derived from those services.  Ancillary services do not include broadcasts on multicast channels of free, over-the-air programming for reception by the public.

EEO Public File Reports – All radio and television stations with five (5) or more full-time employees located in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont must place EEO Public File Reports in their public inspection files. TV stations must upload the reports to the online public file. Radio stations in the top 50 markets and in an employment unit with five or more employees will have to place these reports in the new online public inspection file; all other radio stations may continue to place hard copies in the paper public file for the time being. For all stations with websites, the report must be posted there as well. Per announced FCC policy, the reporting period may end ten days before the report is due, and the reporting period for the next year will begin on the following day.

EEO Mid-Term Reports – All radio stations with eleven or more full-time employees in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Vermont, and all television stations with five or more full-time employees in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, or South Dakota must electronically file a mid-term EEO report on FCC Form 397, with the last two EEO public file reports attached.

January 10, 2018 –

Children’s Television Programming Reports – For all commercial television and Class A television stations, the fourth quarter 2017 children’s television programming reports must be filed electronically with the Commission.  These reports then should be automatically included in the online public inspection file, but we would recommend checking, as the FCC bases its initial judgments of filing compliance on the contents and dates shown in the online public file.  Please note that as has been the case for some time now, the required use of the Licensing and Management System for the children’s reports means that the licensee FRN and password are necessary to log in; therefore, you should have that information at hand before you start the process.

Commercial Compliance Certifications – For all commercial television and Class A television stations, a certification of compliance with the limits on commercials during programming for children ages 12 and under, or other evidence to substantiate compliance with those limits, must be uploaded to the online public inspection file.

Website Compliance Information – Television and Class A television station licensees must upload and retain in their online public inspection files records sufficient to substantiate a certification of compliance with the restrictions on display of website addresses during programming directed to children ages 12 and under.

Issues/Programs Lists – For all commercial and noncommercial radio, television, and Class A television stations, a listing of each station’s most significant treatment of community issues during the past quarter must be placed in the station’s public inspection file.  Radio stations in the top 50 markets and in an employment unit with five or more employees will have to place these reports in the new online public inspection file, while all other radio stations may continue to place hard copies in the paper file for the time being.  Television and Class A television stations will continue upload them to the online file.  The list should include a brief narrative describing the issues covered and the programs which provided the coverage, with information concerning the time, date, duration, and title of each program.

Class A Television Continuing Eligibility Documentation – The Commission requires that all Class A Television maintain in their online public inspection files documentation sufficient to demonstrate that the station is continuing to meet the eligibility requirements of broadcasting at least 18 hours per day and broadcasting an average of at least three hours per week of locally produced programming.  While the Commission has given no guidance as to what this documentation must include or when it must be added to the public file, we believe that a quarterly certification which states that the station continues to broadcast at least 18 hours per day, that it broadcasts on average at least three hours per week of locally produced programming, and lists the titles of such locally produced programs should be sufficient.

Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report and Public Notice Rule Face Regulatory Weed-Whacker

At its October meeting, the FCC proposed to clear away further regulatory underbrush by eliminating, or drastically modifying, two rules. The first is the requirement that all TV stations engaged in digital broadcasting file annual reports concerning Ancillary/Supplementary services that might have been offered. Second is the requirement that licensees filing certain applications publish and/or broadcast local public notice of each filing. The first of these proposals promises to be much less controversial than the second, but the Commission sought comment on both in one Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

The Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report originated during the transition from analog to digital television broadcasting. Leading up to the transition, many believe that broadcasters were using their additional channels to offer new services in addition to broadcast programming. Such services might include data transmissions, teletext, paging services, aural messages, subscription video, or others. Partly as payback for being granted the privilege of participating in the digital transition, Congress decided that if broadcasters did provide such services, and if they charged fees for them, the broadcaster would need to pay five percent of the gross revenues from the fees to the FCC. Congress also required that the FCC prepare a report about its implementation of this requirement and annual reports on the amounts it has collected.

From this statutory requirement arose the Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report, which was due by Dec.1 of each year. As it turned out, however, most broadcasters chose to engage in multicasting of traditional video programming, which had been defined out of Ancillary/Supplementary services, instead of offering the services previously anticipated by Congress. As of 2016, only 0.2 percent of stations were required to pay anything to the Commission, and even those stations remitted, on average, less than $1,000 each. Continue Reading

FCC Reduces International Carrier Reporting Requirements

On Oct. 24, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission released a Report and Order in which the agency reduced the reporting requirements (found under Section 43.62 of the FCC’s rules) for providers of U.S.-international telecommunications services. Specifically, the FCC eliminated the annual international Traffic and Revenue Reports and streamlined the Circuit Capacity Report filing requirements.

The Oct. 24 decision is the culmination of several years of FCC efforts to reduce reporting obligations for providers of international services.

Long-time readers of our blog may recall that we reported on FCC reductions to international reporting obligations back in 2013 – but those efforts also resulted in the implementation of new reporting obligations. In May of this year, we covered the FCC’s kick-off to its latest proposal to reduce Section 43.62’s reporting requirements, starting with a temporary waiver of the International Traffic and Revenue Report requirement for 2017 and culminating in the FCC’s release of the Oct. 24 Report and Order granting more permanent relief.

So what does this new reduction in reporting requirements all mean? Let’s dig in.

Elimination of Traffic and Revenue Data Reports

The FCC eliminated the traffic and revenue data reporting requirement on the grounds that the collection of such information was no longer necessary to ensuring competition among U.S.-international carriers. Instead, the FCC will now rely upon targeted revenue and traffic data requests to specific international service providers – as well as third-party commercial data sources – to monitor competition among such providers.

The FCC, however, will require international carriers to submit a one-time report detailing the routes on which carriers have direct termination agreements with carriers in foreign destinations. Carriers with existing direct termination agreements must submit their list of such agreements within 30 days after the FCC’s International Bureau releases a public notice detailing the filing procedures for such lists. New carriers or carriers without existing direct termination agreements, must submit their lists within 30 days of entering into such agreements with a foreign carrier. Going forward, all international carriers will be required to update their direct termination agreement lists within 30 days of executing a new or discontinuing a previously listed termination arrangement.

Streamlining of Circuit Capacity Reports

The FCC concluded that Circuit Capacity Reports remained necessary for the Commission to monitor competition, national security, and public safety, but only with respect to submarine cables. Consequently, the FCC eliminated international circuit capacity reporting requirements for terrestrial and satellite facilities. According to the Report and Order, such information was only required for purposes of administering FCC regulatory fees, and the Commission noted that a pending proceeding was exploring more efficient and less burdensome methodologies for assessing regulatory fees for terrestrial and satellite international bearer circuits.

Finally, the FCC directed the International Bureau to revise the Circuit Capacity Report’s filing manual to implement necessary modifications to the report. Accordingly, the Commission delegated authority to the Bureau to delay as necessary the Circuit Capacity Report’s March 31, 2018, deadline until the issuance of a new filing manual by the Bureau.

Effectiveness of New Rules

The new rules are scheduled to become effective 30 days after publication of the Report and Order in the Federal Register. However, rule changes involving information collections require the approval of the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act, and will not become effective until notice of such approval is published in the Federal Register. Be sure to check back here for updates.

Halloween Tricks for Flo & Eddie and Treats for SiriusXM

Florida Finds No Public Performance Right in Pre-1972 Sound Recordings

 

If you have been following the ongoing saga regarding the attempts of pre-1972 (aka “oldies”) sound recording owners to collect royalties when those recordings are performed, you will know that some recent key court rulings have been issued near major holidays. For example, New York’s highest state court found near Christmastime that those owners had no such right in New York, and the Second Circuit then threw out the case near Valentine’s Day.

Now, on the cusp of Halloween, the Florida Supreme Court joined its sister State up north by also refusing to recognize pre-1972 performance rights under Florida law. Continue Reading

FCC Releases Proposed Order to Modify Media Ownership Rules

As expected, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai yesterday released his proposed Order modifying the FCC’s media ownership rules. Consistent with what he announced at an Oct. 25 House Energy and Commerce Committee FCC Oversight Hearing, the Order, if adopted, will allow nearly unrestricted television duopolies in almost every market, eliminate radio/TV cross-ownership restrictions, and abolish the Commission’s long-standing prohibition on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership.

Assuming the Chairman is able to get his fellow Republican commissioners to agree to the item (it being highly unlikely his Democratic colleagues will concur), it should be approved at the Commission’s scheduled Nov. 16 meeting.

We will have more details as we further analyze the proposal and the rules that are ultimately adopted. However, below is a quick run-down of the major policy changes presented in the draft Order:

  • Elimination of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, based on findings that the drastic changes in the media landscape since 1975 make the rule unnecessary to protect viewpoint diversity, and that the rule instead is potentially harmful to localism.
  • Elimination of the radio/television cross-ownership rule, in favor of relying on the separate local radio and television ownership rules. The Order finds that the proliferation of new sources contributing to viewpoint diversity, as well as the decreasing contribution of radio stations to such diversity, have made the rule unnecessary to protect viewpoint diversity.

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