2010 Archives

A Look Ahead at 2011 Reveals an Interesting Year for Retrans, Renewals, and Indecency

Scott R. Flick

Posted December 29, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

Earlier this month we posted our 2011 Broadcasters Calendar on CommLawCenter as well as on our Pillsbury web page. We have been annually publishing the Broadcasters Calendar, which contains much information regarding broadcast station deadlines and legal requirements, for as long as I can recall. It has always been one of our most popular publications, and I usually get calls beginning in early November asking when next year's calendar will be available. The "easy to read" pdf version of the Calendar can be found here, and a text-searchable version is available here.

Even a brief review of the 2011 Broadcasters Calendar reminds us that 2011 will be a busy year for not just broadcasters, but for cable and satellite operators as well. October 1, 2011 is the deadline by which broadcasters qualifying for must-carry need to notify cable and satellite operators of their election between must-carry status and retransmission consent. Recent retransmission disputes once again remind us that retransmission negotiations and their associated revenue are critical to the future of broadcast television. However, the sheer volume of negotiations and carriage disputes likely to occur following the October 1 election deadline will almost certainly make this holiday season look tranquil by comparison.

Adding to the action will be continued efforts by the cable and satellite industries to draw Congress and the FCC into the fray, introducing legislative and regulatory uncertainties into an already complex negotiation process. Their chances for success will depend greatly upon how much disruption in carriage of broadcast programming occurs in 2011, and the public's perception of who is at fault for that disruption. Regardless of the outcome of this particular Washington confrontation, look for 2011 to be the year where economics force cable and satellite providers to more tightly link the number of viewers a program service attracts with the amount they agree to pay for that service. Overpaying for niche cable networks that don't pull in large numbers of viewers is so "last decade".

2011 also marks the beginning of the FCC's next eight-year license renewal cycle, with radio stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia starting pre-filing announcements in April for their upcoming license renewal applications. The filing cycle will continue state by state until it concludes with television stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania running their last post-filing announcements on June 16, 2015.

However, many stations haven't had their last license renewal application granted because of indecency complaints still pending against them. The FCC has pretty much ceased processing indecency complaints while it awaits guidance from the courts as to whether it can legally enforce the prohibition on broadcast indecency, and if so, how it will be allowed to do that. I have been told that there are literally hundreds of thousands of indecency complaints now pending at the FCC, so unless the courts do the FCC the favor of finding the prohibition on indecency completely unconstitutional, it will take the FCC years to sift through these complaints in an effort to apply any refined indecency standard announced by the Supreme Court.

It is therefore reasonable to predict that indecency complaints will continue to play a large role in the processing of upcoming license renewal applications. 2011 will hopefully be the year when the courts tell us exactly how large (or small) that role will be. If the prohibition on indecency survives this latest round of judicial scrutiny, broadcasters and the FCC can expect a lot of complaint investigations and litigation as both struggle with where the line on content is being drawn.

Of course there are numerous other events that will contribute to 2011 being one of the busiest years in memory for broadcasters. A rebounding economy is slowly lifting most boats in the broadcast industry, with the obvious exception being those that burned their critical assets for fuel during the lean times, and don't have much boat left.

With a growing amount of money to fight over, the fights will begin in earnest (see "Retrans" above). Negotiations between the NAB and the recording industry over performance royalties will continue, and "performance tax" legislation will again rise in Congress with the same certainty that the slasher in a horror film returns for unending sequels.

Broadcasters and the FCC will also be implementing the latest generation of the Emergency Alert System in 2011, and the FCC will continue its efforts to repurpose broadcast spectrum for mobile broadband use, leading to new rules permitting multiple broadcasters to share a single channel, and potentially to legislation allowing participating broadcasters to share in the proceeds of broadband spectrum auctions. As with most of the items discussed above, there is both opportunity and peril for broadcasters here, and those that are inattentive risk missing the former and being battered by the latter.

Yes, 2011 will be a very busy year.

Net Neutrality Debate Shows Exactly "What's in a Name"

Scott R. Flick

Posted December 21, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

While we await release of the text of today's Net Neutrality order from the FCC, it strikes me as useful to take a step back and apply a broader perspective to what can be learned from the debate that led to it. While lawyers get a rush when they think they have come up with the perfect legal argument to support their client's cause (and we're fun at parties too!), those of us working in Washington have to concede that legal arguments are often secondary to the politics involved. Certainly, the FCC's order will not be the last word in the Net Neutrality debate, with a number of prominent members of Congress already promising a legislative rebuke, and the near certainty of the courts being called upon to assess the FCC's authority to adopt such rules.

In spite of the millions spent on lawyers and lobbyists on both sides of this issue, the result was in many ways preordained by the real champion in this debate, linguistics. Much of the battle was won when proponents summarized their position as being in favor of "Net Neutrality", a term that is sufficiently innocuous yet catchy enough to crystallize the debate as being between those who want a neutral/fair apportionment of the Internet's capabilities, and those who, well, don't. Opponents were put instantly on the defensive, trying to explain why a neutral Internet wouldn't be a good thing.

While other terms were also bandied about in the early days of the debate (like "broadband discrimination" or "traffic prioritization"), none had the simple positive ring (and alliteration) of Net Neutrality. "Internet Indifference" might have been a good candidate as well, but no one seems to have thought of it at the time.

Added to this linguistic head start is the fact that the concept itself is simply easier to explain in positive terms than in negative ones. Stories on the Washington Post's website today described Net Neutrality as a regulation that "ensures unimpeded access to any legal Web content for home Internet users" and which marks "the government's strongest move yet to ensure that Facebook updates, Google searches and Skype calls reach consumers' homes unimpeded." Based on that description, readers would be hard pressed to conclude that Net Neutrality is a bad thing, and much of the mainstream press used terms similar to the Post's in describing today's action by the FCC.

Taking the contrary position, there are two big problems with arguing that Net Neutrality is "an intrusive government interference into the management of broadband networks that will impede the evolution of new models of business on the Internet while requiring Internet innovators to first consider and navigate government regulations before implementing new Internet services." First, it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue like the Post's description of Net Neutrality. Second, it requires several additional explanations of exactly how Net Neutrality regulations would have that effect. It isn't necessarily obvious from the statement alone.

The point of this is not to debate the merits of Net Neutrality itself, but to note that taking the time to carefully craft and package a proposal before presenting it (to the FCC or any other part of the government, including Congress) frames the debate in your favor. It is not an irrefutable advantage, but claiming the linguistic high ground forces opponents to expend far more of their resources fighting their way uphill, while the proponent conserves its legal and political resources waiting at the top. Many opponents will falter before they reach the top, and those that do make it will be exhausted from the climb.

In the case of Net Neutrality, vast resources were arrayed on both sides of the debate, but the political and public popularity engendered by the phrase "Net Neutrality" and the easily understood arguments on its behalf proved to be insurmountable today. It is safe to say, however, that opponents of Net Neutrality regulations are already regrouping for their next charge in Congress and in the courts, and that today's skirmish was merely the first of many to come.

Legislative Trickle Becomes a Flood in Lame Duck Session

Scott R. Flick

Posted December 20, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

Members of the Communications Industry that don't keep up with legal and political developments in Washington aren't in the industry for long. That truism has been particularly apt in the past few months, starting with the President's October signing of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 which, among other things, cleared the way for reinstatement of the FCC's former Video Description rules for television broadcasters, extended closed captioning of video programming to the Internet, and required the FCC to examine methods of increasing the accessibility of emergency information.

Normally, the weeks before a congressional election and the lame duck session afterwards are not a fertile environment for communications legislation, which has a tendency to be controversial because of the stakes involved (can you say "net neutrality"?). However, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which was spurred to passage by a congressional desire to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, was merely the beginning.

The lame duck session has now generated several more pieces of successful legislation. Last week the President signed the first of these, the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, which requires television stations to transmit at a consistent volume level (rather than make viewers lunge for their mute button at every commercial break). Congress followed the CALM Act with passage of the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, which is now awaiting the President's signature. This legislation prohibits manipulation of caller ID information with intent to defraud or harm others.

Apparently building steam, Congress proceeded to adopt the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 this past weekend, which reduces the extent of interference protection that full power radio stations will receive from Low Power FM stations, thus clearing the way for many more LPFM stations to be wedged into the FM radio band. This legislation is also now waiting for the President's signature.

So, is there something in the DC drinking water that has a lame duck Congress suddenly tackling communications issues as though "gridlock" was only a term from morning traffic reports? Maybe. But the truth is more complicated than that. With regard to the CALM Act, controversy about loud television commercials dates back decades. The FCC long ago considered adopting rules to prohibit such "variable volume" broadcasting, but concluded in 1984 that "due to the subjective nature of many of the factors that contribute to loudness, it would be virtually impossible to craft new regulations that would be effective." However, the transition to digital television has made it far more feasible to craft and enforce objective technical standards for loudness, lessening somewhat broadcasters' concerns that regulation would lead to free-roaming loudness police second-guessing a station's engineering practices.

Similarly, the LPFM interference issue has been simmering for a decade, with a succession of bills trying and failing to eliminate the requirement that LPFM stations protect full power stations' third-adjacent channels from interference. However, what finally put the Local Community Radio Act over the top was a legislative compromise that, among other things, assured full power broadcasters that LPFM will be categorized as a secondary service to full power stations. This means that full power broadcast stations can continue to modify their facilities to improve their audience reach without finding themselves blocked by the interference such a modification might cause local LPFM stations. In light of this and other modifications to the bill, broadcasters were able to offer their support for its adoption, finally breaking the longstanding impasse.

So what's next? Well, Congress remains keenly interested in communications issues, as evidenced by the lively discussion (and legislative threats) surrounding the FCC's upcoming net neutrality order. Broadcasters, however, are hoping that this lame duck session concludes quickly, leaving the Performance Rights Act and its goal of requiring broadcasters to pay royalties to the recording industry the subject of continued inter-industry negotiations, rather than the latest statutory mandate emerging from the twilight hours of the 111th Congress.

2011 Broadcasters' Calendar

Posted December 20, 2010


Below is the text of our 2011 Broadcasters' Calendar, which lists deadlines that broadcasters should be aware of for 2011. If you would prefer to read the PDF version of the calendar, it can be found here.

Items of Note in 2011

1. Applications for Renewal of License: June 1, 2011 is the first filing date of the three-year period during which the licensees of all commercial and noncommercial AM, FM and FM Translator stations throughout the United States and its territories will be required to file their applications for renewal of broadcast station license. Licensees in the television services will commence this process in 2012. The date on which a station's application is due depends on the state or territory of its community of license. All licensees should familiarize themselves now with the dates associated with this important filing, including the dates on which public notice announcements must air in advance of the renewal filing; the filing date itself, which is approximately four months before the date of license expiration; and the dates on which post-filing announcements must air.

2. Biennial Ownership Report Filing Requirements for Commercial Radio and Television Stations: Licensees of commercial, full-power radio and television stations as well as Class A television and low power television stations should be ready to file their biennial ownership reports on FCC Form 323 by the new, uniform filing date of November 1, 2011. While these licensees may have filed a biennial report as recently as the summer of 2010, that report fulfilled the reporting obligation for the period that ended on November 1, 2009. Only because of difficulties with the FCC's electronic filing system was the November 1, 2009 deadline ultimately extended to July 8, 2010.

Continue reading "2011 Broadcasters' Calendar "

Scott Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick of Pillsbury to Speak on the Restrictions on Underwriting Messages for Noncommerical Stations, December 16, 2010

December 16, 2010

Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick will address the content restrictions on underwriting messages during this webinar presented by the Texas Association of Broadcasters on December 16th from 2:00 PM-3:00 PM.

For Texas broadcasters wishing to obtain more information and to register for the webinar, please click here.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted December 15, 2010

By Scott R. Flick and Christine A. Reilly

Pillsbury's communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month's issue includes:

  • Failure to Heed Warning by FCC Field Agent Costs Broadcaster $10,000
  • FCC Fines AM Broadcaster $6,000 for Excessive Nighttime Power Levels
  • AM Broadcaster's Limited Disclosure of Contest Rules Nets $4,000 Fine
FCC Fines Pennsylvania Broadcaster $10,000 for Repeated Failure to Employ Adequate Personnel

In keeping with lasts month's "meaningful management and staff presence" Notice of Apparent Liability ("NAL"), the FCC again upwardly adjusted a fine, totaling $10,000, against a Pennsylvania broadcaster for repeated failure to maintain at least one management level and one staff level employee at the main studio during regular business hours as required by Section 73.1125 of the FCC's Rules. At the time of the initial inspection by a local Enforcement Bureau Field Agent, the "main studio", which was located within a church, was unattended and locked.

The FCC requires that licensees maintain a "meaningful management and staff presence" at a station's main studio. Based on a 1991 FCC decision, the FCC defines "meaningful" as at least one management level employee and one staff level employee generally being present "during normal business hours."

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Retrans Watchers Focused on FCC In-State Broadcast Programming Report to Congress

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted December 10, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski

As we discussed in a previous post and separate Client Advisory, the FCC released a Public Notice to implement a provision of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) that requires the FCC to submit a report on in-state broadcast programming to Congress by August 11, 2011. The Public Notice was published in the Federal Register yesterday, which means that comments are due by January 24, 2011, with reply comments due by February 22, 2011.

As we discussed previously, the purpose of the FCC's Report to Congress is to address a concern of some members of Congress that subscribers located in markets that straddle a state line may be unable to receive broadcast news and information from their own state because the local stations made available by cable and satellite providers are all located in the "other" state. According to the FCC, the report will: (1) analyze the number of households in a state that receive the signals of local broadcast stations assigned to a community of license located in a different state; (2) evaluate the extent to which consumers in each local market have access to in-state broadcast programming over-the-air or from a multichannel video programming distributor; and (3) consider whether there are alternatives to DMAs for defining "local" markets that would provide consumers with more in-state broadcast programming.

This proceeding is relevant to retrans because there have been some efforts on Capitol Hill to introduce legislation allowing cable and satellite operators to import the signals of television stations from another market. While the official description of this situation describes these subscribers as being deprived of news and information regarding their own state, the more pragmatic concern of such viewers it is argued is that they aren't able to watch sports teams from their state as often as they would like. However, creating a legislative opportunity to import distant stations carrying such in-state sports (and other) programming would often mean importing a station that duplicates the network and syndicated programming of a local station already carried by cable systems and satellite providers in the market. Importing stations in this manner raises complex issues with respect to potentially siphoning off the local station's viewers (and advertisers), undercutting the local station's program exclusivity, and impacting the local station's leverage when it commences retransmission consent negotiations.

For those who plan on filing comments or replies, keep in mind that the FCC has specifically asked for data to help it analyze the issues relating to the availability of in-state broadcast stations for consumers, including the proper "methodologies, metrics, data sources, and level of granularity" that should be used in its report to Congress. The FCC is also asking for specific information to identify counties and populations within given states that have limited access to in-state broadcast programming.

As a result of efforts currently underway on the Hill with respect to potentially allowing the importation of in-state but out-of-market signals, those interested in retransmission consent should continue to monitor this matter closely.

FCC Begins Proposed Reallocation of TV Broadcast Spectrum

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted December 1, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski and Scott R. Flick

As we discussed in a post back in March, the FCC's staff had just released its National Broadband Plan, which announced a controversial proposal to reclaim 120 MHz of spectrum from television broadcasters. Yesterday evening, the FCC moved this process forward by issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to open TV spectrum to use by fixed and mobile wireless facilities, including mobile broadband. We are in the process of preparing a detailed Client Advisory analyzing the FCC's Notice for publication later today. However, for those that can't wait, there are a number of big issues raised by the Notice.

First, the FCC proposes to give wireless broadband providers new primary allocations in the broadcast television spectrum. If adopted, this new rule would give fixed and mobile wireless users co-primary status throughout the entirety of the TV spectrum (as opposed to just in the upper-UHF band). Having primary status is important: it means non-primary services have to accept any interference from you, and you don't have to worry about interference you cause to non-primary services (like low power television stations). If the FCC issues fixed and mobile wireless licenses in the TV band, and gives them co-primary status, then those wireless broadband providers would have the exact same interference protections as full-power TV stations enjoy today. As a result, full-power TV stations would be prevented from modifying their facilities if the modification would cause interference to a newly-licensed wireless operator. Regardless of which licensee was there "first", co-primary status means that neither service can propose modified facilities if interference would be caused to the existing facilities of the other service.

Second, the FCC proposes to establish a legal framework allowing two or more broadcast stations, potentially including Class A and low power television stations, to voluntarily share a single six-megahertz channel. The Notice proposes to allow parties flexibility to decide for themselves how best to share the six-megahertz channel, and envisions more than two stations potentially sharing the same channel. According to the Notice, two sharing stations could each broadcast one primary HD stream, while more than two stations sharing a six-megahertz channel would each broadcast in Standard Definition (although note that the engineering community has been pretty vocal regarding losses in picture quality caused when two HD signals jockey for room in a single 6MHz channel). The FCC also proposes, regardless of the number of stations sharing a channel, that each of the full-power stations retain must-carry rights on cable and satellite systems for their primary program stream.

Finally, the Notice asks for comment on ways to improve VHF TV reception to increase the attractiveness of the VHF band to digital TV stations. The FCC recognizes that UHF spectrum is much more desirable for flexible digital TV service (as well as for mobile broadband) than VHF spectrum. In an effort to encourage increased use of VHF channels by digital broadcasters, the FCC asks for comment on proposals to increase the performance standards of indoor VHF antennas. The Notice also proposes to make technical changes to the FCC's VHF service rules, including allowing VHF stations to operate at higher power than the rules currently permit. The FCC is also asking for any other ideas that might improve reception of digital VHF TV signals.

To say that these proceedings represent a big deal for broadcasters and wireless operators understates the meaning of both "big" and "deal". These proceedings will lay out the framework for how all affected services will develop and interact with each other for the foreseeable future. They also represent the FCC's continuing shift from dedicating spectrum to specific uses to allowing multiple services to share the same spectrum. While, if done correctly, shared spectrum use can increase spectrum efficiency, the etiquette of that sharing arrangement is a critical component of how the FCC, and the residents of that spectrum, proceed from here.

There is a maxim that "good fences make good neighbors." In moving toward shared use, the FCC is proposing to tear down the fences separating spectrum users, and each of those users is about to learn more about their neighbors than they ever wanted to know. What rules the FCC adopts to protect each party's flower bed from being trampled by its neighbors is going to be critically important. Keep a close eye on these proceedings, and on your flower bed.

Retransmission Concerns Make FCC's STELA Implementation a Mixed Bag for Broadcasters and Satellite Providers

Posted November 24, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

Yesterday, a day in advance of the November 24th statutory deadline to adopt rules implementing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, the FCC released a flurry of STELA-related orders. STELA governs the satellite carriage of broadcast stations, and in particular, the importation of distant network stations, in local markets. Because STELA and its predecessor statutes lie at the nexus of communications and copyright law, they represent very complex and arcane matters that often leave even communications lawyers scratching their heads if they aren't experienced in the area.

For those interested in the details of yesterday's three Orders and the FCC's request for additional comments, I recommend taking a look at our Client Advisory on the subject from earlier today. For the rest of the population, suffice it to say that the major impact of these orders for broadcasters is how they affect the ability of satellite operators to import a "significantly viewed" ("SV") duplicating network signal into portions of a local market, thereby undercutting the local network affiliate's ratings, ad revenue, and retransmission negotiations.

As detailed in the Client Advisory, of the FCC's three Orders, one favors satellite operators by making it easier to import distant network stations into a market, while the other two favor broadcasters by limiting the proportion of satellite subscribers in a market that are eligible to sign up to receive a distant network station.

Of particular note is the FCC's conclusion in one of the Orders that "because SV status generally applies to only some areas in a DMA and not throughout an entire DMA, we find it unlikely that an SV station could permanently substitute for a local in-market station, even in the provision of network programming to the market." The FCC further stated that "because most viewers want to watch their local stations, we do not think that carriage of only SV stations would satisfy most subscribers for an extended time."

That is a comforting conclusion for broadcasters, and probably an accurate one. However, it may be cold comfort for the local broadcaster in heated retransmission negotiations where the satellite operator threatens to import a duplicative network station into the market. Because of that, and despite the complexity of the law in this area, television station owners and satellite operators need to acquire a keen understanding of each other's rights under STELA and the FCC's related rules, or proceed at their own peril.

Client Alert: FCC Implements Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act

Posted November 24, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission issued three Orders and a Public Notice designed to implement the new requirements of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA).

The FCC beat by one day the November 24, 2010 statutory deadline for adopting new rules governing several aspects of satellite operators' carriage of television broadcast signals under STELA. The first of three Orders favors satellite providers by making it easier for them to import the signals of significantly viewed ("SV") stations from neighboring markets into a station's local television market. However, the other two Orders favor broadcasters in updating the procedures for subscribers wishing to qualify to receive distant network television stations from their satellite operator. Lastly, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comments and data for a required report to Congress regarding the availability of in-state broadcast stations to cable and satellite subscribers located in markets straddling state borders.

Significantly Viewed Stations Order
In this Order, the FCC concluded that, under STELA, a satellite subscriber must generally subscribe to the local-into-local package before it can receive the signal of an out of market station significantly viewed (over-the-air) in that subscriber's area. Illogically, however, the subscriber does not have to receive the signal of the local affiliate of the same network as the imported SV network station. The subscriber's receipt by satellite of any local station is all that is needed. The FCC stated that its interpretation means that, where a local affiliate is not carried during negotiation of a retransmission consent agreement, the satellite carrier can provide certain subscribers with network programming from an SV network station in a neighboring market.

Continue reading "Client Alert: FCC Implements Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act"

Big CAP Extension Win at the FCC for Broadcasters/Cable Operators

Posted November 23, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski

As Scott Flick reported in a previous post, our firm filed a Petition on behalf of an unlikely coalition of broadcast and cable associations and their allies, including 46 of the state broadcasters associations, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the Society of Broadcast Engineers, the American Cable Association, the Association for Maximum Service Television, National Public Radio, the Association of Public Television Stations, and the Public Broadcasting Service. The parties joined forces to ask the FCC to extend the deadline for all EAS Participants to acquire and install the equipment necessary to use the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) standard for Emergency Alert System alerts. The unified effort paid off, as today the FCC released an Order waiving Part 11.56 of its Rules and extending the CAP deadline from March 29, 2011 to September 30, 2011.

Last September 30, FEMA announced the adoption of the CAP v1.2 standard, which triggered a 180-day deadline for implementation. In a post found here, I described CAP and what the CAP compliance deadline requires of EAS Participants.

The extension means that the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 EAS Participants now have more time to acquire the new and sophisticated equipment they need to become CAP-compliant, while giving FEMA more time to certify CAP-compliant EAS equipment. The six-month delay will also allow equipment manufacturers to test their CAP products and to make any changes needed to meet the certification requirements. This process, in turn, will give EAS Participants the certainty they need to make better informed decisions regarding what equipment they should obtain and install to ensure compliance with CAP. Finally, the extension will give all parties, including noncommercial broadcasters, smaller cable systems, and rural broadcasters more time to budget for the purchase of new equipment.

The FCC acknowledged that if it failed to extend the 180-day deadline, it could "lead to an unduly rushed, expensive, and likely incomplete process."

The Order also leaves open the possibility of extending the CAP deadline beyond September 30, 2011. This is because the FCC will soon be conducting a rulemaking proceeding to incorporate CAP into its Part 11 Rules, and at this point it is unclear what specific Part 11 rule changes will be made as a result of the new CAP standard. According to the FCC, it plans to complete that rulemaking prior to September 30, 2011, but will ask for comments on "whether the extension for CAP acceptance by EAS Participants granted in this waiver order is sufficient, and reserves the right to further extend the date for CAP reception in any new rule we may adopt." Given that the outcome of the rulemaking proceeding will likely result in a number of significant revisions to the FCC's EAS Rules, another extension of the deadline is certainly plausible in order to give parties enough time to come into compliance with the new rules.

In other words, stay on alert, as we will definitely be hearing much more about CAP in the near future.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Posted November 19, 2010

By Scott R. Flick and Christine A. Reilly

Pillsbury's communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. In fact, FCC Enforcement Monitor actually predates the creation of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, which came into being just a few months after the first issue was published. This month's issue includes:

  • FCC Increases Fine to $25,000 for Broadcaster's Violations Related to Time Brokerage Agreement

  • Upward Adjustment in EAS Portion of Multiple Violation Fine Results in Total Forfeiture of $25,000

  • Noncommercial Broadcaster Fined $7000 for Late-Filed License Renewal Application

FCC Fines Florida Broadcaster $25,000 for Repeated Failure to Maintain Full-Time Personnel and Make Available a Complete Public Inspection File at Brokered Station

In September 2009, following a complaint, agents from the Enforcement Bureau's Tampa Field Office conducted an inspection of a Florida AM station. According to the Notice of Apparent Liability ("NAL") issued by the FCC, the AM broadcaster failed, for the second time within three years, to maintain the required number of full-time employees at its main studio in violation of Section 73.1125(a) of the FCC's Rules, and to maintain a complete public inspection file, which violates Section 73.3526 of the FCC's Rules.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Client Alert: December 1 FCC Deadlines Approaching for Many Broadcasters

Posted November 15, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski

Along with all of the other activities of the coming holidays, December 1 represents a busy filing deadline for digital television stations and many commercial and non-commercial radio stations, depending upon their location. For those affected, below is a brief summary of the applicable deadlines, as well as links to our recent client alerts and advisories describing the requirements in more detail.

December 1 Noncommercial Ownership Reports

Noncommercial educational radio stations licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, and noncommercial educational television stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont must file their Biennial Ownership Reports by December 1, 2010. For a detailed discussion of the filing requirements, please see our Client Alert here.

December 1 EEO Deadlines

Radio and television stations licensed to communities in: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont have a number of December 1, 2010 deadlines for compliance with the FCC's EEO Rule. For a detailed discussion of the requirements, please see our Client Advisory here.

December 1 DTV Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report

All commercial and noncommercial educational digital television broadcast station licensees and permittees must file FCC Form 317 by December 1, 2010. For a detailed discussion of this requirement, please see our Client Advisory here.

Client Advisory: Annual DTV Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report Due for Commercial and Noncommercial Digital Television Stations

Posted November 12, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick, Paul A. Cicelski

All commercial and noncommercial educational digital television broadcast station licensees and permittees must file FCC Form 317 by December 1, 2010.

The FCC requires all digital television stations to submit FCC Form 317 each year. The report details whether stations provided ancillary or supplemental services at any time during the twelve-month period ending on the preceding September 30. It is important to note that the FCC Form 317 must be submitted regardless of whether stations offered any such services. FCC Form 317 must be filed electronically, absent a waiver, and is due on December 1, 2010.

Ancillary or supplementary services are all services provided on the portion of a DTV station's digital spectrum that is not necessary to provide the required single free, over-the-air signal to viewers. Any video broadcast service that is provided with no direct charge to viewers is exempt. According to the FCC, examples of services that are considered ancillary or supplementary include, but are not limited to, "computer software distribution, data transmissions, teletext, interactive materials, aural messages, paging services, audio signals, subscription video, and the like."

If a DTV station provided ancillary or supplementary services during the 12-month time period ending on September 30, 2010, it must remit to the FCC 5% of the gross revenues derived from the provision of those services. This payment can be forwarded to the FCC's lockbox at the U.S. Bank in St. Louis, Missouri and must be accompanied by FCC Form 159, the Remittance Advice. Alternatively, the fee can be paid electronically using a credit card on the FCC's website. The fee amount must also be submitted by the December 1, 2010 due date.

For assistance in preparing and filing FCC Form 317, please contact any of the attorneys in the Communications Practice Section.

The Phantom Menace: Return of the EAS False Alerts

Posted November 11, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

In what has become one of our most popular posts at CommLawCenter, a few months ago I discussed a radio ad that contained an "attention getting" Emergency Alert System tone that was activating broadcast stations' EAS equipment around the country. The post noted that airing the commercials violated Section 11.45 of the FCC's Rules ("No person may transmit or cause to transmit the EAS codes or Attention Signal, or a recording or simulation thereof, in any circumstance other than in an actual National, State or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS.").

The earlier post also noted that these ads potentially violated Section 73.1217 of the FCC's Rules, which is the FCC's prohibition on airing broadcast hoaxes. These rules are the result of the FCC's longstanding concern with the airing of material that could cause public panic, dating all the way back to the Orson Welles Halloween broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938, just four years after the FCC was created by Congress.

Television stations have now joined their radio brethren in unintentionally airing Emergency Alert System tones. The Society of Broadcast Engineers disclosed yesterday that a television ad for the new movie Skyline, which hits theaters tomorrow, began airing earlier this week with an EAS tone repeated six times throughout the length of the spot. A copy of the spot can be found on the SBE website here, with the EAS tones being very audible in the background.

Stations airing such spots put themselves at risk of adverse action by the FCC, particularly for any airings that occur after the station has learned of the issue. However, stations that aired the spot before SBE's announcement yesterday are not off the hook, as the FCC holds broadcasters liable for the content they air, and normally takes the position that stations should have checked the spots before they aired for problematic content.

While an EAS tone sounds like digital hash to the human ear, it contains a lot of information that is used to trigger the EAS receivers of stations in a "daisy chain" fashion to quickly spread emergency information. In that regard, each signal is like human DNA, containing information that allows you to determine its origin. In this case, the EAS signal being used is a recording of a Pennsylvania statewide monthly test that fails to include the normal "End of Message" tone. As a result, stations whose EAS equipment is activated by another station airing the false tone could suddenly find themselves retransmitting the content of the other station for a couple of minutes after the tone airs.

Unfortunately, because it is generally the broadcast station and not the creator of the ad that will be held liable, advertisers are not always adequately incentivized to make sure their ads comply with FCC regulations. That means it is up to broadcasters to check each and every ad they run for violations of the law, including violations of the FCC's sponsorship identification rule, the FCC's rules involving ads in children's programming, and ads with questionable content, whether it be indecency, defamation, false product claims, or, in this case, false EAS alerts.

Many Broadcasters Must Be Open for Business This Weekend

Posted October 29, 2010

By Richard R. Zaragoza

As a record three billion dollar political advertising season comes to a close, broadcasters must remember that the FCC requires many broadcast stations to stay open for business this weekend. Specifically, all radio and television stations that have provided weekend access to any commercial advertiser within the twelve months prior to the election must provide similar access to federal candidates the weekend before the November 2 election date.

A station only needs to offer federal candidates the same kinds of weekend services that it has previously offered to commercial advertisers. This means that if a station has provided weekend access only for deleting copy or canceling spots, as opposed to selling and scheduling new spots, the station is only required to provide those same pre-election weekend services for federal candidates. Stations also need to keep in mind that they cannot discriminate between candidates with regard to providing access.

According to FCC staff, unlike federal candidates, state and local candidates do not have a similar right to weekend access even if the station has provided such access to commercial advertisers.

Client Alert: FCC Announces Freeze on Filing of Most Applications in the Low Power Television Service

Posted October 28, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

The FCC's Media Bureau released a Public Notice today announcing a freeze on the filing of applications for new digital low power television ("LPTV") and TV Translator stations, and major modifications to existing analog and digital LPTV and TV Translator stations in "rural areas."

After the completion of the nationwide transition to digital broadcasting by full-power television stations, the FCC announced that it would permit the filing of applications for new digital LPTV and TV Translator stations on a first-come, first-served basis. The FCC announced the filings would commence in two phases, with the filing of applications in "rural areas" beginning on August 25, 2009, followed by "non-rural areas" on January 25, 2010. The January 25, 2010 filing date for non-rural areas was delayed until July 26, 2010, and then ultimately suspended indefinitely. "Rural" area stations are those with a transmitter site that is farther than 75 miles from the reference coordinates for the 100 largest cities listed in Appendix A of the Media Bureau's original Public Notice on this matter.

Today's Public Notice indicates that the FCC will continue to accept and process applications for minor changes to existing facilities, flash-cut applications, digital companion channel applications for existing analog stations, and displacement applications where the applicant can demonstrate actual interference from existing full-power television operations, or from stations still operating on channels 52 to 69.

As the basis for its action, the Media Bureau cited the recommendation in the National Broadband Plan to make an additional 500 MHz of spectrum available for broadband use over the next ten years. The Media Bureau stated that the freeze would allow the FCC "to evaluate its reallocation and repacking proposals and their impact on future licensing of low power television facilities." The Public Notice goes on to state that, after the FCC has completed its broadband rulemakings, the Media Bureau will determine when LPTV filings can be made again. However, given the number of rulemaking proceedings the National Broadband Plan will generate, it is reasonable to assume that a lifting of the freeze will not occur anytime soon.

For assistance in analyzing a station's options in light of the Media Bureau's action, please contact any of the attorneys in the Communications Practice Section.

Scott Flick of Pillsbury to Speak on "Things That Go Bump in the File: A Halloween Guide to the Public Inspection File or How I got over my fear of FCC Inspectors and learned to love the File," October 27, 2010

October 27, 2010

Scott R. Flick will review the FCC's Public File rules during this webinar presented by the Texas Association of Broadcasters on October 27th from 2:00 PM-3:00 PM. Mr. Flick will cover location, access, content, and organization of stations' public inspection files, as well as recent FCC enforcement actions relating to public file violations.

Client Alert: FCC Seeks Additional Comments on Pending Proceedings to Augment Closed Captioning Requirements

Posted October 26, 2010

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

In a Public Notice released yesterday, the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau of the FCC established new comment dates to refresh the record on several closed captioning issues first raised in proceedings initiated in 2005 and 2008. Comments are due November 24, 2010, with reply comments due December 9, 2010.

2005 Closed Captioning Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("2005 NPRM")

First, the FCC is seeking to refresh the record on several items that were raised in its 2005 NPRM that remain outstanding. Specifically, it is asking for additional comments on whether the FCC should establish "quality" standards for non-technical portions of the captioning rules. Such standards would be aimed at ensuring the accuracy of the captions themselves. In this regard, the FCC would like comments on what the adoption of such standards would cost to programmers and distributors, whether there are enough competent captioners to meet the demand, and whether different captioning quality standards should apply to live and pre-recorded programming.

Second, the FCC seeks to refresh the record regarding the need for new rules that go beyond the current "pass through" rule. The "pass through" rule requires video programming distributors to deliver all programming containing closed captioning with the original closed captioning data intact in a format that can be displayed by decoders meeting the standards of Part 15 of the FCC's Rules. According to the Public Notice, the FCC is looking for ways to prevent technical problems in the delivery of captions and to remedy technical problems quickly when they do occur.

With respect to violations of the captioning requirements, the FCC seeks comments on whether to establish specific "per violation" forfeiture amounts, and if so, what those amounts should be. The FCC is also seeking comments on whether video programming distributors should be required to file periodic captioning compliance reports.

The 2005 NPRM also discussed the continued use of electronic newsroom technique (ENT), in which the closed captioning text is fed directly from a station's teleprompter. Because this captioning technique does not provide captions for unscripted segments, the current rule limits its use to stations that are not affiliated with ABC, CBS, NBC, or Fox, or which are located outside the top 25 markets. Nonbroadcast networks serving at least 50% of cable/satellite households are also prohibited from relying on ENT. The FCC is asking whether the use of ENT for captioning should be further restricted by, for example, expanding the prohibition to stations outside the top 25 markets.

The FCC is also seeking comments on whether it should mandate that petitions for exemption from the closed captioning requirements be filed electronically.

2008 Closed Captioning Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("2008 NPRM")

With respect to the 2008 NPRM, the FCC is asking for comments to refresh the record on how the captioning exemption for "channels" producing revenues of less than $3 million should apply to digital multicasting. In 2008, the FCC asked whether each programming stream in a multicast signal should constitute a separate "channel," or whether the broadcaster's primary and multicast streams should be considered a single channel for purposes of determining whether they exceed the $3 million exemption limit. The FCC wishes to update the record, and is asking for comments on the ramifications of ruling that each multicast stream is a separate channel.

As noted above, comments on these proposals are due November 24, 2010, and reply comments are due December 9, 2010. Please contact any of the lawyers in the Communications Practice Section for assistance in the preparation and filing of comments or reply comments.

Broadcasters and Cable Operators Find Something They Can Agree On: an EAS CAP Extension

Posted October 21, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

With the Fox-Cablevision carriage dispute grabbing headlines, and the cable and broadcast industries preparing for battle in Congress and at the FCC over retransmission issues, you would be hard pressed to find common ground between these two media players. However, I have seen it, and it is now on file at the FCC.

When FEMA signed off on a technical standard for the next generation of emergency alert technology, known as CAP, a few weeks ago, it activated a 180 day deadline for the government to certify CAP-capable equipment and for media entities to acquire and install that certified equipment. At the time, we wrote that 180 days likely would not be enough time to have equipment based on the new standard manufactured, certified by FEMA (and possibly the FCC), installed, tested, and operational. While no one wants to hinder deployment of this next-generation emergency alert technology, the immense complexity of CAP, which is intended to distribute alerts not just on television and radio, but potentially through cell phones, the Internet, and myriad other communications channels, makes implementation very challenging. There are still a lot of issues to work out, and just as important as deploying the technology is making sure that it will work properly once deployment is complete.

To ensure that happens, and to try to facilitate an orderly rather than rushed deployment of EAS CAP technology, earlier today Dick Zaragoza and Paul Cicelski of our firm filed a request to extend the time period during which media entities must implement the CAP standard. The current deadline for EAS implementation is March 29, 2011. Today's extension request urges the FCC to extend the implementation period through at least September 30, 2011, and to consider a longer implementation period tied to completion of the FCC's own potential CAP equipment certification process and/or the FCC's anticipated proceeding to modify its rules to complete the implementation of CAP.

This is the interesting part. Participating in today's extension request were 46 of the state broadcasters associations, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the Society of Broadcast Engineers, the American Cable Association, the Association for Maximum Service Television, National Public Radio, the Association of Public Television Stations, and the Public Broadcasting Service.

I can't recall any prior issue inspiring such unanimity among this diverse group of participants, and that should provide an indication of the seriousness with which they view the upcoming task. If implemented successfully, EAS CAP will bring a more ubiquitous and content-rich emergency alert system to the United States. If implemented poorly, vast amounts of time and money will have been expended without significantly improving public safety. Knowing many individuals who have dedicated themselves to making CAP a reality over the past few years, it would be a shame to not see the full benefits of the technology realized.

The Un-Free State of Retransmission Consent

Posted October 19, 2010

By John K. Hane

In the heat of the battle raging over carriage of various Fox networks on Cablevision's systems, Randy May, the founder and chief intellect of the Free State Foundation, has weighed in on the retransmission consent debate (available here). I read his comments with interest, because Randy often provides insightful observations on important telecommunications policy issues, and I care about retransmission consent.

I was disappointed. The paper only rehashes the cable television party line.

Surprisingly, Randy suggests that broadcasters' exercise of retransmission consent rights should be scrutinized and possibly regulated even more. One would have to dig pretty deep to find the last time Randy advocated solving a problem by throwing more government at it.

The party line Randy endorses goes something like this: broadcasters get special privileges from the government with respect to signal carriage, which give them a retrans "negotiating advantage." Retransmission consent negotiations don't happen in a free market goes the argument. The solution? Broadcasters' retransmission rights should be even more regulated than they are already.

Randy cites two "advantages" broadcasters supposedly enjoy in retrans negotiations: (1) must-carry and (2) program exclusivity. The cable industry party line is a little tortured, coming, as it does, from interests subject to a small fraction of the regulatory umbrella that shadows broadcasters. These are the same companies, after all, that argue government should stand back and let broadband carriers treat Internet traffic as they will.

The party line is also completely wrong about the carriage rules.

First, the existence of must-carry sometimes harms, but never helps, broadcasters that elect retransmission consent. Broadcasters must claim their retrans rights once every three years through a technical and exacting election process. If they make a mistake, they risk having to give away their signals for free. Cable companies routinely use this against broadcasters in retrans negotiations.

By definition, any broadcaster engaged in retransmission consent negotiations has forfeited its must-carry rights. It's either-or. Each broadcaster makes its election once every three years -- same election for all overlapping cable operators, no cherry-picking. If you elect retrans, you have no guarantee of being carried at all and no option to revert to must-carry if negotiations break down.

Must-carry benefits some broadcasters, no doubt. But it doesn't confer any advantage on a broadcaster that elects retransmission consent. The cable/DBS/telco party line suggests that must-carry gives broadcasters a retrans advantage, but it never identifies what that supposed advantage is. Randy doesn't explain the advantage either. There is none.

Second, the program exclusivity rules impose huge burdens on broadcasters. Start with the unregulated baseline: producers and distributors are free under the law to agree to exclusive distribution territories. The broadcast networks and affiliates, if they wanted to, could agree that each affiliate has unfettered nonduplication protection throughout its DMA. That would be a free market.

But this is anything but a free market: even if broadcasters purchase exclusivity rights, they may not enforce those rights except within limited, FCC-defined areas. If you doubt me, just read the notes to the network nonduplication and the syndicated exclusivity rules. And this is a bargaining advantage? A reason to pile more rules on broadcasters?

Having read hundreds of Randy's usually insightful postings over the years, I'm disappointed to see him republish boilerplate cable industry advocacy. His comments run counter to the Free State Foundation's guiding principles and lack Randy's trademark sharpness and passion. More to the point, they bizarrely suggest that the government somehow does broadcasters a favor by limiting their free market rights.

Client Alert: Comment Dates Set in FCC Proceeding Transitioning Low Power Television Stations to Digital Operations

Posted October 18, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

The FCC's Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on the conversion of low power television stations from analog to digital operation was published in the Federal Register today. Comments on the FCC's proposals are due on December 17, 2010, with reply comments due on January 18, 2011.

Although Congress established a deadline of June 12, 2009 for all full-power television stations to discontinue analog operations and begin operating only in digital, LPTV and TV Translator stations, as well as Class A TV stations, were seen as needing more time to marshal the resources to transition to digital operation. Accordingly, the Congressionally-mandated analog cut-off date did not apply to these stations. As a result, all full power television stations have ceased over-the-air analog broadcasts, but a significant number of Class A, LPTV and TV translator stations continue to transmit in analog and many questions persist as to how to transition these stations to digital-only operation. The FCC has released a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) in its proceeding examining the digital transition for Class A, LPTV and TV Translator stations. The FNPRM seeks comment on the procedures and timelines by which these stations will complete the transition to digital operations.

Continue reading "Client Alert: Comment Dates Set in FCC Proceeding Transitioning Low Power Television Stations to Digital Operations "

Scott Flick of Pillsbury to Speak at the Indiana Broadcasters Association Annual Engineer/IT Workshop, October 13, 2010 on "Staying Ahead of the Curve: A Tour of Washington's Monumental Communications Issues"

October 13, 2010

Pillsbury invites you to join Scott R. Flick for a telephonic session at the Indiana Broadcasters Association Annual Engineer/IT Workshop on Wednesday, October 13, 2010. Mr. Flick will be speaking in a session entitled "Staying Ahead of the Curve: A Tour of Washington's Monumental Communications Issues."

If We're Over-the-Top, Is It All Downhill?

Posted October 11, 2010

By John K. Hane

In October of 1996 my boss, the chairman of a $3 billion television production and distribution empire (and one of the smartest television dealmakers I ever met) scoffed when I said that television could be delivered over the Internet. I told him to wait ten years. Well, in 2006 we had YouTube, but I doubt Bill Bevins would count that as television.

In the first ten days of October 2010:

  • I spoke on the "Hot Topics" panel at the annual TPRC conference, where leading academics and policy makers discuss legal, economic, social, and technical issues on national and international information and communications policy. The hot topic this year: over-the-top (OTT) television.
  • A friend called asking for advice - he'd been offered a senior executive post with a very large broadcasting company paying a great salary, and a senior position with a scrappy OTT startup, paying lots of stock and the chance to hit big. In 2010, he sees this as a tough call.
  • I watched Forrest Gump in "high definition" on a 50" plasma monitor, streamed by Netflix to my son's Xbox. The quality was stunning.
  • I installed my new AppleTV and watched a high definition podcast, also streamed, and several "high definition" videos on YouTube and Netflix. In several cases, the quality was very good. And the Apple TV interface is much more elegant and easier to use than our FiOS set top box.

I should have told Bill 14 years.

OTT is here. There's a lot of long tail and niche content online. It's getting easier to find and use, and if you have a fast broadband connection, the quality can be outstanding. So just what is cord cutting and how do you define OTT? And what do they mean for traditional video providers?

Cord cutting at its extreme means a household drops MVPD service and relies on other sources of television - primarily free OTA television supplemented by long-tail OTT internet services like Netflix and Hulu. OTT means traditional television content delivered through non-traditional (generally Internet) television distribution channels. It doesn't refer to non-traditional video content (YouTube and other user generated content) regardless of distribution channel. We make this distinction because, rightly or wrongly, we consider YouTube and Vimeo to be something entirely different (and less threatening to incumbent providers) than the delivery of high resolution, full-format, traditional programming over the Internet.

Many fear OTT will lead to tens of millions of households to cut the cord. This is naturally a concern for cable and satellite providers, but many broadcasters worry too, because MVPDs won't pay broadcasters for cord cutting households. Personally, I think we are likely to see a fair amount of cord cutting in the next few years, and an even larger amount of what I call cord trimming - dropping premium services or higher tier services. In new households, broadband is essential, while pay television service is often optional. And the combination of gorgeous, over-the-air, live high definition broadcast service and increasingly compelling long tail OTT options is likely to be a better option for many households than traditional MVPD service.

But there's a silver lining for cable systems and broadcasters, and even for DBS providers.


  • Cable systems may lose video subs, but demand for OTT television will drive broadband adoption into more of the 40 million households that haven't adopted it so far, and it will lead others to upgrade their connections, at higher prices. Since broadband service is generally more profitable than video services, cable profit margins could actually rise even if gross revenue shrinks.

  • Broadcasters could lose retransmission consent fees from cord cutting households, but cord shrinking will affect broadcast competitors - cable networks - before broadcasters, because it's the expensive higher tiers and premium services that cord-shrinking customers drop. The broadcast and sports channels are the last to go before cord is cut altogether.

  • If total MVPD penetration falls from the high eighties to the mid sixties in the next seven to ten years, as I suspect it will, tens of millions in advertising will migrate back from cable and satellite to broadcast, because reach is still important. Twelve or so years ago, with MVPD penetration in the mid 60s, broadcasters were far more profitable, even without retransmission revenue.

  • Much higher broadband penetration could breathe new life into the DBS business model, which is an incredibly cost efficient way to distribute high quality linear television. With more broadband homes to sell into, DBS providers can create a hybrid satellite-OTT service that meets and in many ways exceeds what the cable operators can do with their own video services.


OTT service will have many effects beyond cord shrinking and cord cutting. But incumbent providers should embrace OTT, because the opportunities it enables - the best of which we can't imagine yet - far outweigh the risks that it poses to all incumbent business models. It creates opportunities for greater efficiencies and more varied service offerings for all incumbents, if they have the vision to see the opportunities and the perseverance to follow through. Best of all, OTT can make television more satisfying for consumers, more measurable, and easier to use - leading, inevitably, to more usage. In the television business, we all like more usage, as long as we get our share. Getting that share is the challenge and the opportunity.

Client Alert: President Signs the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, Creating Wide-Ranging Video Programming Accessibility Requirements Intended to Assist Those with Disabilities

Posted October 8, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

Last week, Congress passed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (the "Act") which, among other things, reinstates the FCC's former Video Description rules for television broadcasters, extends closed captioning of video programming to the Internet, and requires the FCC to examine methods of increasing the accessibility of emergency information. The President signed the bill today, October 8, 2010.

The Act is designed to update the Communications Act to account for the many new technologies available in today's marketplace and to assure that they are accessible to persons with hearing or vision impairment. The Act outlines a decade-long timetable for the submission of various reports by a new advisory committee to the FCC, and then by the FCC to Congress, and the implementation of further regulations based on the findings of those reports. When fully implemented, the Act will require that specific amounts of digital television programming contain video descriptions, that certain video programming distributed via the Internet contain closed captions, and that consumer electronics devices contain features to promote accessibility and be hearing aid compatible. We have summarized the Act's requirements in three phases below.

Continue reading "Client Alert: President Signs the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, Creating Wide-Ranging Video Programming Accessibility Requirements Intended to Assist Those with Disabilities"

Client Alert: Effective Immediately, FCC Requires FRN and Password to File Form 398, the Quarterly Children's Programming Report

Posted October 6, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

After we published our Advisory reminding licensees of the deadline to electronically file the Quarterly Children's Television Programming Report on FCC Form 398 for the Third Quarter of 2010, the FCC disclosed that it has modified its electronic filing system to require the entry of a Federal Registration Number ("FRN") and password as the final step before the report can be filed. The FCC issued no advance public notice of this requirement, but instead placed the following notice on its webpage dedicated to the Children's Television Act of 1990, although NOT on the page that licensees visit to prepare and file the report itself:

To enhance the security and integrity of the KidVid database, we now require authentication with an FRN and password associated with the broadcast facility for each Form 398 filing. After you have completed Form 398, you will be prompted to enter this information. You must enter your FRN and password to complete the form. If you have forgotten your FRN password, please contact the CORES helpdesk at 877-480-3201.

Because of the potential for surprises associated with the implementation of this new requirement, we recommend that, if possible, licensees complete their Form 398 filings in advance of the filing deadline. The filing deadline for this quarter falls on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 due to the Columbus Day holiday, so Friday, October 8, 2010 is a good target date for completing the Form 398. This will allow additional time for station personnel to address any issues that arise, such as determining which FRN and password combination(s) will be accepted by the filing system, and, if necessary, to locate the correct information.

Should you have any questions regarding this Alert or the FCC's children's programming requirements in general, please contact any of the attorneys in the Communications practice section.

Glenn Richards of Pillsbury to Speak at the 4G Wireless Evolution Conference, October 6, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, on "National Broadband Policy Review"

October 6, 2010

Pillsbury invites you to join Glenn S. Richards at the 4G Wireless Evolution Conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, October 6, 2010. Glenn will be moderating a session "National Broadband Policy Review." You can register for the conference here.

180 Days to Implement EAS Common Alerting Protocol (CAP)? Not So Fast!

Posted September 30, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski

The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced in a public notice released today that it has adopted the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) v1.2 Standard for FEMA's Integrated Public Alert Warning System (IPAWS). Under the FCC's Rules, Emergency Alert System (EAS) participants (e.g., radio and television stations, and wired and wireless cable television systems) must be able to receive CAP-formatted EAS alerts no later than 180 days after FEMA publishes the technical standards and requirements for CAP transmissions. Although FEMA's public notice does not mention the 180 day clock, an FCC representative stated today that the 180 day period commences with issuance of the FEMA public notice. As a result, all EAS participants should assume that the release of the public notice today (September 30) initiated the 180 day period to acquire and install CAP-compliant equipment.

At its essence, IPAWS is a network of alert systems through which FEMA is upgrading the way Americans receive alert and warning information, providing that information through as many communications pathways as possible. CAP is an alerting format that uses digital technology to allow a consistent warning message to be disseminated simultaneously over as many different warning systems as possible. In addition to enhanced audio and video, CAP permits digital photos and text to be included in emergency alerts and AMBER alerts.

FEMA and the FCC are to be commended for their hard work in seeking to improve EAS and better alert the American people in the event of an emergency. However, EAS participants and equipment manufacturers alike have argued that 180 days is not enough time to acquire equipment compatible with the new CAP standards and to configure EAS systems to receive and relay CAP messages. Manufacturers of EAS equipment may not be able to meet the sudden demand for new equipment by that deadline if every EAS participant is indeed required to have CAP-capable equipment installed within 180 days. Many EAS players have also noted that the 180 day time frame does not take into account legitimate budgeting concerns, given that the equipment alone can cost $2,000-$3,000. With tight federal, state, and local budgets, most EAS participants will likely get no assistance in acquiring the equipment necessary to make the new alerting system work.

There is also the issue of equipment certification and testing. FEMA is expected to wrap up its initial certification process by issuing a list of CAP-certified equipment by the end of November. But it isn't clear if the FCC will conduct its own certification process to provide EAS participants and EAS equipment manufacturers with the certainty of FCC rule compliance they would like prior to moving forward with acquiring CAP-compliant equipment. Many also complain that it remains unclear if parties will be able to fully test the reliability of their new CAP equipment until late 2011, given that the first national FEMA test of CAP is not expected to occur until that time.

Also, while EAS participants are required to meet the 180 day deadline, there are no rules requiring state or local Emergency Management Agencies or public safety departments to be able to actually deliver such alerts by that deadline. So while EAS participants will need to be able to receive national CAP messages delivered by FEMA, they will also need to make sure that their new equipment can simultaneously receive older "legacy" messages that may continue to be issued locally. And if states decide to implement a CAP-compliant EAS system in the future, there is no guarantee that the equipment they acquire then will be fully compatible with the equipment purchased earlier by EAS participants in that state.

The good news is that staff at both FEMA and the FCC have been made aware of these and other concerns surrounding the 180 day deadline and seem sympathetic to those concerns. It is therefore possible that the 180 day compliance period could be extended, but EAS participants should not rely on that being the case. Because of this, EAS participants will need to carefully assess their situation to determine when and how to select EAS equipment appropriate to their needs. EAS participants that wait until too late to focus on this issue will certainly face an emergency of their own.

White Spaces and the FCC: A Decision Behind It and a Challenge Ahead

Posted September 23, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

The FCC today released an order refining, but largely reaffirming, its earlier decision to allow unlicensed devices to operate in the TV band as long as they do not cause interference to existing users such as TV stations and wireless microphone operators. While many refer to this spectrum as "white spaces" on the theory that it is vacant spectrum located between existing television signals, veterans of the digital television transition question whether white spaces more appropriately fall into the same category of mythical creatures as unicorns.

The digital transition's compression of television stations that previously occupied Channels 2-69 nationwide into Channels 2-51 took a miraculous feat of engineering (and the displacement of a lot of LPTV stations). Many stations had to be wedged into the shrunken TV band with a shoehorn, which, at least in urban areas, left very little free spectrum. While the phrase "white spaces" evokes a mental image of vast open prairies, the densely populated areas that are the target markets for manufacturers of unlicensed equipment are already spectrum congested, and are more likely to offer "white spots" or "white specks" than white spaces. The benefit of the Commission's order will likely be greater in rural areas, where spectrum congestion is not an issue even after the digital transition.

As long as the FCC lives up to the Prime Directive of not causing interference to existing inhabitants of the TV band, the benefits of better utilization of spectrum are hard to dispute. Broadcasters understand as well as anyone the challenge of eking out every last ounce of potential from spectrum. However, broadcasters are understandably concerned with a significant change made by the FCC in today's order -- the elimination of the FCC's requirement that white spaces devices be able to sense local signals and avoid causing interference to them. By eliminating that requirement, the FCC removed the "safety valve" it had installed in its original plan. Instead, the FCC is placing its faith entirely in the creation of one or more privately-created and run databases of existing spectrum users that unlicensed devices will consult before selecting a frequency on which to operate.

Many in the broadcast industry have been strong proponents of requiring unlicensed devices to have "sensing" capability rather than relying solely on a national database of existing signals. "System redundancy" is an important feature in designing reliable communications systems, and removing that redundancy inevitably makes for a less reliable system. As the FCC has noted, eliminating the "sensing" requirement will reduce the cost of unlicensed devices, but as we discovered in the recent Gulf oil spill, short term decisions to reduce costs by reducing safety margins can have far greater and more expensive long term consequences.

While lacking any backup protection, a spectrum database could be a workable solution if properly implemented. However, the challenges of implementation are immense. Ensuring the accuracy of the database itself will be a challenge given constantly changing spectrum use by new and existing operators. Also, signals propagate differently depending on frequency, what part of the country you are in, local terrain, and various other factors, making the database either incredibly complex, or inadequate to address real world circumstances.

Viewers of TV stations in Fresno, whose real world signals extend far beyond their predicted contours because of terrain effect, will suddenly be subject to interference from unlicensed devices. In addition, you have to think that users of those unlicensed devices aren't going to be too happy when their wireless network won't function because (unknown to them) it is receiving interference from a TV signal that the database swears isn't there.

Because of these and many other issues, the FCC needs to keep an open mind as it implements its proposed use of white spaces. A well-performing database that keeps licensed and unlicensed operators adequately separated is in everyone's interest. If some of the FCC's initial conclusions need to be rethought in order to accomplish that, those discussions will be healthy ones.

Equally important is ensuring that equipment manufacturers fastidiously comply with the FCC's interference protocols. Broadcasters are rightly concerned that non-compliant or just poorly designed and manufactured unlicensed devices can cause immense damage, and the FCC lacks the tools to put the genie back in the bottle should that occur. Fining such manufacturers after the fact won't help much if millions of interference-inducing devices are already out there interfering with the public's ability to watch TV, listen to a sermon, or attend a Broadway show. As the FCC proceeds down this path, getting it right is going to be far more difficult than just getting it done.

Broadcast Station EEO Advisory

Posted September 22, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

9/22/2010

This Broadcast Station EEO Advisory is directed to radio and television stations licensed to communities in: Alaska, American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, Mariana Islands, Missouri, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Washington, and highlights the upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC's EEO Rule.

Introduction

October 1, 2010 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in the States/Territories referenced above to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection files and post the report on their website, if they have one. In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must electronically file their EEO Mid-term Report on FCC Form 397 by October 1, 2010.

Under the FCC's EEO rule, all radio and television station employment units ("SEUs"), regardless of staff size, must afford equal employment opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees ("Nonexempt SEUs") must also comply with the FCC's three-prong outreach requirements. Specifically, all Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy specific outreach initiatives ("Menu Options") suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station's eight-year license term. These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, attending job fairs, and having an internship program.

Continue reading "Broadcast Station EEO Advisory"

2010 Third Quarter Children's Television Programming Documentation Advisory

Posted September 22, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

September 2010

The next Children's Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations' local Public Inspection Files by October 10, 2010, reflecting programming aired during the months of July, August and September, 2010.

Statutory and Regulatory Requirements

As a result of the Children's Television Act of 1990 and the FCC Rules adopted under the Act, full power and Class A television stations are required, among other things, to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programs originally produced and broadcast for an audience of children 12 years of age and younger; and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and younger.
For all full-power and Class A television stations, website addresses displayed during children's programming or promotional material must comply with a four-part test or they will be counted against the commercial time limits. In addition, the contents of some websites whose addresses are displayed during programming or promotional material are subject to host-selling limitations. The definition of commercial matter now include promos for television programs that are not children's educational/informational programming or other age-appropriate programming appearing on the same channel. Licensees must prepare supporting documents to demonstrate compliance with these limits on a quarterly basis.

Specifically, stations must: (1) place in their public inspection file one of four prescribed types of documentation demonstrating compliance with the commercial limits in children's television; and (2) complete FCC Form 398, which requests information regarding the educational and informational programming aired for children 16 years of age and under. The Form 398 must be filed electronically with the FCC and placed in the public inspection file. The base forfeiture for noncompliance with the requirements of the FCC's Children Television Programming Rule is $10,000.

Continue reading "2010 Third Quarter Children's Television Programming Documentation Advisory"

2010 Third Quarter Issues/Programs List Advisory for Broadcast Stations

Posted September 22, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

September 2010

The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List ("Quarterly List") must be placed in stations' local public inspection files by October 10, 2010, reflecting information for the months of July, August and September, 2010.

Content of the Quarterly List

The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station. The FCC gives each station the discretion to determine which issues facing the community served by the station are the most significant and how best to respond to them in the station's overall programming.

To demonstrate a station's compliance with this public interest obligation, the FCC requires a station to maintain, and place in the public inspection file, a Quarterly List reflecting the "station's most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period." By its use of the term "most significant," the FCC has noted that stations are not required to list all responsive programming, but only that programming which provided the most significant treatment of the issues identified.

Given the fact that program logs are no longer mandated by the FCC, the Quarterly Lists may be the most important evidence of a station's compliance with its public service obligations. The lists also provide important support for the certification of Class A station compliance discussed below.

Continue reading "2010 Third Quarter Issues/Programs List Advisory for Broadcast Stations"

Scott Flick of Pillsbury to Speak at Massachusetts Broadcasters Association's 2010 Annual Meeting, September 21, 2010 on EEO Programs and Compliance

September 21, 2010

Scott R. Flick will be presenting this seminar which takes place from 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM. Mr. Flick will discuss EEO programs and complaince for broadcast station owners, General Managers, and human resource professionals.

For more information, please click here.

Client Advisory: Biennial Ownership Reports Are Due by October 1, 2010 for Noncommercial Educational Radio Stations in IA and MO, and for Noncommercial Educational Television Stations in AK, AS, FL, GU, HI, MP, OR, PR, VI and WA

Posted September 20, 2010

By Richard R. Zaragoza and Christine A. Reilly

The staggered deadlines for filing Biennial Ownership Reports by noncommercial educational radio and television stations remain in effect and are tied to their respective anniversary renewal filing deadlines.

Noncommercial educational radio stations licensed to communities in Iowa and Missouri, and noncommercial educational television stations licensed to communities in Alaska, American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Mariana Islands, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Washington, must file their Biennial Ownership Reports by October 1, 2010.

Last year, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on, among other things, whether the Commission should adopt a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial educational radio and television broadcast stations like the one that the FCC has established for all commercial radio and television stations. That proceeding remains pending without decision. As a result, noncommercial educational radio and television stations continue to be required to file their biennial ownership reports every two years by the anniversary date of the station's license renewal filing.

A PDF version of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports Are Due by October 1, 2010 for Noncommercial Educational Radio Stations in Iowa and Missouri, and for Noncommercial Educational Television Stations in Alaska, American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Mariana Islands, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Washington

Glenn Richards of Pillsbury to Speak on "Net Neutrality: Can't We All Just Get Along?", September 16, 2010

September 16, 2010

Glenn S. Richards will speak during this audiocast which takes place at 12:00 PM, EDT. The panel will discuss the legal and technical challenges of designing regulatory policies to address prioritization and network management of Internet traffic.

Register Here to participate in this call.

EAS False Alerts in Radio Ads and Other Reasons to Panic

Posted September 9, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

One of the great things about being a communications lawyer is the wide array of issues you deal with over the course of a day. Contract lawyers negotiate contracts, and litigators litigate, but communications lawyers negotiate contracts, litigate, argue government policy, and generally are thrown into the breach whenever a problem emerges affecting their clients. As a very senior communications practitioner said when I was a young lawyer, "if you want to be a communications lawyer, you better be very good at your trade or have a damn good smile!"

Because of the diversity of communications issues out there, you never know when you answer the phone what the issue will be. One question I have received on multiple occasions over the years is whether it's true that radio stations are prohibited from airing the sound of a police siren. I have had broadcasters swear there is a flat prohibition on this and that they were taught about it early in their career. While there is no outright prohibition, this "old broadcaster's tale" stems from a 1970 FCC proceeding where several complainants sought such a ban. The FCC declined to prohibit these sound effects, but basically told broadcasters to use common sense when airing them. Not coincidentally, 1970 was the year that R. Dean Taylor's song Indiana Wants Me made it to Number 5 on the Billboard charts, complete with siren. A siren-free version of the song was also produced to appease nervous radio stations (take a listen to the "with sirens version"; go ahead, I'll wait till you get back).

I was reminded of all this today when I received a client call asking about a radio ad from the oil company ARCO that includes the Emergency Alert System tone at the beginning of the spot. The Society of Broadcast Engineers has posted an MP3 of the ad here.

The EAS tone differs from police sirens in two important ways. First, the airing of the EAS tone or a simulation of the tone where no emergency or authorized EAS test exists is flatly prohibited by Section §11.45 of the FCC's Rules ("No person may transmit or cause to transmit the EAS codes or Attention Signal, or a recording or simulation thereof, in any circumstance other than in an actual National, State or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS."). It could also potentially violate Section 73.1217, the FCC's prohibition on broadcast hoaxes.

Second, unlike members of the public who usually can discern from context whether a siren or other emergency sound is a cause for concern (does Indiana really want them?), the electronics that monitor radio signals do not have this capability. As a result, the airing of the commercial has accidentally activated EAS receivers around the country, which hear the alert tone and activate the local emergency alert system as though an actual emergency is occurring. It appears the tone in the spot was tweaked to speed it up a bit, but apparently not enough to avoid fooling at least some EAS receivers.

Stations airing the spot, particularly where EAS activations have occurred, should get in touch with their communications counsel immediately. The FCC's words from 1970 are still relevant here: "The selection and presentation of advertising and other promotional material are, of course, the responsibility of licensees. However, in this selection process, licensees should take into account, under the public interest standard, possible hazards to the public. Accordingly, in making decisions as to acceptability of commercial and other announcements, licensees should be aware of possible adverse consequences of the use of sirens and other alarming sound effects." It may take 40 years, but what goes around, comes around.

Is It Game Time or Gambling? Prize, Chance, Consideration, NCAA Tickets and Your Next Promotion

Posted September 7, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski and Lauren Lynch Flick

Anyone who has enjoyed March Madness knows that Lady Luck often intervenes in a team's journey to the NCAA Final Four. But is getting to the game a literal roll of the dice for spectators too? The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago has recently ruled that a lawsuit can go forward which claims that the NCAA's ticket sales for the NCAA tournament are an illegal lottery akin to a game of poker or roulette.

Those who run sweepstakes and contests live in fear of having such an accusation leveled against their promotional campaigns. While they know that they must avoid combining the three elements of a lottery: (1) prize, (2) chance, and (3) consideration (such as money), those who are new to the industry can often be heard to say "it's not like this is real gambling or anything." Much of the time, the focus is on how to make sure that "chance" or "consideration" (or both) are not present in your promotional game. There is very rarely any debate as to whether there is a "prize," as there is usually little point to having a promotion without one. Yet, it is that issue which is at the heart of the case against the NCAA. More to the point, the Court seems to have been influenced by the fact that Final Four tickets are highly sought after, so the chance to buy them in and of itself could be a "prize."

For years, the NCAA has used random selection to determine who will be allowed to purchase tickets to its Final Four basketball games. According to the plaintiffs in this case, to have a shot at scoring a pair of tickets, they were required to pay the NCAA in advance for both the face value of the tickets and a "non-refundable handling" fee of $6-$10. To maximize the chance of being selected, each person could enter up to ten times, submitting the face value of ten tickets plus handling fees, although participants would only be allowed to purchase a single pair of tickets if selected, regardless of the number of entries submitted. After the random selection process, "winning" entrants would receive two tickets and a refund of the face value of the other nine entries, while those who were not selected would receive a refund of the face value of ten pairs of tickets. However, none of the applicants received a refund of the handling fees.

The plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit alleging that the ticket distribution process is an illegal lottery. They allege that the opportunity to purchase a pair of Final Four tickets at face value is a prize, that the prize is distributed by chance, and that they paid consideration for that chance in the form of the handling fees that were not refunded. From this assessment, the plaintiffs conclude that the NCAA is engaged in illegal gambling in the sale of Final Four tickets.

The trial court initially dismissed the case based on an Indiana court of appeals case, Lesher v. Baltimore Football Club, which held that the Indianapolis Colts were not engaged in gambling when they used a similar ticketing system. In Lesher, however, the handling fees were refunded for all but the tickets that were actually purchased. The Lesher court decided that there was no "prize" involved in the Colts ticket distribution scheme because a "prize" is "something of more value than the amount invested." Ticket purchasers "invested the price of the tickets and received in exchange either the tickets or the entire amount invested . . . those receiving tickets got nothing of greater value than those who received refunds." With regard to the NCAA's ticket sales, though, the Seventh Circuit faulted the trial court for relying on Lesher. According to the Seventh Circuit, the plaintiffs had adequately argued the existence of a "prize" because they asserted that the fair-market value of the NCAA Final Four tickets was much greater than the face value at which the winners had purchased them, and that the plaintiffs had "invested" the handling fees to participate in the random drawing.

While the trial court will ultimately have to decide these issues, the Seventh Circuit's ruling certainly nudges the trial court in an interesting direction, and the result may expand the definition of what qualifies as a "prize." This case is a reminder of the importance of structuring promotions with care to avoid the legal morass and potential liability facing the NCAA in this class action lawsuit. Marketers and broadcasters cannot merely rely on doing things the way they were done in the past to protect against lawsuits and prosecution. That approach is, quite simply, a gamble.

Product Placement and the FCC

Posted September 2, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski

You may have noticed that more and more television shows these days seem to be including "product placement," a form of advertising in which a product, corporate logo, or brand name is positioned as a "prop" in a program or is used as an integral part of the story line. We have all seen the prominently displayed Coca-Cola cups placed on the judges table in front of Simon, Randy and Paula during American Idol. And although Apple stated that it made no payment for what seemed like an entire episode of Emmy Award winning Modern Family devoted to the iPad, many in the media and the public wondered if what amounted to a half-hour advertisement for the iPad was legal.

Does the FCC have rules regarding product placement? Are program producers and broadcasters required to disclose placement deals to viewers?

The simple answer is yes. The FCC considers product placement to be "embedded advertising" that is subject to the FCC's "sponsorship identification" rule. The rule says that if a program producer, broadcast station, or a station employee receives anything of value, directly or indirectly, in exchange for causing material to be broadcast, the sponsorship and the identity of the sponsor must be disclosed on-air.

Congress decided long ago that members of the public have a right to know when someone has paid to have material aired by a TV or radio station. As a result, if a station or network enters into a placement deal, the deal must be disclosed on the air. Undisclosed product placement can amount to illegal payola.

The FCC's rules and the Communications Act aren't limited to just requiring that broadcasters make the necessary disclosures. They also require program producers to notify the broadcaster if they have a deal to include any sort of product placement in a program. This allows the broadcaster to then make the necessary on-air disclosures.

More than two years ago, the FCC began considering whether it should adopt more stringent rules on how television programmers and broadcasters let viewers know when "props" in television shows are actually paid pitches made by an advertiser. However, the FCC has not yet resolved the question. The FCC's proceeding was fashioned as a "Notice of Inquiry," which means that the FCC will subsequently need to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking before any new rule can be adopted. Because of this, we are not likely to see the matter resolved soon.

While the FCC's product placement/embedded advertising proceeding is currently in limbo, broadcasters, networks, and program producers need to keep in mind that product placement deals -- when not disclosed on-air -- violate the FCC's sponsorship identification rule. The use of product placement in advertising is only going to increase as advertisers respond to a changing industry, including the use of DVRs, online availability of content, and other tools that let viewers skip traditional commercials. When entering into product placement deals, program producers, networks and broadcasters need to remember that the FCC, and not just the public, may be watching.

Client Alert: FCC Fiscal Year 2010 Annual Regulatory Fees Are Due Today

Posted August 31, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski

As we reported in a previous Client Alert, full payment of all applicable Regulatory Fees for Fiscal Year 2010 must be received no later than today, August 31, 2010, at the Commission's St. Louis, Missouri address by 11:59 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.

As in previous years, failure of a licensee to submit the required regulatory fees in a timely manner will subject it to a late payment penalty of 25% in addition to the required fee. In order to pay the fees, licensees must generate an FCC Form 159 using the FCC's online "Fee Filer System" which can be found at: www.fcc.gov/feefiler. In order to access the Fee Filer System, you must have a valid FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password. Once you have successfully accessed the System, you will have the ability to review your fees. Licensees are required to either pay online with a credit card, pay online using a bank account, pay by mailing a check, or pay by sending a wire. The FCC's instructions for filing fees can be found at: www.fcc.gov/fees/regfees.

For more information on annual regulatory fees, including assistance in preparing and filing them with the FCC, please contact any of the lawyers in the Communications Practice Section.

Performance Tax Anxiety

Posted August 18, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

Having spent a good portion of last week on the road and on conference calls talking about the latest Performance Tax developments, I heard a lot from broadcasters on the subject. For those blissfully unaware of this legislative battle, the recording industry has been seeking a financial parachute from broadcasters to help slow the rate of its descent into an economic abyss. The irony of course is that if illegal music downloads on the Internet are what has caused the recording industry's plunge, reaching out to drag broadcasters into the abyss with them merely weakens an ally in the battle to protect content from illegal distribution over the Internet.

Famously dubbed a performance "tax" by broadcasters, the legislation sought by the recording industry would require broadcasters to pay royalties to the recording industry for playing music on-air. Beyond the obvious short term benefit of royalty checks from broadcasters that choose to retain a music-based format, the recording industry hopes the passage of a U.S. law requiring such royalties for broadcasts in the U.S. will cause foreign countries to release royalties already being collected for airplay of U.S. artists in those countries. Unfortunately, because most of the record companies are now foreign-owned, much of that money, along with royalties paid by U.S. broadcasters, would wind up in foreign hands, undercutting any argument for this "found money" being an economic benefit in the U.S. All of the royalty funds would come from the U.S., but only a portion of those funds would stay in the U.S. However, one would hope that at least some of those royalties, if they do come to pass, would actually reach the U.S. artists responsible for creating the music that the recording industry has been selling and reselling to us over the years.

Broadcasters have been successful in blocking Performance Tax legislation because of good grass roots efforts to remind Congress that radio promotes the sale of music at no charge to the record labels or to the artists that have ridden radio airplay to fame (and whose records and concert tickets continue to sell because of radio airplay). The long, sordid history of payola -- the record labels' efforts to curry airplay via cash and other payments to radio station programmers -- supports broadcasters' proposition that the "value" of radio airplay exceeds any "costs" it imposes on the recording industry.

It was therefore with great surprise that many radio broadcasters heard last week that negotiating teams for the two industries were floating a multi-part proposal to resolve the legislative impasse -- a compromise that would require, for the first time, that artist (as opposed to songwriter) royalties be collected on broadcast airplay of music. While the proposal has some attractive features for broadcasters (most importantly the inclusion of FM receiving chips in cellphones), I got an earful from broadcasters absolutely incensed at the notion of promoting music and concert sales, and then being charged for doing it.

If any member of Congress thinks that "radio promotes music sales" is just a broadcaster talking point for meetings, encountering a broadcaster last week would have decisively corrected that impression. Some broadcasters I talked to had such a visceral reaction to the very concept of such payments that it didn't matter to them what the beneficial points of the proposal were. For them, it was as if someone had told them to "pay the ransom to the kidnappers and hope for the best." Some appreciated that it could be the pragmatic thing to do to put the issue behind them, but still found the very concept reprehensible. To be sure, there is money involved and that can sway a person's thinking. However, a number of the broadcasters I spoke with were so fundamentally opposed to the concept that they would reject the idea even if other parts of the proposal actually resulted in more money coming in from the proposal than going out.

I understand that perspective, but lawyers are trained to assess the options, and to assist their clients in choosing the best option for that client. Often, but not always, the "best" option is the one most economically beneficial to the client. Here, some broadcasters are not interested in the economics, but in the unfairness of being forced to pay a performance royalty as any part of the package. Despite that, all broadcasters should give the compromise proposal a careful look, if only to sharpen their understanding of the numerous issues in play and how they might affect the future of radio broadcasting. There are any number of reasons why the proposal might not gain momentum, or even be possible given the dynamics of Washington, and I hope to address those in a future post. For now, radio broadcasters should suppress the instinct to reflexively ignore it, and instead talk to their colleagues and counsel about the issues this proposal raises for their future, and for the future of their industry.

Lauren Lynch Flick of Pillsbury to Speak at the eHealth Initiative August Policy Work Group Meeting on National Broadband Plan and Health Care, August 19, 2010

August 16, 2010

Lauren Lynch Flick is speaking on eHealth issues at this meeting which will take place from 4:00 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. Discussions will include the Federal Communications Commission National Broadband Plan for Health Care and the recently published NPRM on rural health care support.

For more information and to register, please click here

Client Alert: FCC Announces Comment Dates in Rural Health Care Broadband Proceeding

Posted August 9, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick

The FCC has opened a rulemaking proposing reforms to its broadband health care initiatives for rural and tribal areas. The FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking originally released in July was published in the Federal Register today, which establishes the deadline for submitting Comments and Reply Comments in the proceeding. Comments in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking are due on September 8, 2010. Reply Comments are due on September 23, 2010.

Chief among the proposals contained in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking are:

• Creating a health infrastructure program that would support up to 85% of the construction costs of new regional and statewide broadband networks serving public and non-profit health care providers where broadband is currently unavailable or insufficient;

• Creating a health care broadband services program that would subsidize 50% of the monthly recurring costs of access to broadband services for eligible public or non-profit rural health care providers; and

• Expanding the class of health care providers eligible to receive these funds to include skilled nursing facilities, renal dialysis centers and facilities, and certain off-site administrative offices and data storage centers that perform support functions for health care providers.

We discussed the details of this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in a recent Client Advisory. Health care providers, as well as rural and tribal communities interested in improving their broadband access for local health care services, should get involved in this proceeding. It is important to provide the FCC with real world examples of the needs and problems faced in providing modern health care services in your community so that those needs are taken into account as the FCC attempts to craft its rural health care initiative.

Client Advisory: FCC Issues Two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking to Implement STELA

Posted August 6, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick

The FCC is moving quickly to implement the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA). STELA is the latest law to extend and update the original Satellite Home Viewer Act of 1998, allowing direct to home satellite carriers to deliver the signals of local television stations to subscribers. The Commission has commenced two rulemakings which, because Congress gave the FCC a deadline of November 2010 to wrap up its proceedings and adopt implementing rules, have very short comment periods.

The first proceeding deals with satellite carriers' ability to import distant, but significantly viewed, television signals into a local station's television market. The FCC's proposals could result in an increase in importation of significantly viewed signals by satellite providers. Therefore, stations should familiarize themselves with their rights concerning significantly viewed signals. Comments in this proceeding are due on August 17 and Reply Comments are due on August 27. An in-depth analysis of this proceeding can be found in our Client Advisory.

The second proceeding deals with the method by which the FCC determines whether a subscriber is eligible to receive the imported signal of a distant network-affiliated station. The FCC is examining both its computerized predictive model for determining whether a particular household is "served" by the local station, as well as its methodology for making actual on-site signal strength measurements. Where a satellite subscriber seeks to receive the signal of a distant network-affiliated station, the FCC's predictive model is used to assess whether the subscriber can receive the local network affiliate over the air. A household that is found to be "served" by the local affiliate is generally not eligible to receive the imported signal of an out of market affiliate of the same network. However, the subscriber can challenge the results of the FCC's predictive model by seeking an on-site measurement of the local station's signal.

STELA directs the FCC to update its predictive methodology to account for the completion of the nationwide transition to digital television, as well as to make specific modifications to the definition of "unserved" households. Comments in this proceeding are due on August 24 and Reply Comments are due on September 3. A detailed discussion of the FCC's proposals in this proceeding can be found in a second Client Advisory released today.

Scott Flick of Pillsbury to Speak at the Texas Association of Broadcasters/Society of Broadcast Engineers Annual Convention & Trade Show, August 12, 2010, in Two Sessions: "Broadcast Spectrum in the Broadband Era" & "FCC Regulatory Update: Trouble Ahead"

August 5, 2010

Scott R. Flick will speak at these two panel sessions. Broadcast Spectrum in the Broadband Era will take place at 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM. The National Broadband Plan seeks to reallocate 120 MHz (20 channels) from the TV band for wireless broadband. The session will discuss the implications of this plan for individual stations and for the business of television broadcasting in general.


Scott Flick will also speak in a separate "FCC Regulatory Update: Trouble Ahead" session from 11:15 AM to 12:15 PM. Key concerns will be identified in pending and emerging policy issues at the FCC and on Capitol Hill.

For more information and to register, please click here.

Client Alert: FCC Sets August 31, 2010 Deadline for Payment of FY 2010 Annual Regulatory Fees

Posted July 29, 2010

By Scott R. Flick and Christine A. Reilly

The FCC has announced that full payment of all applicable Regulatory Fees for Fiscal Year 2010 must be received no later than August 31, 2010.

As mentioned in a July 9, 2010 Report and Order, the Commission will mail assessment notices to licensees/permittees reflecting payment obligations for FY 2010, but intends to discontinue such notifications beginning in 2011. Be aware that the notices sent may not include all of the authorizations subject to regulatory fees, and do not take into account any auxiliary licenses for which fees are also due. Accordingly, you should not assume that the notice is correct or complete. Similarly, if you do not receive a notice letter, that does not mean your authorizations are exempt from regulatory fees. It is the responsibility of each licensee/permittee to determine what fees are due and to pay them in full by the deadline.

Annual regulatory fees are owed for most FCC authorizations held as of October 1, 2009 by any licensee or permittee which is not otherwise exempt from the payment of such fees. Licensees and permittees may review assessed fees using the FCC's Media Look-Up website - www.fccfees.com. Certain entities are exempt from payment of regulatory fees, including, for example, governmental and non-profit entities. Section 1.1162 of the FCC's Rules provides guidance on annual regulatory fee exemptions. Broadcast licensees that believe they qualify for an exemption may refer to the FCC's Media Look-Up website for instructions on submitting a Fee-Exempt Status Claim.

For more information on annual regulatory fees, including assistance in preparing and filing them with the FCC, please contact any of the lawyers in the Communications Practice Section.

FCC Releases Final Regulatory Fee Amounts

Posted July 26, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

July 2010
FCC Eliminates Earlier Proposed Fee Reductions for Radio and Sets Hefty Increases for UHF Television Stations

Last week, just as broadcasters were finishing up with their new Biennial Ownership Report filings, the FCC released its final order setting the annual regulatory fee amounts stations must pay for Fiscal Year 2010. In so doing, the FCC erased promised reductions in annual regulatory fees for radio broadcasters and reallocated the television fee burden from VHF broadcasters to UHF broadcasters, resulting in considerable increases in the fees paid by UHF broadcasters over last year and even over the Commission's prior proposals for FY 2010.

Background
Each year, the FCC reports to the Office of Management and Budget the amount of money that the FCC estimates it will need to run its operations in the coming year. Congress generally accepts this estimate and sets it as the amount that the FCC is statutorily obligated to raise from its licensees through annual regulatory fees. Between 2008 and 2009, fee amounts increased by about 10%, prompting outcries from broadcasters that the fee increases have historically been too high year to year, and that they were simply intolerable in a year in which the industry was so adversely affected by the economic downturn.

Perhaps because of this, for 2010, the Commission requested, and Congress required, that it raise 1.8% less revenue than it had in 2009. Based on that reduction, in April the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing modest, across the board cuts in the amounts paid by radio licensees. Only AM construction permits were to increase--by $20. In contrast to the broad increases in television fees experienced in 2009, the FCC's proposals were for modest increases in some, but not all, television categories. In most television categories where an increase was proposed, it only amounted to a few hundred dollars over the 2009 level. Even the three categories that were hardest hit (VHF stations in Markets 26-50, and UHF stations in Markets 1-10 and Markets 11-25) only saw increases of a few thousand dollars. Article continues -- the full article can be found at FCC Releases Final Regulatory Fee Amount
.

Senate Amends DISCLOSE Act to Delete Lowest Unit Charge Provisions

Posted July 22, 2010

By Clifford M. Harrington

In my recent commentary on the Senate version of the DISCLOSE Act (Senate Disclose Act Bill Raises Serious Concerns For Broadcasters), I highlighted provisions related to the Lowest Unit Charge which had the potential to cause a very significant adverse impact on broadcast station revenues from federal election advertising.

Senator Schumer introduced today a revised version of the DISCLOSE Act. While retaining other campaign finance reform provisions, the new version thankfully eliminates the LUC provisions that were the focus of my concern.

The Act has not yet been passed, and could still be modified either in the Senate or in a Conference Committee with the House. We will continue to monitor the bill and let you know if further attempts are made to reinstate the troublesome LUC concepts.

Let Them Eat Fees: Broadcasters and the Spectrum Measurement and Policy Reform Act

Posted July 20, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

At a recent presentation on legislative matters affecting the communications industry, I noted that broadcasters, while lately feeling much under siege, should not underestimate their part in the digital future. It is true that the government wants broadcasters' spectrum (the National Broadband Plan), cable operators want broadcasters' programming, ideally for free (the retransmission battles in Congress and at the FCC), politicians want broadcasters' airtime (the DISCLOSE Act), musicians want broadcasters' money (the Performance Tax), and the Internet would love to have broadcasters' audiences. However, the conclusion to be drawn from those facts is that broadcasters have what everyone else wants, and need to themselves capitalize on those important assets.

Let there be no doubt that broadcasters are in for some challenging times fending off those who covet their riches, but that is a far better position than having no riches to covet in the first place. As the possibilities for television and radio multicasting become better developed through experimentation and innovation, mobile video gains the prominence in the U.S. that it is experiencing overseas, and broadcasters continue to refine how best to leverage their content on multiple platforms, broadcasters have as good an opportunity as anyone to make their mark in a digital future, while others fall by the wayside as "one-idea wonders."

Unfortunately, government has begun to place its thumb on the scale, discouraging broadcasting while encouraging other wireless uses. The latest example is this week's introduction of the Spectrum Measurement and Policy Reform Act (S. 3610) by Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The legislation would encourage broadcasters to abandon spectrum for a share of the government's auction proceeds for that spectrum, and authorize the government to impose spectrum fees on broadcasters. In other words, the FCC can use spectrum fees to "encourage" broadcasters to relinquish their spectrum.

This government push is propelled by one of the oldest myths regarding broadcasting, and one of the newest myths. The first myth is that broadcasters are the only licensees who have not paid for their spectrum, and therefore merit less leeway in how they use it, or whether they get to use it at all. Of the thousands of broadcasters I have worked with over the years, however, only a handful actually received their spectrum for free. The vast majority bought their stations (and FCC licenses) from another party, paying full market price, and therefore being really no different than the wireless telephone licensee that also bought its FCC authorization from a prior licensee. Whether some earlier, long-gone broadcast licensee that built the station enjoyed some financial windfall doesn't bring any benefit to the current licensee. The current licensee inherited the dense regulatory restrictions of broadcasting, but not the "free spectrum."

In addition, new broadcast licensees have generally purchased their spectrum at FCC auction since Congress changed the law in 1997, just like wireless licensees. Despite that, no one has suggested that even these more recent licensees should be released from FCC broadcast regulations because they paid the government for their spectrum.

The second and newer myth, propogated by advocates of the National Broadband Plan, is that broadcasting is a less valuable use of spectrum than wireless broadband since spectrum sold for wireless uses goes for more money at auction than broadcast spectrum. That is, however, a distorted view of value. Everyone, including the FCC and the wireless industry, has denoted broadcast spectrum as "beachfront property" from a desirability standpoint, meaning that it is not the spectrum, but the regulatory limits placed on it, that is creating the difference in cash value at auction. An alternate way of viewing it is that the public receives that difference in auction value every day from broadcasters in the form of free programming and news, rather than in the form of a one-time cash payment to the government. That the public receives more value for their spectrum from continuing broadcast service than from a one-time auction payment (that is swallowed by the national deficit in a matter of seconds) becomes more obvious when you realize that the public will then spend the rest of their lives leasing "their" spectrum back from the auction winner in the form of bills for cellular and broadband service.

An apt analogy is national parks. Would selling them outright for industrial use bring in more cash than keeping them and allowing them to be enjoyed by the public? Certainly. Is selling them for industrial use therefore the most valued use of parkland? Hardly.

Broadcasters have been good tenants of the government's spectrum, paying the public every day for the right to remain there. If they stop those public service payments, they lose their license, making way for a new tenant. This new legislation aims to entice these paying tenants from their spectrum so that the spectrum can be sold outright to the bidder who perceives the greatest opportunity to extract a greater sum than the auction payment from the public. That may be poor public policy, but it is at least voluntary for the broadcaster, though not for the public. Threatening to tax broadcasters with spectrum fees until they surrender their spectrum is not marketplace forces at work, but the government forcing the marketplace to a desired result. Proponents of wireless broadband must have little confidence in their value proposition if they feel they can come out ahead only if they first devalue broadcast facilities by imposing yet more legal and financial burdens on broadcasters.

Senate Disclose Act Bill Raises Serious Concerns For Broadcasters

Posted July 20, 2010

By Clifford M. Harrington

Last month, the House of Representatives passed the DISCLOSE Act ("Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act"), H.R. 5175. The bill responds to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which held that corporations (and presumably unions and other associations) have a constitutional right to make independent expenditures in election campaigns. The bill would, if it becomes law, impose significant new disclosure requirements related to political expenditures, prohibit government contractors from making campaign expenditures, and ban such expenditures by U.S. corporations owned 20% or more by foreign nationals or which have certain other foreign ties.

The Senate's companion DISCLOSE Act bill, S. 3295, was introduced on April 29 by Senators Schumer, Feingold, Wyden, Bayh and Franken, and remains pending at this time. The focus of this commentary is on a provision in the Senate bill, but not the House version, that we believe has the potential to have a very significant adverse impact on broadcast station revenues from federal election advertising.

In our previous discussions of the DISCLOSE Act here and here, we pointed out that the Senate bill would allow national committees of any political party (including a national congressional campaign committee of a party) to take advantage of Lowest Unit Charge (LUC) rights previously only available to legally qualified candidates or their official committees. Similarly, it would extend Reasonable Access rights to national party committees which are now only available to federal candidates. In addition, it would effectively make all federal candidate and party committee advertising non-preemptible, regardless of the class of advertising purchased. Stations would also be required to promptly list all requests of candidates and party committees to purchase time on the stations' web sites.

While troublesome, these and other provisions in the DISCLOSE Act pale in significance, in our view, to the proposed amendment to the LUC provisions of Section 315 of the Communications Act. Under Section 315, as currently in effect, legally qualified candidates for elective office are entitled to receive during specified pre-election periods "the lowest unit charge of the station for the same class and amount of time for the same period" that is then clearing on a station. Under the Senate version of the DISCLOSE Act, federal candidates and party committees (but not state or local candidates) would be entitled to receive the "lowest charge of the station for the same amount of time that was offered at any time during the 180 days preceding the date of use."

This is troublesome for two reasons. First, the bill eliminates the "same class" and "same period" provisions in current law. Because "class" refers to the level of preemption protection which the advertiser has purchased, federal candidates and committees would be entitled to obtain non-preemptible status while paying rates that commercial advertisers would pay for immediately preemptible spots. Similarly, because "period" refers to the day part or rotation involved, stations could not charge more to federal candidates and committees for the most desirable spot placement - fixed position in prime or drive time - than they charge commercial advertisers for the same length spot that runs in the least desirable time period or rotation - late night or run of schedule (ROS).

Second, the new 180 day look-back provision means that stations will be required to give federal candidates and committees the lowest rate that has run on the station in the past half year, rather than which is currently running on the station. Therefore, if the LUC period occurs during a period of strong advertising demand, or a station has increased its rates due to extrinsic factors, such as improved programming or a format change, the station will still be required to give federal candidates and committees preferential rates that no other advertiser can currently obtain.

We view these provisions, if adopted, as creating a perfect storm for broadcasters. The number of entities entitled to reasonable access and lowest unit charge rights will be greatly expanded. Stations will be required to give non-preemptible access to federal candidates and national party committees in their most desirable time periods at their lowest rates for any advertising. Rather than election years being seen as a period of enhanced revenues for broadcasters, this provision might well cause election years to be viewed as a major drag on station revenues.

For some reason, this proposal to dramatically change the prevailing law has received little publicity in the press or in releases from proponents or opponents of the bill. A little sunshine on this part of the bill appears appropriate.

Indecency Ruling Changes the Game

Posted July 13, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

In light of today's decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit invalidating the FCC's indecency policy, it would be hard to justify writing about anything else. From my first days as a young lawyer screening programs before they were aired (I still remember assessing the legalities of airing a live satellite feed of "Carnaval" from Rio) to defending stations accused of airing indecent programming in FCC enforcement actions, the FCC's indecency policy has been an ever-present, ever-broadening part of the practice. While the definition of indecency has remained largely constant ("language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities"), its interpretation has always been a moving target.

When the Supreme Court originally found that requiring indecent content to be channeled into late-night hours was constitutional, it did so based upon a narrow view of what qualified as indecent content (basically George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" routine) and the assurance of the FCC that restrained enforcement would protect First Amendment concerns. Over the next twenty years or so, broadcasters programmed accordingly, and with a few exceptions, broadcasters and the FCC learned to coexist on the issue of indecency.

However, the rise of cable television placed immense pressure on both television and radio broadcasters to more precisely map the boundary between "decent" and "indecent" content. While most broadcasters remained determined to stay on the "decent" side of that line, they could no longer afford to remain at such a safe distance from that line as to be deemed "fogey programming" by a generation of consumers that did not distinguish between broadcast programming and cable programming. To these viewers, all channels are equal, and whether programming arrives by cable, satellite, or antenna is beside the point. To reach this audience, many programmers struggled mightily to make their programming more edgy and relevant to young adults. This programming stayed clear of Carlin's seven dirty words, and focused more on situation and entendre to engage its audience.

In response, the FCC stepped onto a slippery slope, seeking to broaden its interpretation of indecency by expanding its view of what constitutes "patently offensive" material. The FCC was not prepared for the mission it undertook. What at first appeared to be a slippery slope of line drawing quickly became a well-greased plunge into the abyss of eternal peril. Those filing complaints at the FCC often urged the agency, as a practical matter, to forget that indecency must be patently offensive and instead sought action against content that was merely offensive to the complainant. The result has been a gut-wrenching high speed slalom down the slippery slope, resulting in the FCC's headfirst encounter today with the large oak doors of the Second Circuit's courtroom.

Although the court based today's ruling on a finding that the FCC's interpretation of indecency is impermissibly vague, and therefore chilling of protected speech, the problem actually goes far deeper than that. Some of the greatest damage to free speech has resulted from complaints where just about everyone, including the FCC, would agree that indecency is not present. While baseless complaints were once met with a prompt and pleasant FCC letter notifying the complainant that the subject of their complaint was categorically not indecent, the FCC in later years treated every complaint even mentioning the word "indecency" as a reason to put a hold on that station's license renewal or sale application for literally years until the FCC could investigate the complaint. In the meantime, these stations struggled, as a delayed license renewal made obtaining financing difficult, and a delayed sale often meant that the contract to sell the station expired before the FCC could resolve the indecency complaint and approve the sale. Under these circumstances, it is pretty easy to see how a station would be hesitant to say anything offensive to anyone, even without the potential for a $325,000 indecency fine.

Among the "indecency" complaints I have encountered that were holding up a station's applications at the FCC was a complaint from a politician who didn't like what a station said about him (apparently using the word "indecent" in his complaint got it put into the indecency pile), and a complaint that a Spanish word yelled at soccer matches when a goal is scored sounds too much like a bad word in English. When such complaints are allowed to languish or become the basis of a pointless inquiry, they interfere with the operations of a station, serve to chill future speech, and create a "bunker mentality" among broadcasters that anything they say will be held against them.

So where does this leave us? Well, as a pragmatic matter, the court's ruling will not become effective until it issues its mandate, and the FCC may ask that the court delay taking that action while the FCC seeks a rehearing en banc or review by the Supreme Court. If the court's ruling does become effective, it will apply only within the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit (which includes Connecticut, New York and Vermont). Both legally and politically, the FCC will feel compelled to pursue an appeal, and the result of that effort will determine the future of its indecency enforcement efforts across the US.

That places the FCC in a very high stakes game of poker. Does it place an ever larger bet on trying to defend its existing policy? If it does, it runs the risk that the Supreme Court will rule that the very notion of indecency enforcement is unconstitutional in light of a changing media landscape and the FCC's seeming inability to apply a narrow and restrained enforcement policy. Or, does it fold this hand and return to the table later with a "back to basics" indecency policy similar to what was once found constitutional by the Supreme Court? One thing's for certain--for the first time in a long time, broadcasters are holding all the right cards in this game.

Bonus Spots, No Charge Spots, and the Lowest Unit Charge

Posted July 7, 2010

By Clifford M. Harrington

We are frequently asked by broadcasters during the political season whether they are required to provide political candidates with free spot availabilities because they are running "free" or "no charge" spots for commercial advertisers. These spots, of course, are really not free at all. They have a cost, but it is hidden in the cost of the other spots in the package.

The FCC has said that bonus spots to churches, charities, non-profit organizations and governmental entities do not need to be considered for purposes of computing a station's lowest unit charge (LUC). Thus, the bonus spots (or PSAs) given an organization such as the Office of National Drug Control Policy -- which required one free spot for every paid spot -- do not affect stations' LUC.

Much more common are the bonus spots that are given to a for-profit commercial advertiser as an inducement to enter into a package deal. For example, a radio station may offer an additional 20 Run-of-Schedule (ROS) spots for no additional charge to commercial advertisers who enter into a package deal to buy 20 drive time spots at full rate card price.

Sometimes these are listed simply as "bonus spots," and no price is allocated to the spot at all. In such cases, the station is required to divide the total number of spots of all types in the package into the total consideration paid to compute the price for each spot in the package, including the "no charge" spots. So, if a radio station charges $1,000 for a package consisting of 20 drive time spots (shown on the invoice as $50 each) and 20 ROS spots (shown on the invoice as "bonus"), the FCC would divide the total number of spots (20+20=40) into the total package price ($1000) and say that the rate for LUC purposes of both the drive time and ROS spots is $25 each. This may well be lower than any drive time spot running on the station, and higher than any ROS spot. Because candidates may "cherry pick" spots in a package, and buy only one at the package rate, this leads to a very harsh result, because a candidate would be able to buy one or many drive time spots at the low $25 rate without having to buy any ROS spots.

In other cases, the advertising contracts for such package deals list price for the bonus spots as "no charge," "free" or "$0.00." While the FCC has said that it would not rule out the possibility that a station could assign a value of "zero" to a bonus spot, it said that such assignment would have to be based on the station's normal commercial sales practices. Moreover, listing a bonus spot as free would trigger a requirement that the station make the spots available to candidates at no cost. In our experience, few, if any stations are in the business of giving away free advertising -- at least unless tied to the purchase of full priced spots.

To avoid these traps, the station should put a price on each spot in the package, without changing the total package price. For example, if the station were to assign a price of $48 to each drive time spot, and $2 to each ROS spot, the charge to the customer stays the same, and the station has preserved the rates of its most valuable time. And, because most candidates want their ads to appear in better time periods, we believe it is unlikely that candidates would purchase ROS even at these low rates.

It is best that these rates be shown on the station's contracts and invoices. However, the FCC recognizes that advertisers and agencies want to believe they are receiving "something for nothing" even though we all know there is no such thing as a free lunch. Therefore, stations are permitted to create a contract and invoice showing the "no charge" rate in a package, so long as there is a contemporaneous memo attached to the contract in the station's records (but not sent to the advertiser or agency) that allocates the rates properly (in this case, $48 and $2), is signed and dated and can be produced upon request by the FCC. By doing so the station can send a contract and subsequent invoice to a commercial advertiser showing a "no charge" rate, while preserving the maximum value for the station's best spots. These memos should be created, signed and dated at the time the contract is executed.

Stations should consult counsel as to how to deal with outstanding advertising packages that list spots as "free" or "no charge."

The National Broadband Plan's Other Shoe Drops... on LPTV Applicants

Posted June 28, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

One of many questions persisting since the release of the FCC's National Broadband Plan has been "what is the impact on low power television stations?" Officially, the NBP's call for repurposing television broadcast spectrum was not to affect LPTV stations, as the NBP indicated that LPTV stations would not be required to participate in the spectrum repacking and reallocation proposed for full power television stations.

As we noted at the time, however, it was unclear how the NBP's spectrum reallotment proposals could not have a substantial impact upon the LPTV service. When full power stations are repacked into fewer channels to make room for wireless broadband, the secondary status of LPTV stations seems to ensure that they will be squeezed out of existence by the repacking. The NBP's sunny language regarding the future of LPTV service therefore appeared more about selling the plan politically than about actually addressing the reality of spectrum repacking.

Today, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the heads of all Executive Departments and Agencies to cooperate in "unleashing" the wireless broadband revolution by working with the NTIA and FCC to free up the 500 MHz of additional spectrum envisioned by the NBP. Immediately after the President's action, the FCC's Media Bureau released a Public Notice slamming the door on a much-anticipated opportunity to file digital LPTV and Translator applications that was scheduled to begin on July 26, 2010.

The Media Bureau had announced this filing opportunity on June 29, 2009, almost a year ago to the day of today's announcement rescinding it. The filing opportunity was to have been for those seeking authorizations to build new digital LPTV stations. It was announced just after the conclusion of the nationwide DTV transition and the channel-shifting by full power stations (and displacement of LPTV stations) that process entailed. Applicants that had been prevented from filing before could now examine this vastly changed spectrum landscape with an eye toward providing LPTV service in places and on channels not previously available. Applications were to be considered on a first come, first served basis. To prevent a potential deluge of applications, the Media Bureau broke the process into two steps. In the first step, the FCC began permitting the filing of digital LPTV applications in rural areas in August 2009. The second step was to permit such applications in all areas of the country beginning in January 2010. As mentioned above, that date was first delayed until July 2010, and now, indefinitely.

Today's announcement that new LPTV applications will not be permitted in urban areas, at least until the spectrum rulemakings surrounding the National Broadband Plan are resolved, officially confirms that the LPTV service is indeed going to be affected by the NBP's thirst for broadcast spectrum. In a nod to that future reality, the Media Bureau also announced that the FCC will allow existing analog LPTV stations to apply for companion digital channels. While that may at first seem contrary to the goal of clearing broadcast spectrum, the purpose is to encourage the transition of the LPTV service to digital, which will ultimately allow it to be packed into less spectrum. However, even the transition of LPTV service into digital format is not likely to clear the amount of television spectrum envisioned by the NBP. As a result, if today's action dropped the proverbial shoe on applicants for new LPTV stations, there likely will be one more shoe to drop... on existing LPTV stations.

A Few More Twists on the FCC's Long and Winding Road to Its New Ownership Report Form

Posted June 24, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski

The FCC announced in April 2009 its intent to implement a new version of its biennial Ownership Report form, and to require that all commercial broadcast stations file a new Ownership Report with the FCC by November 1 of odd-numbered years. Since that time, the FCC has had to delay the original November 2009 filing deadline a number of times, for reasons ranging from its electronic filing system grinding to a halt and being unable to handle the sheer mass of the new reports, to technical glitches with the form itself, delays in Office of Management and Budget approval, and fierce opposition from broadcasters at the FCC, OMB and now in court based upon the paperwork burden and privacy concerns the new form raises. As we discussed in an earlier Client Alert, the FCC's revised deadline requires parties to report their November 1, 2009 ownership data on the new form by July 8, 2010.

As that deadline draws near, however, it looks like there are still a few obstacles that the FCC must navigate. As we reported in a recent Client Alert, the FCC yesterday responded to a petition filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit by a group of broadcasters. Those broadcasters have asked the court to stop the FCC from implementing the revised Form 323, arguing that the requirement that all "attributable" principals provide their Social Security Number (SSN) to obtain a Federal Registration Number (FRN) for the new ownership report violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Privacy Act. In its court-ordered response to these allegations, the FCC claims it has complied with the law, and that the broadcasters' claims are moot in any event because filers are no longer actually required to provide their SSNs and can instead apply for a "Special Use FRN" (SUFRN) (love that acronym!) to complete the new ownership report form.

That response is not, however, entirely accurate. The FCC initially refused to create a Special Use FRN for purposes of reporting ownership interests. It feared that broadcast investors would choose to use that option rather than supplying their SSN, thereby undercutting the FCC's ability to determine precisely which "Ted Jones" was the owner of a particular radio station. The FCC relented only when it became clear that many broadcasters would be unable to file their Ownership Reports at all since they had no ability to force their investors to reveal SSNs, and the FCC's electronic filing system would not accept an ownership report if all attributable investors listed did not have an SSN-obtained FRN.

Even when the FCC later relented and created the SUFRN, it limited its use to the filing of biennial ownership reports (as opposed to post-sale ownership reports or other FCC applications). The FCC also made clear that the use of a SUFRN, while technically allowing broadcasters to file their ownership reports through the electronic filing system, did not comply with its rules and that it expected broadcasters to have obtained SSN-obtained FRNs before the next biennial ownership report is due in November 2011.

Since that time, and under continuing pressure from communications lawyers and privacy advocates (who are often one and the same), the FCC appears to be growing more flexible about the use of SUFRNs in completing ownership reports. Action by the court in the short time remaining until the July 8, 2010 filing deadline may determine just how flexible the FCC will need to be in that regard, and whether the filing deadline might have to be extended yet one more time.

Stop the Presses! Federal Trade Commission Does Not Support Taxes on Broadcasters and Others to Help "Reinvent" Newspapers After All?

Posted June 17, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski

Earlier this week, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz began the FTC's final workshop concerning the future of media "How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?" by dismissing as a " non-starter" any chance that his agency would recommend new taxes to support or "save" journalism. In advance of this workshop, the FTC staff had prepared and released a discussion document entitled "Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism." One of the goals of the document is to try and save the current newspaper business model by, in part, imposing substantial new taxes on other media, including broadcasters. While the FTC says that the term "journalism" used throughout the document does not mean that that the FTC favors newspapers over broadcasters or other media, a close reading of the draft indicates that newspapers would be the primary beneficiary of the FTC proposals should they be adopted.

Shortly after the release of the document, the FTC issued a statement to the effect that the draft did not reflect a formal intention on the part of the FTC to seek new taxes and that the paper was for discussion purposes only. However, in order to fund the proposals, including those to provide potentially billions of dollars in subsidies and various tax breaks and credits to newspapers, the document proposes that the government institute:

• A 7 percent tax on broadcast spectrum to raise $3 to $6 billion while at the same time relieving broadcasters of their obligation to air "public-interest programming."

• A 5 percent tax on consumer electronics that "would generate approximately $4 billion annually."

• A spectrum auction tax "on the auction sales prices for commercial communication spectrum, with the proceeds going to the public-media fund."

• A 2 percent sales tax on advertising to generate approximately $5 to $6 billion annually" and to change "the tax write-off of all advertising as a business expense in a single year to a write-off over a 5-year period [to] generate an additional $2 billion per year."

• A 3 percent Internet Service Provider-cell phone tax requiring consumers to pay a tax on their "monthly ISP-cell phone bills to fund content they access on their digital services" to raise $6 billion annually for the FTC's proposals.

While the FTC's look to the future of news gathering might be noble, the proposals to raise taxes on broadcasters, consumer electronics, Internet Service Provider customers, and others would undoubtedly increase costs for consumers and businesses alike, not to mention they raise a host of First Amendment and Constitutional questions regarding politicization and governmental interference with a supposedly impartial press.

In the real world, most newspaper publishers recognize that innovation and new business models are the best ways to survive and thrive going forward as opposed to having the government impose harsh taxes on other media in the "robbing Peter to pay Paul" manner envisioned by much of the FTC report. According to press reports, John Sturm, President and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America commented on the FTC report by stating that "We've never sought or asked for anything like a bailout" and Rupert Murdoch is on record warning against the FTC proposals and the "heavy hand" of governmental regulation.

Chairman Leibowitz stated that the FTC's workshops "have always been more about the future of journalism than saving the past." While the Chairman might be right, the staff report circulating at the FTC would suggest otherwise as many of its proposals are clearly backward looking. Given the stakes and dollar amounts involved, broadcasters, consumer electronics manufacturers, Internet Service Providers as well as consumers should pay close attention to this proceeding as it continues to unfold at the FTC. The FTC plans to issue its final report on the future of media sometime this Fall.

Glenn Richards of Pillsbury to Speak at the Backstage Pass in Palo Alto on June 24, 2010 on the "FCC's National Broadband Plan and What it Means to Technology Companies and Investors"

June 16, 2010

Glenn S. Richards will speak at this event which takes place from 6-9 PM, Pacific Time, at the Pillsbury Palo Alto Office. Implementation of the the FCC's National Broadband Plan will impact all sectors of the communications industry as the Commission attempts to increase the availability and adoption of broadband in the United States. The FCC has already announced that it plans to initiate at least 60 proceedings within the next 12 months to achieve these goals. Along with speakers from eBay and AT&T, this session will address the impact these proceedings -- including proposals to reclassify broadband Internet access services -- may have on the tech community and investors.

You can learn more about this event and register by visiting this link.

Scott Flick of Pillsbury to speak at the 2010 Illinois Broadcasters Association Conference, June 16, 2010 on "Citizens United: New Opportunity for Broadcasters" and in a "Legislative Update" Session

June 14, 2010

Scott Flick will speak at this session which takes place at 10:30 am. The landmark Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. FEC, has clearly transformed the rules for corporate spending on campaign ads. Now corporations and unions may buy air time to advocate for or against candidates in federal and state elections. This session will address the opportunities raised, as well as the risks created by legislation intended to block the impact of the ruling.

Scott Flick will also be speaking that day in a separate "Legislative Update" session scheduled for 3:00 pm.

Drop That Microphone and Slowly Back Away

Posted June 10, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

Not only broadcast stations, but churches, schools, concert venues, live theater, film productions, business presenters, sporting events, and motivational speakers will have to change the way they operate, starting this weekend. As we wrote in a Client Advisory back in January, the FCC set June 12th, 2010--the anniversary of the DTV transition--as the date by which wireless microphones and other devices must cease using the spectrum that was formerly TV channels 52-59. While popularly referred to as the "700 MHz Band", the spectrum being cleared actually runs from 698 MHz to 806 MHz.

Although the elimination of wireless microphones from this band has drawn the most attention, many other devices commonly use this spectrum and must also cease operating in this band on June 12th, 2010. These include wireless intercoms, wireless in-ear monitors, wireless audio instrument links, and wireless cuing equipment. The impact is not limited to audio devices, as even devices that synchronize TV camera signals using the 700 MHz Band must vacate the band starting this weekend.

The reason for the FCC's band-clearing effort is to make it available (and interference free) for public safety operations, as well as for providers of wireless service that have acquired the right to use portions of the band. Those failing to cease operating their 700 MHz devices are subject to fines ($10,000 is the FCC's base fine for illegal operation), arrest, and criminal sanctions, including imprisonment, as the FCC notes that "interference from wireless microphones can affect the ability of public safety groups to receive information over the air and respond to emergencies," putting "public safety personnel in grave danger." While it may be tempting to continue using 700 MHz equipment in hopes that you won't get caught, your community theater production does not want the liability of causing interference to a rescue operation by public safety personnel.

To avoid this result, users of affected 700 MHz equipment must either modify their equipment to operate in other permitted portions of the spectrum, or cease using the equipment entirely if it cannot be modified to operate in other bands. To assist users in determining whether they have a 700 MHz microphone, the FCC has created a webpage listing many makes and models of wireless microphones, as well as the frequencies on which they operate. The site also includes contact information for many of the manufacturers of wireless microphones to obtain further information about particular microphones.

So inspect your equipment and do the research necessary to determine whether it operates in the 700 MHz Band. If so, see if it can be modified to prevent operation in that band. If not, then it looks like this weekend would be an excellent time to go shopping for that new microphone you've always wanted.

FCC Ups the Ante on Indecency and Fox Affiliates Are the Poker Chips

Posted June 3, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

If you are a Fox affiliate, your fax machine (if you still have one) probably has a message on it from the FCC waiting for you, courtesy of the latest struggle between Fox and the FCC over indecency enforcement. In a Notice of Apparent Liability released today, the FCC states it received over 100,000 complaints about a January 3, 2010 episode of American Dad aired on the Fox Television Network. Although the NAL doesn't discuss the allegedly indecent content, it appears all of the complaints relate to a single segment of the episode which brings to mind that old college query, "if Jack helped you off the horse..." (if you missed that part of college, don't worry, you didn't miss much).

While the FCC's enthusiasm for enforcing its indecency restrictions has waxed and waned over the years, what has usually been constant is the relatively slow path from complaint, to investigation, to resolution. It has not been uncommon for years to pass between these steps, which makes the sequence of events leading up to this NAL all the more interesting. In this case, the FCC sent a letter of inquiry to Fox just 18 days after the episode aired. The letter attached a single redacted complaint that the FCC indicates was "representative of the complaints received by the Commission," and asked Fox, among other things, whether the description in the complaint of the allegedly indecent content was accurate, which Fox-owned stations aired it, and which Fox Television Network affiliates had the contractual right to air it.

According to the NAL, when the response to the letter arrived at the FCC, it was not from Fox, but from the single Fox affiliate named in the "representative" complaint. As a result, the response didn't address a number of the FCC's questions, including the request for a list of Fox affiliates that likely aired the program. To no one's surprise, the FCC was not pleased. The NAL indicates that the FCC followed up with another letter on March 19, 2010 (note once again the lightning pace, with the FCC's follow-up letter going out just 18 days after the affiliate's response was filed). The FCC summarizes that letter as "describing [Fox's] failure to respond to the LOI and requiring a full and complete response to all the Bureau's inquiries no later than March 23, 2010," just four days after the FCC letter was issued.

The NAL indicates that Fox didn't respond to that letter, which also obviously did not please the FCC. In response, the FCC issued the NAL, which proposes a $25,000 fine against Fox for failure to respond to an FCC inquiry. The NAL notes that the base fine for such an infraction is $4,000, but that a "significant increase" in the fine is appropriate because "misconduct of this type exhibits contempt for the Commission's authority and threatens to compromise the Commission's ability to adequately investigate violations of its rules."

Suspecting, perhaps, that a $25,000 fine would not overly concern an operation the size of Fox, the FCC proceeded to the nuclear option: "Given the continued absence of a response from Fox and the incomplete response received from [the affiliate], contemporaneously with the release of this NAL, the Bureau is sending letters of inquiry to all licensees that air Fox Television Network programming." The NAL later notes that letters of inquiry are being sent to 235 Fox owned or affiliated stations. The FCC is obviously counting on Fox receiving a firestorm of protests from its affiliates, who now have 30 days to respond to the individual letters of inquiry, which include a request for copies of any complaints about the episode received by the stations themselves. The letters of inquiry are going out today by certified mail, but it appears that the FCC has already faxed the letters to many Fox-affiliated stations.

Both the speed and severity of the FCC's response indicate a desire to send a very clear message to licensees that there is a new sheriff in town, and not a very patient one at that. This NAL adds an exclamation point to my missive last week about the FCC stepping up its enforcement sanctions to ensure that licensees don't view them merely as a cost of doing business. Fox affiliates are about to be caught in the crossfire of the next skirmish in the indecency battle between the FCC and Fox, and they are doubtless not too pleased about it.

Scott Flick of Pillsbury to Speak at the 2010 Mid Atlantic Broadcasters Conference, June 9, 2010 in Broadcaster Regulatory and Legislative Roundtable and FCC Summit Session

June 2, 2010

Scott Flick will speak at this special session which takes place from 2:30 PM-4:00 PM and includes an update of current regulatory and legislative proposals. Topics to be discussed include the Performance Tax, Citizens United and the legislative response, ABIPs, the National Broadband Plan and spectrum reallotment, Advertising tax proposals, and a variety of other FCC and legislative matters.

A $270,000 Reminder to Broadcasters on the Importance of Kidvid Compliance

Posted May 27, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

I wrote a while back about the Downside of Downsizing, in which I noted an increasing number of calls from broadcasters who had trimmed their staffs to the bare minimum, only to belatedly discover that the remaining employees lacked either the experience or the time to ensure the station's compliance with FCC and other regulations. This afternoon, the FCC released seven Notices of Apparent Liability announcing the financial damage that taking your eye off the regulatory ball can have.

The seven NALs (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) all involved Children's Television violations, with the proposed fines ranging from $25,000 to $70,000. The FCC's grand total for the afternoon was $270,000 in proposed Children's Television fines. While the simultaneous release of the forfeiture orders may be meant to send a message about the seriousness with which the FCC views violations of the Children's Television rules, the FCC has been working hard on Chairman Genachowski's watch to clear out backlogs of enforcement proceedings of all types, and it may be that these particular cases are merely the latest result of that effort.

What is certainly not a coincidence, however, is the hefty size of these fines. These NALs appear to confirm a recent FCC trend of imposing heavier fines for a variety of regulatory offenses. While cynics might argue that the government just needs the money at the moment, there does seem to be a concerted effort at the FCC to "update" its fine amounts to make violations sufficiently painful that licensees will not view them as merely a cost of doing business. It is also worth noting that while the seven NALs involve a variety of kidvid violations (exceeding commercial limits, program length commercials, failure to notify program guide publishers of the targeted age range of educational programs, failure to place the appropriate commercial certifications in the public inspection file, failure to publicize the existence and location of the station's Children's Television reports), they all have one other feature in common: each of the stations confessed its transgressions in its license renewal application.

In addition to giving no quarter for the licensees having confessed their own sins, the NALs are quite stern in assessing the severity of the violations. Noting that human error, inadvertence, and subsequent efforts to prevent the recurrence of such violations are not grounds for reducing the punishment imposed, the NALs apply a strict liability standard, cutting stations no slack even where the violation was based upon a misapplication of the rule (e.g., assessing compliance with children's commercial time limits based upon a programming hour (4:30-5:30pm) rather than a clock hour (5:00-6:00pm)), where a program-length commercial was caused by a fleeting and tiny/partial glimpse of a program character during a commercial, or where the program-length commercial was caused by network content.

To be clear, the FCC staked out no new legal ground in these decisions, which for the most part apply existing precedent, and the NALs do indicate that some of the stations involved had over 100 kidvid violations. What catches the eye, however, is not just the size of the fines, but the terse manner in which the violations are listed, the defenses rejected, and the fine imposed, with each NAL noting that the base fine for a kidvid offense is $8,000, but that an upward adjustment is merited in this particular case, with the ultimate amount often appearing to have been plucked out of the air. The impression licensees are left with is that the FCC has lost patience in plowing through the backlog of enforcement cases, and there will be little or no room for error in FCC compliance going forward.

It's good that the broadcast advertising market has begun to resuscitate, as now would be a good time to rehire those FCC compliance personnel, particularly the ones that prescreen children's television content.

Biennial Ownership Reports Are Due by June 1, 2010 for Noncommercial Educational Radio Stations in Michigan and Ohio, and for Noncommercial Educational Television Stations in AZ, DC, ID, MD, NV, NM, UT, VA, WV and WY

Posted May 24, 2010

By Richard R. Zaragoza and Christine A. Reilly

May 2010
The staggered deadlines for filing Biennial Ownership Reports by noncommercial educational radio and television stations remain in effect and are tied to their respective anniversary renewal filing deadlines.

Noncommercial educational radio stations licensed to communities in Michigan and Ohio, and noncommercial educational television stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming, must file their Biennial Ownership Reports by June 1, 2010.

Last year, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on, among other things, whether the Commission should adopt a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial educational radio and television broadcast stations like the one that the FCC has established for all commercial radio and television stations. That proceeding remains pending without decision. As a result, noncommercial educational radio and television stations continue to be required to file their biennial ownership reports every two years by the anniversary date of the station's license renewal filing.

A PDF version of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports Are Due by June 1, 2010 for Noncommercial Educational Radio Stations in Michigan and Ohio, and for Noncommercial Educational Television Stations in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

FCC Seeks Comment on Possible Revisions to Its Rules Regarding the Construction, Marking, and Lighting of Towers

Posted May 24, 2010

By Scott R. Flick, Lauren Lynch Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

5/24/2010
The FCC recently released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("NPRM") proposing to revise and streamline its Part 17 rules regarding construction, marking, and lighting of antenna structures. Pursuant to the Federal Register publication that occurred today, Comments are due on July 20, 2010, with Reply Comments due on August 19, 2010.

According to the FCC, the NPRM's proposed rule changes are intended to improve safety for pilots and airplane passengers while also "updating and modernizing" the rules by removing outdated requirements currently included in Part 17 of its Rules. The FCC states that the proposed clarifications and amendments to the Rules will allow antenna structure owners to more efficiently and cost effectively ensure rule compliance. The NPRM is largely based upon a Petition for Rulemaking filed by the Wireless Infrastructure Association seeking changes to Part 17 of the Rules.

The FCC's rules require owners of antenna structures (rather than the FCC licensees and permittees utilizing those structures) to register certain types of antenna structures with the FCC and to exercise primary responsibility for complying with the appropriate painting and lighting requirements. In general, any proposed or existing antenna structure that is more than 200 feet above ground level (60.96 meters) requires notice of construction or alteration to the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") and must be registered with the FCC.

Among other things, the FCC's NPRM requests comment on the proposed rule changes outlined below.

Continue reading "FCC Seeks Comment on Possible Revisions to Its Rules Regarding the Construction, Marking, and Lighting of Towers"

Comment Dates Set for FCC Proposals To Modify Tower Regulations

Posted May 21, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski

There is a growing need for tower space as wireless technologies proliferate, and the potential profits to be made by tower owners leasing space for these new technologies has resulted in the growth of companies whose sole business is to own and manage towers. However, managing towers is not a simple affair, as they are subject to numerous regulations from the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Aviation Administration, not to mention the many other applicable regulations of the Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The FCC recently released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing revisions to Part 17, its Antenna Structure Registration rules, with the stated goals of improving compliance and safety and to remove dated and burdensome requirements on tower owners. It also claimed that the proposals will help tower owners, as the FCC puts it, "more efficiently and cost effectively" comply with the FCC's rules.

While it may be true that the FCC is proposing to streamline aspects of its rules, for antenna structure owners, the NPRM is a mixed bag at best and includes a number of possible new regulations that could increase regulatory compliance burdens. For example, the FCC is proposing new regulations changing the way it evaluates proper tower painting, adding station record retention requirements, changing the required location of signage, and establishing new tower light failure and tower inspection requirements. Of perhaps the greatest concern, the FCC is asking whether it should adopt a whole new set of rules to be consistent with those to be issued by the FAA which could expand notification requirements for construction of new facilities that operate on specified frequency bands, changes in authorized frequency, addition of new frequencies, and new power and height thresholds.

Among the potentially beneficial changes, the NPRM proposes to replace the current tower inspection and observation requirements with a simple rule mandating only prompt reporting of outages, ease the requirement regarding quarterly inspections of automatic control systems associated with tower lighting, clarify the rules regarding the posting of Antenna Structure Registration numbers, create an objective standard for determining when an antenna structure must be cleaned or repainted, and permit tower owners to notify tenants by email when a tower structure has been registered rather than being required to provide a paper notification.

The FCC set the public comment dates in this proceeding through publication in the Federal Register today. Comments are due July 20, 2010, and reply comments are due August 19, 2010. As will be discussed in greater detail in a Client Advisory regarding the proposed rule revisions, the FCC has requested comment on these and a multitude of other changes. A complete copy of the FCC's NPRM can be found here. Given the breadth of this proceeding, tower owners and tenants should seriously consider providing their input on the proposed rule changes or be prepared to live with the consequences. In worst case scenarios, tower owners can face fines of more than a million dollars for failing to comply with various federal (as well as state and local) regulations, and it is therefore wise for them to register their input on what those regulations will look like.

CARD Act Will Exempt Prepaid Phone Cards (Not Mobile Broadband/Internet Access)

Posted May 18, 2010

By Deborah S. Thoren-Peden, Greg L. Johnson
and Amy L. Pierce

5/18/2010
Prepaid "cards, codes and other devices" redeemable solely for telephone services are exempt from a new federal law that goes into effect August 22, 2010. However, if they can also be redeemed for related technology services, these products will (at least in most instances) be subject to provisions restricting fees, prohibiting expiration in less than five years, and imposing strict disclosure requirements if fees are charged or the products expire.

On March 23, 2010, the Federal Reserve Board ("Board") issued its Final Rule implementing Title IV of the federal Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, which was signed into law by President Obama on May 22, 2009 (collectively, the "CARD Act"). The CARD Act amends the federal Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA), and the Final Rule amends the EFTA's implementing regulation, Regulation E. It takes effect August 22, 2010. It applies to prepaid card products sold to a consumer on or after August 22, 2010, or provided to a consumer as a replacement for such product. State laws that are consistent with the CARD Act are not preempted, which means the CARD Act provides a minimum floor. State laws that provide greater protection for consumers are not inconsistent with the CARD Act.

The CARD Act restricts most fees and expiration dates on prepaid cards, and requires various disclosures if fees are charged or the products expire. This Advisory, one of several Advisories on the CARD Act, focuses on the exemption for cards, codes and other devices useable solely for telephone services (referred to collectively as "Prepaid Calling Cards").1 Companies that offer or issue Prepaid Calling Cards may be surprised to learn that if these products are also redeemable for related technology services, they will not qualify for this exemption. All persons involved in issuing or distributing Prepaid Calling Cards should review and potentially revise their disclosures, as well as their redemption policies and procedures.

Continue reading "CARD Act Will Exempt Prepaid Phone Cards (Not Mobile Broadband/Internet Access)"

Congress Passes Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010

Posted May 17, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

5/17/2010
The long strange trip of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act ("STELA" for short) seems finally to be ending. After satellite carriers' ability to import distant broadcast signals into stations' local markets expired on December 31, 2009, Congress passed a number of short-term extensions of the predecessor law, SHVERA. The Senate passed three different versions of the bill since late 2009. The House, with a lightning fast voice vote, accepted the Senate's last version unchanged and sent the legislation to the White House for a signature from the President. The President is expected to sign the bill shortly.

Reauthorization of Distant Signal Carriage For Five Years
STELA reauthorizes the provisions of SHVERA which allow satellite carriers to offer the signals of network stations from other markets to subscribers unable to receive their local network-affiliated stations over the air. It also updates the law to reflect the transition to digital television.

Expansion of Distant Signal Carriage Rights of Satellite Providers
A number of subtle revisions to the existing distant signal carriage provisions work together to increase the area into which satellite operators can import distant signals, and conversely, the area in which a local broadcaster can enjoy exclusive rights in the programming for which it has contracted with its program suppliers.

Continue reading "Congress Passes Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010"

Must-Carry: The Supreme Court Takes a Pass

Posted May 17, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

The U.S. Supreme Court today announced that it is declining to hear Cablevision's challenge to the must-carry rules, letting stand a Second Circuit ruling upholding the validity of the 1992 rules. Approximately 40% of broadcast stations rely on must-carry to ensure carriage on their local cable systems, with the remainder electing to negotiate retransmission terms for carriage. A closely divided Supreme Court affirmed the validity of the must-carry rules over a decade ago, but Cablevision sought to argue that things have changed since the days of cable monopolies, and that the rules can't be justified in a world where cable now competes with satellite and other providers for subscribers. However, the real change that Cablevision was banking on was the change in the composition of the Court, with two of the five justices that voted to affirm must-carry in 1997 having left the court, and a third affirming vote, Justice Stevens, having now announced his impending retirement.

Cablevision therefore had reason to think that its appeal, which in many regards was just a "do over" of the earlier unsuccessful challenge, had a chance with the Court's new mix of justices. What is interesting, and reassuring for broadcasters, is that for the Supreme Court to agree to hear an appeal requires the votes of only four justices, rather than a majority of the nine justices. Declining to hear the appeal means that not even four justices, much less a majority of the court, were interested in reviewing the Second Circuit's affirmation of the must-carry rules.

So what does that mean? Well, a true optimist from the broadcasters' perspective would hope it means that three or less justices question the validity of the must-carry rules, and that future appeals will have a very uphill battle to claim five votes in favor of overturning the rules. An optimist for the cable industry would argue that a lot of factors go into determining whether the Court should grant certiorari, only one of which is the likelihood of a resulting decision reversing the lower court. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle, and we may never find out whether the Court's decision to deny certiorari was a hard-fought internal battle over the merits of the appeal, or merely a simple vote where the justices expressed no appetite for revisiting the issue for any number of reasons.

In the meantime, must-carry remains the law of the land, and it will likely be a while before another appeal can work its way up through the system to reach the Supreme Court. As a result, broadcasters relying on must-carry rights can breath a sigh of relief, at least for now.

Court Gives Radio Stations a Break on ASCAP Fees

Posted May 14, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

Call it just a recessionary recess, but radio stations strapped by the tough (but finally improving) advertising market breathed a sigh of relief today. In a continuing battle between the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) and ASCAP over the music license fees paid by radio stations to the composers represented by ASCAP, US District Court Judge Denise Cote ruled that while the dispute is being resolved, the interim payments due ASCAP will be reduced by some $40 million dollars compared to the 2009 ASCAP fees.

The seeds of the dispute were first planted years ago, in economic boom days, when ASCAP fees were based upon a percentage of a radio station's revenues. The radio industry sought to slow the rapid rise in ASCAP fees resulting from economic growth in the radio industry. To accomplish this, the RMLC and ASCAP ultimately agreed on a flat rate fee structure not directly connected to station revenues.

You can guess what happened next. The economy plummeted, radio revenues plummeted, but the ASCAP flat rate fees did not. Suddenly those fees represented an ever larger percentage of station revenue, with the result that playing music was becoming a very pricey part of station operations. There are also additional complications in a digital world. Does your ASCAP license cover your station's audio stream on the Internet and elsewhere? How about those new HD multicast streams you're now transmitting?

With the hope of addressing the growing impact of ASCAP fees, as well as these related issues, the RMLC and ASCAP entered negotiations over the fees to be paid by radio stations in 2010 and beyond. When no agreement could be reached, the RMLC commenced a rate proceeding in the US District Court. While it may be years before that proceeding is concluded, the interim rate set by Judge Cote represents the rate that will apply going forward. It supersedes the temporary 7% rate reduction agreed to by the RMLC and ASCAP earlier, but is not retroactive to January 1, 2010. It will continue to apply until the rate proceeding is concluded and a new rate is established, at which point the new rate will be applied retroactive to January 1, 2010, and any upward or downward adjustment for fees already paid will be made.

In the meantime, radio stations should begin seeing reductions in their ASCAP bills in the coming months, which will provide a welcome bit of relief to cash-strapped stations.

Glenn Richards of Pillsbury to speak on "FCC vs. Comcast: The Roadblock Ahead", May 25th, 2010, at 12:00 Noon EDT

May 14, 2010

Glenn Richards and other distinguished panelists will discuss the U.S. Court of Appeal's reversal of the FCC's efforts to regulate how Comcast manages its network, the impact of this decision on implementing the National Broadband Plan, and the FCC's jurisdiction over Internet Service Providers and applications that run over the Internet. You can learn more about this audiocast and sign up by visiting this link.

Some LPTV Stations Have Must-Carry Rights Too

Posted May 11, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski

Given that low power television (LPTV) stations have been trying unsuccessfully for many years to obtain must-carry rights comparable to those enjoyed by full-power stations, it is often overlooked that some LPTVs do, in fact, have carriage rights. However, these must-carry rights are available only to a select few LPTV stations.

Specifically, an LPTV station is "qualified" for mandatory carriage only if: 1) it broadcasts at least the minimum number of hours required of full-power stations by the FCC's rules; 2) it meets all the obligations applicable to full-power television stations including, among other things, with respect to non-entertainment programming, and provides local news, informational and children's programming that addresses local needs that are not being met by full-power stations; 3) it complies with interference restrictions consistent with its secondary status; 4) it is located no more than 35 miles from the cable system's principal headend and delivers a good quality signal to that headend; 5) the community of license of the station and the franchise area of the cable system were both located outside the largest 160 markets on June 30, 1990 and the population of the community of license was not larger than 35,000 as of that date; and 6) there is no full power television station licensed to any community within the county served by the cable system.

The last two criteria are typically the most difficult obstacles for LPTV licensees to overcome, as cable systems are only required to carry LPTVs in the smallest of markets and, even in those areas, only when there is a dearth of full-power stations in the area. While the restrictions are difficult for most LPTV stations to meet, a recent FCC decision shows that it is not impossible. In that case (found here), digital LPTV station WRTN-LD, located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, was able to convince the FCC, over the objections of Comcast, that the station is a "qualified" LPTV station entitled to must-carry rights on Comcast's cable system. While Comcast argued that the station is part of the Nashville market and therefore ineligible for must-carry rights, the station was able to demonstrate that its service area was outside the Nashville market and that it met the other qualifying criteria.

This case serves as a reminder to all licensees to investigate options and not merely presume that no help is available at the FCC or elsewhere. For LPTV licensees in particular, a quick review of the LPTV carriage criteria above with respect to their own situation is well worth the effort involved.

FCC Supports Watching Movies at Home (to the Dismay of Theater Owners)

Posted May 7, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

While the FCC has traditionally steered clear of copyright issues, that has grown more difficult as the preferred method of content protection shifts from court actions to copyright protection built into the hardware. The FCC therefore found itself in the middle when Hollywood insisted that cable and satellite set-top boxes be designed so that programming could be embedded with code preventing the box from outputting the programming through any output unsecured against copying (principally analog outputs). Consumers and consumer electronics manufacturers fought back, noting that early generation DTV sets only had analog inputs, and that allowing programming to be restricted to the digital outputs of set-top boxes would deprive those early adopters of programming unless they bought new DTV sets.

In balancing the desire of Hollywood for an ironclad grip over its programming, and the adverse impact upon consumers just as the FCC was trying to persuade them to transition to digital television, the FCC prohibited the use of Selectable Output Control (SOC), but did not prohibit set-top boxes from being manufactured with SOC capability. The idea was that the FCC might later be presented with a business model requiring the use of SOC, and the FCC did not rule out the possibility of granting a waiver if the applicant could demonstrate that consumers would not be harmed by the use of SOC.

The FCC today released a decision partially granting a waiver request from the MPAA that would allow cable and satellite companies, at the request of the program provider, to use SOC to prevent set-top boxes from outputting recent theatrical HD movies over "unsecured" outputs. The business model proposed in the waiver request is the release of movies through Video on Demand services while those movies are potentially still in theaters, and long before they become available on DVD or Blu-Ray disc. The MPAA persuaded the FCC that studios would never release their content to home viewing this early in a film's marketing life unless assured that it wouldn't result in the content immediately being pirated over the analog outputs of set-top boxes.

In addition to the traditional opposition from consumer electronics manufacturers, who will face the wrath of consumers unable to get their components to work with the restricted outputs, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) also objected. They argued that such an early release model would undercut their business, and that "instant availability of films will reduce choice and limit the ability to develop 'sleeper' hits in movie theaters." Similarly, the Independent Film and Television Association (IFTA) asserted that SOC would reduce access to independently produced films.

The FCC chose, however, to grant a waiver, stating its belief that "home viewing will complement the services that NATO and IFTA members offer and provide access to motion pictures to those consumers who cannot or do not want to visit movie theaters." While the FCC has long claimed not to be in the business of picking winners and losers in its technology decisions, that loud groan you hear is theater owners concerned that they are about to be "complemented" out of business by an ever-improving (and now speedier) home viewing experience.

In an effort to prevent SOC from being abused, however, the FCC did not grant the open-ended waiver sought by the MPAA. For example, the FCC limited the time during which SOC restrictions can be applied to 90 days, or whenever the movie becomes available on prerecorded media, whichever comes first. It also prohibited SOC from being used to promote proprietary connections (by blocking output to acknowledged copyright-secure connections on retail devices in favor of a Hollywood-preferred connection). The FCC also made clear that if "companies taking advantage of this waiver market their offering in a deceptive or unpredictable manner that does not allow consumers to 'truly understand when, how, and why SOC is employed in a particular case'," the FCC "will not hesitate to revoke this waiver."

Finally, to prevent MPAA members from gaining an unfair advantage over other movie producers, the FCC is making the waiver available to any provider of first-run theatrical content that files an "Election to Participate" with the FCC. Such providers will be required to submit a detailed report to the FCC on their use of SOC two years from commencing use of SOC under the waiver so that the FCC can later assess whether the waiver needs to be modified or terminated. Whether the FCC will actually revisit the decision remains to be seen, but keeping its options open is likely a wise idea, as this is a decision that could well have cascading unintended consequences for all involved.

Chairman Genachowski's "Third Way" to Net Neutrality

Posted May 6, 2010

By John Hane

The press is buzzing with news, leaked late yesterday and announced today in a document entitled The Third Way: A Narrowly Tailored Broadband Framework, that FCC Chairman Genachowski is proposing to reclassify the transmission component of broadband Internet access as a "telecommunications service" subject to FCC regulation. As almost everyone in the telecom world knows, the US Court of Appeals recently found that the FCC does not have direct jurisdiction to impose "network neutrality" rules as long as it classifies broadband as just an "information service."

With the Chairman's support, three of the five FCC Commissioners now favor reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service, a first step towards adopting network neutrality rules.

For broadcasters, the net effect of net neutrality rules isn't as easy to assess as it may at first seem. As producers and distributors of broadband and mobile services, net neutrality rules should assure broadcasters that their content will not be blocked or unfairly degraded by broadband network operators. Broadcasters that provide mobile news apps and operate rich media web sites have the same general interest in nondiscriminatory network access as do Internet behemoths like Google, Amazon and eBay.

On the other hand, broadband providers have argued convincingly that their networks are extremely expensive to build and that they must have flexibility to manage Internet traffic on their networks to assure a good quality of service to their subscribers. If the FCC limits broadband operators' ability to manage traffic, those operators may have to upgrade their infrastructure, raising costs to web publishers and end users alike.

Mobile network operators assert that network neutrality rules could have proportionally greater adverse effects on them. Mobile network capacity is generally more costly and less robust than that of copper and fiber networks. If network neutrality rules increase the load on mobile networks and limit the ability of network operators to manage that traffic, their arguments that they need more spectrum to meet growing demand may be more convincing.

At this stage, no one knows how any proposed network neutrality rules would treat mobile broadband operators. However, it is plausible that aggressive network neutrality rules could increase the load on mobile networks, and mobile operators are sure to argue that they will need more spectrum to respond.

With broadcast spectrum already squarely in the sights of the same FCC that is now proposing to impose network neutrality rules, broadcasters should pay close attention to this debate.

Biennial Ownership Reports are due by June 1, 2010 for Noncommercial Educational Radio Stations in Michigan and Ohio, and for Noncommercial Educational Television Stations in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vi

Posted May 4, 2010

By Richard R. Zaragoza and Christine A. Reilly

The staggered deadlines for filing Biennial Ownership Reports by noncommercial educational radio and television stations remain in effect and are tied to their respective anniversary renewal filing deadlines.

Noncommercial educational radio stations licensed to communities in Michigan and Ohio, and noncommercial educational television stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming, must file their Biennial Ownership Reports by June 1, 2010.

Last year, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on, among other things, whether the Commission should adopt a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial educational radio and television broadcast stations like the one that the FCC has established for all commercial radio and television stations. That proceeding remains pending without decision. As a result, noncommercial educational radio and television stations continue to be required to file their biennial ownership reports every two years by the anniversary date of the station's license renewal filing.

Should there be any questions concerning this matter, please contact any of the attorneys in the Communications Practice.


The DISCLOSE Act: Nothing Good for Broadcast, Cable, and Satellite Operators

Posted April 29, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned various restrictions on political spending by corporations in the Citizens United decision, it set off a flurry of activity in Washington. Many, including famously the President in his State of the Union address, derided the decision as opening the political process to the corrupting influence of corporate cash. Many in Congress promised a swift legislative response to minimize the impact of the Court's ruling. Regardless of where you stand on the Court's decision, I have to say I was disturbed by a number of statements coming out of Capitol Hill afterwards which made clear that the speakers had no understanding of the laws already on the books relating to political advertising on electronic media. Some promised to change the law to what it actually already is (although they apparently didn't know it), and others pointed out "problems" that would result from the Citizens United ruling that current law already prohibits from occurring.

Grandstanding without basis is, however, a well-established Washington tradition, and I presumed that when legislative staffers got together to draft the legislation, they would quickly figure out that these criticisms and unneeded solutions had been off-base. I apparently was too optimistic. Today, Senator Schumer of New York unveiled the Senate version of the legislation (Senate link not yet available) at a news conference on the steps of the Supreme Court. The President publicly applauded the legislation, and the House has promised hearings within a week on its version of the bill in hopes of enacting it quickly enough to govern this Fall's elections. The DISCLOSE Act (the acronym for "Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections"), as its name indicates, requires ample disclosure when corporations or unions spend money on ads relating to a federal political campaign. Unfortunately, it does not stop there, and attempts to then rewrite political advertising laws contained in the Communications Act of 1934 that were not impacted by the Citizens United ruling. These changes appear to be an effort to require broadcasters, as well as cable and satellite operators, to subsidize the ads of not just candidates, but of their national political parties as well, in an effort to make their ad dollars go farther than those of a corporation exercising its rights under Citizens United.

Setting aside the wisdom or constitutionality of that approach, the rub is that the legislation was apparently drafted in such a rush that aspects of it quite literally make no sense. For example, the relevant section of the bill is entitled "TELEVISION MEDIA RATES", but it then amends the political advertising provisions of the Communications Act that affect both television and radio. Even if the impact on radio was unintended, the matter is further confused by a requirement that the FCC perform random political audits during elections of at least 15 DMAs of various sizes, and that each DMA audit include "each of the 3 largest television broadcast networks, 1 independent television network, 1 cable network, 1 provider of satellite services, and 1 radio network."

Similarly, the statutory exceptions to the requirement for providing equal time to a candidate's opponents when the candidate appears on-air would be amended to exclude certain appearances by a candidate's representative as a triggering event. However, since only the appearance of a candidate can trigger equal time in the first place, creating an exception for appearances by a candidate's representative serves no purpose.

Further indicating that the bill is premised on a misunderstanding of the current law, the Reasonable Access provisions of the Communications Act would be amended so that instead of FCC licensees being required to provide federal candidates with "reasonable amounts of time," they would be required to provide "reasonable amounts of time, including reasonable amounts of time purchased at the lowest unit charge ...." The premise of this change appears to be a lack of understanding that all time sold to a candidate in the 45 days before a primary and the 60 days before a general election must be sold at the lowest unit charge for that class of time. The broadcaster has no discretion to charge anything but the lowest unit charge during that time, making this change pointless as well.

A number of other odd provisions in the Senate version of the bill that would significantly impact media companies (and not just broadcasters) is discussed in an Advisory we issued to our clients earlier today. Two of particularly great concern would drastically reduce the lowest unit charge for political advertising while significantly expanding the pool of entities eligible to receive lowest unit charge. It is worth noting that none of these media-oriented provisions appear to be in the House version of the bill, so hopefully they will be excised from the Senate bill before any harm is done. Regardless, broadcasters, as well as cable and satellite providers, need to be vigilant to ensure that these provisions, if not eliminated outright, are at least heavily modified before any final bill emerges.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Posted April 29, 2010

By Scott R. Flick and Christine A. Reilly

April 2010
Recent FCC enforcement actions reported in this month's Enforcement Monitor include:

  • FCC Issues $30,000 and $12,000 Fines to Three Co-owned Commercial Television Stations and Three Co-owned Class A Television Stations for Failure to Publicize the Existence and Location of Their Quarterly Children's Television Programming Reports
  • FCC Fines Nonresponsive Texas Cable Operator $38,000 for Emergency Alert System and Antenna Structure Violations
  • FCC Fines Broadcasters $7,000 for Failure to Timely File License Renewal Applications and for Unauthorized Operation
  • Idaho Station Fined $4,000 for Failure to Fully Disclose All Material Terms of a Contest

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Who Owns Your Operation's Custom Software?

Posted April 28, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

One of the benefits of practicing law in a multifaceted law firm is the opportunity to work with lawyers in every area of law. It is always a good learning experience, as you get to explore the often hazy areas of law that dwell at the nexus of multiple practice areas. For example, many communications facilities, and particularly towers, create both environmental and communications law issues. Over the years, we have worked on numerous matters involving RF radiation and bird strike issues at transmission tower sites. Issues like that involve multiple governmental agencies and protocols, and it is great to have a mix of lawyers with the right experience to address the various aspects of such a problem.

I therefore read with interest an Advisory published today by Pillsbury Intellectual Property lawyers Jim Gatto, Cydney Tune, and Jenna Leavitt. While not directed specifically at communications companies, it discusses an IP matter that is certainly relevant to such companies. Like most businesses, those in the communications sector use a lot of off the shelf software. However, communications companies also license a lot of specialized software (e.g., traffic systems for ad placement), and often have to hire coders to adapt the software to their specific needs or to create entirely new software for highly specialized tasks. Sometimes, such entities have new software created because they are not satisfied with what is commercially available.

As a general rule, when you hire a contractor to produce a "work for hire", the copyright in that work remains with you rather than the contractor. However, in their Advisory with the catchy title Work Made for Hire Doctrine Does Not Generally Apply to Computer Software, the authors note that software does not fall under the types of works considered work for hire. As a result, the copyright in the software would remain with the contractor (even if the parties had agreed it would be a "work for hire") unless proper contracts are put in place to alter that result. The Advisory goes into detail on how this works and what the implications are, but suffice it to say that many communications companies may be surprised to learn that they don't hold the copyright in their own software.

This is not just an issue for large companies with complex computer systems and extensive programming. It applies just as readily to a small market radio station that asks a college student to design its website. Without the proper agreements in place, the copyright would remain with the student rather than the radio station. Now might be a good time to consider what software you have had contractors produce for your operation, and whether you know who actually owns it.

DISCLOSE Act Released in Response to Supreme Court's Citizens United Ruling; Senate Version Would Greatly Impact Broadcasters, Cable, and Satellite Television Operators

Posted April 28, 2010

By Clifford M. Harrington, Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

4/29/2010
Several members of Congress led by Senator Schumer and Congressman Van Hollen introduced today the "Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections" Act--the DISCLOSE Act. The House and Senate versions differ, with the Senate version vastly expanding eligibility for Lowest Unit Charge, reducing the Lowest Unit Charge, prohibiting preemption of political ads, and requiring the FCC to perform political audits of broadcasters, cable, and satellite operators.

The DISCLOSE Act is primarily aimed at reversing, to a large degree, the recent 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Court held that corporations, and by implication unions, have a constitutional right to make independent expenditures for advertising supporting or opposing the election of political candidates. As we reported in a Client Alert in January of this year, the decision opened the way for increased political advertising by invalidating limits on corporate political ad spending. The decision allows, among other things, corporations (and unions) to purchase airtime at any time to directly advocate for or against candidates for federal elective office. While the decision invalidated limits on corporate spending on political advertisements, it did retain certain disclosure and disclaimer requirements found in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

Continue reading "DISCLOSE Act Released in Response to Supreme Court's Citizens United Ruling; Senate Version Would Greatly Impact Broadcasters, Cable, and Satellite Television Operators"

Cell Phone Jamming: At the FCC, Silence Is Expensive

Posted April 26, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

For those tired of having their dinner conversations interrupted by others' cell phone calls, or watching movies in a theater by the light coming off the screens of nearby texters, technology has provided a solution. Unfortunately it is illegal.

In a recent decision, the FCC fined a company called Phonejammer.com $25,000 for marketing jamming equipment in the U.S. through its website, www.Phonejammer.com. The FCC discovered the violations when its field agents, responding to complaints from a cellphone service provider in Dallas, and a County's Sheriff's office in Florida, traced the interference in each case to a local business, and discovered that the proprietor had purchased and was operating a Phonejammer unit acquired through the website. Unfortunately, the FCC's decision does not indicate the type of businesses that were using the Phonejammer, so it is not clear if they were restaurants, theaters, or just businesses tired of their employees texting their friends all day.

Under the Communications Act, it is illegal to sell jamming equipment because of the harm done, both intentionally and otherwise, to electronic communications. While putting an end to loud cell phone calls in upscale restaurants, or to students texting in class, might sound appealing to managers of such places, the interference to communications cannot easily be confined to just that location. Of course, the problems with jamming are not limited to just unintentional interference to nearby areas. There are similar issues affecting the business location seeking to jam calls. You can imagine what would happen if a patron had a heart attack on the premises and the emergency response was delayed when other patrons' cell phone calls to 911 couldn't get through.

Because of these concerns, the U.S. has always strictly prohibited the marketing of jamming devices, and not even police are permitted to use jammers. To appreciate the extent of the government's concern with jamming, note that jamming equipment is not permitted even in prisons, where smuggled cellphones have caused unrelenting headaches for prison officials, with some inmates continuing to manage criminal enterprises via cell phone while still in prison.

That may be about to change, however. The Senate last year passed S.251, the Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009, to permit targeted jamming of cell phone service within prisons. While it has not yet been approved by the House of Representatives, support for the idea has been strong. As with most well-intentioned ideas, however, the question is what unintended consequences will be involved, particularly if the jammers are not carefully monitored and regulated. For example, will a highway that passes a prison inevitably be a cellular dead zone for passing commuters, or will the technology, once permitted, be refined to largely eliminate unintended interference (if that is possible)? Again, it may be a minor annoyance to lose a call when driving by a prison, but a serious traffic accident in that area can make reliable cell phone service a life and death issue.

Retransmission Consent Isn't Broken, So Why Fix It?

Posted April 19, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski and Scott R. Flick

Last week, we listened to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski speak at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. One topic he made a point to discuss was the recent Petition filed by cable and satellite companies arguing that the retransmission consent process is unfair, and asking the government to intervene in private contractual disputes to decide how broadcasters can and cannot negotiate carriage deals, including mandating arbitration of disputes and requiring stations to permit "interim carriage" of their programming while negotiations are ongoing. However, the issue is not stations "yanking" their signals from cable and satellite operators while negotiations drag on, but the failure of operators to secure the right to retransmit the programming when their current retransmission agreement expires, as the Communications Act requires. Indeed, it is the same basic contractual process that cable and satellite operators go through when seeking to extend carriage of non-broadcast networks, except that non-broadcast networks wield nationwide control over access to their programming, whereas broadcasters wield such control only in individual markets.

While the Chairman did say in his speech that the marketplace is the "preferred method" for resolving disputes that come up during negotiations, he also referenced the Petition's claim that broadcasters were to blame for a rise in cable fees, stating: "Some ask: Is free TV really free when cable rates go up because of retransmission fees?"

However, that rhetorical question is just that -- rhetorical. Free TV can only survive as free TV if it is financially able to produce/compete for the programming also sought by non-broadcast networks. The only way that is possible in a 500-channel world is for broadcast stations to have the dual revenue stream (advertising and retransmission fees) enjoyed by their non-broadcast competitors. Only by being financially viable can broadcast stations remain as a free alternative for those wishing to "cut the cable" or "dump the dish." In fact, as digital multicasting allows stations to deliver multiple free programming streams, free TV becomes a more attractive option and a more effective check on rising cable rates.

Unlike a cable network, a broadcaster can never "yank its signal" from the public when retransmission negotiations falter and what often seems to be missing from the debate is that the public does not "lose" a TV station's signal when it is dropped by a cable system during a retransmission consent dispute because the signal is available to viewers for free over the air. The law merely prohibits a cable or satellite operator from reselling broadcast programming to viewers if the operator itself is unwilling to pay the going rate for it. In that regard, it is no different than any other business transaction, except that the public can always choose to "avoid the middleman" and obtain the programming directly from the television station (for free) by using an antenna. In this context, and particularly in light of the extreme rarity of program disruptions occurring during retransmission negotiations, cable and satellite operators have a difficult challenge making the case that carriage negotiations with broadcast stations are significantly different than carriage negotiations with cable networks.

The fundamental difference between these negotiations is mostly one of degree -- broadcast programming tends to regularly be among the most popular programming, making it more valuable to those wishing to resell it to their subscribers. However, broadcast programming will only remain popular if broadcasters continue to earn the revenues necessary to produce and purchase such programming. A cynical observer might therefore conclude that the desire to prevent broadcasters from receiving a share of subscription revenues commensurate with audience ratings is only partially about reducing cable and satellite systems' operating costs, and just as much about keeping those revenues out of the hands of those who compete with cable and satellite for ad sales and audience. Systems overpaying for fringe cable networks while underpaying for far more popular broadcast programming harms free local TV without any countervailing benefit (unless you are the owner of a fringe cable network).

Also, the problem with forcing interim carriage during negotiations (aside from the fact that its a violation of the Communications Act) is that the continued availability of a station's programming for retransmission is not, as cable/satellite operators frequently claim, an unfair "bargaining chip" used by broadcasters in retransmission negotiations -- it is the entire point of the negotiation. Requiring that broadcast programming continue to be made available at last year's rate during negotiations, as the Petition urges, provides cable operators with an obvious incentive to drag out the negotiations as long as possible rather than bring them to a rapid conclusion and begin paying the current rate. Imposing an interim carriage requirement would actually destabilize retransmission negotiations, as broadcasters would be forced to declare the negotiations terminated in order to end the interim carriage and hopefully force the cable/satellite operator back to a serious negotiation. Encouraging cable/satellite operators to delay negotiations long past the expiration of their existing retransmission agreements, and then forcing broadcasters to declare an official end to the negotiations as the only way of ending lower cost interim carriage and forcing a serious offer from the cable/satellite operator, is inherently more likely to result in carriage disruptions than the current process.

Like homeowners in a buyer's market, cable and satellite operators are no doubt unhappy that market conditions are currently less in their favor compared to the "good old days", but that hardly makes the market "broken" or "unfair." Trying to fix something that isn't broken is a surefire way to break it badly, and it is the public that would be forced to pick up the pieces.

Blair Levin to Leave the FCC

Posted April 16, 2010

By John Hane

Blair Levin, who headed the FCC's Omnibus Broadband Initiative (OBI) for the past year and who was the principle architect of the National Broadband Plan, announced yesterday that he's leaving the FCC on May 7 to join the Aspen Institute, a large and prestigious think tank.

Levin created the OBI from scratch. He moved in to the FCC, but he hired many new staff. He adopted new procedures for gathering public input, including blogging, "staff workshops", and what amounted to frequent cold calls to people in business and academia to solicit views and information. The OBI was not your father's FCC proceeding!

Levin also drew a dauntingly broad scope for the effort, and the OBI staff continued to expand that scope almost until the last minute. The proceeding, and the Plan, addressed broadband technology, deployment, services, adoption, financing, and usage. It asked how broadband affects other institutions and industries, from broadcasting, cable, wireless, and voice services to education, politics, energy and the environment, to name just a few.

Levin's efforts drew enthusiastic support from some quarters and criticism from others. Some disliked his unorthodox procedural approach and others welcomed it. Some who agreed with his positions questioned his procedures, and vice versa. Whatever one thinks of the procedure or the recommendations, the National Broadband Plan is a remarkable document - comprehensive, polished and beautifully written and presented.

The most polarizing issue was a proposal to reallocate broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband use. I've questioned some aspects of the broadband plan, especially whether proponents of more broadband spectrum have really made their case. But I've been awed by Levin's ability to "shake things up" in a town where the status quo can last for decades.

Reactions to Levin's announcement have been as mixed as views of the National Broadband Plan. I'm disappointed to see him go. Levin is one of the smartest, hardest working, most effective, and best-intentioned people to work at the FCC (and that's a big club). I disagree with some of his views, but I've never doubted his sincerity or the honesty of his motives.

Levin didn't start the debate over broadcast spectrum - that began in the 1980s - and it won't end on May 7. But he focused the issue and gave it legs. The country is now having a debate about the future of broadcasting that would have seemed unthinkable a year ago.

I'm an optimist -- perhaps a delusional optimist. But if downsizing the nation's broadcasting service is suddenly thinkable today, maybe real deregulation of broadcasting, including much-needed ownership reform, is also thinkable. The FCC's Future of Media proceeding essentially asks that question.

I've harbored hope that ongoing engagement on "the spectrum issue" will eventually lead to grounds-up rethinking of the broadcast ownership rules. Broadcast regulation needs some serious shaking up, and the constituencies around many of those regulations are honed in the art of the status quo. Levin demonstrated an uncanny ability to reset people's conceptions about what is and isn't achievable. Broadcasters could use some of that energy focused on ownership rules which artificially limit their participation in a digital broadband future. He's leaving, but perhaps someone will learn from Levin how to pull off something as ambitious as repealing anachronistic broadcast regulations. I hope so. And I hope the Aspen Institute knows what it's getting into!

FCC Proposes FY 2010 Annual Regulatory Fees

Posted April 15, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski

Death, taxes ... and FCC annual regulatory fees. Its that time of year again and the FCC has issued its latest annual Notice of Proposed Rulemaking containing regulatory fee proposals for Fiscal Year 2010. Those who wish to file comments on the FCC's proposed fees must do so by May 4, 2010 with reply comments due by May 11, 2010.

For one of the few times in recent history, the annual fee amount the FCC is proposing to collect is actually less than the amount from a previous year. Consistent with this, and with a few exceptions, most of this year's fees are the same or less than last year's fees for all AM, FM, and television stations, as are the fee amounts for LPTV, Class A, translator, booster, and broadcast auxiliary licenses.

One big change in this year's fee proposals is the elimination of the exemption for digital stations to pay fees now that the DTV transition has ended. Going forward, all digital full-service television stations will be required to pay a full license fee, including those stations that were operating pursuant to digital Special Temporary Authority as of October 1, 2009. It is also important to point out that the Commission is proposing to charge only a single fee for each low power or Class A facility simulcasting in both digital and analog.

The Communications Section will shortly be publishing a full Advisory on the proposed Reg Fees, including fee tables and charts for you to use to calculate your payments that will be due later this year.

Rethinking the Spectrum Crisis

Posted April 12, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

Here at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, you can hardly attend a session where the National Broadband Plan's proposal to reallocate 120 MHz of television spectrum to wireless broadband is not a major topic of discussion. As we mentioned in a posting last week, and based on the discussions here at NAB, it is increasingly clear that there is indeed a spectrum crisis. However, the crisis relates not to a shortage of spectrum, but to a growing crisis of confidence that the FCC looked at the full record in reaching its dire conclusion that the spectrum sky is falling (seemingly on broadcasters).

In a commentary in today's TVNewsCheck (free registration) by our Pillsbury colleague and resident skeptic John Hane entitled The Emperor's New Spectrum Crisis, John follows up on our discussion last week of Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg's statement that he doesn't see a looming spectrum crisis, and is confident that issues of wireless capacity can and will be addressed through technological developments rather than through reallocating broadcast spectrum.

John's commentary, which is a compelling read, focuses not on Mr. Seidenberg's statement, but on the somewhat surprising response to it in a blog post by FCC Chief of Staff Edward Lazarus. The post says the record in the National Broadband Plan proceeding shows "overwhelming" agreement that America needs more broadband spectrum, and pretty much indicates total befuddlement that Mr. Seidenberg could disagree. However, John's commentary discusses numerous sources in the record of the broadband proceeding and elsewhere that challenge that conclusion.

I won't give away the ending, because John's commentary deserves a full read rather than just a summary by me. However, it does make one wonder if the dedicated team at the FCC behind the National Broadband Plan -- obviously big fans of broadband and the Internet -- aren't falling prey to that most common of Internet phenomena, groupthink. Victims of groupthink tend to congregate with those of similar views, and when faced with information that conflicts with those views, prefer to reflexively reject that information as wrong rather than seeking to integrate it into their analysis and then revise their conclusions accordingly.

There certainly will be demand for additional wireless broadband spectrum in the future, just as there is currently demand for more spectrum for existing technologies, and will be in the future for technologies yet unimagined. However, demand for spectrum and a spectrum crisis are two very different things. The first has existed since Marconi came upon the scene, and the second has never come to pass, with technology always jumping in to avert such a result. By seeking to fling immense quantities of spectrum at broadband, the FCC would actually discourage this ingenuity and the development of more spectrum-efficient broadband technologies. History has shown repeatedly that a resource will only be fully exploited if the supply is limited. Abundance leads to waste, and 500 MHz of spectrum is abundance of the first order.

If the spectrum to be provided was currently unused, you could argue that the harm is theoretical. However, where a major portion of the spectrum would come from a lifeline service available at no cost to all Americans, you have to be sure that every bit of that spectrum is needed, and not just wanted, by the broadband industry. When a major figure in the broadband industry tells you the spectrum isn't needed, it is worth considering whether that aspect of the National Broadband Plan needs revisiting.

Another Downside of Downsizing

Posted April 12, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

Like many other FCC license holders, broadcast stations constantly navigate numerous laws and regulations while filing a multitude of reports and applications by required deadlines. Many of these are required quarterly, but some are annual, biennial, quadrennial, or octennial (once every eight years, and the only time I'll get to use that word this year). While stations are usually very good about completing their quarterly reports, the less frequent reports require a special level of attention or they can be forgotten in the rush of business.

In the past few months, I have noticed a surge in calls from stations wanting to talk to a lawyer because they have belatedly discovered that they failed to create multiple reports over the past few years. I've received these types of calls regularly for more than two decades, but the accelerated pace of these calls definitely caught my attention. When a station calls the lawyer in a panic after making this discovery, the lawyer's first job is to talk them down off the ledge. In the case of small station groups, you are often talking directly to the owner, who is rightly concerned about the direct financial impact of fines and license renewal challenges. With larger groups, it is often a GM worried about his or her future employment if the problem spins out of control. Fortunately, if addressed promptly, the damage can be greatly limited or avoided.

What is interesting, however, is that the common thread in nearly every one of these calls was the downsizing of the station employee "who did all that" before the problem commenced. While the recent "mega-recession" resulted in downsizing in nearly every industry, the precipitous drop in advertising revenues caused tremendous downsizing in the media industry. As downsizing usually requires that one person do the work formerly handled by multiple people, it is not surprising that a report that is required to be filed once a year, or only during odd-numbered years, gets lost in the mix. Of course, the loss of institutional memory is always a problem when an employee departs. However, the problem is intensified in a downsizing, where the departing employee is not too happy with the soon-to-be-former employer, and is probably not feeling very enthusiastic about training their successor.

As a result, while it is always wise to vigilantly monitor regulatory due dates and keep them on a multi-year calendar, it is equally important to ensure after a downsizing that there remains one employee who is clearly charged with ensuring that the required reports/filings are timely completed. You also need to ensure that employee has not just the responsibility of getting the job done, but the training and resources to make it happen. A top-notch conscientious employee who has no idea what an EEO Midterm Report is, and when that particular station's report is due, is of little use.

Focusing a little bit of attention on that issue now will save you loads of distraction later when you try to undo the damage. Keep in mind that where a missed report may result in a fine, a missed license renewal application (the "once in eight years" filing for broadcasters) has caused the FCC to delete the station from its database and charge the licensee with illegal operation for the time it operated the station after its license expired. It's best not to find that out firsthand.

Are the Broadband Headwinds Lessening for Broadcasters?

Posted April 9, 2010

By Paul A. Cicelski and Scott R. Flick

This week saw generally positive news for television broadcasters on the broadband front. First, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the FCC does not currently have authority to regulate the network management policies of Internet providers. Aside from the fact that the Court's ruling challenged the FCC's ability to require Internet providers to treat all network traffic equally, i.e., to apply "net neutrality," the decision also calls into question key aspects of the FCC's ambitious National Broadband Plan, many of which assumed the FCC had broad authority to regulate the Internet. Because the Court struck at the very heart of the National Broadband Plan, the Court's decision may undermine other aspects of the plan, including its controversial proposal to reclaim 120 MHz of spectrum from television broadcasters that we discussed in a previous post.

Another shifting wind came in the form of Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, who publicly stated he does not believe there is going to be as great a spectrum shortage as the FCC predicts, and that "confiscating [TV] spectrum and repurposing it for other things, I'm not sure I buy into the idea that that's a good thing to do," and adding "I think the market's going to settle this. So in the long term, if we can't show that we have applications and services to utilize that spectrum better than the broadcasters, then the broadcasters will keep the spectrum."

It is unclear whether the Commission will appeal the Court's decision, and broadcasters still have a long way to go before they can breathe easier about their spectrum being repurposed for auction to wireless companies. Still, after being forced headfirst into a gale force national debate over the "best use" of their spectrum, any calming of those winds is certainly welcome.

While all this is good news for broadcasters, the FCC certainly isn't giving up and going home. Just today, the FCC released its "Broadband Action Agenda" setting the timing for more than 60 rulemakings and other notice-and-comment proceedings, including a rulemaking involving broadcast spectrum reclamation scheduled for the Third Quarter of 2010. While the FCC's authority over the Internet may be up in the air, it continues to exercise vast authority over broadcasters. One dark scenario (for everyone) is that the FCC rushes forward and reclaims broadcast spectrum, only to have its National Broadband Plan collapse before being implemented. In that situation, the damage to the public's broadcast service would be done, the spectrum would still be auctioned, but likely with reduced demand (and excessive supply) driving down auction revenues for the government, and the public ending up no closer to the broadband nirvana envisioned by the FCC's proposal.

Stay tuned, as this is a story that will be unfolding for quite a while.

John Hane of Pillsbury to Speak at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, Thursday, April 15, 2010, on Mobile Media

April 9, 2010

The event takes place between 10:30 AM-11:45 AM in N236 and will include a discussion of the potential for mobile media, whether it be broadcast DTV transmitted to mobile platforms, or programming delivered via apps on mobile phone operating systems, or via mobile phone web browsers. Other questions will include: what are the legal and intellectual property issues; what are the possible business models; is there going to be media content specific to mobile platforms; is this just an alternate channel of delivery for standard television content; or is this a new industry in the making?

FCC Announces New Ownership Report Form for Commercial Broadcast Stations and a July 8, 2010 Filing Deadline

Posted April 8, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

Death, taxes, and ownership reports: all three are unavoidable, but broadcasters had a brief respite from the last one. That respite has now come to an end.

One of the joys of being a broadcast licensee is filing biennial ownership reports detailing the extended ownership structure of each station. These reports used to be called Annual Ownership Reports and were filed, appropriately enough, annually. In an effort to reduce the amount of paperwork flowing between licensees and the FCC, the requirement changed in 1999 from an annual to a biennial one. That created endless confusion, as any particular station's filing deadline was generally dictated by where it was located. Radio stations in one state would file by April 1 of odd-numbered years, while radio stations in a different state would be required to file by June 1 of even-numbered years. In fact, even TV and radio stations in the same state were required to file in different years.

Because of exceptions to the general rule on filing deadlines (too boring to discuss here), even the FCC had difficulty determining whether a station had been properly filing its ownership reports on time. As a result, the FCC adopted new filing rules in May 2009 establishing November 1 of odd-numbered years as the national ownership report filing date for all commercial broadcast stations. It also introduced a new form requiring more detailed information than in the past, required formerly exempt entities to file reports, and required that the information be entered electronically and repeatedly into the FCC's filing system for each attributable owner in the ownership chain.

Previously, licensees with complex ownership structures would create a single exhibit describing the complete ownership structure and other media ownership interests, which was then attached to the ownership report for every entity in the chain of ownership. Because the new electronic ownership report form would not allow such attachments, stations (well, let's be honest; station's lawyers) were required to reenter the data for each and every ownership report. The reports for even midsize station groups could take months to complete. Initially, the FCC postponed the filing deadline (twice!) to give licensees time to fill out the voluminous reports, but as the FCC's electronic filing system started to whimper from the volume of data being entered, the FCC postponed the deadline until the form could be reworked to solve the worst of the problems. For those interested, you can read our advisories and alerts from the time here, here, here, here, here, and here (you begin to appreciate the scope of the problem!).

A few hours ago, the FCC announced that a revamped ownership report form is now available which resolves the repetitive data entry issue by incorporating a spreadsheet that, once filled out, can be copied into multiple ownership reports. With the availability of the new form, the FCC also announced that all commercial broadcast stations, including Class A and LPTV stations, must file their reports on the new form by July 8, 2010. For those interested in the details of the new Form 323 and spreadsheet, you can read our Client Alert on the new form, and ponder whether a similar eight month postponement of death or taxes might also be possible.

Commercial Broadcast Stations, Including Class A and LPTV Stations, Must File Biennial Ownership Reports on New Form 323 by July 8, 2010

Posted April 8, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

4/8/2010
The FCC's Media Bureau has announced that a new version of the Biennial Ownership Report Form for commercial broadcast stations, FCC Form 323, will be available on its website as of April 9, 2010. All commercial broadcast station owners must file their biennial ownership reports using the new form by July 8, 2010. However, the data used to complete the form must be accurate as of November 1, 2009.

The FCC originally announced its intent to implement a new version of the Form 323 in an Order released in May 2009 as part of its Promoting Diversification in the Broadcasting Services proceeding. The revision required, among other things, that each holder of a direct or indirect attributable interest in a licensee secure an FCC-issued Federal Registration Number ("FRN"). The revision also mandated that information regarding attributable interest holders and their other broadcast interests be reported repeatedly and in a precisely structured manner. As a result, the number of reports and the time to complete each report increased dramatically for many broadcasters with the ultimate result that the FCC's electronic filing system ground to a near halt and did not reliably save information entered into it. Based on these technical difficulties, the FCC stayed the filing obligation until it could improve the functioning of the form to account for these difficulties.

The FCC sent its revisions to the form to the Office of Management and Budget ("OMB") for approval on March 25, and OMB approved the modified form on March 26. The revised form uses a new XML Spreadsheet template that will allow information to be entered into the spreadsheet and then uploaded to the form, thereby reducing the time and effort needed to enter the data. The spreadsheet must be downloaded from the FCC form and comes with detailed instructions regarding the proper use of the XML Spreadsheet. Of particular note are the following:

  • The XML Spreadsheet comes with 25 empty rows for data entry that contain embedded validation codes necessary for the proper functioning of the form. Any licensee needing more than 25 lines must copy and paste the original 25 lines as many times as necessary and not create new lines.
  • The XML Spreadsheet must be saved with an .xml extension, not the .xls or .xlsx extensions that the Excel program will assign by default.
  • Licensees must not change or delete any data in Cell B1.
  • Information must be entered in all capital letters.

The new version of the form also retains the requirement that each attributable interest holder secure an FRN. The instructions state that where, after a good faith effort, a licensee is unable to secure an interest holder's social security number, which is needed to complete the FRN registration process, a button on the form will allow the licensee to secure a Special Use FRN. The instructions to the form state that the Special Use FRN can only be used for the Biennial Ownership Report filing, and not for any other filing, such as a post-consummation Ownership Report filing.

The Commission's May 2009 Order also adopted November 1 as a new uniform reporting date for all commercial stations nationwide, regardless of the station's license renewal filing anniversary (the deadline previously used by the FCC). Because the original November 1, 2009 filing requirement was stayed while the form was revised, the reports filed by the new July 8, 2010 deadline must still reflect the ownership data as it existed November 1, 2009.

The substantial difference in time between the new filing deadline and the time for which ownership information is being reported leads to some interesting questions. For example, where a station has been sold since November 2009, should the report be filed under the name of the new licensee or the prior licensee. If it is to be filed by the new licensee, how will the FCC deal with the fact that the new licensee may not have any personal knowledge of the prior licensee's November 2009 ownership structure? These questions may be answered by a follow up public notice from the FCC, but if not, we will be pursuing them with the FCC's staff.

Continue reading "Commercial Broadcast Stations, Including Class A and LPTV Stations, Must File Biennial Ownership Reports on New Form 323 by July 8, 2010"

The Launch of CommLawCenter.com - Pillsbury v.2.0 or Fisher Wayland v.4.0?

April 1, 2010

Posted April 1, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

The fact that you are reading this tells us that you have found your way to CommLawCenter.com, our effort to simplify the gathering of information and resources relating to the communications industry, particularly regarding its legal aspects. CommLawCenter is an effort to step outside the normal confines of law firm websites and memoranda to address breaking news more directly and quickly by bringing everything under one roof. In structuring the site, we have tried to make it as flexible as possible so that it can improve where possible and adapt where needed. As it grows, we hope that you become a part of it, contributing your thoughts and advice on its continuous refinement.

But first, a bit of background: the core of Pillsbury's communications law practice is a group of attorneys who have practiced together for many years. Most of us began our practices at a communications law boutique named Fisher Wayland Cooper & Leader. Fisher Wayland, as it was popularly known, was founded in 1934 as one of the nation's first communications law firms by Ben S. Fisher of the Federal Radio Commission - the predecessor agency of the FCC.

The creation of the Federal Communications Commission that same year marked a new approach by the federal government to regulating the rapidly expanding segments of the communications industry. Since that time, communications technologies have improved and multiplied at an amazing pace, with Fisher Wayland, and now Pillsbury, lawyers involved at every turn: the launch of FM radio, broadcast television, cable television, satellite distribution, cellular telephone service, space-based consumer entertainment technologies, and an explosion of Internet-based communications services in recent years. In recognition of this, USA Today once described Fisher Wayland as "among the most venerable" of communications law firms.

Times change, however, and nowhere is that more true than in the communications industry. As the industry moved toward integration and consolidation, communications law boutiques needed to provide an ever-broader array of services to these expanding clients, leading many of them to merge with large and diverse firms capable of tackling any legal issue imaginable.

Why are we telling you this? Well, it was ten years ago today that Fisher Wayland merged into Shaw Pittman Potts and Trowbridge, and five years ago today that Shaw Pittman merged into Pillsbury. The result is a truly national (actually, international) firm whose lawyers remember well that it is the personal relationships (and cool technology) that make communications such a personally rewarding field in which to practice. It is therefore fitting that we are launching CommLawCenter on this anniversary. From snail mail, to fax, to email, to web distribution, to this site, our efforts to keep clients and friends informed over the past 75 years have been an ever-evolving process. CommLawCenter will allow that audience to access our content more quickly and easily than ever before. We hope you will visit us regularly, and whether you look at it as Pillsbury v.2.0 or Fisher Wayland v.4.0, that you join us at CommLawCenter as we continue to explore what the next iteration of the communications industry will look like.

Subscribe to CommLawCenter.com

The Launch of CommLawCenter.com - Pillsbury v.2.0 or Fisher Wayland v.4.0?

Posted April 1, 2010

By Scott R. Flick

The fact that you are reading this tells us that you have found your way to CommLawCenter.com, our effort to simplify the gathering of information and resources relating to the communications industry, particularly regarding its legal aspects. CommLawCenter is an effort to step outside the normal confines of law firm websites and memoranda to address breaking news more directly and quickly by bringing everything under one roof. In structuring the site, we have tried to make it as flexible as possible so that it can improve where possible and adapt where needed. As it grows, we hope that you become a part of it, contributing your thoughts and advice on its continuous refinement.

But first, a bit of background: the core of Pillsbury's communications law practice is a group of attorneys who have practiced together for many years. Most of us began our practices at a communications law boutique named Fisher Wayland Cooper & Leader. Fisher Wayland, as it was popularly known, was founded in 1934 as one of the nation's first communications law firms by Ben S. Fisher of the Federal Radio Commission - the predecessor agency of the FCC.

The creation of the Federal Communications Commission that same year marked a new approach by the federal government to regulating the rapidly expanding segments of the communications industry. Since that time, communications technologies have improved and multiplied at an amazing pace, with Fisher Wayland, and now Pillsbury, lawyers involved at every turn: the launch of FM radio, broadcast television, cable television, satellite distribution, cellular telephone service, space-based consumer entertainment technologies, and an explosion of Internet-based communications services in recent years. In recognition of this, USA Today once described Fisher Wayland as "among the most venerable" of communications law firms.

Times change, however, and nowhere is that more true than in the communications industry. As the industry moved toward integration and consolidation, communications law boutiques needed to provide an ever-broader array of services to these expanding clients, leading many of them to merge with large and diverse firms capable of tackling any legal issue imaginable.

Why are we telling you this? Well, it was ten years ago today that Fisher Wayland merged into Shaw Pittman Potts and Trowbridge, and five years ago today that Shaw Pittman merged into Pillsbury. The result is a truly national (actually, international) firm whose lawyers remember well that it is the personal relationships (and cool technology) that make communications such a personally rewarding field in which to practice. It is therefore fitting that we are launching CommLawCenter on this anniversary. From snail mail, to fax, to email, to web distribution, to this site, our efforts to keep clients and friends informed over the past 75 years have been an ever-evolving process. CommLawCenter will allow that audience to access our content more quickly and easily than ever before. We hope you will visit us regularly, and whether you look at it as Pillsbury v.2.0 or Fisher Wayland v.4.0, that you join us at CommLawCenter as we continue to explore what the next iteration of the communications industry will look like.

Subscribe to CommLawCenter.com

Pending Applications for New Analog Low Power Television and TV Translator Stations Must Be Amended to Specify Digital Operation

Posted March 25, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

3/25/2010
Amendments must be filed by May 24, 2010. A $705 filing fee is required.

The FCC released a Public Notice today identifying several hundred pending applications for new analog LPTV or TV Translator stations that must be amended to specify digital operation. A copy of the FCC public notice is available at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-10-496A1.pdf. The Public Notice indicates that applications that are not amended will not be processed. The amendments must be filed electronically, along with a filing fee of $705.00 per application. Most of the listed applications were filed in a window held in 2000 and were filed in paper. The deadline to amend these applications is May 24, 2010.

The Public Notice states that this action is being taken in furtherance of the nationwide transition to digital television. However, the staff's National Broadband Plan released last week urged the FCC to set a dead¬line by which all analog LPTV and TV Translator stations must convert to digital operation. This action appears to be a first step in that process. Accordingly, LPTV and TV Translator stations should be alert to the possibility of a further Public Notice establishing a similar transition requirement for existing stations.

A PDF version of this article can be found at Pending Applications for New Analog Low Power Television and TV Translator Stations Must Be Amended to Specify Digital Operation.

Despite Numerous Changes in FCC Leadership and Several Court Decisions Over the Years, the Ultimate Future of the FCC's Multiple and Cross-Ownership Limits Remains Unclear

Posted March 24, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

In the latest chapter of what seems like a never ending saga of the Commission's effort to adopt new ownership rules, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently lifted its stay of the FCC's revised cross-ownership rules adopted in 2007, which immediately allows the FCC to presume that common ownership of a daily newspaper and a broadcast station in the Top 20 television markets is in the public interest. The Court's decision, for the first time since 1975, effectively allows the common ownership of a full-power broadcast station and a daily newspaper in the same geographic market.

In 2003, the Chairman Powell-led Commission undertook what was ultimately a highly controversial review of all of its broadcast ownership rules. With respect to newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, the Commission concluded that newspapers and broadcast stations do not compete in the same economic market and that continuation of the cross-ownership ban made no sense except in the smallest markets. Before the re-write of the broadcast rules took effect, it was challenged by various parties in the Third Circuit. The Court, in the well-known Prometheus Radio Project decision, stayed the effectiveness of the re-written rules. Despite the stay, the Court actually agreed with the Commission that a blanket ban on broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership was no longer warranted, so the Court remanded the FCC's ownership limits back to the agency for further justification.

In response to the Court's order, the Commission in 2007, this time led by Chairman Martin, once again decided that a complete newspaper/broadcast cross ownership ban did not make sense. It fashioned a rule that presumed that waiver of the ban is waived in the public interest in certain limited circumstances. The FCC said that it would review combinations involving a daily newspaper and either one radio station or one television station in the Top 20 markets on a case-by-case basis, and presume that they were in the public interest, so long as, in the case of television/newspaper combinations, the television station was not a Top-4 ranked station, and at least 8 independent "major media voices" would remain in the market. Combinations in markets outside of the Top 20 would be presumed to not be in the public interest, unless a showing could be made that overcame the presumption.

Again, before that rule could take effect, it was appealed and the Third Circuit continued to stay it. When the leadership of the FCC changed again in 2009, the new Chairman Genachowski-led Commission told the Court that relaxation of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban adopted by the previous Martin-led Commission does not necessarily reflect the view of a majority of the current Commission. The leadership also asked the Court to continue to hold off ruling on the Martin Commission's version of the rule until this Commission could complete its Congressionally-mandated review of the broadcast ownership rules in 2010. Despite that request, the Court lifted its stay and ordered that initial briefs in connection with the Martin Commission revisions to its ownership rules be filed by May 17, 2010.

As a result, the FCC's relaxed newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule adopted in 2007 is now in effect. Broadcast/newspaper combinations can now be reviewed and granted on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the standard described above. However, before trying to enter into a new cross-ownership combination, interested parties should keep in mind that the current Commission is on record as being wary of the Martin-era version of the rule, so any hope that the current Commission is in a hurry to review any proposed combos might be misplaced. They should also realize that the Martin-era rule is subject to the Third Circuit's review, and that it is unclear precisely how, and when (if ever), this rule's more than thirty-five year saga will end.

The National Broadband Plan: Understanding the Proposed Reallocation of Broadcast Spectrum and What It Means for All Users of Spectrum

Posted March 22, 2010

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick

3/22/2010
Businesses dependent on spectrum should be alert to FCC trend toward greater frequency sharing and incumbent dislocation.

Introduction
The FCC's staff has released its long-awaited National Broadband Plan ("NBP"). As expected, the NBP includes controversial proposals to reclaim 120 MHz of spectrum from television broadcasters. Another spectrum reallocation, involving microwave spectrum that would impact broadcasters in their use of Broadcast Auxiliary Service spectrum, has received less attention. So too has the NBP's overall approach to spectrum reallocations, which represents a sea change in the way the FCC manages spectrum. This new approach focuses on unlicensed and flexible uses of spectrum, placing all spectrum allocations on a three-year cycle for scrutiny and possible reallocation to "more valuable" uses.

The NBP, then, serves as a roadmap for future reallocations. Careful review of the mechanics of the specific reallocations the NBP proposes for the immediate future reveal the extent to which its authors seek to change long-established service rules for each spectrum band in order to free spectrum for other uses. This Advisory provides that review so that spectrum users, both those who are immediately affected by the NBP and those whose spectrum has not yet been surveyed by the FCC, can better understand the likely impact of such changes.

Continue reading "The National Broadband Plan: Understanding the Proposed Reallocation of Broadcast Spectrum and What It Means for All Users of Spectrum"

Broadcast Station EEO Advisory

Posted March 18, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

March 2010
This Broadcast Station EEO Advisory is directed to radio and television stations licensed to communities in: Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, and highlights the upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC's EEO Rule.

Introduction
April 1, 2010 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in the States/Territories referenced above to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection files and post the report on their website, if they have one. In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must electronically file their EEO Mid-term Report on FCC Form 397 by April 1, 2010.

Under the FCC's EEO rule, all radio and television station employment units ("SEUs"), regardless of staff size, must afford equal employment opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

Continue reading "Broadcast Station EEO Advisory"

National Broadband Plan Proposes Significant Challenges for Television Broadcasters

Posted March 17, 2010

By Scott R. Flick, John K. Hane and Paul A. Cicelski

March 17, 2010
Pillsbury invites you to join a conference call on Wednesday, March 24 at 2 p.m. to discuss the broadcast spectrum changes proposed in the National Broadband Plan.

The National Broadband Plan ("NBP") proposes immediate and sweeping steps that, if adopted, could displace many television broadcasters from their existing spectrum. Specifically, FCC staff proposes a "voluntary" surrender by some television broadcasters of their spectrum as well as repacking of the spectrum to minimize the portion dedicated to television broadcasting. An expected flood of FCC proceedings and possible surprises still to play out are likely to keep television broadcasters playing catch-up. The growth of both broadband and broadcasting are not necessarily incompatible goals if the proper mechanisms are put in place. However, the current version of the NBP places the broadcast industry in a defensive position by assuming that broadband can only grow by displacing television broadcasters.

To register and receive the conference telephone number and password, please contact Liliam Aguila. Capacity is limited. Article continues -- the full article can be found at National Broadband Plan Proposes Significant Challenges for Television Broadcasters.

Advisory--2010 First Quarter Issues/Programs List Advisory for Broadcast Stations

Posted March 17, 2010

By Richard R. Zaragoza and Christine A. Reilly

March 2010
The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List ("Quarterly List") must be placed in stations' local public inspection files by April 10, 2010, reflecting information for the months of January, February and March, 2010.

Content of the Quarterly List
The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station. The FCC gives each station the discretion to determine which issues facing the community served by the station are the most significant and how best to respond to them in the station's overall programming.

To demonstrate a station's compliance with this public interest obligation, the FCC requires a station to maintain, and place in the public inspection file, a Quarterly List reflecting the "station's most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period." By its use of the term "most significant," the FCC has noted that stations are not required to list all responsive programming, but only that programming which provided the most significant treatment of the issues identified.

Continue reading "Advisory--2010 First Quarter Issues/Programs List Advisory for Broadcast Stations"

Advisory--2010 First Quarter Children's Television Programming Documentation Advisory

Posted March 16, 2010

By Richard R. Zaragoza and Christine A. Reilly

March 2010
The next Children's Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations' local Public Inspection Files by April 10, 2010, reflecting programming aired during the months of January, February and March 2010.

Statutory and Regulatory Requirements
As a result of the Children's Television Act of 1990 and the FCC Rules adopted under the Act, full power and Class A television stations are required, among other things, to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programs originally produced and broadcast for an audience of children 12 years of age and younger; and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and younger.

Continue reading "Advisory--2010 First Quarter Children's Television Programming Documentation Advisory"

Biennial Ownership Reports Are Due by April 1, 2010 for Noncommercial Educational Radio Stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, and for Noncommercial Educational Television Stations in Texas

Posted March 15, 2010

By Richard R. Zaragoza and Christine A. Reilly

March 2010
The FCC has suspended indefinitely the deadline for commercial radio and television stations to file their Biennial Ownership Reports. However, the deadlines for filing Biennial Ownership Reports by noncommercial educational radio and television stations remain in effect, tied to their respective anniversary renewal filing deadlines.

Noncommercial educational radio stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, and noncommercial educational television stations licensed to communities in Texas, must file their Biennial Ownership Reports by April 1, 2010.

Last year, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on, among other things, whether the Commission should adopt a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial educational radio and television broadcast stations like the one that the FCC has established for all commercial radio and television stations. That proceeding remains pending without decision. As a result, noncommercial educational radio and television stations continue to be required to file their biennial ownership reports every two years by the anniversary date of the station's license renewal filing.

A PDF version of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports Are Due by April 1, 2010 for Noncommercial Educational Radio Stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, and for Noncommercial Educational Television Stations in Texas.

Pillsbury Attorneys to Attend 2010 NAB Show in Las Vegas

Posted March 10, 2010

The 2010 NAB Show in Las Vegas is fast approaching! Your Pillsbury attorneys, including Dick Zaragoza, Cliff Harrington, Scott Flick, Miles Mason, Laurie Lynch Flick, Paul Cicelski and Christine Reilly will be at this annual event, which takes place in just one month, from April 10th to the 15th. We look forward to meeting and talking with our clients and friends at the show. We will be staying at The Bellagio (702-693-7111), and if you plan to attend the NAB Show and would like to see us, please contact Julia Colish in our office. Ms. Colish can be reached via e-mail (julia.colish@pillsburylaw.com) or by telephone at (202) 663-8261.


We look forward to seeing you at the NAB Show.

Pillsbury Attorneys to Attend 2010 NAB Show in Las Vegas

March 10, 2010

Posted March 10, 2010

The 2010 NAB Show in Las Vegas is fast approaching! Your Pillsbury attorneys, including Dick Zaragoza, Cliff Harrington, Scott Flick, Miles Mason, Laurie Lynch Flick, Paul Cicelski and Christine Reilly will be at this annual event, which takes place in just one month, from April 10th to the 15th. We look forward to meeting and talking with our clients and friends at the show. We will be staying at The Bellagio (702-693-7111), and if you plan to attend the NAB Show and would like to see us, please contact Julia Colish in our office. Ms. Colish can be reached via e-mail (julia.colish@pillsburylaw.com) or by telephone at (202) 663-8261.


We look forward to seeing you at the NAB Show.

Political Broadcasting Advisory

Posted March 1, 2010

By Richard R. Zaragoza and Clifford M. Harrington

This Advisory provides a review of the FCC's political broadcasting regulations.

Introduction
Eight years after adoption of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act ("BCRA") of 2002, popularly known as "McCain-Feingold," Congress' and the FCC's interest in political broadcasting and political advertising practices remains undiminished. Broadcast stations must insure that a broad range of federal mandates are met, providing "equal opportunities" to all candidates using the stations facilities, affording federal candidates for public office "reasonable access" and treating all candidates for public office no less favorably than the station treats its most favored advertisers. Accordingly, it is imperative that broadcasters be very familiar with what is expected of them in this regulatory area, that they have adequate policies and practices in place to insure full compliance, and that they remain vigilant to legislative, FCC, and FEC changes in the law.

Continue reading "Political Broadcasting Advisory"

Court Says Copyright Royalty Board Can Legally Set Webcasters' Royalty Payments

Posted February 25, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Cydney A. Tune

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that the Copyright Royalty Board is constitutional. The decision ends for now a long-running controversy over the legitimacy of the CRB, which sets royalty rates that webcasters pay to copyright owners-- rates that webcasters see as excessively high and a threat to the industry.

The CRB is comprised of three judges appointed by the Librarian of Congress. It meets once every five years to establish the royalty rates that webcasters must pay copyright owners when using their music on the Internet. In the past, the rates set by the CRB were decried by webcasters as excessive, which ultimately led to the passage of the Webcasters Settlement Acts of 2008 and 2009. Pursuant to these statutes, several classes of webcasters, including small commercial webcasters, microcasters, and noncommercial webcasters, have been able to negotiate settlement agreements with SoundExchange, which represents the copyright holders, and agree to rates that, while still unpopular with webcasters, are nonetheless lower than those set by the CRB.

Continue reading "Court Says Copyright Royalty Board Can Legally Set Webcasters' Royalty Payments"

FCC Proposes Rule Changes to Improve Decision-Making and Promote Participation in FCC Proceedings

Posted February 24, 2010

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

The Federal Communications Commission recently proposed revisions to its rules as part of its stated goal to "reform and transform the agency into a model of excellence in government." As part of its goal, the FCC has released a Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("NPRM") proposing to modify its ex parte communications rules, which govern the disclosure of communications with the commissioners and FCC staff when all parties to a proceeding are not present.

The NPRM's proposed rule changes include the following:

  • requiring that a summary of every oral ex parte presentation be filed with the FCC, as opposed to just those presentations involving new information or arguments;
  • requiring that the filing summarize all data and arguments presented;
  • establishing a preference for electronic filing of notices of ex parte presentations; and
  • requiring faster electronic filing (within four hours) of notices of permitted ex parte presentations made during the "Sunshine Period" (the period, which typically begins a week before a public FCC meeting, during which outside communications are limited regarding items on the meeting agenda).

Continue reading "FCC Proposes Rule Changes to Improve Decision-Making and Promote Participation in FCC Proceedings"

FCC Announces Effective Date of Revised Closed Captioning Complaint Procedures

Posted February 19, 2010

By Scott Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick

Video Programming Distributors Must Notify FCC by March 22, 2010 of Certain Contact Information and Begin Compliance with Telephone Directory Listing Requirements.

Earlier this week, we advised you of a recent Commission action which could affect video programming distributors' obligations under closed captioning complaint rules that the Commission adopted in November 2008 but which had not yet become effective. As we predicted, those Commission actions were a prelude to the rules becoming effective, which occurred with their publication today in the Federal Register. Accordingly, effective today, February 19, 2010, new timeframes governing when a video programming distributor must respond to a complaint regarding closed captioning are in effect. In addition, video programming distributors must now comply with the provisions requiring them to provide contact information for addressing closed captioning complaints to the FCC and the public.

Continue reading "FCC Announces Effective Date of Revised Closed Captioning Complaint Procedures"

FCC Grants Limited Waiver of Requirement to Publish Closed Captioning Contact Information in Local Telephone Directories

Posted February 17, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

In response to a petition for clarification filed by DISH Network, L.L.C. ("DISH"), the FCC has issued a "limited waiver" of its requirement that video programming distributors, including television stations, publish two types of information in local telephone directories--contact information for the receipt and handling of immediate closed captioning concerns, and contact information for the receipt and handling of written closed captioning complaints.

The FCC acknowledged that its telephone directory requirement would essentially force a video programming distributor operating on a nationwide basis (like DISH) to contract with local telephone directory publishers nationwide. However, the FCC did not limit the waiver to DISH or those engaged in national program distribution. As a result, local or regional entities, including local broadcast stations, may be eligible to benefit from this waiver as well, thereby avoiding the additional costs of extensive local telephone directory listings. To take advantage of this limited waiver, however, you must not currently have "contracted for" an advertisement or other paid listing in the telephone directory.

Continue reading "FCC Grants Limited Waiver of Requirement to Publish Closed Captioning Contact Information in Local Telephone Directories"

The FCC Proposes National Emergency Alert System Testing Rules

Posted February 16, 2010

By Richard R. Zaragoza and Paul A. Cicelski

Comments are due by March 1, 2010 and Reply Comments are due March 30, 2010 to the FCC's proceeding to implement national emergency alert testing at least once a year and to collect station data from such tests.

In a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("NPRM") concerning updating of the nation's Emergency Alert System ("EAS") to meet modern security concerns, the FCC proposes to require testing of the EAS on a nationwide basis. To date, the EAS has never been used to deliver a national EAS alert. While Part 11 of the FCC's rules requires periodic testing of state and local EAS alerts by all radio and television EAS participants, no national test of the EAS has ever been conducted, and the current rules do not require such testing. As a result, it is not known whether the system would in fact function as required should the President issue a national alert. Accordingly, the FCC proposes to require EAS participants to take part in national EAS testing, as well as continue a modified schedule of the weekly and monthly EAS already in effect.

Continue reading "The FCC Proposes National Emergency Alert System Testing Rules"

FCC Approves Digital Power Increase for Most FM IBOC Stations

Posted February 2, 2010

By Scott R. Flick and Christine A. Reilly

The FCC has released an Order amending its digital audio broadcasting ("DAB") rules for FM stations operating digital facilities. According to the Order, the underlying purpose for the change is to "improve FM digital coverage and to eliminate regulatory impediments to FM radio's ability to meet its full potential and deliver its promised benefits."

The Order authorized most FM stations using an in-band on-channel ("IBOC") DAB system to increase their digital effective radiated power ("ERP") by 6 dB without prior FCC approval. The FCC concluded that, due to potential interference issues, super-power FM stations (those having authorized ERPs above the maximum level for their station class) are subject to different digital ERP limitations and may not increase their digital ERP without FCC approval. Under the new rules, the maximum digital ERP for super-power FM stations will be the higher of the "currently permitted -20 dBc level or 10 dB below the maximum analog power that would be authorized for the class of the super-powered FM station adjusted for the station's antenna height above average terrain."

Continue reading "FCC Approves Digital Power Increase for Most FM IBOC Stations"

Radio, Television, and Other Users of Wireless Microphones Must Migrate Out of the 700 MHz Band

Posted January 31, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

FCC establishes June 12, 2010 as a "hard date" for wireless microphones and certain broadcast low power auxiliary operations to vacate 700 MHz spectrum. Some stations will have to move much sooner.

The FCC has released an Order further clearing the 700 MHz band of incumbent users to permit the new public safety and commercial users of those frequencies to complete construction and commence operations. The Order addresses use of the band by low power auxiliary stations intended for use as wireless microphones, cue and control communications, and synchronization of TV camera signals, and requires that such stations cease operations in the band by June 12, 2010. The FCC indicates that current users will need to move sooner than that if they either receive direct notice from new users of the spectrum that public safety or commercial wireless operations in the band will be commencing, or if the FCC releases a later Public Notice to that effect. The Order includes a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("FNPRM") in which the Commission proposes broad revisions to the rules governing low power auxiliary operations. Broadcasters that have been or contemplate operating low power auxiliary stations on an unlicensed basis may be able to secure greater interference protection by licensing their facilities instead. Comments on the FNPRM are due on February 22, 2010 and Reply Comments are due by March 15, 2010.

Continue reading "Radio, Television, and Other Users of Wireless Microphones Must Migrate Out of the 700 MHz Band"

Supreme Court Opens the Way to Expanded Advertising Revenues by Invalidating Limits on Corporate Political Ad Spending

Posted January 21, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

Disclosure and Disclaimer Requirements Retained. Decision Likely Invalidates Identical Political Ad Restrictions on Labor Unions.

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its long-awaited decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a case challenging limits on political speech by corporations.

Continue reading "Supreme Court Opens the Way to Expanded Advertising Revenues by Invalidating Limits on Corporate Political Ad Spending"

FCC Extends Comment Deadlines in Its "Empowering Parents and Protecting Children in an Evolving Media Landscape" Proceeding

Posted January 13, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick

Proceeding Is Important to Electronic Media Content Producers, Television Stations, Advertisers, Educators, Electronics Manufacturers, and Privacy Experts.

On January 13, 2010, the FCC released an Order granting two requests for extension of time to file comments in response to the FCC's Notice of Inquiry ("NOI") in its "Empowering Parents and Protecting Children in an Evolving Media Landscape" proceeding. One of the requests was filed jointly by the Association of National Advertisers, the American Advertising Federation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Direct Marketing Association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the Promotion Marketing Association. The second was filed jointly by the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative and the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc. These parties requested additional time to prepare their comments in light of the numerous issues raised in the NOI and the year-end holidays that fell in the middle of the comment period. The new date for filing Comments in the proceeding is February 24, 2010 and the new date for filing Reply Comments is March 26, 2010.

Continue reading "FCC Extends Comment Deadlines in Its "Empowering Parents and Protecting Children in an Evolving Media Landscape" Proceeding"

Biennial Ownership Reports Are Due by February 1, 2010 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and New York, and for Noncommercial Television Stations in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma

Posted January 6, 2010

By Richard R. Zaragoza and Christine A. Reilly

January 2010
The FCC has established a national filing deadline for commercial radio and television stations to file their Biennial Ownership Reports. However, the schedule for the filing of Biennial Ownership Reports by noncommercial stations remains staggered, tied to their anniversary renewal filing deadlines.

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and New York, and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, must file their Biennial Ownership Reports by February 1, 2010.

Continue reading "Biennial Ownership Reports Are Due by February 1, 2010 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and New York, and for Noncommercial Television Stations in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma"

Broadcast Station EEO Advisory

Posted January 5, 2010

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

January 2010

This Broadcast Station EEO Advisory is directed to radio and television stations licensed to communities in: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma, and highlights the upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC's EEO Rule.

Introduction
February 1, 2010 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in the States/Territories referenced above to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection files and post the report on their website, if they have one. In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must electronically file their EEO Mid-term Report on FCC Form 397 by February 1, 2010.

Continue reading "Broadcast Station EEO Advisory"

2010 Broadcasters' Calendar

Posted January 4, 2010

By Richard R. Zaragoza, Scott R. Flick, Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

January 2010
Items of Note in 2010

Continue reading "2010 Broadcasters' Calendar"

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Posted January 4, 2010

By Scott R. Flick and Christine A. Reilly

Topics include:

  • FCC Imposes a Reduced $17,500 Fine on Wyoming Commercial AM/FM Station Combo for Multiple Violations
  • Pennsylvania TV Station Fined $32,000 for Violating FCC's Sponsorship ID Rule
  • Licensee Fined $13,000 for Antenna Structure Violations
  • FCC Fines California Noncommercial FM Station $9,000 for Failure to Properly Maintain a Public Inspection File

FCC Imposes a Reduced $17,500 Fine on Wyoming Commercial AM/FM Station Combo for Multiple Violations
The FCC has released a Forfeiture Order asserting that the licensee of a Wyoming AM/FM station combi¬nation failed to maintain an operational EAS system, failed to consistently prepare and include programs/issues lists in its public inspection file, and failed to operate a wireless radio service station from its authorized location. Specifically, the FCC's Order cited Sections 11.35, 11.52(d), 11.61(a), 73.3526(e)(12), 1.903(a), 1.929 and 74.532(e) of the FCC's Rules, which require broadcasters to use common EAS proto¬cols, ensure operability of EAS equipment, conduct regular tests of a station's EAS system to ensure such operability, prepare and include quarterly programs/issues reports in the public inspection file, and operate wireless radio service facilities as specified in their current authorizations.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Broadcast Conventions 2010

January 1, 2010

March 2010

Michigan - March 1-2

Colorado (Denver) - March 13

Oklahoma - March 18-19

Louisiana/Mississippi - March 24-26

April 2010

Hawaii - April 9-10

NAB - Las Vegas, Nevada - April 10-15

May 2010

Pennsylvania (Hershey) - May 2-3

Vermont (Montpelier) - May 20-21

Puerto Rico (Santo Domingo) - May 28-30

June 2010

Missouri (Lake Ozark) - June 5-6

Georgia (Augusta) - June 7-8

New Jersey/Maryland/DC/Delaware
(Atlantic City) - June 7-8

Alabama (cruise from Mobile) - June 10-14

New Mexico - June 11-12

Illinois - June 16-18

Wyoming (Sheridan) - June 18-19

North Carolina (Asheville) - June 20-21

Wisconsin - June 23-24

Florida - (Palm Beach) - June 23-25

Virginia - (Virginia Beach) - June 24-26

Montana (Whitefish) - June 26-28

New York (Lake George) - June 28-29

Iowa (Des Moines) - June 30th

July 2010

Arkansas (Little Rock) - July 15-17

Michigan (Plymouth) - July 15-17

Idaho (Sun Valley) - July 22-24

August 2010

West Virginia (Greenbriar) - August 7-8

Nebraska (Lincoln) - August 11-12

Texas (Austin) - August 11-12

September 2010

North Dakota - September 7-8

NAB Radio Show - Washington, DC - September 29-October 1

Maine - Late September/Early October

October 2010

Kentucky - October 12-14

Connecticut (Hartford) - October 14-15

Kansas (Wichita) - October 17-19

Oregon/Washington - October 21-23

November 2010

Alaska (Anchorage) - November 4-5

Indiana (Indianapolis) - November 13

December 2010

New Mexico (Albuquerque) - Dec. 10-12
**Winter Meeting -