NOW AVAILABLE: FHH CPB Compliance Webinar with Bob Winteringham

Compliance has never been more important for public broadcasters. CPB regularly issues forfeitures to public broadcasting stations when the Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) finds non-compliance with the provisions of the Communications Act, the terms of the CSG General Provisions, or errant NFFS reporting.  Compliance, though, is more than just checking boxes and filling out forms.

To help navigate the compliance waters, Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth’s Bob Winteringham presented a free CPB Compliance webinar on Oct. 25, 2017. And now, you can now view the webinar here, on our Youtube page!

You can also download and print the presentation in PDF form here!

The webinar covers:

  • Common Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) audit findings
  • Basic steps public broadcasting stations should take to meet CPB’s minimum compliance requirements
  • And questions that stations frequently ask about CPB-related compliance matters.

If you have any specific questions about issues discussed in the webinar or questions that were not able to be addressed during the webinar’s airing, you can contact Bob Winteringham at winteringham@fhhlaw.com.

FCC Eliminates Broadcast Main Studio Rules, Related Staffing, and Program Origination Requirements; Controversial Order Passes Three-Two Along Party Lines

On Oct. 24, 2017, the FCC issued a Report and Order eliminating the Commission’s rule requiring each AM, FM, and television broadcast station to maintain a main studio located in or near its community of license (i.e. the Main Studio Rule). In the same Order, the FCC eliminated existing requirements that are associated with the Main Studio Rule.

Specifically, the FCC eliminated the requirement that the main studio have full-time management and staff present during normal business hours and that the studio have program origination capability. This action may dramatically reduce the cost of operations for many broadcasters, particularly those in small and rural markets. However, the FCC did not get rid of all of the requirements related to the Main Studio Rule. It retained the requirement that broadcasters maintain a local or toll free telephone number for calls from members of the community. Stations also must maintain any documents required to be in the public file that is not part of their online public file at a publicly accessible location within the station’s community of license.

The FCC’s action to eliminate the Main Studio Rule was based on the finding that the cost of this rule and its related requirements outweigh the benefits, in light of current technology and market conditions. This is part of Chairman Pai’s broader move to “modernize” the FCC as he outlined in a speech to the NAB back in September.

The Order suggests that the cost savings from elimination of the Main Studio Rule should result in more resources being devoted to programming, but many smaller broadcasters may need the savings just to stay in business. In any case, broadcasters will welcome the regulatory relief.

So, let’s dive into what this all really means.

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The FCC Rethinks Citizens Broadband at the Eleventh Hour

The FCC is having second thoughts about the auctioned “middle layer” of the planned Citizens Broadband Radio Service at 3550-3700 MHz.

You may remember how this is all supposed to work, with three categories of users. The “Incumbent Access” (IA) users, already in place in the band, will have interference protection from all the others. Least protected are the General Access (GA) users, who will contend in real time with other GA users for whatever GA spectrum is available. In between are the Priority Access (PA) users, who will bid at auction for the privilege of on-demand access (except in IA protection zones).

A “Spectrum Access System” (SAS) will assign frequencies to each user on the fly, implementing the various priorities. The SAS is still under development.

In the meantime, the FCC is taking another look at the PA auctions.

From the start, the wireless phone companies wanted PA licenses to be auctioned like their 3G and 4G spectrum: big license areas with long license terms, and a “renewal expectancy” that assures renewal if the licensee provides a certain level of service.

The rules, finalized in 2015 by the FCC, took a different tack. Users will bid for channels in each of more than 74,000 census tracts, combining these if needed to operate over larger areas. Licenses will have three-year terms with no renewal expectancy, although they can re-bid for their expiring licenses. The aim, said the FCC, is to promote innovative, low power uses. The FCC may also have had in mind that the large-area, long-term blocks the wireless phone companies wanted would be so expensive that only the wireless phone companies could afford them.

CTIA, the wireless phone company association, filed a petition for reconsideration that asked for longer license terms and a renewal expectancy. The FCC turned it down.

Less than a year later, one of the wireless phone companies and CTIA filed new Petitions for Rulemaking that largely restated their original request: big license areas, longer license terms, and a renewal expectancy. The FCC soon followed up with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that asks whether to now give the wireless phone companies what they wanted all along.

For the FCC to have issued this NPRM is strikingly unusual. In substance, the rulemaking requests are really just further petitions for reconsideration, long overdue. The FCC accepts reconsideration petitions only for thirty days after a rule is published. It strictly enforces the deadline. After that, the FCC ordinarily considers changing a recently adopted rule only to accommodate a change in circumstances, such as a technological development or a shift in users’ needs. The policy promotes regulatory stability. Industry participants can plan intelligently and make investments, knowing the rules will not change early in the game.

The NPRM here is a rare exception to that policy. It does not point to any changed circumstances. To be sure, it does make good arguments in favor of the wireless companies’ proposals – primarily, that they will promote investment. But these are the same arguments the FCC considered and rejected in the 2015 rules, and again in the reconsideration decision. Nothing has changed.

Well, no. One thing did change. The country had an election. It voted for an administration whose regulatory philosophy differs sharply from that of the last administration. That is all it takes for Congress or the White House to change policy, but by law, an agency must provide adequate justification for any new policy. Still, so far as we can tell from the NPRM, the only change that prompts the proposed shift in these rules is the handoff to new FCC leadership.

The wireless companies argue that a rule change now, before the first auction is announced, would not strand anyone’s investment. And the rules they propose have worked well in other bands.

Is this a case where regulatory stability is just the kind of “foolish consistency” that Emerson called a “hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen”? Or do we really need a stable regulatory environment that persists across changing administrations, even if that environment may have good alternatives? And the answers to these important questions go far beyond the issues in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service.

EAS Report to SECCs Due Nov. 6

The FCC scored a legal victory in court this past week when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld its requirement that EAS participants report to their State Emergency Communications Committee (SECC) their progress on developing multilingual EAS alerts (an SECC is a committee assigned to implement EAS in a specific state). EAS participants must submit the required information to their SECC by Nov. 6.

Our dedicated readers may recall that about a year and a half ago the FCC rejected a petition that proposed requiring broadcasters to provide EAS alerts in languages in addition to English. That petition, filed by a group of public interest organizations, took issue with the fact that non-English speaking persons are being left in the dark on emergency information transmitted via the EAS.

As we reported, the FCC was ultimately unwilling to meet the petitioners’ requests (and took about a decade to decline to meet those requests). The petition requested the FCC promulgate five amendments to its Part 11 Rules to implement substantive requirements for the dissemination of multilingual EAS alerts, but the FCC instead opted for EAS participants to merely report their progress in creating multilingual EAS alerts, essentially so that the FCC can study the issue.

Specifically, the FCC directed EAS participants to report to their applicable SECC the following:

  • A description of any actions taken by the EAS Participant to make EAS alert content available in languages other than English to its non-English speaking audience(s);
  • A description of any future actions planned by the EAS Participant to provide EAS alert content in languages other than English to its non-English speaking audience(s), along with an explanation for the EAS Participant’s decision to plan or not plan such actions; and
  • Any other relevant information that the EAS Participant may wish to provide, such as information on languages other than English spoken within the states they serve, although provision of such information is purely voluntary.

Less than pleased with this outcome, the original petitioners brought suit against the FCC, alleging that the relief sought in their petition was mandated by the Communications Act and that the FCC’s rejection of that relief was arbitrary and capricious. Just last week, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with the Commission, upholding the SECC reporting requirements.

With the fact of the FCC’s reporting requirement settles in court, the deadline for submitting the above information is Nov. 6. Importantly, EAS participants are to submit their responses directly to their applicable SECC (a list of SECCs and their contact details may be found here), not to the FCC, by Nov. 6. If a material change in one or more of these responses occurs, the broadcaster must submit to their SECC and the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau letters describing such changes within 60 days. Please contact us if you would like assistance in submitting the required information.

Continue to stay up to date on all upcoming deadlines and FCC news by keeping an eye on CommLawBlog.

FCC Proposes Market-Based Changes to Toll Free Number Administration

On Sept. 28, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that seeks to permit the assignment of toll free numbers via alternative market-based approaches, including the auctioning of numbers. Furthermore, consistent with such a market-based approach, the Commission proposed the development of a secondary market allowing subscribers to reassign their toll free numbers to other subscribers for a negotiated fee. Finally, the Commission adopted proposals to modernize toll free number administration, including the revision or elimination of the current prohibitions on brokering, warehousing, and hoarding of toll free numbers.

Section 251(e)(1) of the Communications Act directs the FCC to make numbers available on an equitable basis. Currently the FCC’s rules permit toll free numbers to be acquired on a first-come, first-served basis from a pool of available numbers. In an effort to ensure the efficient and equitable distribution of toll free numbers, the FCC’s rules prohibit the brokering, hoarding, and warehousing of such numbers by Responsible Organizations (RespOrgs) – entities responsible for accessing the toll free Service Management System (SMS) to distribute toll free numbers to subscribers.

Distribution of Toll free Numbers

Through the NPRM, the FCC proposes the expansion toll free number assignment methodologies beyond assignment on a first-come, first-served basis to include other mechanisms such as auctions. The Commission’s proposal to adopt auctions as a toll free number distribution mechanism is a sharp break from prior policy – which deemed auctions as an inequitable means of distributing such numbers. However, now the Commission is proposing an auction methodology in hopes of creating greater efficiency and fairness in the distribution of toll free numbers.

In particular, the Commission proposes the adoption of a single round auction for the assignment of approximately 17,000 numbers in the newly created  833 number 833 number(i.e., toll free numbers starting with 833). Each 833 number would be distributed to the highest bidder who would pay the second-highest bid for the number. Bids would not be made public, and bidders would be required to bid on each  833 number individually. Moreover, subscribers seeking  833 numbers would be required to bid through their respective RespOrg – a requirement that the FCC deems consistent with the RespOrgs’s role as “market makers” for toll free numbers.

Creation of Secondary Toll Free Number Markets

Consistent with the market-based approach to toll free number distribution, the FCC also proposes the creation of a secondary toll free number marketplace in which numbers could be reassigned between subscribers for a negotiated fee. This, comes despite a longstanding FCC and legal precedent that established telephone numbers were a public resource. This means that the numbers could not be privately owned and sold. The Commission nevertheless proposes to permit the sale of toll free numbers between subscribers as a more equitable and efficient distribution method than returning unused numbers to a pool for reassignment on a first-come, first-served basis to other subscribers. The FCC points to the existence of an online black market for toll free numbers as evidence that market realities supported the adoption of a lawful, secondary marketplace. The reassignment of toll free numbers through a lawful marketplace would minimize the risks to subscribers in obtaining needed numbers through the black market.

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Mark Your Calendar for the 28th Annual FCBA Charity Auction

It’s that time again – time to get dressed to the nines for a night of bidding, imbibing, and banter all for a good cause.

Pull up your calendars and mark Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 for the 28th Annual FCBA Charity Auction hosted by the FCBA Young Lawyers Committee. This event is the place to be and since attendance is free, there’s no reason not to go.

But if that’s not enough, proceeds from the auction will benefit two awesome organizations. One beneficiary, Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL), is a nonprofit that supports and empowers LGBTQ youth in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region. Another beneficiary is the FCBA Foundation which supports a number of communications-related and educational projects, including providing scholarships for high school students to attend college.

Needless to say, going to this event is a great way to have a fun night while supporting two amazing organizations. And there’s several ways you can help boost their coffers.

Every year, the FCBA raffles off a handful of awesome prizes. This year’s grand prize is a 55-inch LG OLED TV with 4K Ultra HD. What better way to catch up on Game of Thrones or Insecure? Here’s the best news – you can buy raffle tickets right now from a representative in your office or by contacting Emilie de Lozier at EdeLozier@wbklaw.com for more details.

If that got you excited, just wait until you hear about prizes on deck for the live and silent auction at the event. While many of them are still being kept hush hush, we got an inside scoop on some awesome prizes you’ll have a chance to bid on, including: a dinner with National Public Radio’s host (and occasional singer with the band Pink Martini) Ari Shapiro; tickets to a taping of the Daily Show with Trevor Noah; and a weekend getaway to Charleston, South Carolina.

Needless to say, if these prizes are any indication of the prize caliber, we’ll be saving money in our piggy banks to bid high on auction night.

Per tradition, the party will be going down at The Sphinx Club at the Almas Temple (location at 1315 K Street, NW, Washington, D.C.). Doors open at 6:00 p.m. and the festivities will continue until 10:00 p.m. Dress is business attire.

Not going to be in D.C. on November 2nd? Have no fear! You’ll be able to bid online for a number of prizes at biddingforgood.com/fcbafoundationcharityauction.

See you there!

Initial Reimbursement Allocations Announced for Repack Expenses

On Oct. 16, 2017, the Incentive Auction Task Force and the FCC’s Media Bureau jointly announced the initial allocation from the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund (Relocation Fund) for the reimbursement of eligible full power and Class A television stations as well as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) (Eligible Entities) impacted by the Incentive Auction. The initial allocation of the Relocation Fund makes available $1 billion for reimbursement of Eligible Entities’ expenses related to the construction of their post-auction facilities.

As a result of the initial allocation, commercial stations and MVPDs may now access approximately 52 percent (62 percent for non-commercial stations) of their estimated and verified costs of construction of their post-auction facilities. Eligible Entities may view their individual allocations through the CORES Incentive Auction Financial Module. Eligible Entities will also receive an email from the Media Bureau detailing the results of the review of their initial reimbursement estimates made via submission of the Form 2100, Schedule 399 (Reimbursement Form) – including a description and explanation of any adjustments made. Eligible Entities should check their spam folders for this email which will be sent from email address FCCFundRepackAdministrator@fcc.gov, will have a PDF attached, and include the subject line “Cost Estimate Verification.”

Eligible Entities may obtain their initial reimbursement payment by submitting a revised Reimbursement Form through the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS) including documentation and invoices of actual expenses. Submitted invoices do not have to be paid invoices. Reimbursement payments will be made to Eligible Entities by drawing down actual expenses incurred to date against their total individual allocations. Accordingly, the initial $1 billion allocation does not reflect the total estimated reimbursement for Eligible Entities’ actual costs – which is estimated to be approximately $2.139 billion. Rather, the initial allocation enables Eligible Entities to meet near-term expenditures necessary for stations and MVPDs to begin the post-auction transition process.

Subsequent reimbursement allocations will be announced when Eligible Entities collectively appear to have exhausted their initial reimbursement allocations. Accordingly, Eligible Entities seeking full reimbursement of their post-auction construction costs should timely submit invoices for reimbursement, and promptly file revisions to costs estimates, to ensure that the subsequent allocations are made on a timely basis.

Clients with questions regarding or seeking assistance with obtaining their initial reimbursement payments should contact Dan Kirkpatrick (kirkpatrick@fhhlaw.com) or Davina Sashkin (sashkin@fhhlaw.com).

Reminder: FREE Upcoming CPB Compliance Webinar

This is a reminder to not snooze on next week’s CPB compliance webinar! On Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 2:00 p.m. EDT. Fletcher, Heald, & Hildreth’s CPB Compliance guru Bob Winteringham will present a FREE one-hour webinar to help you navigate the twists and turns of CPB compliance.

You can register for the webinar, for free, via this link.

Compliance has never been more important for public broadcasters. CPB now regularly issues forfeitures of up to $15,000 to public broadcasting stations when the Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) finds non-compliance with the provisions of the Communications Act, the terms of the CSG General Provisions, or errant NFFS reporting. Compliance, though, is more than just checking boxes and annually filling out forms.

Compliance also encompasses building systems and processes within your organization to ensure you are consistently fulfilling CPB’s requirements and documenting your actions.

The webinar will cover common Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) audit findings and the basic steps public broadcasting stations should take to meet CPB’s minimum compliance requirements. The presentation will also include questions that stations frequently ask about CPB-related compliance matters.

Bringing his years of experience in CPB compliance to the table, Bob Winteringham, Of Counsel at Fletcher, Heald, and Hildreth, and a founder of the Public Media Consulting Group, will host this FREE one-hour webinar on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 2:00 p.m. EDT

Register online: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/1098374018651427586

Limited Registration Period for .RADIO Domain Names Ends Oct.31, 2017 – The Time to Register Is Now!

Now until Oct. 31, 2017, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is offering a “Special Limited Registration Period” – a pre-launch opportunity for the registration of .RADIO domain names by radio broadcasters, radio professional, radio amateurs, Internet radios, and radio-related companies. Call letters, corporate names, on-air personality names, and even slogans can all be registered as domain names in .RADIO. If you want to join this special Internet Domain Space for the Global Radio Community, now is a good time to register.

Several things to know.

First, it won’t be cheap. While a new .COM domain names sells for about $12 per year, .RADIO domain names will run about $350 per year. Why the higher price? New Generic Top Level Domain Registries such as Donuts and EBU don’t have the same price caps as Verisign for its .COM domains. Also, in this limited launch, EBU has committed to doing special checks to limit .RADIO domain names to those in the radio industry. Continue Reading

Now Available: Online Public Inspection Files Webinar

With the March 1, 2018 Online Public Inspection File deadline for mid-sized and smaller market (and non-commercial) radio stations approaching, Fletcher, Heald, & Hildreth’s Frank Montero and Steve Lovelady recently presented a webinar to help industry professionals navigate through the online filing process.

In collaboration with Colorado Broadcasters Association, Montero and Lovelady spoke on a variety of issues related to the Online Public Inspection File (OPIF) from what needs to be uploaded to the consequences of not complying with the OPIF deadline.

Photo by GotCredit using the Creative Commons License

But for those of you that missed out… have no fear!!! You can now view a rerun of our webinar (lucky you!).

You can access the video and corresponding slides via this link on our CommLaw Blog YouTube page (or watch it at the bottom of this post). 

If you’d like a copy of the presentation to keep in your library (online or otherwise), you can access the PDF versions of the slides here. You can download them to your computer or print them off.
Some of the highlights of the webinar include:

  • The history of the public file generally, and what the “new” OPIF is
  • The mechanics of starting an OPIF
  • The contents of what is required in an OPIF
  • Consequences of non-compliance
  • And more, including a Q&A session

If you have any specific questions about issues discussed in the webinar, or questions that we were not able to address during the webinar’s airing, feel free to contact Frank Montero at montero@fhhlaw.com or Steve Lovelady at lovelady@fhhlaw.com.

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