Citation issued to Florida motel serves as reminder of possible penalties for leaky cable systems.

 If you’re a school, or a hotel, or a hospital, or some other operation offering in-house cable TV service, you may be subject to a six-figure FCC fine, even though you might not think that you’re subject to the long arm of the FCC’s enforcement machine.  The Commission has been kind enough to issue us all a reminder of that – in the form of a “Citation and Order” directed to the Parkway Inn Motel in sunny Miami Springs, Florida. 

From its website you might not think the Parkway Inn (Motto: “Your Satisfaction is our Main Purpose”) would attract the FCC’s attention, but it did.  According to FCC inspectors, the Parkway’s video system was leaking big-time (in one case by a factor of more than 100 times the permitted level) on a couple of aeronautical frequencies.  Yikes!

As our faithful readers may recall, last August we reported on an FCC public notice warning “non-cable MVPDs” of their obligations relative to their useof aeronautical frequency bands.  The notice – issued in connection with three separate citations notifying, respectively, an inn, an elder care facility, and a rehabilitation hospital, that they were all in violation of the rules – was an effort to get the word out to other unsuspecting non-cable MVPDs.

The FCC’s notice, and our related post, apparently weren’t entirely successful, since not everyone got the message – at least the Parkway Inn Motel didn’t.

The FCC has warned the folks at the Parkway that they’re currently breaking the law and that, if they don’t fix things, they could be tapped for a fine of more than $100,000.  They’d have to sell a lot of potato chips out of their mini-bars to cover that.

Since the FCC is clearly still targeting non-cable MVPDs, we figure it’s a good idea to provide a brief refresher course to help non-cable MVPDs recognize that they are, in fact, non-cable MVPDs, and that they need to take appropriate steps to avoid problems with the FCC.

Am I a “non-cable MVPD”? You may be one, but not know it.  A non-cable MVPD is an entity (other than a cable TV company) that “engage[s] in the business of making available for purchase, by subscribers or customers, multiple channels of video programming.”  Generally, a non-cable MVPD system does not have to cross a public right of way to deliver its programming. This could include universities, hotels, apartment complexes, prisons, office buildings, and other facilities with in-house systems providing multiple channels of video programming available to subscribers or consumers.

What are aeronautical frequencies, and what’s the problem?  The frequencies are the equivalent of analog cable channels 14-16, 25-53, and 98-99 (for the tech savvy, that’s 108-137 MHz and 225-400 MHz). They’re the same frequencies used by aircraft for certain operational functions.  Gaps in MVPD video systems could allow signals to leak out and interfere with the operation of nearby aircraft. That would not be a good thing.

What are MVPDs supposed to do?  All MVPDs must notify the FCC (on Form 321) before they transmit on any of the aeronautical radio channels, if the average power level on any of those channels hits certain levels.  (The specifics of the leakage rules may be found in Sections 76.610- 76.616 of the rules; the monitoring and reporting rules are in Section 76.1804.  Be warned, though – those rules are highly technical.) In addition, all MVPDs must regularly – at least once yearly – monitor their systems for leakage in the aeronautical bands. Since that requires specialized monitoring equipment and a skilled technician, it’s easier said than done, but it must be done if an MVPD is to comply with its obligations (and avoid citations from the FCC).  

The moral of the story: if you’re a non-cable MVPD, consider yourself warned, again, about aeronautical frequency compliance issues.  Calls to an engineer to measure for spectrum leakage, and to a communications attorney, may be in order.