2012 Archives

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick

Posted December 27, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren A. Birzon

December 2012

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:

  • FCC Issues Multiple Forfeitures for Unauthorized Marketing of Transmitters
  • FCC Proposes $35,000 in Fines for Unauthorized Radio Operations

Three Years Later, FCC Pursues Unauthorized Marketing of Transmitters

This month, the FCC issued Forfeiture Orders against two companies for marketing unauthorized transmitters, with both orders following up on Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) issued in 2009.

In one instance, the FCC issued a Forfeiture Order for $18,000 against a company that marketed an unauthorized FM broadcast transmitter in the U.S. and provided incorrect information to the FCC "without a reasonable basis for believing that the information was correct." The FCC first issued an NAL against this company in 2009, after an in-depth investigation by the Spectrum Enforcement Division, alleging that the company was marketing several FM transmitters, including one model of transmitter that was not verified to comply with FCC regulations. The FCC's rules prohibit the manufacturing, importation, and sale of radio frequency devices that do not comply with all applicable FCC requirements, and Section 73.1660 of the FCC's Rules requires that transmitters be verified for compliance. If a transmitter has not complied with the verification requirements of Section 73.1660, then the transmitter is considered unauthorized and may not be marketed in the United States.

In response to multiple Letters of Inquiry, the company attempted to demonstrate the transmitter's compliance with FCC regulations by submitting verification information for a component part of the transmitter. The FCC concluded, however, that "[b]ecause transmitters are a combination of several functional components that interact with one another ... verification of [one part] incorporated into a transmitter is insufficient to verify the final transmitter."

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form Due

December 15, 2012

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending October 31, 2012.

Time to Get CALM for the Holidays

Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted December 13, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick

Today, December 13, 2012, is the effective date of the FCC's rules implementing the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act. As a result, all commercial broadcast television stations and multichannel video program providers ("MVPDs") must have by today either sought a waiver or installed equipment and undertaken procedures to comply with the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) A/85: "ATSC Recommended Practice: Techniques for Establishing and Maintaining Audio Loudness for Digital Television," also known as the RP.

For locally inserted commercials, stations must install and maintain equipment and software that measures the loudness of the content and ensures that the dialnorm metadata value matches the loudness of the content when encoding audio for transmission (try saying that three times fast!). For commercials already embedded in the programming, stations must be able to pass through that CALM-compliant programming without adverse changes.

As long as that benign pass-through is accomplished, stations can rely on appropriate certifications from program suppliers to demonstrate compliance with respect to embedded commercials. If a program supplier does not provide the certification, "large" television stations and "large" and "very large" MVPDs (as defined by the FCC) must conduct annual spot checks of the programming. The first spot checks must be completed one year from today, by December 13, 2013. Details on these compliance requirements can be found in Paul Cicelski's post on the CALM Act earlier this year. We will also shortly be posting a Pillsbury Advisory on ensuring continuing CALM Act compliance.

As noted above, the FCC created a waiver procedure for stations and MVPDs where compliance would be financially burdensome, allowing them up to a year of additional time to come into compliance. Waiver requests were originally due back in October, but the FCC announced two days ago that it would accept waiver applications from small television stations filed through today. "Small" television stations, that is, those with less than $14 million in revenues in 2011 or that are in markets 150 to 210, were not required to submit highly detailed financial data with their waiver requests, and the FCC indicated that waiver requests would be deemed granted upon filing unless the FCC later advises the applicant otherwise.

In response, more than 125 waiver requests were filed. Earlier this week, the FCC granted two of them, including one from a television station in the midst of a studio move that will include installation of upgraded equipment for CALM Act compliance. Stations that do not have a waiver request on file with the FCC by today need to have the equipment and procedures in place to ensure they are operating in compliance with the CALM Act. That means that stressed television viewers will be having a calmer holiday season, while station and MVPD engineers and managers stress out trying to remain CALM.

CALM Act Rules Effective

December 13, 2012

By this date, television broadcasters and MVPDs must be in compliance with the regulations adopted by the FCC implementing the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act.

Scott Flick of Pillsbury Discusses Buying and Selling Broadcast Stations, December 4, 2012

Scott R. Flick

December 4, 2012

Scott R. Flick will discuss buying and selling broadcast stations in this webinar presented by the Texas Association of Broadcasters entiled "The Art of the Deal: Buying and Selling Broadcast Stations for Fun and Profit". The webinar is being hosted by the TAB on December 4, 2012 from 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM Eastern Time.

FCC Provides Clarity for Businesses Responding to Texting Opt-Outs

Lauren Lynch Flick Andrew D. Bluth

Posted December 3, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Andrew D. Bluth

Resolving a conundrum faced by every business that has entered the world of consumer texting, the FCC has ruled that businesses are not violating the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA") by sending a confirmation text to consumers who have just opted out of receiving further texts. However, the FCC did impose limitations on the content of such confirmation texts to ensure compliance with the TCPA. The threshold requirement is that the purpose of the reply text be solely to confirm to the consumer that the opt-out request has been received and will be acted on. The FCC then enumerated several additional requirements that businesses must observe when sending confirmation texts to avoid violating the TCPA. For those affected, which is pretty much every business that uses texts to communicate with the public, we have released a Client Alert on the subject.

To many, sending a confirmation text to a consumer who has previously opted in to receiving a company's text messages would appear to be nothing more than good customer service and an extension of the common practice of sending a confirmatory email message when a consumer has chosen to unsubscribe from an email list. Indeed, many wireless carriers and mobile marketing and retail trade associations have adopted codes of conduct for mobile marketers that include sending confirmation texts to consumers opting out of future text messages.

However, the TCPA, among other things, makes it illegal to make a non-emergency "call" to a mobile telephone using an automatic telephone dialing system or recorded voice without the prior express consent of the recipient. The FCC's rules and a decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit define a "call" as including text messages. As a result, many businesses have had class action lawsuits filed against them by consumers arguing that, once they send a text message opting out of receiving future texts, their prior consent has been revoked, and the business violates the TCPA by sending ANY further texts, even in reply to the consumer's opt-out text.

Seeking to avoid facing such lawsuits and the potential for conflicting decisions from different courts, businesses sought the FCC's intervention. After reviewing the issue, the FCC rejected the fundamental argument raised by the class action suits, noting that the FCC has never received a single complaint from a consumer about receiving a confirmatory text message. The FCC did note, however, that it had received complaints from consumers about not receiving a confirmation of their opt-out request. The Commission therefore held that when consumers consent to receiving text messages from a business, that consent includes their consent to receiving a text message confirming any later decision to opt out of receiving further text messages.

To avoid creating a loophole in the TCPA that might be exploited by a business, the FCC proceeded to set limits on confirmation texts designed to ensure that they are not really marketing messages disguised as confirmation texts. First and foremost, the implied permission to send a confirmation text message only applies where the consumer has consented to receiving the company's text messages in the first place. Next, the confirmation text message must be sent within five minutes of receiving the consumer's opt-out request, or the company will have to prove that a longer period of time to respond was reasonable in the circumstances. Finally, the text of the message must be truly confirmatory of the opt-out and not contain additional marketing or an effort to dissuade the consumer from opting out of future texts. You can read more about the FCC's decision and these specific requirements in the firm's Client Alert.

By providing clarity on the relationship between confirmation texts and the TCPA, the FCC's ruling provides marketers and other businesses with some welcome protection from class action TCPA suits. In an accompanying statement, Commissioner Ajit Pai stated that "Hopefully, by making clear that the Act does not prohibit confirmation texts, we will end the litigation that has punished some companies for doing the right thing, as well as the threat of litigation that has deterred others from adopting a sound marketing practice." Businesses just need to make sure they comply with the FCC's stated requirements for confirmation texts to avail themselves of these protections.

2012 Fourth Quarter Children's Television Programming Documentation

Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted December 1, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick

The next Children's Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations' public inspection files by January 10, 2013, reflecting programming aired during the months of October, November, and December 2012.

Statutory and Regulatory Requirements
As a result of the Children's Television Act of 1990 ("Act") 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.

These two obligations, in turn, require broadcasters to comply with two paperwork requirements. Specifically, stations must: (1) place in their online 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 the station has aired for children 16 years of age and younger. Form 398 must be filed electronically with the FCC. The FCC automatically places the electronically filed Form 398 filings into the respective station's online public inspection file. However, each station should confirm that this has occurred to ensure that its online public inspection file is complete. The base forfeiture for noncompliance with the requirements of the FCC's Children's Television Programming Rule is $10,000.

Noncommercial Educational Television Stations
Because noncommercial educational television stations are precluded from airing commercials, the commercial limitation rules do not apply to such stations. Accordingly, noncommercial television stations have no obligation to place commercial limits documentation in their public inspection files. Similarly, though noncommercial stations are required to air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and younger, they do not need to complete FCC Form 398. They must, however, maintain records of their own in the event their performance is challenged at license renewal time. In the face of such a challenge, a noncommercial station will be required to have documentation readily available that demonstrates its efforts to meet the needs of children.

A PDF version of this entire article can be found at 2012 Fourth Quarter Children's Television Programming Documentation.

FCC Expands LPFM Service and Raises Translator Cap

Andrew S. Kersting

Posted December 1, 2012

By Andrew S. Kersting

Yesterday, the FCC adopted a Fifth Order on Reconsideration and a Sixth Report and Order (Sixth R&O) designed to facilitate the processing of approximately 6,000 long-pending FM translator applications and to establish new rules for low power FM (LPFM) stations. The result is that the FCC anticipates opening a filing window for applications for new LPFM stations in October 2013.

A number of parties had filed petitions for reconsideration (in response to the FCC's March 19, 2012 Fourth Report and Order in this proceeding) challenging the FCC's new limit on the number of translator applications that could be pursued both on a per-market basis and under a national cap. In response to those challenges, the FCC's just released Fifth Order on Reconsideration: (1) establishes a national limit of 70 applications so long as no more than 50 of those applications specify communities located inside any of the markets listed in Appendix A to that Order; (2) increases the per-market cap from one application to up to three applications per market in 156 larger markets, subject to certain conditions; and (3) clarifies the application of the per-market cap in "embedded" markets.

In the Sixth R&O, the FCC laid the groundwork for introducing LPFM stations to major urban markets. As mandated by the Local Community Radio Act, the Sixth R&O also establishes a second-adjacent channel spacing waiver standard and an interference-remediation scheme to ensure that LPFM stations operating with these waivers will not cause interference to other stations. In addition, the Sixth R&O creates separate third-adjacent channel interference remediation procedures for short-spaced and fully-spaced LPFM stations, and addresses the potential for predicted interference to FM translator input signals from LPFM stations operating on third-adjacent channels.

The Sixth R&O also revises the following LPFM rules to better promote the localism and diversity goals of the LPFM service:

  • modifies the point system used to select among mutually exclusive LPFM applicants by adding new criteria to promote the establishment and staffing of a main studio, radio service proposals by Tribal Nations to serve Tribal lands, and the entry of new parties into radio broadcasting. A "bonus" point also has been added to the selection criteria for applicants eligible for both the local program origination and main studio credits;
  • clarifies that the localism requirement applies not only to LPFM applicants, but to LPFM permittees and licensees as well;
  • permits cross-ownership of an LPFM station and up to two FM translator stations, but imposes restrictions on such cross-ownership to ensure that the LPFM service retains its local focus;
  • provides for the licensing of LPFM stations to Tribal Nations, and permits Tribal Nations to own or hold attributable interests in up to two LPFM stations;
  • revises the existing exception to the cross-ownership rule for student-run stations;
  • adopts mandatory time-sharing procedures for LPFM stations that operate less than 12 hours per day;
  • modifies the involuntary time-sharing procedures, shifting from sequential to concurrent license terms and limiting involuntary time-sharing arrangements to three applicants;
  • eliminates the LP10 class of LPFM facilities; and
  • eliminates the intermediate frequency protection requirements applicable to LPFM stations.

If some of the above changes seem a bit cryptic, it is because the FCC has issued only a News Release briefly summarizing the changes. Once the FCC releases the full text of the orders, we will have a much more detailed understanding of the modifications. The full texts will hopefully become available in the next few days. In the meantime, radio broadcasters, particularly those with large numbers of FM translator applications pending, will be doing their best to assess how these FCC actions will affect their current and proposed broadcast operations.

FCC Form 317 DTV Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report Due

December 1, 2012

Commercial television, digital Class A and digital LPTV stations must by this date electronically file FCC Form 317, the Annual DTV Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report for Commercial Digital Television Stations, with the FCC whether or not they have received any income from transmitting ancillary or supplementary services. If a digital station provided ancillary or supplementary services during the 12-month time period ending on the preceding September 30, and received compensation for doing so, the station is required to pay to the FCC five percent of the gross revenue from such services concurrently with the filing of Form 317. Note that since this filing deadline falls on a weekend, the submission of this item to the FCC can be made until December 3.

Pre-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio and Television Stations

December 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Kansas, Nebraska or Oklahoma, and television stations and Class A television stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in Arkansas, Louisiana or Mississippi, must on this date begin to air their pre-filing renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on December 16, January 1, and January 16.

Post-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio and Television Stations

December 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota or South Dakota, and television stations and Class A television stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in Alabama or Georgia, must begin on this date to air their post-filing license renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on December 16, January 1, January 16, February 1 and February 16. FM Translator stations and TV translator stations, as well as LPTV stations not capable of local origination, licensed to communities in these states must arrange for the required newspaper public notice of their license renewal application filing.

Filing of Applications for Renewal of Licenses for Radio and Television Stations

December 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations, as well as FM Translator stations, licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota or South Dakota, and television, Class A television, LPTV and TV Translator stations licensed to communities in Alabama or Georgia, must electronically file their applications for renewal of license on FCC Form 303-S, along with their Equal Opportunity Employment Reports on FCC Form 396 by this date, and commercial stations must promptly submit their FCC license renewal application filing fee. FCC Forms 303-S and 396 as filed must be placed in stations' public inspection files. Note that since this filing deadline falls on a weekend, the submission of this item to the FCC can be made until December 3.

FCC Form 323-E Biennial Ownership Report Due

December 1, 2012

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota or South Dakota and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont (other than sole proprietorships or partnerships composed entirely of natural persons) must electronically file by this date their biennial ownership reports on FCC Form 323-E, unless they have consolidated this filing date with that of other commonly owned stations licensed to communities in other states. FCC Form 323-E does not require a filing fee. The form as filed must be placed in stations' public inspection files. Note that since this filing deadline falls on a weekend, the submission of this item to the FCC can be made until December 3.

Annual EEO Public File Report Required

December 1, 2012

Station employment units that have five or more full-time employees and are comprised of radio and/or television stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota or Vermont must by this date place in their public inspection file and post on their station website a report regarding station compliance with the FCC's EEO Rule during the period December 1, 2011 through November 30, 2012. A more detailed review of station EEO obligations and the steps for implementing an effective EEO program can be found in our most recent EEO Advisory.

2012 Fourth Quarter Issues/Programs List Advisory for Broadcast Stations

Scott R. Flick

Posted December 1, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List ("Quarterly List") must be placed in stations' public inspection files by January 10, 2013, reflecting information for the months of October, November, and December 2012.

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 the 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 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. We therefore urge stations not to "skimp" on the Quarterly Lists, and to err on the side of over-inclusiveness. Otherwise, stations risk a determination by the FCC that they did not adequately serve the public interest during the license term. Stations should include in the Quarterly Lists as much issue-responsive programming as they feel is necessary to demonstrate fully their responsiveness to community needs. Taking extra time now to provide a thorough Quarterly List will help reduce risk at license renewal time.

It should be noted that the FCC has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Quarterly Lists and often brings enforcement actions against stations that do not have fully complete Quarterly Lists or that do not timely place such lists in their public inspection file.

A PDF version of this entire article can be found at Fourth Quarter Issues/Programs List Advisory for Broadcast Stations.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick

Posted November 30, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren A. Birzon

November 2012

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:

  • FCC Punishes the Operators of an Unlicensed FM Station
  • FCC Investigates Antenna Structure Violations

Recurrent Unlicensed Operations Lead to Large Forfeitures

Last month, we wrote about a case in which the FCC fined the renter of a property after discovering an unlicensed radio transmitter, even though the renter claimed the equipment was operated by a third party. This month, the FCC again went after the renters of a property on which there was an unlicensed transmitter, issuing two $20,000 Forfeiture Orders. In this case, however, the renters left little doubt that they were directly responsible for the operation of the unlicensed radio station.

In October 2011, agents from the Miami office of the Enforcement Bureau identified the source of radio frequency transmissions on the 101.1 MHz frequency as an FM antenna mounted to a structure on a property in Florida. The signal strength exceeded that permitted for unlicensed broadcasting, and the agents later determined that no authorization had been issued for the operation of an FM broadcast station at that location. In addition, the agents were able to hear live broadcasts from the station and found that the on-air DJ was promoting the station on several web sites and Facebook pages.

During a subsequent February 2012 visit, the agents inspected the property and found radio transmitting equipment installed in a storage room. The property owner indicated that the space was rented by two men, and provided contact information for the renters to the agents. The agents called one of the renters, who asked the agents what would happen to the radio transmitting equipment. The renter contacted by the agents then called the other renter, who went to the station, told the agents the equipment was his, and removed the equipment from the location.

In July 2012, the FCC issued two $20,000 Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NALs) for operating without FCC authorization - one against the renter identified as the DJ of the station, and one against the renter who admitted it was his equipment. The base forfeiture for operating without authorization is $10,000. However, the FCC determined an upward adjustment of $10,000 was warranted for each of the renters because both had previously been involved in operating an unlicensed station on a different frequency in a different part of the state, and the FCC had issued previous Notices of Unlicensed Operation to the renters for that station.

Having not heard back from the renters in response to the July NALs, the FCC followed up the NALs by issuing two $20,000 Forfeiture Orders against the renters this month.

Faded Antenna Structures Garner Notices of Violations

Six towers in Oklahoma and one in New Mexico were the subject of Notices of Violation (NOVs) earlier this month after FCC agents noted that the paint on the towers was faded and chipped. Some of the NOVs also noted that the respective structure owners had failed to post the Antenna Structure Registration Number (ASRN) at the gate of the surrounding fence, and that any signage at the base of the structure was not visible from the gate of the fence.

In accordance with the rules of the FCC, owners of antenna structures must regularly inspect those structures to ensure the structures continue to comply with all FCC requirements. Indeed, the rules require owners to inspect the antenna structure's lights (manually or by automatic indicator) at least once every 24 hours, and to inspect all lighting control devices, indicators and alarms every three months. Owners must also maintain a record of any lighting malfunctions, including the nature of the malfunction, the date and time of the malfunction, the date and time of FAA notification, and the date, time and nature of repairs.

As this month's NOVs explicitly note, the FCC is free to take further steps against the tower owners, including issuing fines, and often does. Tower owners should therefore be careful to ensure that:

  • The ASRN is conspicuously displayed so that it is readily visible from the base of the structure;
  • Materials used to display ASRN are weather-resistant and large enough to be easily seen from the base of the structure;
  • Where the tower is surrounded by a fence, the ASRN is posted where it will be readily visible from the fence gate;
  • Antenna structures exceeding 200 feet are painted and lighted according to FAA specifications; and
  • Antenna structures are cleaned or repainted as often as is necessary to maintain good visibility.

Reminder: FCC Form 317 Deadline is Near

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted November 27, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

Don't forget that by December 3, 2012, all commercial and noncommercial full power television stations, as well as all digital low power, digital Class A, and digital television translator stations that are licensed, or are operating pursuant to Special Temporary Authority, must electronically file an FCC Form 317 with the FCC. The purpose of the Form 317 is to disclose whether a station provided ancillary or supplementary services on its digital spectrum at any time during the twelve month period ending on September 30, 2012.

Ancillary or supplementary services are all services provided on a portion of a station's digital spectrum that is not necessary to provide the required single, free, over-the-air signal to viewers. Thus, any video broadcast signal provided at no charge to viewers is exempt from the fee. According to the FCC, 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 station did provide such ancillary/supplementary services in the past year, then the FCC expects that station to include in its Form 317 the services provided, the amount of gross revenues derived from those services, and a remittance Form 159 submitting payment to the government of 5% of the gross revenues generated by those services.

What if your station has never used any of its digital capacity for ancillary or supplementary services? It doesn't matter, as all digital TV stations are required to file a Form 317 annually, whether or not they have transmitted any non-broadcast services. Stations unfamiliar with this requirement will want to take a look at our Client Advisory for more information, and make sure they don't miss the coming deadline. Missing the deadline can result in a totally different "fee" being imposed on a station by the FCC - a fine for failure to timely file required forms.

Does Your Mobile App Provide Reasonable Access to Your Privacy Policy?

Lauren Lynch Flick Amy L. Pierce

Posted November 19, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Amy L. Pierce

The privacy practices of mobile applications ("Apps") have been under scrutiny from a wide variety of domestic and foreign regulatory authorities of late. Most recently, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris issued a press release regarding a new enforcement effort aimed at bringing mobile Apps into compliance with California's Online Privacy Protection Act ("CalOPPA" or "Act").

CalOPPA applies to any online service that collects personally identifiable information through the Internet about a Califorina resident who uses or visits the online service. In other words -- the Act appears to apply to the entire world wide web. And now that includes any mobile App that uses the Internet to collect personally identifiable information.

On October 30, 2012, the California Attorney General sent a series of letters to mobile App operators reminding them that CalOPPA requires that they conspicuously post a privacy policy that complies with specified requirements. She stressed that the privacy policy must be "reasonably accessible ... for consumers of the online service."

The Attorney General did not dictate how Apps could comply with the posting requirement. However, she did state that having a website with the applicable privacy policy conspicuously posted may be adequate, but only if a link to that website is "reasonably accessible" to the user within the App. She also warned that, under California's unfair competition law, violations of CalOPPA may result in penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation. In the context of a mobile App, each copy of the unlawful App downloaded by California consumers would constitute a separate violation.

The California Attorney General's action is another step towards requiring mobile Apps to provide consumers with the same sorts of privacy protections as they have come to expect when surfing the Web at home or work. What industry and regulators continue to struggle with is doing so in the unique environment of mobile devices.

Click here for a copy of California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris' press release and a sample non-compliance letter.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form and Quarterly Report of Use Form Due

November 14, 2012

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending September 30, 2012.

Scott Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick of Pillsbury Discuss the FCC's New Online Public Inspection File Rule

Scott R. Flick Lauren Lynch Flick

November 8, 2012

Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick will discuss the FCC's new online public inspection file rule in this webinar presented by the Texas Association of Broadcasters enttiled "Online, No One Can Hear You Scream: A Guide to the FCC's New Online Public Inspection File Rule". The webinar is being hosted by the TAB on November 8th, 2012 from 3:00 PM to 4:30PM Eastern Time.

Alaska Broadcasters Association 2012 Convention: November 8-9

November 8, 2012

For more information, please visit: ABA 2012 Convention.

The FCBA Charity Auction Online Auction is Now Open!

November 8, 2012

Live Event
Thu Nov 8, 2012 7PM - 10PM EST

The online portion of 23rd Annual FCBA Charity Auction is now open. The auction will run from November 1, 2012 to November 15, 2012, with the live event taking place on November 8, 2012. The online auction features many great items, including vacation packages, sports memorabilia, sports tickets, and much more! Winning bidders walk away with a great item and the knowledge that their donation will benefit the community.

The FCBA also offers an online version of the Charity Auction for those who can't attend the Auction in-person.

Randall Terry Focuses His Campaign on the FCC

Scott R. Flick

Posted November 7, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

While most presidential candidates were concentrating yesterday on last minute campaign events aimed at swaying undecided voters, independent presidential candidate Randall Terry was instead focused on winning votes at the FCC, filing multiple election day political advertising complaints against broadcast stations.

I wrote last week of an FCC decision holding that a DC-area station had failed to provide Terry reasonable access to airtime as required by Section 312 of the Communications Act. According to the FCC, Terry, an independent presidential candidate known for seeking to air visually disturbing political ads prominently featuring aborted fetuses, was entitled as a federal candidate to purchase airtime because he was on the ballot in West Virginia. While Terry was apparently not on the ballot in DC, Maryland, or Virginia, the area primarily served by the station, the FCC concluded that the station's Noise Limited Service Contour covered nearly 3% of the population of West Virginia, making Terry a legally qualified candidate for purposes of demanding airtime on the DC-area station.

Apparently buoyed by that success, Terry yesterday filed complaints against five Florida television stations arguing that he has once again been denied reasonable access rights. What makes these filings odd is that, although dated November 5th, they were not filed with the FCC until November 6th, election day. Even if Terry actually intended to file them on November 5th, that would still be too late for the FCC to take any meaningful action before the election was over. That means Terry has already begun the process of positioning himself for the next election, and is perhaps looking to establish friendly FCC precedent now that can be used against stations then.

What also makes Terry's Florida filings notable is that he is not seeking reasonable access as a candidate for president (presumably because he was not on the presidential ballot in Florida). Instead, his reasonable access complaints are based upon being on the ballot as a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, representing South Florida's 20th Congressional District. Terry alleges in his complaints that all five stations cited Section 99.012(2) of the Florida Statues as a reason for not accepting his ads. That Section provides that "No person may qualify as a candidate for more than one public office, whether federal, state, district, county, or municipal, if the terms or any part thereof run concurrently with each other." Since Terry was on the ballot in a number of states running for president, the stations argued that the Florida Statute prevented him from also appearing on a ballot in Florida as a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. The stations' argument is that Terry was therefore not a legally qualified candidate for federal office in Florida, and thus not entitled to reasonable access.

Terry's response to that argument cites no caselaw, FCC or otherwise, but argues by analogy that stations did air Romney/Ryan ads in Florida despite Ryan also being on the ballot in Wisconsin to keep his House seat. That is not a particularly strong argument, however, as I suspect that stations in Florida were actually airing Romney ads, and Romney was unquestionably a legally qualified candidate on the ballot. If Ryan also appeared in those ads, that would not alter a station's obligation to provide reasonable access to Romney for his ads, and the "no censorship" provision of the Communications Act means that Romney is free to present anyone else he wants in his ads without interference.

Since the FCC is not generally in the business of interpreting state election laws, the central question in these complaints is whether the FCC will defer to a licensee's reasonable judgment as to who is a legally qualified candidate in the licensee's own state. If not, broadcasters will find that once simple reasonable access analysis is growing steadily more complex and dangerous. As foreshadowed by last week's post, reasonable access issues seem destined to become a growing part of future elections. Yesterday's Terry complaints appear to be an effort to turn up the heat on stations, even where there is no useful remedy available to a candidate whose multiple campaigns have already concluded.

Copies of the Terry complaints can be found here.

U.S. General Election.

November 6, 2012

Randall Terry Pushes the FCC's Political Envelope

Scott R. Flick

Posted October 31, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

The FCC today released a political advertising decision that, while perhaps not surprising, will still alarm many broadcasters. Back in February, I wrote a pair of posts (here and here) about Randall Terry, who was then seeking airtime during the Superbowl to air ads featuring graphic footage of aborted fetuses, ostensibly in support of his effort to become the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. It appears that the Democratic Party didn't want him, as the Democratic National Committee sent stations a letter asserting that Terry was not a candidate for the Democratic nomination and was not entitled to the broadcast airtime benefits legally qualified federal candidates receive.

In my first post in February, I noted that Section 312 of the Communications Act, which requires broadcast stations to grant "reasonable access" to airtime for federal candidates, was growing increasingly susceptible to a First Amendment challenge, and that the situation presented by the Terry ads -- broadcasters being forced to air visually repugnant material that they would otherwise never subject their audience to, regardless of their own political bent -- represents just the kind of scenario that might motivate broadcasters to challenge this statutory requirement. It certainly gives a judge or Congress an appealing set of facts to consider overturning or reforming the current law.

It is also worth noting that broadcasters are not allowed to channel such ads into parts of the day when children are less likely to be in the audience. This inability to channel such ads away from children has always been curious, as a candidate can hardly complain about being unable to reach an audience that is too young to vote anyway (and the candidate is of course free to reach out to them with more age-appropriate ads in any event). Indeed, the FCC, which has done a respectable job over the years of applying the Communications Act's political ad requirements in the real world, once held that broadcasters could choose to shift such ads away from kid-friendly hours. The FCC was rebuffed in court, however, in a decision that focused entirely on how such channeling could infringe upon a candidate's freedom of expression, seemingly oblivious to the freedom of expression of stations unwilling to subject their child viewers to such content.

As I wrote in my second post, the FCC was able to avoid a confrontation over recent Terry ads for a bit longer when it ruled in February that Terry was not a legally qualified presidential candidate on the Illinois ballot (where the station being challenged was located). It also ruled that even had that not been the case, the station was reasonable in turning down a request for Superbowl ad time since it is a uniquely popular event in which the station might well find it impossible to accommodate ads from competing candidates demanding "equal opportunities" under the Communications Act to air their ads in the Superbowl as well.

Knowing how attractive the plum of guaranteed ad time at a station's lowest unit charge is to anyone wishing to get their message out there, it came as no surprise when the Terry campaign, now running Terry as an independent candidate, filed another complaint, this time against Washington, DC station WUSA(TV). Terry sought access on the basis of being a legally qualified candidate in West Virginia, a small portion of which, he asserted, falls within WUSA(TV)'s signal.

The station rejected Terry's ads, noting that Terry was not a legally qualified candidate in its DC/Maryland/Virginia service area. When challenged at the FCC, it submitted a Longley-Rice signal contour map, which takes blocking terrain (e.g., mountains) into account, and which indicated that the station's actual coverage of West Virginia was slim to none ("de minimis" in FCC parlance).

In determining where reasonable access must be granted, the FCC looks at a station's "normal service area", and for TV, it has generally considered a station's Grade B contour to be the "normal service area". The transition to digital TV, however, has eliminated the analog concept of a Grade B contour. In reaching today's decision, the FCC concluded that since the FCC considers a digital station's Noise Limited Service Contour (NLSC) to be the equivalent of an analog Grade B contour in other FCC contexts, it is appropriate to use the NLSC as the appropriate "normal service area" for purposes of reasonable access complaints. While engineers readily acknowledge that Longley-Rice contour analysis is a more accurate predictor of actual signal reception than the NLSC, Longley-Rice analysis can be complex, and it appears the FCC opted for the simplicity and bright line certainty of using the NLSC. While the NLSC represents a somewhat hypothetical coverage area, NLSC coverage maps are widely available, including on the FCC's own website, making it an easier tool for candidates to utilize in planning their media buys.

Since, according to the FCC, WUSA(TV)'s NLSC covers nearly 3% of West Virginia's population, the FCC concluded in today's decision that the station was unreasonable in rejecting Terry's ads. While the FCC's decision is a pragmatic one, it adds more kindling to the reasonable access fire, as stations are now forced to offend their audiences with content from candidates that are legally qualified in any area that is within their NLSC service area, whether or not actual TV reception exists. This not only increases the number of reasonable access requests stations may face, but will further antagonize their viewers, who might understand why a station has to air ads for a candidate that is on the ballot in their area, but will be particularly perplexed as to why a station is airing offensive content from a candidate they have never heard of and cannot vote for or against. When Congress drafted the reasonable access and "no censorship of political ads" provisions of the Communications Act, it probably assumed that extreme content would not be a problem since a candidate was unlikely to air such content if he or she wanted to be elected. However, that logic evaporates when the viewing audience doesn't even have the opportunity to vote against such a candidate.

While the FCC appears to have been concerned that a more complex contour analysis could be gamed by a broadcaster, the result instead unfortunately encourages issue activists of every persuasion to game the system for their own gain. In the present case, it is pretty obvious that buying very expensive airtime in the nation's capital is not a cost-effective way of reaching less than 3% of the voters in West Virginia, and that the real audience is the large DC-area population for which Terry was apparently unable to qualify to be on the ballot. That became even more obvious when WUSA(TV) provided the Longley-Rice contour map indicating that the station actually had little or no coverage in West Virginia, but the Terry campaign nonetheless continued to press for airtime on the station.

The obvious path for future issue activists is to declare their candidacy for federal office, but instead of doing the hard work of qualifying for the ballot in large population centers in order to be heard, taking the easier path of qualifying for the ballot in less populated surrounding areas that are just within the fringe coverage of a big market station's predicted NLSC coverage. By following this formula, they get guaranteed access to airtime in front of a large market audience, and at much lower rates than commercial advertisers would pay, with the added benefit that the station cannot edit the ad or decline to air it no matter how offensive the content.

For those who make the not unreasonable argument that putting up with some questionable exploitation of the political ad rules is necessary to ensure that legitimate candidates can get their message out, consider the following: only federal candidates have a right of reasonable access. In this heated political season, particularly in the heavily contested large population centers, stations have been forced to preempt the spots of many of their normal commercial advertisers to make room for political spots for federal candidates (seen a car ad lately?), and local and state candidates have similarly suffered from having their ads pushed aside to make way for federal candidate ads. As a result, forcing broadcasters to air content that offends adult viewers, disturbs child viewers, and damages the relationship of trust between the broadcaster and its public harms more than just the broadcaster and its audience. It harms each and every local and state candidate that actually is on the ballot in a station's market. They too would like to get their message out, but in their case, to people who can actually vote for them and that are affected by who is elected to represent them. To the extent that "all politics is local", it make little sense to shunt aside these local and state candidates merely to guarantee access to those using the Communications Act's "federal formula" to game the system for their own agendas.

While today's decision is not one that will be welcomed by broadcasters, make no mistake, it is not the FCC's fault that we have reached this point. The reasonable access requirements for federal candidates are encoded into the Communications Act, and there is only so much the FCC can do in applying the statute in a political landscape that is far more complex than those who drafted these provisions likely ever contemplated. With election season nearly over, and many stations sold out of airtime through the election, the immediate impact of today's decision will be limited. It is a safe bet, however, that the underlying issue will continue to haunt future elections.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick

Posted October 31, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren A. Birzon

October 2012

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:

  • FCC Takes Action against Illegal Jamming Devices
  • Unlicensed Transmitter Gets Renter into Trouble

FCC Goes After Marketing and Sale of Illegal Jamming Devices

The FCC's enforcement efforts this month focused heavily on the marketing and sale of illegal signal jamming devices. The advertising, sale, or operation of devices which jam GPS, cell phone, or other wireless communications is prohibited under Section 301 of the Communications Act as well as under the FCC's Rules. As the Commission has previously noted, it is unlawful to use a jammer, even on private property. In the span of a week this October, the FCC issued eight "Citation and Order" actions against companies and individuals it determined were unlawfully advertising jammers for sale on Craigslist.org.

In those orders, the FCC emphasized that it views unlawful operation of jammers as a public safety hazard. In several of the orders, the Enforcement Bureau wrote that it is "increasingly concerned that individual consumers who operate jamming devices do not appear to understand the potentially grave consequences of using a jammer. Instead these operators incorrectly assume that their illegal operation is justified by personal convenience or should otherwise be excused." Because of this, the FCC cautioned that going forward, it "intend[s] to impose substantial monetary penalties, rather than (or in addition to) warnings, on individuals who operate a jammer." The FCC added that "substantial monetary penalties" in these cases would mean up to $16,000 per violation, or, in the case of a single continuing violation, $16,000 per day up to a total of $112,500.

The Enforcement Bureau indicated that the FCC will continue to target individuals and companies involved in the illegal advertisement, sale, or operation of jammers. In fact, on October 15th, the Bureau launched a dedicated jammer tip line - 1-855-55-NOJAM - to make it easier for members of the public to report the use or sale of illegal jammers. It also released an Enforcement Advisory explaining the FCC's "zero tolerance" policy regarding the unlawful sale and operation of jammers. Based on these recent actions by the FCC, we expect to see a growing number of signal jamming fines in the months ahead.

Turning a Blind Eye to Illegal Operations Is Also a Violation of the FCC's Rules

This month, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture ("NAL") against a property renter after finding that an unlicensed transmitter was being operated on his leased property. What makes the case interesting is that the renter claimed the equipment was not his, and was actually operated by unnamed third parties (the classic "not my stash" defense).

In September 2012, agents from the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, responding to a complaint, used direction-finding equipment to locate the source of the suspect radio transmissions. They found an FM transmitting antenna mounted to the chimney of a residence. The antenna was emitting signals exceeding the FCC's limits for unlicensed operation under Part 15 of the FCC's Rules. Upon subsequent inspection of the FCC's records, the agents determined there was no FCC authorization for the antenna, nor for any antenna near that address.

The following day, the agents returned to the property with the property owner and found a transmitter located in a locked basement room in the residence. The agents then questioned the renter of that room about the antenna, transmitter, and an accompanying computer which fed audio to the transmitter. The renter admitted to having installed the equipment, but denied that he was operating the unlicensed station. He claimed that unnamed individuals owned and operated the equipment and gave him money each month to pay the rent. The renter further claimed that the operators had not provided him with their names, but had informed him that the FCC might inspect the station and order him to cease operations because of unlawful operations.

Apparently not convinced by the renter's defense, the FCC issued an NAL for $10,000 against the renter for operating a station without FCC authorization. The NAL clarified that "operating" a station means both the technical operation of the station and the "general conduct or management of a station as a whole." Noting that the renter himself acknowledged that he had been told by the unnamed "operators" that the operation was illegal, the FCC indicated that "in spite of the warning, [the renter] nonetheless allowed the station to continue to operate in his basement." Under the circumstances, the FCC concluded that the renter's actions qualified as being involved in the general conduct or management of a station, defined to include "any means of actual working control over the operation of the [station]." The FCC therefore concluded that the renter did in fact "operate" the unlicensed radio station, justifying the proposed fine. In addition, the FCC noted that it had difficulty believing the renter's claimed defense, indicating that "we find it implausible that [the renter] (or anyone for that matter) would install radio equipment, rent space, allow for unlawful operations in the rented space, and incur potential financial and other liability on behalf of complete strangers."

A PDF version of this article can be found at FCC Enforcement Monitor.


The FCC's Spectrum Incentive Auction NPRM: A Condensed and Abridged Version

Scott R. Flick

Posted October 22, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

In my last post, I discussed the FCC's mammoth NPRM asking for public comment on an immense number of issues relating to the planned spectrum incentive auctions. In particular, I noted the challenges faced by both the FCC and commenters in trying to cover so much ground on such complex issues in such a short time. One of the emails I received in response to that post was from an old pro in the broadcast industry who wrote that "I've been reviewing the NPRM for 12 days and haven't finished yet!"

Having heard that message from a number of people, the importance of the NPRM to a great many segments of the communications industry, and the inability of many of our clients to dedicate several weeks to perusing the NPRM, Paul Cicelski and I have drafted a highly condensed summary of the NPRM in a Pillsbury Client Advisory that may be found here. In condensing it, we were mindful of the quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein, that "everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." While an entirely sensible approach, it would have abbreviated the 205-page NPRM (including attachments) only marginally. So instead, we threw that bit of advice out the window and condensed our summary down to five pages, giving us an industry-leading 41:1 compression ratio.

As a result, the Advisory cannot contain the level of detail found in the NPRM itself (that's how you cut out 200 pages!), but our hope is that it will make the NPRM's content accessible to a much broader audience, particularly the many who will ultimately be affected by the FCC's various auction and repacking proposals. In addition to providing a relatively painless way for those interested to learn more about this proceeding, the Advisory should provide a road map for parties seeking to identify the issues that will most greatly affect them so that they can focus their attention on those specific aspects of the NPRM when preparing comments for the FCC.

Given that the volume of issues to be addressed in the NPRM is so great, and there is literally no way any individual party could cover them all, the best chance for a well-informed outcome in this proceeding is for the FCC to hear from a large number of commenters who, cumulatively, will hopefully touch on most of the key issues in their comments and reply comments. As a reminder, the comment deadline is December 21, 2012, with reply comments due on February 19, 2013. Whether a potential seller in the reverse spectrum auction, a potential buyer in the forward auction, or a television bystander that may be buffeted by the winds of repacking, now is the time to step up and make your voice heard, rather than merely grumbling over the next several years about how the process is unfolding.

Minnesota Broadcasters Association Conference and Member Meeting: October 22, 2012, McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

October 22, 2012

For more information, please visit: MBA Conference.

Kansas Association of Broadcasters Convention: October 21-23, 2012, Double Tree by Hilton Wichita, KS

October 21, 2012

For more information, please visit KAB Convention.

Maine Association of Broadcasters 2012 Convention: October 19-20, Hollywood Casino, Bangor

October 19, 2012

For more information, please visit MAB 2012 Convention.

Drawing the Line Online: Employers' Rights to Employees' Social Media Accounts

Julia E. Judish Thomas N. Makris Amy L. Pierce James G. Gatto

Posted October 17, 2012

By Julia E. Judish, Thomas N. Makris, Amy L. Pierce and James G. Gatto

With the unprecedented popularity of social media, employees have increasingly used LinkedIn and other online forums to network for business and social purposes. When the line between personal and business use is blurred, litigation may ensue. A federal court recently ruled that an employer did not violate federal computer hacking laws by accessing and altering its recently departed CEO's LinkedIn account, but that the former CEO could proceed to trial on her state law misappropriation claim. In addition, California, Illinois, and Massachusetts recently joined Maryland in enacting laws prohibiting the practice of requesting access to prospective employees' password-protected social media accounts.

In Eagle v. Morgan, et al., Linda Eagle, former CEO of Edcomm, Inc. ("Edcomm"), filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania alleging that Edcomm hijacked her LinkedIn social media account after she was terminated. While Eagle was CEO of Edcomm, she established a LinkedIn account that she used to promote Edcomm's banking education services, to foster her reputation as a businesswoman, to reconnect with family, friends and colleagues, and to build social and professional relationships. Edcomm employees assisted Eagle in maintaining her LinkedIn account and had access to her password. Edcomm encouraged all employees to participate in LinkedIn and contended that when an employee left the company, Edcomm would effectively "own" the LinkedIn account and could "mine" the information and incoming traffic.

After Eagle was terminated, Edcomm, using Eagle's LinkedIn password, accessed her account and changed the password so that Eagle could no longer access the account, and then changed the account profile to display Eagle's successor's name and photograph, although Eagle's honors and awards, recommendations, and connections were not deleted. Eagle contended that Edcomm's actions violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA"), Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, and numerous state and common laws. In an October 4, 2012 ruling on the company's summary judgment motion, U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter dismissed Eagle's CFAA and Lanham Act claims against Edcomm but held that Eagle had the right to a trial on whether Edcomm had violated state misappropriation law and other state laws.

The Eagle case is just one example of how the absence of a clear and carefully drafted social media policy can lead to protracted and expensive litigation. This area of law appears to be garnering increasing attention on the legislative front as well as the judicial front, as three more states recently enacted laws prohibiting employers from requiring, or in some cases even requesting, access to prospective employees' social media accounts. The attached chart includes more detail about the California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland laws and the provisions of similar legislation pending in the various states and in the U.S. Congress.

A common theme connects the Eagle case with the recent password access legislation: the importance of defining the lines of ownership and demarcating the boundary between the professional and the personal. If Edcomm, for example, had established a LinkedIn account for its CEO's use and had asserted its property interest in the account at the outset of the employment relationship, Edcomm's CEO would have had no reasonable expectation of ownership in it. Under that scenario, Edcomm likely would not be facing trial on a misappropriation claim. Similarly, the social media password legislation definitively declares that employers and prospective employers have no right to access the social media accounts that applicants and employees have established for their personal use.

In addition, as explained in our recent Client Alert on enforcement actions under the National Labor Relations Act in connection with employer discipline of employees for social media postings, employer responses to employee use of social media can also result in government agency action against employers. These developments all point to the same message: employers wishing to avoid legal risk should be proactive in implementing well-defined policies and procedures relating to the LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and other social networking and media accounts of prospective, current and former employees, including clearly identifying rights to those accounts when the employee leaves the company.

A PDF version of this article can be found here, which includes a chart summarizing State and Federal Social Media Bills.

To read prior Client Alerts related to this subject, click on the links below:

Client Alert, First NLRB Decisions on Social Media Give Employers Cause to Update Policies, Practices

Client Alert, Employ Me, Don't Friend Me: Privacy in the Age of Facebook

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form Due

October 15, 2012

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending August 31, 2012.

A Spectral Incentive Auction?

Scott R. Flick

Posted October 12, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

Given that the FCC adopted its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish the parameters of its much-anticipated broadcast spectrum auctions on September 28, 2012, and released the text of that NPRM on October 2, 2012, you would think that the communications industry would now be buzzing over the details of the FCC's long-in-the-making plan. Instead, from many corners of the industry, there has been stunned silence; not because there were any real surprises in the NPRM, but because the NPRM made clear to those not previously involved in the process the sheer enormity of the tasks ahead.

Also feeding the industry's muted reaction is the fact that, because there were no surprises, the industry doesn't know much more now than it did before about how the auctions will be structured. Instead, we are left with many excellent but unanswered questions asked by the NPRM, leaving the auction rules and structure a very ethereal proposition. As the annual deluge of Halloween horror movies reminds us, people are afraid of ethereal entities, and are unlikely to visit the FCC's cabin in the woods (despite the "big money for spectrum" signs out front) until the FCC is able to remove the dark mystery from this undertaking.

On the one hand, the FCC's staff deserves immense credit for asking the right questions on what is unquestionably the most complex undertaking the FCC has ever attempted (it makes you long for the simple-by-comparison DTV transition, which only took 13 years to accomplish). On the other hand, asking the right questions meant producing a 140 page, 425 paragraph NPRM, along with an additional 65 pages of appendices and commissioner statements.

The NPRM is a densely packed document with numerous questions and issues raised for public comment in each paragraph. Part of the problem, however, is that in order to get the entire package of materials down to 205 pages total, some of the NPRM's questions had to be condensed so severely as to make it difficult to discern what precisely the FCC is asking about or proposing. As a result, you will note that a lot of the third-party summaries circulating are short on condensed narrative and long on direct quotes from the NPRM--often a sign that the person drafting the summary gave up on trying to figure out what the NPRM was trying to say, and decided to let the reader take a crack at it instead.

Comments on the NPRM are due on December 21, 2012, with Reply Comments due on February 19, 2013. While the FCC indicates that it intends to hold the spectrum auctions in 2014, keep in mind that once the Reply Comments are filed, if the FCC were able to resolve a paragraph's worth of issues each and every day the FCC is open for business after that date, it would resolve the final issues in October of 2014. It would then need to release an order adopting the final policies and rules, and begin the process of setting up the reverse auction (for broadcasters interested in releasing spectrum) and the forward auction (for those interested in purchasing that spectrum for wireless broadband). Completing that process before 2015 will be extremely challenging.

Even this understates the actual time that will be required for the FCC to have a shot at a successful auction. Critically important to the success of such auctions is providing adequate time for potential spectrum sellers and buyers to analyze the final rules and assets to be sold to determine if they are interested in participating and at what price. If the FCC wants to encourage participation, it will need to ensure that potential spectrum sellers and buyers have at least a number of months to assess their options under the final rules. Otherwise, it is likely that many who might participate will not have attained an adequate level of comfort in the process to participate, or at least not at the prices the FCC is hoping to see. In that case, they will elect to remain on the sidelines.

Given the number of moving parts and these related considerations (which ignore entirely the possibility of additional delay from court appeals of the eventual rules), a 2014 auction seems very optimistic unless the FCC's goal shifts from having a successful auction to just having any form of auction as soon as possible. While those already intent upon being a buyer or seller of spectrum would certainly prefer a fast auction since that means quicker access to spectrum and spectrum dollars and less competition for both, the FCC and the public have a vested interest in holding auctions with a broader definition of success (in terms of dollars to the treasury, less disruption of broadcast service, producing large enough swaths of spectrum to maximize spectrum efficiency, etc.).

This morning, the FCC announced an October 26, 2012 workshop focusing on broadcaster issues in the NPRM, so efforts at removing at least some of the mystery surrounding the auctions are already underway. Given that all television broadcasters will be affected by this process, whether through participation in the reverse auction or by being forced to modify their facilities in the subsequent spectrum repacking, it would be wise to participate in the workshop, which is also being streamed on the Internet.

And one last bit of good news: the workshop will be held at the Commission Meeting Room at FCC Headquarters in Washington, DC rather than at that cabin in the woods mentioned above. However, don't be surprised if there is still a "big money for spectrum" banner over the door when you get there.

Class A Television Continuing Eligibility Certification

October 10, 2012

Class A television stations are required to maintain documentation in their public inspection files sufficient to demonstrate continuing compliance with the FCC's Class A eligibility requirements. We recommend that by this date Class A television stations generate such documentation for the period July 1, 2012 through September 30, 2012 and place it in their public inspection files.

FCC Form 398 Children's Programming Report Due

October 10, 2012

Commercial full-power and Class A television stations must by this date electronically file FCC Form 398, demonstrating their responsiveness to "the educational and informational needs of children" for the period July 1, 2012 through September 30, 2012, and place a copy of the form as filed with the FCC in the station's public inspection file.

Certification of Children's Commercial Time Limitations Required

October 10, 2012

Commercial full-power and Class A television stations must place in their public inspection files by this date records "sufficient to verify compliance" with the FCC's commercial time limitations in children's programming broadcast during the period July 1, 2012 through September 30, 2012. As of the date of this publication, these records are not required to be filed with the FCC.

Quarterly Issues/Programs List Required

October 10, 2012

All full-power radio, full-power television, and Class A television stations must place in their public inspection files by this date the Quarterly Issues/Programs List covering the period July 1, 2012 through September 30, 2012.

FCC Proposes Wholesale Examination of Satellite and Earth Station Licensing and Operating Rules

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted October 4, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

The FCC has initiated a rulemaking proceeding seeking comments on a comprehensive review of its satellite and earth station licensing and operating rules. The nearly 100-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is the FCC's first broad reexamination of its Part 25 rules in over fifteen years. Among other items, the FCC's proposed revisions include:

  • Focusing the rules on addressing interference issues and removing unnecessary Commission oversight and regulation of technical decisions.
  • Increasing the number of earth station applications eligible for routine and streamlined processing.
  • Removing unnecessary reporting rules and consolidating remaining requirements for annual reporting, while improving reporting of emergency contacts.
  • Providing greater flexibility to earth station applicants in verifying antenna performance.
  • Consolidating and clarifying several of the milestone requirements for space stations.
  • Codifying the FCC practice of granting a single earth station license covering multiple antennas located in close proximity to each other.
  • Updating, improving, and consolidating definitions and technical terms used throughout Part 25.

With these proposed changes, the FCC hopes to remove administrative burdens on stakeholders and FCC staff, expedite its licensing process, and to facilitate satellite and earth station operations. The comment filing deadlines have not yet been set, but will occur 45 days after the FCC's rulemaking order is published in the Federal Register. Parties interested in commenting on the FCC's proposals, or wishing to provide alternative proposals for the FCC to consider, will want to begin gearing up for this proceeding by talking these issues through with counsel to determine what to propose, and how best to present it to the FCC.

Pre-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio and Television Stations

October 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota or South Dakota, and television stations and Class A television stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in Alabama and Georgia, must on this date begin to air their pre-filing renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on October 16, November 1 and November 16.

Post-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio and Television Stations

October 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Iowa and Missouri, and television stations and Class A television stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in Florida, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands, must begin on this date to air their post-filing license renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on October 16, November 1, November 16, December 1 and December 16. FM Translator stations and TV translator stations, as well as LPTV stations not capable of local origination, licensed to communities in these states must arrange for the required newspaper public notice of their license renewal application filing.

Filing of Applications for Renewal of Licenses for Radio and Television Stations

October 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations, as well as FM Translator stations, licensed to communities in Iowa or Missouri, and television, Class A, LPTV and TV Translator stations licensed to communities in Florida, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands, must electronically file their applications for renewal of license on FCC Form 303-S, along with their Equal Opportunity Employment Reports on FCC Form 396 by this date, and commercial stations must promptly submit their FCC license renewal application filing fee. FCC Forms 303-S and 396 as filed must be placed in stations' public inspection files.

FCC Form 323-E Biennial Ownership Report Due

October 1, 2012

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Iowa or Missouri and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Alaska, American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, the Mariana Islands, Oregon, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands or Washington (other than sole proprietorships or partnerships composed entirely of natural persons) must electronically file by this date their biennial ownership reports on FCC Form 323-E, unless they have consolidated this filing date with that of other commonly owned stations licensed to communities in other states. FCC Form 323-E does not require a filing fee. The form as filed must be placed in stations' public inspection files.

Annual EEO Public File Report Required

October 1, 2012

Station employment units that have five or more full-time employees and are comprised of radio and/or television stations licensed to communities in Alaska, American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, the Mariana Islands, Missouri, Oregon, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands or Washington must by this date place in their public inspection file and post on their station website a report regarding station compliance with the FCC's EEO Rule during the period October 1, 2011 through September 30, 2012. A more detailed review of station EEO obligations and the steps for implementing an effective EEO program can be found in our most recent EEO Advisory.

Traditional Deadline for the filing of Suspended FCC Form 395-B

September 30, 2012

This is the traditional date used by the FCC as the deadline for the filing of FCC Form 395-B, the Broadcast Annual Employment Report. As of the date of this publication, this filing requirement remains suspended.

EEO 1 Report Due

September 30, 2012

Broadcasters that are subject to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) reporting requirements must file their EEO 1 Report (Form 100) by this date. We encourage you to consult with counsel familiar with this regulatory area and to visit http://www.eeoc.gov/employers/eeo1survey/.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick

Posted September 28, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren A. Birzon

September 2012
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:

  • FCC Follows Up a $25,000 Fine With a $236,500 Fine
  • Two Tower Owners Fined for Fading Paint

FCC Issues Second Fine to Cable TV Operator for $236,500
As we previously reported in October 2011, the operator of a cable television system in Florida was fined $25,000 for a variety of violations of the FCC's Rules, including failing to install and maintain operational Emergency Alert System ("EAS") equipment, failing to operate its system within the required cable signal leakage limits, and failing to register the cable system with the FCC. This month, the FCC issued a second Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order ("NAL") to the operator for continued violations of the FCC's cable signal leakage and EAS rules and for failing to respond to communications from the FCC requiring that the operator submit a written statement of compliance.

In January 2011, agents from the Tampa Office of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau inspected the cable system and discovered extensive signal leakage, prompting the issuance of a NAL in 2011. The FCC has established signal leakage rules to reduce emissions that could cause interference with aviation frequencies. Sections 76.605 and 76.611 of the FCC's Rules establish a maximum cable signal leakage standard of 20 microvolts per meter ("µV/m") for any point in the system and a maximum Cumulative Leak Index ("CLI") of 64. If potentially harmful interference cannot be eliminated, the FCC's Rules require that the system immediately suspend operations following notification from the FCC's local field office. Normal operations cannot resume until the interference has been eliminated "to the satisfaction of" the FCC's local field office.

In early September 2011, agents from the Enforcement Bureau conducted a follow-up inspection of the cable system. During the inspection, the agents discovered 33 leakages, 22 of which measured over 100 µV/m, and found that the CLI for the system was 86.97, well in excess of the maximum permitted. Two days after the inspection, the local field office issued an Order to Cease Operations, directing the cable system to cease operations until the leakages were eliminated and to seek written approval from the local field office prior to resuming normal operations. At the time of its issuance, the President of the cable system verbally consented to abide by the terms of the Order. However, the cable system operator never contacted the field office to seek approval to resume operations, and the field office has yet to approve further cable system operations.

Between September 2011 and March 2012, agents from the FCC inspected the cable system an additional five times. During those inspections, the agents found that not only had the cable system resumed operation without permission, but they once again observed numerous signal leakages during each inspection.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

First Online Video Closed Captioning Deadline Is Here

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted September 26, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

The first compliance deadline for the FCC's new rules for the closed captioning of video programming delivered via Internet protocol (i.e., IP video), as required by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), is September 30, 2012. April 30, 2012 was the effective date of the new rules and all video programming that appeared on television with captions after that date is considered "covered IP video" and will need to be captioned when being shown online in the future. "Video programming" is defined as "programming by, or generally considered comparable to programming provided by a television broadcast station."

Last January, the FCC released its Order adopting rules to implement the CVAA's requirements governing the closed captioning of IP video. The CVAA requires that all nonexempt full-length video programming delivered over the Internet that first appeared on TV in the United States with captions also be captioned online. According to the rules, video programming shown on the Internet after being shown on television must have captions based on the following timeline established by the FCC:

  • September 30, 2012: all pre-recorded programming not edited for Internet distribution must be captioned for online viewing. Pre-recorded programming is defined as programming other than live or near-live programming.
  • March 30, 2013: all live and near-live programming must be captioned for online viewing. Live programming is defined as programming that airs on TV "substantially simultaneously" with its performance (i.e., news and sporting events). Near-live programming is video programming that is performed and recorded less than 24 hours prior to the first time it aired on television (i.e., the "Late Show with David Letterman").
  • September 30, 2013: all pre-recorded programming that is edited for Internet distribution must be captioned for online viewing. Programming edited for Internet distribution means video programming for which the TV version is "substantially edited" prior to its Internet distribution.

Keep in mind that there is a different compliance schedule for all programming that is subject to the new requirements but which is already archived in a video programming distributor's or provider's library before it is shown on television with captions. Such programming is subject to the following deadlines:

  • Beginning March 30, 2014, all programming that is subject to the new requirements and is already in the distributor's or provider's library before it is shown on television with captions must be captioned within 45 days after it is shown on television with captions.
  • Beginning March 30, 2015, such programming must be captioned within 30 days after it is shown on television with captions.
  • Beginning March 30, 2016, such programming must be captioned within 15 days after it is shown on television with captions.
Clients frequently ask whether the new rules apply to clips, video-clips, or outtakes. Generally, the answer is no. The FCC's Order defines clips as "excerpts of full-length programming." According to the FCC, the rules apply to "full-length video programming" defined as "video programming that appears on television and is distributed to end users, substantially in its entirety, via IP." This definition therefore excludes video clips or outtakes from video programming that appeared on television. However, keep in mind that the FCC also indicated that when "substantially all" of a full-length program is available via IP, whether as a single unit or in multiple segments, that program is not considered a clip and does constitute a full-length program subject to the IP captioning rules.

Those interested in learning more about these issues should contact us.

FCC Takes First Steps Towards Telecom Foreign Ownership Reform

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted September 20, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

The FCC recently released an Order giving companies greater flexibility in how they can structure foreign investment in common carrier licensees, such as wireless companies that provide phone service. This action, taken in a proceeding initiated last year, is a first step towards simplifying and streamlining the FCC's cumbersome foreign ownership review and approval process, with the goal of facilitating increased foreign investment in telecommunications companies.

The FCC's foreign ownership policy is governed by Section 310 of the Communications Act. Section (b)(3) of the statute requires the FCC to prohibit certain foreign entities from being FCC licenses themselves and from directly holding ownership interests that exceed specified levels in certain types of FCC licensees, such as common carrier licensees. The FCC's International Bureau previously interpreted this provision to strictly prohibit foreign entities from having more than a 20% non-controlling interest (direct or indirect) in an FCC common carrier licensee.

The Order replaces this absolute prohibition with a discretionary policy already in use under a different section of the statute, Section 310(b)(4). That section restricts foreign entities from having more than a 25% controlling interest (direct or indirect) in any parent company of an FCC common carrier licensee (among other entities), unless the FCC specifically approves a greater foreign ownership interest.

The FCC makes the determination of whether it should allow greater foreign investment under Section 310(b)(4) and now under Section 310(b)(3), by examining whether the foreign investment is from a World Trade Organization (WTO) Member country, using a "principal place of business" test. If under the principal place of business test the investment is from a WTO Member country, the proposed foreign investment is presumed to be competitive and in the public interest. Where the investment is from a non-WTO Member country, the FCC applies what is known as an "effective competitive opportunities" or "ECO" test. The purpose of the ECO test is to determine whether competitive opportunities exist for American companies in those non-WTO Member countries and whether the foreign investment in the U.S. will serve the public interest.

The FCC's foreign ownership review and approval process under Section 310(b)(4) has historically proven to be complex and time-consuming, both for licensees and the FCC. Licensees are required to engage in costly and extensive efforts in order to compile detailed information regarding citizenship and principal places of business of investors. There is no exception for individuals and entities that hold even de minimis interests through multiple intervening investment vehicles and holding companies. Moreover, licensees often have to conduct this exercise repeatedly given the fluid nature of investments. For its part, the FCC must expend considerable resources of its own processing (and often reprocessing) the voluminous and detailed information submitted by licensees.

The FCC's decision liberalizes only its ownership policies under Section 310(b)(3). It leaves for another day the extensive reforms proposed by the FCC in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding foreign ownership under Section 310(b)(4).

The FCC's Order has been published in the Federal Register and is now in effect. Parties interested in learning more about the FCC's Order or the foreign ownership reform proceeding should contact Pillsbury for advice.

RAB/NAB Radio Show: September 19-21, 2012, Hilton Anatole, Dallas, TX

September 19, 2012

For more information, please go to: RAB/NAB Radio Show.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form Due

September 14, 2012

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending July 31, 2012.

Lowest Unit Rate Period

September 7, 2012

Commencement of the Lowest Unit Rate period for the November 6, 2012, General Election.

2012 Oregon Association of Broadcasters Fall Conference: September 6-8, 2012, Valley River Inn, Eugene, OR

September 6, 2012

For more information, please see 2012 OAB Fall Conference.

Rabbit Season? Duck Season? No, Lowest Unit Charge Season!

Scott R. Flick

Posted September 5, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

In what seems to be the longest presidential campaign in history, tomorrow, September 7th, marks the beginning of the final stretch. That's the first day of Lowest Unit Charge Season, the 60-day period before the November 6th, 2012 general election. During that time (which also occurs in the 45 days before a primary election), broadcast stations may charge no more than their lowest rate for each particular class of ad time purchased for a "use" by a legally qualified candidate.

Of course, while the concept sounds simple enough, its implementation at stations with dozens of different classes of ad time has proven to be a biennial headache for broadcasters. However, particularly for stations in political swing states, it can be a fairly profitable headache, and well worth the regulatory aspirin needed to get through it.

Contrary to a common misconception, Lowest Unit Charge applies to all legally qualified candidates during the LUC window, and not just to federal candidates. Also, keep in mind that the 60-day Lowest Unit Charge window is relevant only to the issue of rates. Other political broadcast rules, like the requirements for reasonable access for federal candidates and equal opportunities apply as soon as there are enough legally qualified candidates to trigger them (one in the case of reasonable access, and at least two in the case of equal opportunities, since there has to be a competing candidate to demand an equal opportunity in response to the first candidate's airtime).

If the statements above have left you perplexed, confused, or questioning the very meaning of your existence, you should definitely take some time to look at the current edition of our Political Broadcasting Advisory. The Advisory fills in lots of detail on the matters discussed above, as well as myriad other issues created by the complexities of selling (or buying) political ad time in a regulated environment.

So, update the rate card attached to your Political Disclosure Statement, and get ready for the final stretch of a political season that has been excruciatingly long for viewers and listeners, but which will be over all too quickly for many broadcasters.

North Dakota Broadcasters Association 2012 Fall Conference: September 5, 2012, Radisson, Bismarck, ND

September 5, 2012

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick

Posted August 30, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren A. Birzon

July 2012
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 is a special issue regarding recent FCC actions that provide a detailed (and expensive) look at Section 73.1206, the prohibition on recording telephone calls for broadcast.

FCC Issues a Total of $41,000 in Fines for Broadcaster Airing Prank Telephone Calls

The close of August in Washington, D.C. has brought with it a surge of beautiful weather, baseball excitement (for the first time in recent memory), and ... forfeiture orders related to the improper recording of telephone calls for broadcast. On August 22nd, the FCC issued two forfeiture orders assessing a combined $41,000 in fines against licensees owned by the same parent company for violations of the telephone broadcast rule.

The telephone broadcast rule, Section 73.1206 of the Commission's Rules, requires that, "[b]efore recording a telephone conversation for broadcast, or broadcasting such a conversation simultaneously with its occurrence, a licensee shall inform any party to the call of the licensee's intention to broadcast the conversation, except where such party is aware, or may be presumed to be aware from the circumstances of the conversation, that it is being or likely will be broadcast." While the rule language only talks about providing notice to the calling party, the FCC has reiterated many times that when a station employee intends to record a call for broadcast or broadcasts the call live, the employee must also obtain the party's consent before recording the call or going live.

Both orders released on August 22nd involved a finding that the licensee had violated this rule. The first order involved prank calls made in April 2006 by radio personalities to members of the public during a comedy segment of the station's morning show. In one conversation, the caller pretended to be an intruder hiding under the bed of the person receiving the call; in another, the caller pretended to be a loan shark bent upon collecting a debt.

The FCC began investigating the prank calls after receiving a complaint from a station listener. During the investigation, the licensee indicated it was unable to confirm or deny whether the prank calls aired on its morning show, and could not provide a recording or transcript of the program. The licensee acknowledged, however, that the program identified in the complaint was aired on the station and was simulcast on two co-owned stations.

The second forfeiture order released on the 22nd also involved the broadcast of an alleged prank call in which the caller pretended to be a hospital employee who then informed the call recipient that the recipient's husband had been in a motorcycle accident and died at the hospital. When questioned about the incident, the licensee told the FCC that its parent company had contracted with an outside vendor who made and recorded the call. The licensee admitted that it broadcast the call on multiple occasions.

In the first case, the FCC had proposed a $25,000 fine. In the second case, the FCC had proposed a $16,000 fine. In both cases, the licensee urged cancellation of the proposed fines, to no avail. In batting down a myriad of arguments raised by the licensees, the FCC affirmed not only its broad investigative powers to enforce Section 73.1206, but also the licensees' responsibility to both adhere to and demonstrate their adherence to the Commission's Rules.

These two decisions provide an excellent primer for broadcasters on the FCC's enforcement of the telephone broadcast rule, as between them, the FCC addressed a multitude of defenses raised by the licensees, ultimately concluding that none of those defenses could prevent the imposition of very substantial fines. More specifically, the FCC shot down each of the following licensee arguments:

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

FCC Adopts Equipment-Related Consent Decree With Guitar Manufacturer to the Tune of a Quarter Million Dollars

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted August 21, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

Last week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Consent Decree involving a "voluntary contribution" of more than a quarter of a million dollars by a well-known guitar manufacturer, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, relating to claims of unauthorized marketing of bass amplifiers, pre-amplifiers, tuners, audio mixers, and wireless microphones. While one might be puzzled by the FCC's interest in regulating musical equipment, the fact is that these devices, like virtually all modern day products, incorporate digital circuitry and generate (intentionally or unintentionally) radio-frequency signals that can cause interference to other spectrum users. The FCC's action is a reminder to all types of businesses that digital devices are regulated and must comply with the FCC's Part 2 and Part 15 rules regarding equipment authorization, including certification, verification, and declarations of conformity.

The FCC's investigation into Fender's products began in June 2010, when the FCC sent the company a letter of inquiry. While the content of the letter is not publicly available, it appears that the FCC sought information about when Fender received equipment authorizations for certain products, the labeling of such products, and the information disclosed in the user manuals for those products.

Over the course of the next two years, Fender, through its legal counsel, submitted a number of filings responding to the FCC's inquiry, and executed tolling agreements that permitted the FCC to extend its investigation. Ultimately, Fender reached an agreement with the FCC terminating the investigation. In the agreement, Fender did not acknowledge any wrongdoing (nor did the FCC reach any such conclusion), but the company voluntarily agreed to contribute $265,000 to the U.S. Treasury and institute an internal program to ensure future compliance with the FCC's rules. While this is nowhere close to being the most expensive equipment-related contribution or fine the FCC has received or assessed for unlicensed devices (in one case the FCC assessed a $1 million dollar forfeiture), it does send a loud message to manufacturers and importers of almost all modern day electronic devices that the FCC polices its equipment authorization rules and treats potential violations seriously.

For an overview of the FCC's Part 2 and Part 15 rules, you can check out our Client Advisory on the subject.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form and Quarterly Report of Use Form Due

August 14, 2012

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending June 30, 2012.

Client Alert: FCC Sets September 13, 2012 Deadline for Payment of FY 2012 Annual Regulatory Fees

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted August 13, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

The FCC has announced that full payment of all applicable Regulatory Fees for Fiscal Year 2012 (FY 2012) must be received no later than 11:59 PM, ET, on September 13, 2012. As of today, the Commission's automated filing and payment system, the Fee Filer System, is now available for filing and payment of FY 2012 regulatory fees.

As we reported last month, the FCC released a Report and Order containing final determinations as to how much each FCC licensee will have to pay in Annual Regulatory Fees for FY 2012. The FCC collects Annual Regulatory Fees to offset the cost of its non-application processing functions, such as conducting rulemaking proceedings.

These annual regulatory fees are owed for most FCC authorizations held as of October 1, 2011 by any licensee or permittee which is not otherwise exempt from such fees. As has been the case since 2009, the FCC requires that licensees use the Commission's online Fee Filer System to submit their regulatory fees. In order to do so, parties must have a valid FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password. Payment can be made with a credit card, online payment from a bank account, check (after receiving an electronic voucher via Fee Filer), or wire transfer. More information regarding submitting a payment can be found here at the FCC's Regulatory Fees website. Note that, effective June 30, 2012, the U.S. Treasury is no longer accepting credit card payments greater than $49,999.99.

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.

Scott Flick of Pillsbury to Speak at the Texas Association of Broadcasters 59th Annual Convention & Trade Show, August 8 - 9, 2012

Scott R. Flick

August 9, 2012

Scott R. Flick will speak during this seminar on "DC Regulatory Update," taking place on August 9th from 11:00 am - 12:15 pm in Austin.

The discussion will focus on latest compliance issues for broadcasters, including public/political files online, video descriptive rules, LPFM/translators, among others

For more information and to register, please click here.

TAB/SBE 59th Annual Convention & Trade Show: August 8-9, 2012: Renaissance Austin Hotel

August 8, 2012

For more information on the Texas Association of Broadcasters/Society of Broadcast Engineers 59th Annual Convention & Trade Show, visit http://www.tab.org/convention-and-trade-show/.

Online Public File for TV Launches and Stations Need to Adapt; Particularly Those with August 16th License Renewal Announcements

Paul A. Cicelski Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted August 6, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

On Thursday, the much anticipated Online Public Inspection File for television stations launched more or less successfully. To complete the task in the short time given them, the FCC staff put forth an Olympic effect, and while they were subject to some point deductions for a few stumbles in the regulatory gymnastics involved, they largely "stuck the dismount" as the system went live.

To its credit, the FCC clearly listened to the many voicemails and emails sent to FCC staff, as well as the comments and questions raised during the FCC's online demonstrations prior to launch. Some potentially nasty pitfalls for stations were ironed out via the FAQs, and the system will hopefully continue to be refined in the weeks and months ahead.

In the meantime, here is what stations need to do now that the system is operational:

1. Be sure you can log in. The FCC's staff reports that there were a considerable number of stations that had lost or forgotten their FRN (Federal Registration Number) and password or otherwise had trouble with the log in process. The FRN has become an all-access pass to a station's records with the FCC and anyone who has it can file applications on the station's behalf in any number of FCC filing systems. The potential for mischief that the FRN and password presents is worthy of another blog post, but for now, know that stations that have used multiple FRNs and passwords may find it hard to get access to their online public inspection files and need the staff's assistance in straightening the problem out.

2. Input your station address. On the Authorizations page and again on the Letters and Emails From the Public page, stations need to fill in the station's main studio address, telephone number and email contact information. Stations should also verify that their closed captioning contact is listed correctly.

3. Cross-reference the online public file on the station's home page. Stations that have websites must include a link on their home page to their online public inspection file and provide the public with contact information for a station employee that can assist the disabled in accessing the public file.

4. Remove out of date documents automatically uploaded by the FCC. Since the FCC simply linked its CDBS public view to the new online public files, there may be numerous items that can safely be discarded as no longer relevant. The FCC did not do this automatically because the retention periods for the various categories of documents that seem straightforward at first blush actually vary considerably depending on a station's individual circumstances. The FCC has given stations enough rope to hang themselves here, so care should be taken before documents are removed. Nevertheless, for most stations, a lot of material is being put out there that need not be.

5. Check the station's Section 73.1212(e) and BCRA (Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act) folders. Chances are good that confusion has surrounded your station's 73.1212(e) folder for years, with the result that many stations' Section 73.1212(e) folders are empty. Section 73.1212(e) is the rule requiring stations to maintain a list of the executive officers of organizations that buy time to discuss political matters or controversial issues of public importance, and to place that list in the public inspection file. Most stations have treated these types of spots no differently than they do spots purchased by candidates for elective office. As a result, often when we visit a station's public file, we find neatly labeled folders for each candidate and each issue in the same section of the file cabinet and an empty folder labeled "Section 73.1212(e) Sponsorship Identification" at the very end of the drawer. When BCRA was implemented (requiring stations to maintain more detailed information about third-party political and issue ad buys involving controversial national issues), stations simply labeled more folders and added the BCRA materials to the political file right next to the materials on candidate ads. In addition, many stations found it difficult to distinguish between controversial national issues versus controversial state or local issues, and simply collected and maintained the same disclosure information for all ads that seemed "political" in nature, even if placing that information in the file was not actually required.

Technically (and here's where we separate the real communications lawyers from people who have interesting lives), the paperwork kept for non-BCRA issue ads was never part of a station's "political file", and the BCRA paperwork, which is nowhere mentioned in either the FCC's political or public file rules, is part of the political file. This distinction could have meant that stations that are not network affiliates located in the Top 50 markets would have been exempt from uploading candidate and BCRA paperwork until July 2014, but would still have to upload state and local issue ad paperwork immediately. Fortunately, the FCC appears to have sidestepped this problem by including in its FAQs a statement acknowledging that, because many stations simply lump all these "political" documents together, they can treat them all as part of the "political file" and only start uploading them in July 2014 (unless they are a Big 4 network affiliate in a Top 50 market).

6. Decide when to start uploading the station's pre-August 2 documents. The FCC is giving stations six months to upload their required pre-August 2 documents to the website. While the original Report and Order only gave stations five months from the rule's effective date to get this done, which would make final compliance due over the New Year's holiday, the FCC through its FAQs and its staff's advice is granting stations until February 2, 2013 to finish the upload process. Given the continuous "Recent Station History" feed on the FCC's website notifying the public of the most recent filings, however, stations might want to time their uploading activities to times when other filings are also taking place (i.e, October 1 EEO Public File Reports or October 10 Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists). That way, their recently filed documents are likely to be moved off the front page more quickly.

7. Stations airing pre- or post-filing license renewal announcements must update the language of the spots, while understanding that the public might not appreciate the change. The FCC has now updated the language of the pre- and post-filing license renewal announcements so that, on the one hand, it directs the public to find the station's license renewal application at www.fcc.gov, but, on the other hand, tells the public to come to the station's main studio or to the FCC to learn more about the license renewal process. The problem is that stations which filed their license renewal applications on June 1 or August 1 have been telling their viewing public for months that their applications are available at the main studio. This may lead to some disgruntled visitors to the studio, and stations will also need to think about exactly what they can offer members of the public that show up in their lobbies asking for "further information concerning the FCC's broadcast license renewal process." As a matter of good public relations, stations going through license renewal may want to consider keeping a hard copy of their license renewal application and the FCC's "The Public and Broadcasting" publication available to pacify members of the public who trek to their stations in response to the public notices. Of course, stations that have not transitioned all of the required elements of the public file into the FCC's system must still make the public file available upon request in the traditional manner, and stations will always have to make letters and emails from the public available at the studio even after the transition has ended.

Finally, broadcasters have long noted that visitors to the public file are few and far between. As a result, it has been all too easy for stations to become rusty on the procedures for making the file immediately available to the public, despite the many fines that have been assessed by the FCC for failure to do so. It is likely that visits will become even less frequent now that much of the file will be available online. However, stations must continue to prepare their staffs to receive the public and respond to questions about what is at the station and what is online. The upcoming months will likely be a learning process for all.

Pre-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio and Television Stations

August 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Iowa or Missouri, and television stations and Class A television stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in Florida, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands, must on this date begin to air their pre-filing renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on August 16, September 1 and September 16.

Post-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio and Television Stations

August 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Illinois or Wisconsin, and television stations and Class A television stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in North Carolina or South Carolina, must begin on this date to air their post-filing license renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on August 16, September 1, September 16, October 1 and October 16. FM Translator stations and TV translator stations, as well as LPTV stations not capable of local origination, licensed to communities in these states must arrange for the required newspaper public notice of their license renewal application filing.

Filing of Applications for Renewal of Licenses for Radio and Television Stations

August 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations, as well as FM Translator stations, licensed to communities in Illinois or Wisconsin, and television, Class A, LPTV and TV Translator stations licensed to communities in North Carolina or South Carolina, must electronically file their applications for renewal of license on FCC Form 303-S, along with their Equal Opportunity Employment Reports on FCC Form 396 by this date, and commercial stations must promptly submit their FCC license renewal application filing fee. FCC Forms 303-S and 396 as filed must be placed in stations' public inspection files.

FCC Form 323-E Biennial Ownership Report Due

August 1, 2012

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Illinois or Wisconsin and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in California, North Carolina or South Carolina (other than sole proprietorships or partnerships composed entirely of natural persons) must electronically file by this date their biennial ownership reports on FCC Form 323-E, unless they have consolidated this filing date with that of other commonly owned stations licensed to communities in other states. FCC Form 323-E does not require a filing fee. The form as filed must be placed in stations' public inspection files.

Annual EEO Public File Report Required

August 1, 2012

Station employment units that have five or more full-time employees and are comprised of radio and/or television stations licensed to communities in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina or Wisconsin must by this date place in their public inspection file and post on their station website a report regarding station compliance with the FCC's EEO Rule during the period August 1, 2011 through July 31, 2012. A more detailed review of station EEO obligations and the steps for implementing an effective EEO program can be found in our most recent EEO Advisory.

Copyright Royalty Claims Due

July 31, 2012

Television stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were carried as distant signals by at least one cable or satellite system in 2011 are eligible to file royalty claims for compensation with the Copyright Office in Washington, DC by this date. Under the federal Copyright Act, cable systems and satellite operators must pay "compulsory license" royalties to carry distant TV signals on their systems. The royalties are used to compensate the owners of copyrighted works broadcast on those signals. Stations that do not file claims by the deadline will not be able to collect royalties for carriage of their signals during 2011.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick

Posted July 30, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren A. Birzon

July 2012
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:

  • FCC Assesses $68,000 in Fines for Unauthorized STL Operations
  • EAS Failures Lead to $8,000 Fine
Licensee in Wyoming Slammed with $68,000 in Proposed Fines for STL Operations July was not a good month for the licensee of FM radio stations located in Casper, Wyoming. The FCC issued four separate Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture ("NAL") against the licensee for a total forfeiture amount of $68,000.

In August 2011, an agent from the FCC's Enforcement Bureau inspected the main studios of the licensee's four FM radio stations and the corresponding studio transmitter links ("STL") for each station. In the first of the four NALs, the agent discovered that although the station's STL was operating on its authorized frequency, the STL was operating at the site of the station's main studio, 0.3 miles away from the STL's authorized location.

In December 2011, the Enforcement Bureau issued a Letter of Inquiry ("LOI") to investigate. In the licensee's delayed response to the LOI in April 2012, the licensee admitted that the STL had been the primary delivery mechanism for the FM station's programming since 2001 and that an application to change the location of the STL "should have been filed" when the station moved its main studio ten years earlier. Only after the fact (in May 2012) did the licensee file an application to modify the STL's authorized location. According to Section 1.903(a) of the FCC's Rules, stations must operate in accordance with applicable rules and with a valid authorization granted by the FCC, and the base forfeiture for operating at an unauthorized location is $4,000. Here, the FCC decided that an upward adjustment of an additional $4,000 was warranted because the STL had been operating at the unauthorized location for ten years.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Online Public File Stay Denied - Online Public Inspection File Interface Demonstrations Scheduled for Monday and Tuesday

Paul A. Cicelski Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted July 27, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

Late this afternoon, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied the Stay requested by the National Association of Broadcasters that would have prevented the FCC's new online Public Inspection File posting requirement from becoming effective. As a result, television broadcast stations must be prepared to comply with this new requirement effective on August 2, 2012.

As we have previously reported here, the FCC has moved with great speed to create a new filing system to house television stations' online Public Inspection Files. Until now, broadcasters have had only a brief glimpse of the system they must begin using in less than one week.

This afternoon, the FCC announced that it will hold two public online "screensharing" sessions that will "provide high resolution views of the application screens and cover the material presented during the July 17, 2012 demonstration."

The sessions will occur at 9:00 am on Monday and 4:00 pm on Tuesday. Those interested in viewing the demonstrations must visit the FCC's site in advance and join the teleconference prior to its scheduled start time. While the online demonstration will provide the visuals, the audio portion will be done via the teleconference.

We have prepared an Advisory for clients to help them understand which specific items must be uploaded and what steps they should take to make a successful transition to the online Public Inspection File. The next week promises to be chaotic for TV broadcasters, but we hope the Advisory will help alleviate some of the regulatory pain.

FCC Announces FY2012 Regulatory Fee Amounts

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted July 23, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

The FCC has released a Report and Order which includes its final determinations as to how much each FCC licensee will have to pay in Annual Regulatory Fees for fiscal year 2012 (FY 2012). The FCC collects Annual Regulatory Fees to offset the cost of its non-application processing functions, such as conducting rulemaking proceedings.

In May of this year, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("NPRM") regarding its FY 2012 payment process and the proposed fee amounts for each type of FCC license. In large part, the FCC adopted its proposals without material changes. With respect to the non-fee related proposals, the FCC imposed a new requirement that refund, waiver, fee reduction and/or payment deferment requests must be submitted online rather than via hardcopy. The FCC also adopted its proposal to use 2010 U.S. Census data in calculating regulatory fees. With respect to fees, Commercial UHF Television Station fees increased across the board, except for the fee associated with stations in Markets 11-25. In contrast, Commercial VHF Television Station fees decreased across the board, except for those stations in Markets 11-25. The fees for most categories of radio stations increased modestly. A chart reflecting the fees for the various types of licenses affecting broadcast stations is provided here.

The FCC will release a Public Notice announcing the window for payment of the regulatory fees. As has been the case for the past few years, the FCC no longer mails a hardcopy of regulatory fee assessments to broadcast stations. Instead, stations must make an online filing using the FCC's Fee Filer system reporting the types and fee amounts they are obligated to pay. After submitting that information, stations may pay their fees electronically or by separately submitting payment to the FCC's Lockbox.

Finally, as Paul Cicelski of our office noted earlier this year, the FCC is re-examining its regulatory fee program and has initiated the first of two separate NPRM proceedings seeking comment on issues related to how the FCC should allocate its regulatory costs among different segments of the communications industry. The FCC expects to release the second NPRM "in the near future" and implement any changes from those rulemakings in time for FY 2013.

Arkansas Broadcasters Association 2012 Convention: July 19-21 - Doubletree Hotel, Little Rock, Arkansas

July 19, 2012

FCC Conducts Demo of Its New Online Public Inspection File Interface

Paul A. Cicelski Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted July 18, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

As promised, yesterday morning the FCC conducted a public demonstration and webcast of the interface it has developed to host the online public inspection files for television broadcast stations. As we noted last week, the database is being developed in connection with the FCC's recent Order requiring television broadcast stations to post their public inspection files online in a central, Commission-hosted database. These rules go into effect August 2, 2012. An archived version of the FCC's webcast can be found here.

FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake opened the demonstration by emphasizing that the FCC is focused on making it easier for broadcasters to use the system and for the public to access it than has been the case with the FCC's legacy databases and paper-based public files. Greg Elin, the FCC's Chief Data Officer, echoed Lake's comments and demonstrated how the new interface brings together in one place items that have historically been stored in different locations on the FCC's website, such as having the station's contour map from the engineering database and its current authorization accessible from the main page for the station. The new system also replaces FCC Form numbers and abbreviations with plain English and will permit stations to upload documents in most major formats to make it more "user-friendly." Elin also said that the FCC plans to use dedicated hardware for broadcasters to use to upload items so that surges in interest on the public side will not prevent broadcasters from managing their online file pages.

The FCC has been working on such issues for some time in connection with a planned Consolidated Licensing System (CLS) which it has demonstrated on a number of occasions over the past few years. The CLS is intended to consolidate and replace the FCC's legacy filing databases, providing uniformity in electronic filing across all of the different Bureaus and types of authorizations. Media Bureau licensees are slated to be the first to use the new system when it's ready. It appears that the FCC has integrated the public file interface with that on-going work, providing a uniform "look and feel" between the public file interface and what might ultimately become the sole online filing location on the Commission's website.

It remains to be seen after watching the presentation the extent to which the interface will be ready to go by the FCC's August 2 deadline. Lake and Elin each indicated that they expected that the interface would "evolve" over time as experience with its use is gained. Moreover, Elin stated that, while most issues for the August 2 launch have been ironed out for Mozilla and Firefox users, a number of applications associated with the interface do not yet function properly with Internet Explorer. It also appears that, although the database will be connected real-time to the FCC's current Consolidated Database System (CDBS) allowing applications that are filed to be instantaneously included in the new database, the ability to effectively "search" the new database is still a way off. Finally, it was not clear how stations will be able to both (i) allow multiple employees, engineers and counsel to access the station's page to upload and police the contents of the public file and (ii) monitor those various agents that might act on its behalf, especially if online electronic filing of applications is integrated with this interface.

Regarding the political file, which network affiliates in the top-50 markets must begin populating with newly created political documents beginning August 2, Elgin said that the FCC intends to establish a series of files and sub-files for stations to use based on data imported from the Federal Election Commission's website. Specifically, the FCC's database will include separate files for federal, state, and local election ad buys. Under those, FCC proposes to include sub-folders, such as one for each Congressional district, then further sub-folders for each candidate as well as for non-candidate specific issue ads. Stations will be given tools that will allow them to retain some flexibility when designing their individual online political files, but how much customization the new database will allow remains to be seen. The FCC will support file-sharing programs that can allow multiple employees at a station to upload information about ad buys, but stations will still have to address the issues regarding user identification noted above.

Given the FCC's efforts to make the interface useable in a variety of ways, TV stations would benefit from the opportunity to test the system, to see which file formats work best for them, to learn and implement file sharing programs, and to set up internal controls for employee access to the station's page. Unfortunately, while Elgin did indicate that the system would be up and running by August 2, he was unable to provide a date specific regarding when the database will be available for such testing. Remembering the difficulties encountered with the roll out of the new commercial ownership report, early testing will likely be key to the success of the new database.

Historically, each time the FCC has introduced an electronic filing form to replace a paper-based form, it has allowed broadcasters a significant transition time period to acclimate to the new form. Clearly, such a timeframe has not been contemplated here so far. Therefore, at a minimum, it would be appropriate if the FCC withheld all public inspection file enforcement activity against television stations until such a time as it is certain that the new interface is functioning smoothly and broadcasters have had an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the new system.

Of course, there is the issue of the NAB's pending emergency request with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the August 2 effective date of the rules, which could have the same effect. Check back frequently for updates as there is sure to be plenty of additional news prior to August 2.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form Due

July 15, 2012

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending May 31, 2012.

FCC Denies NAB Online Public File Stay Request as Focus Moves to Court

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted July 12, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

As I reported last week, the FCC's new rules requiring television stations to replace the public files they maintain at their studios with electronic files to be hosted online by the FCC are currently set to become effective on August 2, 2012. Since that report, a lot of events have occurred, and the focus of this proceeding has officially shifted from the FCC to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

To no one's surprise, the FCC earlier today issued an Order denying the National Association of Broadcaster's (NAB) Petition for Stay of the FCC's new online public inspection file rules. In its Order, the FCC states it is denying the NAB's request because the NAB was unable to satisfy any of the four factors factors supporting grant of a stay. According to the FCC, the NAB failed to show (1) that the new rules would cause irreparable injury; (2) that the NAB is likely to prevail on the merits in its appeal; (3) that other interested parties will not be harmed if a stay is granted; and (4) that a stay would serve the public interest. Essentially, the FCC regurgitated its prior findings in deciding to move full speed ahead with the new rules. However, TV broadcasters have been seeking relief from the new rules, which will, without question, increase compliance burdens on TV stations while needlessly duplicating records already required to be maintained online by the Federal Election Commission.

As a practical matter however, today's action by the FCC is more of a procedural hurdle that had to be cleared by broadcasters on their way to court rather than a true substantive analysis of the merits of the court appeal. As I reported last month, the NAB has already filed a Petition for Review asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to vacate the FCC's action "on the grounds that it is arbitrary, capricious, in excess of the Commission's statutory authority, inconsistent with the First Amendment, and otherwise not in accordance with law." Also, earlier this week, in anticipation of today's denial by the FCC, the NAB filed a separate Emergency Motion with the court asking the court to hold the new rules in abeyance. The NAB is asking the court to stay the August 2 effective date of the rules until the court has had an opportunity to consider the NAB's Petition for Review.

According to the NAB's request for a stay, the FCC has "engaged in arbitrary and capricious decisionmaking by disregarding the competitive harm that is likely to result from the Order and departing from the provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA.)" The NAB also states that its "members will suffer irreparable harm absent a stay because the Order compels television stations to post the prices for specific advertisements to a public website immediately after the sales occur." The NAB's request also noted that the new rules "will place NAB's members at a distinct disadvantage to their non-broadcast competitors, who will not be required to post rate information on the Internet."

While all of this is going on, the FCC has announced that it will be conducting a public demonstration of its proposed online public inspection file database next Tuesday, July 17, 2012, at 10:00 a.m., only two weeks or so prior to the date the new rules are scheduled to go into effect. Those of you interested in participating online can do so by logging in to www.fcc.gov/live. I will be posting a follow-up piece summarizing next week's demonstration.

As the levels of activity on multiple fronts indicate, this proceeding is far from over. To be sure, obtaining a court stay is not an easy task. That said, this is the rare case where (despite the FCC's contrary ruling), the irreparable harm to broadcasters is apparent, and the case on the merits is strong. While the court ponders the stay request, TV broadcasters need to be preparing themselves for the the process of uploading their public inspection files by the August 2 deadline. Whether or not a last-minute stay is granted, the next two weeks will be a white-knuckle ride for TV broadcasters.

Class A Television Continuing Eligibility Certification

July 10, 2012

Class A television stations are required to maintain documentation in their public inspection files sufficient to demonstrate continuing compliance with the FCC's Class A eligibility requirements. We recommend that by this date Class A television stations generate such documentation for the period April 1, 2012 through June 30, 2012 and place it in their public inspection files.

FCC Form 398 Children's Programming Report Due

July 10, 2012

Commercial full-power and Class A television stations must by this date electronically file FCC Form 398, demonstrating their responsiveness to "the educational and informational needs of children" for the period April 1, 2012 through June 30, 2012, and place a copy of the form as filed with the FCC in the station's public inspection file.

Certification of Children's Commercial Time Limitations Required

July 10, 2012

Commercial full-power and Class A television stations must place in their public inspection files by this date records "sufficient to verify compliance" with the FCC's commercial time limitations in children's programming broadcast during the period April 1, 2012 through June 30, 2012.

Quarterly Issues/Programs List Required

July 10, 2012

All full-power radio, full-power television, and Class A television stations must place in their public inspection files by this date the Quarterly Issues/Programs List covering the period April 1, 2012 through June 30, 2012.

FCC Online Public/Political File Rules Are Effective August 2

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted July 3, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

Earlier today, the FCC announced in the Federal Register that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has approved the FCC's new rules requiring television stations to replace the public files that they maintain at their studios with electronic files that will be hosted online by the FCC. As a result of today's announcement, the online file rules become effective on August 2, 2012. Included among the documents that must be made available online are stations' ad sales records for political ads--a requirement widely speculated to be a response to the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case.

As I reported recently, what this means is that all full-power and Class A television stations will be required to upload any newly created public file documents to a not-yet-disclosed database managed by the FCC starting August 2. Stations will have until January 3, 2013, to post their current public file documents online, with the exception of letters and emails from the public which are not required to be uploaded.

With respect to political file documents, affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox located in the top-50 television markets will have to begin uploading all newly created political file documents to the FCC's database on August 2, 2012. The political file requirement will be phased in so that all other television stations must comply with the political file uploading requirement by July 1, 2014. Until July 1, 2014, stations not in the top-50 markets and all stations not affiliated with the top-four networks, regardless of the size of the market they serve, are exempt from the requirement. The FCC has stated that it plans to issue a Public Notice no later than July 1, 2013 seeking comments on the impact that the posting requirement has had on television stations to that point and to evaluate the effectiveness of the process. Items placed in a station's political file prior to August 2 will not have to be posted online.

Whether any of these dates will hold remains to be seen.

First, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has already filed a Petition for Review of the rules in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, even though the deadline to do so is not until July 10. The NAB, along with 46 State Broadcasters Associations and others, had opposed the rules when the FCC proposed them, stating that they were riddled with omissions, greatly underestimated the burden on television stations, and were otherwise duplicative of reporting required by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). However, the FCC and the OMB rejected these claims, seemingly turning a blind eye to the voluminous record in the proceeding indicating that the proposed rules will increase burdens on television stations while merely duplicating records already required to be filed with the FEC. As a result, the NAB's court challenge argues that the FCC's action in adopting the rules "infringes on . . . First Amendment free-speech rights, exceeds statutory authority, and is arbitrary and capricious." In addition, the NAB filed a motion for stay with the FCC earlier today asking the Commission to delay implementation of the rules until the court has had an opportunity to review the NAB's Petition for Review.

Second, and of more practical concern, the FCC will now have to scramble to ready its online filing database and educate the public in its use before the August 2 effective date rolls around. The FCC has not yet announced when the database will be available for stations to "test" the system in advance of the rules going into effect as it claimed it would do when it adopted the new rules. The Commission did announce today that it will soon schedule user testing and educational webinars for the online public file to ensure that the uploading of materials by broadcasters can be done "smoothly and efficiently".

Many will remember the chaos that occurred in 2009 and 2010 as a result of the FCC's decision to adopt a new electronic Ownership Report filing requirement that increased both the amount of data to be collected and the number of reports to be submitted, but promised to mitigate the increased burden by making the data easy to copy into multiple filings. Repeatedly, the FCC's system ground to a halt under the heavy load, precluding filers from working with the data they had painstakingly entered. As a result, the filing deadline had to be repeatedly extended until the bugs were worked out. Glitches such as this are inevitable with an untested system, which makes one wonder how the FCC believes it can make it all work before the August 2 deadline. It would be unfortunate if the combination of the Citizens United ruling and the impending November 6 election drove the FCC to once again implement a filing database that is not ready for prime time, forcing broadcasters to serve as beta testers.

Needless to say, given the NAB's Petition at the court, the other likely court and FCC challenges to the rules, and the hurdles the FCC faces in implementing the online database, the odds are not high that stations will be fully uploaded by the August 2, 2012 deadline. Unfortunately, though, television stations can't afford to wager on the speed with which the FCC will move in this case. Stations will therefore need to start moving now to ensure they are ready to post their files by August 2, 2012, and should remain alert to any FCC announcements informing them exactly how the new filing system will work.

Regulatory Fees Announced

July 1, 2012

The FCC is expected to release a Public Notice this month indicating the dates by which annual regulatory fees must be filed with the FCC and the amounts of those fees. Broadcasters should remain alert for this announcement.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick

Posted June 29, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren A. Birzon

June 2012
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:

  • Long-Term Violation of an FCC Order Leads to $25,000 Forfeiture
  • FCC Issues $10,000 Fines for Obstruction Lighting Violations
Licensee Fined $25,000 for Failing to Pay $8,000 Four Years Ago

The licensee of an AM radio station in Puerto Rico was recently fined $25,000 for a string of failures to comply with an FCC Consent Decree issued four years ago, showcasing the FCC's irritation with unpaid fines.

In 2005, the Enforcement Bureau issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) for $15,000 against the licensee for failing to properly maintain a fence around its tower, violations related to the public inspection file, and operating with an unauthorized antenna pattern. Following the issuance of this first NAL, the FCC issued a Forfeiture Order which the licensee challenged, arguing that the forfeiture for the fencing violation should be reduced. The FCC eventually issued an Order lowering the penalty amount to $14,000, based on the licensee's efforts to comply with the FCC's antenna structure fencing requirements. Still unhappy with the FCC's decision, the licensee filed a petition for reconsideration of the Order, but ultimately entered into a Consent Decree with the FCC in 2008 terminating the investigation.

In the Consent Decree, the licensee agreed to make a "voluntary" contribution of $8,000 to the U.S. Treasury. The licensee further agreed to submit compliance reports for two years and to certify to the FCC that it is properly maintaining its public inspection file, operating its transmitters as authorized, and has repaired the fence surrounding its tower.

However, the licensee failed to pay the $8,000 or submit its compliance reports to the FCC. In 2010, two years after the Consent Decree, the licensee responded to a letter of inquiry from the FCC, noting that it had sent a check to the FCC to pay the $8,000, but that the check had bounced because the licensee had insufficient funds.

The FCC rejected this excuse, and in May 2011, issued an additional NAL against the licensee for $25,000 for failing to comply with an FCC Order. Notably, the FCC concluded that there is no base forfeiture for failing to comply with an FCC Order, and that it is therefore within the FCC's discretion to determine how serious the violation is and how large a penalty is warranted. In this instance, the FCC considered the licensee's violations to be egregious and determined that "'a consent decree violation, like misrepresentation, is particularly serious. The whole premise of a consent decree is that enforcement action is unnecessary due, in substantial part, to a promise by the subject of the consent decree to take the enumerated steps to ensure future compliance.'"

The licensee responded to the 2011 NAL, requesting that the forfeiture be cancelled due to the licensee's financial situation--the majority of the owner's companies had filed for bankruptcy and the licensee's sole owner was some $70 million in debt. Unfortunately for the licensee, the FCC rejected this request and proceeded to issue a Forfeiture Order this month for the proposed $25,000. In the Forfeiture Order, the FCC acknowledged that the licensee's financial situation indicated that it was unlikely to be able to pay the forfeiture. Nevertheless, the FCC considered the licensee's continuous violation of the terms of the Consent Decree to be a demonstration of "bad faith and a complete disregard for Commission and Bureau authority."

The licensee now has until mid-July to make the $25,000 payment, an amount significantly greater than the initial $8,000 contribution it was unable to pay in 2008.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

FCC Piles $65,000 in Fines on Small AM Station in Less Than a Year

Andrew S. Kersting

Posted June 28, 2012

By Andrew S. Kersting

The FCC recently issued two separate Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NALs), found here and here, for a combined sum of $40,000 against the licensee of a Class D AM radio station for failing to make available a complete public inspection file, and submitting what the FCC concluded was incorrect factual information concerning the station's public inspection file. According to the FCC, the station submitted the incorrect information without having a reasonable basis for believing that the information it provided to the Commission was accurate. What is most significant about this case is that this latest in fines is in addition to a $25,000 fine the FCC issued less than a year ago and included the same violation, bringing the licensee's collective contribution to the U.S. Treasury to $65,000 in the last 12 months.

By way of background, during a routine FCC inspection of an AM radio station in Texas back in December 2010, agents from the FCC's Enforcement Bureau's Houston Office found that the station failed to maintain a main studio with a meaningful full-time management and staff presence, determined that the station's public inspection file was missing a current copy of the station's authorization, its service contour map, the station's most recent ownership report filing, the Public and Broadcasting manual, and all issues-programs lists, and refused to make the public inspection file available. As a result, in June of last year, the Bureau issued an NAL in the amount of $25,000 for violating the FCC's main studio rule and public inspection file rules, and also required the licensee to "submit a statement signed under penalty of perjury by an officer or director of the licensee that . . . [the Station's] public inspection file is complete." In response to the FCC's directive, last August the licensee submitted a certification stating that "[i]n coordination with [an independent consultant], all missing materials cited have been placed in the Station's Public Inspection File, and the undersigned confirms that it is complete as of the date of this response."

Agents from the Enforcement Bureau's Houston Office returned to inspect the station's public inspection file last October and it turned out that once again the file did not contain any issues-programs lists. The agents also determined that none of the station employees present had knowledge of the station having ever kept issues-programs lists in the public inspection file.

In response to a Letter of Inquiry from the Enforcement Bureau regarding the missing lists, the licensee told the FCC that that the issues-programs folder was empty due to an "oversight" and that the licensee believed that the public file contained daily program logs of the programming aired by the party brokering time on the station. The licensee also stated in its response that it had hired an outside consultant to review the public file, who apparently indicated to the licensee that the public file "was complete."

Based on that follow-up visit, the Bureau released its first of two NALs issued on June 14, 2012, and cited the AM station for a failure to exercise "even minimal diligence prior to the submission" of its August certification stating that it was in full compliance with the FCC's Public Inspection File Rules. In addressing the licensee's violations, the Bureau noted that in 2003 the FCC expanded the scope of violations of Section 1.17 which states that no person should provide, in any written statement of fact, "material factual information that is incorrect or omit material information that is necessary to prevent any material factual statement that is made from being incorrect or misleading without a reasonable basis for believing that any such material factual statement is correct and not misleading."

As a result, information provided to the FCC - even if not intended to purposefully mislead the FCC - can result in fines if the licensee does not have "a reasonable basis for believing" that the information submitted is accurate. Licensees therefore need to be aware that an intent to deceive the Commission is not a prerequisite to receiving a fine; inaccurate statements or omissions that are the result of negligence can be costly as well.

As if that were not enough, the Bureau issued a second NAL on the same day in which it assessed a further fine against the licensee in the amount of $15,000 for failing to make available a "complete public inspection file." In determining the amount of this forfeiture, the Bureau noted that although the base forfeiture amount is $10,000 for public file rule violations, given the previous inspection by the agents from the Bureau's Houston Office, the licensee had a history of prior offenses warranting an upward adjustment in the forfeiture amount. The Bureau therefore concluded that because the licensee had violated the public inspection file rule twice within a one-year period - including after being informed that it had violated the Commission's rule - "its actions demonstrate[ed] a deliberate disregard for the Commission's rules and a pattern of non-compliance," warranting a $5,000 upward adjustment in the forfeiture amount.

This case is noteworthy because it demonstrates that parties dealing with the Commission must be mindful that, prior to submitting any application, report, or other filing to the FCC, it is important to ensure that the information being provided is accurate and complete in all respects. It also is significant for the high dollar amount of the fines the FCC issued to the licensee of a Class D AM station in a period of less than 12 months based on fairly common public file and main studio rule violations.

Office of Management and Budget, Keeping in Character, Approves FCC Online Public File Rules

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted June 22, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has once again rubber-stamped and approved an FCC information collection request in apparent defiance of its statutory obligation to take a hard look at the burdens imposed under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA). As I reported previously, the FCC adopted burdensome rules requiring television stations to replace their existing locally-maintained public inspection files with digital files to be placed online on an FCC-hosted website, including stations' detailed political records. What is a bit of a surprise, and frankly disappointing, is that the OMB took less than two weeks to approve the FCC's request even though the proposed rules appear to clearly violate the standards of the PRA, and lengthy comments were filed by multiple parties informing the OMB of that fact.

As I've stated, the new regulations will without question increase burdens on TV stations (including thousands of pages of copying, significant costs, and countless hours of employee time), while needlessly duplicating records already required to be maintained online by the Federal Election Commission. If such rules are not something the OMB should withhold approval of, or at least take a long hard look at, you have to wonder what level of burden is required to trigger a denial under the PRA. Very few FCC regulations that I can think of historically have imposed more paperwork burdens on stations than the online public/political file regulations.

In any case, in light of the OMB's approval, all Top 4 network affiliated stations in the top 50 markets will have to start placing political file material online 30 days after the FCC publishes a notice of the OMB approval in the Federal Register. I will provide an update when that publication occurs. However, there still may be some twists and turns coming, as it is more than likely that broadcasters will ask the courts to stay the effective date of the rules. If such a request is granted, the rules will not go into effect as quickly as the FCC is hoping.

Supreme Court Kicks the Indecency Can Down the Road

Scott R. Flick

Posted June 21, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that it would like to have as little to do with the FCC's broadcast indecency policy as possible. Rather than the momentous ruling on the constitutional future of broadcast indecency enforcement that advocates on all sides of the issue had hoped for, the mighty sound of the Court punting on the constitutional issue reverberated throughout Washington this morning.

Faced with a pair of Second Circuit decisions finding the FCC's indecency policy to be unconstitutionally vague and therefore chilling to broadcast speech, the Court ruled in an 8-0 vote that the FCC had failed to give adequate notice to Fox and ABC at the time of their assertedly indecent broadcasts that the FCC was going to start finding "fleeting indecencies" (verbal or visual) actionable and therefore subject to fines and other sanctions. As a result, the FCC rulings against both Fox and ABC were overturned by the Court. Having made that decision on the narrow grounds of "lack of notice", the Court concluded that it had no need to go further and delve into the constitutionality of the FCC's indecency enforcement.

On a pragmatic level, the Court's ruling seems to indicate that the appropriate "notice" on fleeting indecencies didn't occur until the FCC announced its decision to begin prosecuting such indecencies in a 2004 case involving NBC and the Golden Globes Awards. As a result, broadcast stations facing indecency complaints (and delayed license renewals) for allegations of fleeting indecency should see those complaints dismissed by the FCC as long as the program at issue aired before the 2004 Golden Globes decision. Unfortunately, stations facing indecency complaints for programs aired after that 2004 decision may find that today's Court ruling is irrelevant to them.

In fact, the Court went out of its way to make clear that it was not ruling on any issue but the "vagueness" in the FCC's treatment of fleeting indecencies caused by the lack of notice of its change in enforcement policy. Despite noting that the FCC's Golden Globes decision amounted to a change in the FCC's indecency policy, the Court wrote that "it is unnecessary for the Court to address the constitutionality of the current indecency policy as expressed in the Golden Globes Order and subsequent adjudications." The decision takes the extra step of stating that "this opinion leaves the Commission free to modify its current indecency policy in light of its determination of the public interest and applicable legal requirements. And it leaved the courts free to review the current policy or any modified policy in light of its content and application."

The Court's ruling therefore appears to be little more than a "reset" in which, with the limited exception of parties accused of airing fleeting indecency prior to 2004, broadcast stations find themselves in the exact same position as before this litigation started many years ago: unsure as to what content is or is not permissible, and with no additional guidance from the courts as to where the FCC may permissibly draw that line.

While, as I noted in an earlier post, the Supreme Court will usually avoid making a constitutional ruling if it can decide a case on other grounds, the Court's hesitance to step into this fray is striking. Rather than eliminating the chilling effect on First Amendment speech by providing clarity as to what the FCC can constitutionally demand of broadcasters, the Court actually increased the chilling effect. Airing anything that a single member of the public might allege is indecent can lead to:

1. a prolonged indecency investigation by the FCC;

2. withholding of FCC action on a station's license renewal application while the investigation proceeds;

3. withholding of FCC action on any application to sell or transfer that station; and

4. large fines, short-term renewals, and other FCC sanctions.

On top of all that, the Court has now undeniably added another contributor to the chilling effect:

5. years of expensive litigation to demonstrate that the FCC's actions in sanctioning a station for indecency were administratively or constitutionally improper.

With all these chilling factors, only a foolhardy broadcaster would air content that could subject it to this process, even if it knew from the beginning that it would ultimately win in court. That is the very definition of an impermissible chilling effect upon First Amendment speech. The Second Circuit decisions leading to today's decision clearly recognized that impact, and Justice Ginsburg's Concurrence to today's decision recognizes it as well. While agreeing with the Majority that Fox and ABC were not given adequate notice of the FCC's changing indecency standard, her Concurrence goes on to note that Pacifica, the Supreme Court's original 1978 decision upholding the FCC's indecency policy, "was wrong when it issued. Time, technological advances, and the Commission's untenable rulings in the cases now before the Court show why Pacifica bears reconsideration."

Unfortunately, by putting that decision off until another day, the Court leaves the waters of FCC indecency enforcement as murky (and chilling) as ever. Given that the FCC now has a backlog of 1.5 million indecency complaints involving 9700 programs--a backlog that was left pending while the FCC awaited guidance from the Court--the Court's unwillingness in today's decision to engage on the real issue before it is bad for the FCC, bad for broadcasters, and bad for viewers and listeners.

Broadcasters Challenge FCC's Proposed Online Public/Political File Rules on Multiple Fronts

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted June 15, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

As I discussed last month, the FCC has adopted rules requiring television stations to replace their existing locally-maintained public inspection files with digital files to be placed online on an FCC-hosted website, including stations' detailed political records. The majority of television stations will not be required to begin posting their political file documents online until July 1, 2014, but stations in the top-50 markets that are affiliated with ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox will be required to comply once the new regulations go into effect, assuming that the rules survive challenges made by TV broadcasters.

Broadcasters have launched a three-pronged attack against the FCC's proposed new regulations with a series of recent filings with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the FCC. The core thrust of the broadcasters' challenges are focused on the requirement that TV stations disclose online very sensitive rate information about political advertising. Broadcasters have assailed the proposed rules for dramatically increasing regulatory burdens on TV stations while at the same time failing to require similar online disclosures by cable TV systems or other competitors to broadcast television.

The first shot fired after the FCC adopted the new regulations was by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) in a Petition for Review filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. In its Petition, the NAB is asking the Court to vacate the FCC's action "on the grounds that it is arbitrary, capricious, in excess of the Commission's statutory authority, inconsistent with the First Amendment, and otherwise not in accordance with law." An NAB spokesman summed it up by charging the FCC with "forcing broadcasters to be the only medium to disclose on the Internet our political rates" and jeopardizing "the competitive standing of stations."

A number of broadcast groups opened up a second front against the FCC's new rules earlier this week, with filings asking the OMB to take a hard look at the FCC's proposed regulations under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA), and to invalidate the rules due to the FCC's failure to comply with the PRA. On behalf of 46 State Broadcasters Associations, Dick Zaragoza and I filed comments in the proceeding arguing that the FCC violated the PRA by, among other things, failing to analyze the large burdens the proposed new regulations will have on television stations in general, and on small television station businesses in particular. We also advanced the argument of the NAB and others that the new rules are unnecessarily and impermissibly duplicative of the records already required to be maintained online by the Federal Election Commission under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 1992.

In the third salvo, a coalition of broadcast groups calling themselves the "Television Station Group" is fighting the adoption of the rules at the FCC. This group filed a Petition for Reconsideration with the FCC asking the Commission to modify the proposed rules due to concerns with the requirement that stations reveal online precisely how much they charge for political advertising. The law requires that broadcasters charge their lowest unit rate for political ads during a pre-election window, and the Television Station Group told the FCC that if those rates are widely and easily accessible on an FCC-hosted website (and not just to candidates), commercial advertisers may make requests for that same low rate. The unintended effect could be to force broadcasters to homogenize their rates so that every ad costs the same, eviscerating the current cost advantage to candidates of being charged only the "lowest unit rate". In short, the Television Station Group argues that the disclosure of price information is anti-competitive and disrupts the commercial advertising marketplace because "stations' political ad rates, by law, must be based on commercial advertising rates."

Although the new rules are under fire on a number of fronts, it remains to be seen if broadcasters will be able to successfully block the FCC's efforts. Before the FCC's regulations can go into effect, at a minimum, they will have to be approved by OMB through the PRA process which, in this case, will not likely be the usual perfunctory rubber stamp the FCC often receives from OMB. Also, Court of Appeals challenges to the rules are not due until July 30, 2012, and, at some point, parties are likely to ask both the FCC and the courts to hold the effective dates of the rules in abeyance until the broadcasters' multiple challenges can be heard. In other words, the battle over the FCC's proposed online public/political file rules is far from over.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form Due

June 14, 2012

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit to SoundExchange the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms for the month ending April 30, 2012.

Scott Flick of Pillsbury to Speak on "FCC Legislative and Regulatory Roundtable" at the New Jersey Broadcasters Association 65th Annual Convention & Gala, June 13, 2012

Scott R. Flick

June 13, 2012

Scott R. Flick will speak at this session, which includes an update of current regulatory and legislative proposals, beginning at 2:45 PM at Ceasars Atlantic City.

For more information and to register, please click here.

If the Broadcast/Newspaper Cross-Ownership Rule Falls, Will It Make a Sound?

Scott R. Flick

Posted June 7, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

While the perennial cliche is that the FCC is perpetually behind the curve in trying to keep up with new communications technologies, my experience has been that the FCC and its staff are pretty up to date on these developments. As a result, when we see a rule remain on the books after its usefulness has ended (or the discovery that it was never useful in the first place), it can usually be attributed to one of two possibilities: either fixing the rule hasn't risen high enough on the FCC's list of priorities to dedicate limited staff resources to the process (for example, modifying the FCC's full power television rules to eliminate the rules and references applicable only to analog TV), or political pressures are impeding the process.

Rules that remain on the books because of a lack of staff resources tend to be addressed eventually. In contrast, rules that remain in place due to political pressures are well nigh immortal. In a 2010 C-SPAN interview with three former FCC chairmen regarding various issues, including the FCC's media ownership rules, Chairman Hundt was quoted as saying "Why don't we get an eraser and just get rid of them? None of us thought these rules made sense." To which Chairman Powell responded "It's a simple reason. It's politics." The third party to that conversation, Chairman Martin, had tried to slightly loosen the prohibition on broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership in 2008 in the nation's largest markets, only to encounter a firestorm of protests and court appeals from media activists. As a result, the prohibition remains in place, although the FCC announced this past December that it is once again considering loosening the rule in the largest media markets (are you seeing a pattern here?).

Rules residing in political purgatory--those kept on political life support long after their purpose has ended--survive until the facts on the ground change to such an extreme degree that even those who reflexively defend the rule can no longer do so. While some would justifiably rail against that system and demand that the nature of politics change, with rules created, modified, or eliminated based upon the cold hard facts of the situation, the nature of politics is actually the most relevant cold hard fact, and realistically, the least likely to change. Many rules will outlive their usefulness, and in fact become harmful, long before their demise. The only question is how long it takes after that tipping point is reached before it becomes politically feasible for the FCC to modify or eliminate the rule.

Of course, none of this occurs in a vacuum, and both individuals and businesses living with a rule must adapt to the changing situation on the ground, even as the rule itself remains unchanged. Recent "adaptations" make me wonder if we haven't reached the point where the broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership rule, which certainly had a reasonable purpose at one time, has reached the point where it can no longer be defended with a straight face.

In particular, I am thinking of two recent events which suggest the rule has outlived its time. The first is the announcement last month by Media General that it is selling its newspapers to Berkshire Hathaway in order to concentrate on its broadcast and digital content delivery. When a company that actually does have both broadcast and newspaper interests does not find the combination sufficiently compelling to retain its newspaper operations, the premise of the rule--a fear of powerful broadcast/newspaper combinations dominating the market--appears misplaced.

More interesting, however, is the recent announcement by Newhouse Newspapers that it will be scaling back its daily newspaper in New Orleans (the well-known Times-Picayune), as well as those in Mobile, Huntsville, and Birmingham, Alabama. According to the announcement, these daily newspapers will now be published only three times a week, with increased focus on website content.

Why the drastic cutback from seven days a week to just three, rather than the more measured approach perennially proposed by the U.S. Postal Service of ending only Saturday delivery as a cost saving measure? Given that daily newspapers make a substantial portion of their revenue from publishing legal notices (which are usually required by law to be published in a daily newspaper), these newspapers must have thought long and hard before ceasing daily publication and placing that significant revenue stream at risk.

However, there may be one other factor at play. While the FCC's rule prohibits ownership of both a broadcast station and a daily newspaper in the same area, the FCC defines a "daily newspaper" as one that is published at least four times a week. Whether by accident or by design, the decision to scale these newspapers back to three days a week makes them exempt from the FCC's ownership restrictions, thereby expanding the pool of potential buyers to include those most likely to be interested in taking on such an asset--local broadcast station owners.

Whether that fact played into the owner's decision to publish only three times a week frankly doesn't matter much. If it did enter into it, then the newspaper cross-ownership rule has become actively harmful, forcing a newspaper that might have been happy to publish four, five or six times a week to instead publish only three times a week to avoid being subject to the rule. If it didn't, then Newhouse's decision to cut back to three days a week is merely an indication of things to come in a struggling newspaper industry. Either way, the FCC's newspaper cross-ownership rule is being mooted by factual changes on the ground.

The clock is therefore ticking on how long it takes for the political pressure to also fade, allowing the FCC to finally proceed with its plan to loosen (or perhaps eliminate) the rule. During that wait, the only question is whether the rule is merely a curious anachronism, or if it actually harms the newspaper industry, either by preventing broadcasters from investing in local newspapers, or by forcing newspapers to cut back to publishing three times a week in order to circumvent the FCC's rule. Unfortunately, by the time the political pressures keeping the rule alive finally recede, the damage may already be done, with newspapers ceasing existence or scaling back publication until the FCC's rule becomes irrelevant. If that happens, the rule's elimination may turn out to be no more consequential than the FCC's eventual elimination of analog TV rules--an act of administrative housekeeping done when the item regulated no longer exists.

Pre-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio and Television Stations

June 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Illinois or Wisconsin, and television stations and Class A television stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in North Carolina or South Carolina, must on this date begin to air their pre-filing renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on June 16, July 1 and July 16.

Post-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio and Television Stations

June 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Michigan or Ohio, and television stations and Class A television stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia or the District of Columbia, must begin on this date to air their post-filing license renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on June 16, July 1, July 16, August 1 and August 16. FM Translator stations and TV translator stations, as well as LPTV stations not capable of local origination, licensed to communities in these states must arrange for the required newspaper public notice of their license renewal application filing.

Filing of Applications for Renewal of Licenses for Radio and Television Stations

June 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations, as well as FM Translator stations, licensed to communities in Michigan or Ohio, and television, Class A, LPTV and TV Translator stations licensed to communities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia or the District of Columbia must electronically file their applications for renewal of license on FCC Form 303-S, along with their Equal Opportunity Employment Reports on FCC Form 396 by this date, and commercial stations must promptly submit their FCC license renewal application filing fee. FCC Forms 303-S and 396 as filed must be placed in stations' public inspection files.

FCC Form 323-E Biennial Ownership Report Due

June 1, 2012

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Michigan or Ohio and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia or Wyoming (other than sole proprietorships or partnerships composed entirely of natural persons) must electronically file by this date their biennial ownership reports on FCC Form 323-E, unless they have consolidated this filing date with that of other commonly owned stations licensed to communities in other states. FCC Form 323-E does not require a filing fee. The form as filed must be placed in stations' public inspection files.

Annual EEO Public File Report Required

June 1, 2012

Station employment units that have five or more full-time employees and are comprised of radio and/or television stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia or Wyoming must by this date place in their public inspection file and post on their station website a report regarding station compliance with the FCC's EEO Rule during the period June 1, 2011 through May 30, 2012. A more detailed review of station EEO obligations and the steps for implementing an effective EEO program can be found in our most recent EEO Advisory.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Retransmission Consent (but were afraid to ask)

John K. Hane

Posted June 1, 2012

By John Hane

If all goes well, next week I'll fulfill one of my secret ambitions: to discuss how retransmission consent is affecting the business of television distribution. I've participated in many panel discussions on retransmission consent policy (because I work in Washington, and policy is what we talk about here).

On Tuesday I'll be in New York at the SNL Kagan TV and Radio Finance Summit where I'll finally have a chance to talk about the business, financial and investment aspects of retransmission consent (because that's what they talk about in New York). To me, those are the far more intriguing topics, because if you don't totally understand the market, you can't credibly defend your policy positions.

SNL has assembled an all-star panel, including senior execs from Fisher Communications, SJL Broadcast Management Corporation, Communications Corporation of America, Moodys, and the resident FCC Media Bureau Chief, Bill Lake. SNL's Robin Flynn (who always comes armed with thoughtful and well-presented data) will moderate. So Robin, here are some of the questions I'd like to hear debated by my fellow panelists, and I may have an opinion of my own here and there.

  • Why are retransmission fees still so low relative to viewing and why aren't they rising faster? What should the government do to help bring sports programming back to broadcast television?
  • According to SNL research, some groups get much higher retransmission rates than others. Does this reflect real differences or reporting anomalies? Will this differential continue? How will it affect the market?
  • What are the biggest negotiation and deal mistakes groups make?
  • Is there any way to protect against the unexpected, like Aereo and Ad Hopper?
  • Is Aereo really a "retrans killer"? What happens to different market segments if it is? Could some broadcasters be better off if Aereo prevailed?
  • Has retransmission consent fundamentally changed the network-affiliate model, or simply adjusted the dollar flow?
  • Is cord-cutting equally bad for all programmers?
  • Apart from retransmission consent, is there a growth case for broadcast groups?
  • Do rising retrans fees really make the pie bigger (and drive up consumer costs), or do they just move the slices around? Which networks will benefit most long term?
  • And most important: What happens to the price of a Happy Meal when corn futures triple (and what does this tell us about retransmission consent?)

Drop me an email at john.hane@pillsburylaw.com if you're attending and share my intense interest in these questions. If you aren't attending, SNL Kagan is making all of the day's sessions available via simulcast.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick

Posted May 31, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren A. Birzon

May 2012
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:

  • FCC Fines Noncommercial Educational Station $12,500 for Ads
  • Public Inspection File Violations Lead to Three Short Term License Renewals
  • Main Studio Violations and Unauthorized Operations Garner $21,500 Fine

Noncommercial Educational Station Airs Expensive Ads
A recent fine against a noncommercial educational station serves as a warning to noncommercial licensees to be mindful of on-air acknowledgements and advertisements. In concluding a preceding that began in 2006, the FCC issued a $12,500 fine against a California noncommercial FM licensee for airing commercial advertisements in violation of the FCC's rules and underwriting laws.

In August 2006, agents from the Enforcement Bureau inspected the station and recorded a segment of the station's programming. During the inspection, the agent determined that the recorded programming included commercial advertisements on behalf of for-profit entities. In January 2007, the Bureau issued an initial Letter of Inquiry ("LOI") regarding the station's commercial advertisements and additional technical violations. At the same time, the Bureau referred the matter to the Investigations and Hearings Division for additional investigation. The Division issued additional LOIs in 2008 and 2009, to which the licensee responded three times. In its responses, the licensee admitted to airing four commercial announcements over 2,000 times in total throughout an eight-month period in 2006. It also acknowledged that it had executed contracts with for-profit entities to broadcast the announcements in exchange for monetary payment.

According to Section 399(b) of the Communications Act and the FCC's Rules, noncommercial educational stations are not permitted to broadcast advertisements, which are defined as program material that is intended to promote a service, facility, or product of a for-profit entity in exchange for remuneration. Noncommercial stations may air acknowledgments for entities that contribute funds to the station, but the acknowledgments must be made for identification purposes only. Specifically, such acknowledgments should not promote a contributor's products or services and may not contain comparative or qualitative statements, price information, calls to action, or inducements to buy or sell. In addition to these rules, the FCC requires that licensees exercise "good faith" judgment in airing material that serves only to identify a station contributor, rather than to promote that contributor.

In this case, the FCC determined that the materials aired were prohibited advertisements because they favorably distinguished the contributors from their competitors, described the contributors with comparative or qualitative references, and included statements intended to entice customers to visit the contributors' businesses. As a result, the FCC proposed a $12,500 fine in June 2010.

In response, the licensee argued that the FCC should reduce or cancel the fine because (1) the announcements complied with the FCC's Rules and "good faith" precedent, (2) the announcements did not contain a "call to action," and (3) the FCC had not previously prohibited the language used in the announcements. The licensee also claimed that the investigation of the station was improper because the FCC had previously indicated it would not monitor stations for underwriting violations, but would respond solely to complaints.

The FCC refused to cancel or reduce the fine, finding that both the fine and the investigation were warranted given the licensee's violations. In its Order, the FCC defended its determination that the materials aired by the station were promotional advertisements because they contained comparative phrasing, qualitative statements, and aimed to encourage the audience to purchase the goods or services of the for-profit entities. In addition, the FCC rejected the notion that the investigation was in any way improper, noting that the FCC has broad authority to investigate the entities it regulates, including through field inspections.

Here, as in other underwriting cases, the FCC's decision to issue a fine came down to a necessarily subjective interpretation of language--is a given statement promotional in nature or does it merely identify a source of funding? The FCC has acknowledged that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two, hence the requirement that licensees exercise "good faith" judgment in airing underwriting announcements. Noncommercial educational stations must therefore carefully review the content of their on-air announcements to ensure the language is not unduly promotional in order to avoid a fate similar to the licensee in this case.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

FCC's TV Channel Sharing Rules Go Into Effect Soon But the Picture Isn't Clear

Paul A. Cicelski Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted May 25, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

The FCC has announced that the preliminary television channel sharing rules in the FCC's Report and Order in the Innovation in Broadcast Television Bands proceeding will become effective on June 22, 2012. The rules establish the basic framework by which two or more full-power/Class A television stations can voluntarily choose to share a single 6 MHz channel. Channel sharing is integral to clearing the television broadcast spectrum so that the FCC can auction it for wireless broadband as called for in the National Broadband Plan. The rules follow the signing of the "Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012", which we discussed in detail in a previous post. Also called the "Spectrum Act," that law gives the FCC authority to conduct incentive auctions to encourage television broadcasters to get out of the business or find new business models that rely on less spectrum, such as doubling up with another station on a single 6 MHz channel.

The FCC's new rules allow a station to tender its existing 6 MHz channel to the FCC, making it available for the "reverse" or "incentive" spectrum auction. The tendering station can set a reserve price below which it won't sell. To encourage more stations to participate in the auction, the FCC is also permitting stations, in advance of the auction, to agree to share a single 6 MHz channel after the auction. In this scenario, one of the two stations would tender its channel into the auction, and both stations would share the proceeds and operate on the remaining 6 MHz channel after the auction. The FCC's Order makes clear that channel sharing arrangements will be voluntary, and that stations will be "given flexibility" to control some of the key parameters under which they will combine their operations on a single channel, including allocation of auction proceeds among the parties.

Each station sharing a 6 MHz channel will be required to retain enough capacity to transmit one standard definition stream, which must be free of charge to viewers. Each will have its own separate license and call sign, and each will be subject to all of the Commission's rules, including all technical rules and programming requirements. Stations that agree to share a channel will retain their current cable carriage rights. Commercial and noncommercial full-power and Class A TV stations are permitted to participate in the incentive auction and enter into channel sharing agreements, but low power TV and TV translator stations are not.

Many more details will have to be resolved prior to the incentive auction. Our own John Hane recently discussed the procedural uncertainties surrounding the auction in a detailed and comprehensive interview conducted by Harry Jessell of TVNewsCheck. The transcript of the interview can be found here. At bottom, John concluded that the largest obstacle facing the FCC will be designing the auction so that a sufficient number of broadcasters find it attractive to participate.

The FCC invited John and other industry experts to participate in a Channel Sharing Workshop earlier this week. In the meantime, John and other Pillsbury attorneys have been actively helping stations assess the risks and opportunities of the incentive auctions, including spectrum valuation and strategies for the forward and reverse auctions and spectrum repacking. Many of the issues raised at the FCC's Channel Sharing Workshop dealt with the intricacies of the arrangements broadcasters will have to craft to govern their relationship with a channel sharing partner. These ranged from how multiple channel "residents" will manage capital investments in facilities upgrades, to what might happen if one licensee on a shared channel goes bankrupt, sells, or turns in its license. A recording of the Workshop can be accessed here.

The FCC acknowledged that much work lies ahead of it. To that end, the FCC announced at the Workshop that the first of a series of Notice of Proposed Rulemakings concerning issues raised during the Workshop will be released in the Fall. The FCC did not predict a timeframe for completing the auction design process and establishing service rules.

As these and other issues take the fore, television broadcasters must remain engaged, shaping the process to allow them the maximum flexibility to develop relationships and business models that can thrive in the post-auction environment.

I Know What You Watched Last Summer - Video Privacy Protection Act Creates Risks for All Video Programming Distributors

Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted May 15, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick

There has been a recent uptick in class action lawsuits against video programming distributors under the Video Privacy Protection Act. The VPPA was enacted in 1988 in response to the disclosure of the video tape rental records of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork during his confirmation hearings. Reflecting the era of its passage, the law refers to information regarding "video cassette tapes", but is much broader, requiring those who are involved in renting, selling or distributing "prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials" to discard consumer information after a period of time (generally one year) and to get consumers' consent before disclosing information about an individual's viewing habits.

In this day and age of apps that share the songs individuals listen to and the newspaper articles they read, the VPPA has been cited as a major impediment to similar online sharing regarding video downloads and rentals. Congress has considered legislation that would amend the VPPA to permit social media sharing of an individual's video viewing without requiring that individual's consent on a title by title basis. While it may seem an anachronism to those accustomed to rampant social sharing, the VPPA's requirements, and those of similar state privacy laws, apply to far more than just local video rental stores.

The attached Client Alert discusses a recent California case in which an individual brought a class action lawsuit against Sony. The suit claimed that Sony had retained the history of customers' PlayStation Network movie and video game purchases and rentals, and that it disclosed such information to the new owner of the PlayStation Network when the network was transferred, and that the new owner then disclosed that information to advertisers.

As a review of the Client Alert reveals, any video on demand provider, whether cable, satellite, or online, needs to be knowledgeable of the requirements of the VPPA. The VPPA provides an avenue for individuals to bring class actions on behalf of thousands of affected customers, and to seek actual, liquidated, and/or punitive damages for the violation, as well as legal fees. Because of this, the financial stakes can be quite high for what might be an entirely unintentional violation of consumers' privacy.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form and Quarterly Report of Use Form Due

May 15, 2012

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must submit by this date the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending March 31, 2012.

FCC Proposes FY 2012 Annual Regulatory Fees

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted May 8, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

The FCC has issued its latest annual Notice of Proposed Rulemaking containing regulatory fee proposals for Fiscal Year 2012. Those who wish to file comments on the FCC's proposed fees must do so by May 31, 2012, with reply comments due by June 7, 2012.

The FCC's NPRM includes an interesting twist. Citing the "rapid transformation" of the communications industry, the FCC indicates that it plans to re-examine its regulatory fee program which has remained largely the same since the program was first introduced in 1994. According to the NPRM, the FCC will be undertaking two separate "Reform Proceedings" in the near future to address the Commission's regulatory fee program. In the first phase, the FCC will consider the allocation percentages of core bureaus involved in regulatory fee activity and how it calculates those percentages. In the second phase, the FCC states that it will review other outstanding substantive and procedural issues. According to the FCC, "given the breadth and complexity of the issues involved, the issuance of two separate Notices of Proposed Rulemaking will permit more orderly and consistent analysis of the issues and facilitate their timely resolution."

We will be publishing a full Advisory on the FY 2012 Regulatory Fees once they are officially adopted (likely this summer) and will keep you posted regarding the Phase I and Phase II Reform Proceedings. You may also immediately access the FCC's FY 2012 proposed fee tables in order to estimate the payments (barring changes) that you will owe in September.

Death, Taxes and Voluntary Spectrum Auctions

Scott R. Flick

Posted May 2, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

The FCC created a stir in the broadcast community when, after proclaiming for more than a year that surrendering broadcast channels for the planned broadband spectrum auction would be entirely voluntary, it began to "volunteer" Class A stations it concluded had not complied with all FCC rules. I first raised this issue in a February post on the day the FCC released the first sixteen Orders to Show Cause demanding that the recipient Class A TV stations submit evidence as to why the FCC should not revoke their Class A status for infractions that would have previously drawn only a fine.

Loss of Class A status not only eliminates protection from being displaced by full power TV stations (or by a spectrum auction), but also disqualifies the station from sharing a post-auction channel with a full power station or seeking any compensation for its spectrum in the auction. Downgrading Class A stations to LPTV status therefore allows the FCC to sweep them aside involuntarily to clear spectrum for the auction, and avoid sharing the proceeds of the spectrum auction with that licensee.

It was therefore not too surprising when that initial batch of FCC orders was followed by dozens of subsequent FCC actions against Class A stations, some of which proposed substantial fines and indicated that the licensee had been earlier informed it could avoid a fine by notifying the FCC it wished to relinquish its Class A status.

Having put scores of stations on notice that their Class A status was either directly at risk or that they could avoid a fine by agreeing to relinquish Class A status, the FCC turned up the heat further this past week when it began issuing follow up orders revoking stations' Class A status. While the writing was already on the wall for many of these stations given the FCC's earlier actions against them, one of the orders offers a particularly disturbing insight into the determination with which the FCC is moving to thin the ranks of Class A stations (old FCC motto for Class A stations--"last bastion of independent voices in a consolidated TV world"; new FCC motto for Class A stations--"old and in the way").

Station KVHM is (or at least was) a Class A station that received a pair of investigatory letters from the FCC in late March and early August of 2011. According to the FCC, the letters noted that the station had failed to file required children's television reports and provided the licensee with thirty days to respond, making the first response due at the end of April 2011. However, as the FCC itself notes in the Order, the licensee, Humberto Lopez, died in May of 2011. According to his obituaries, Mr. Lopez, who owned multiple TV and radio stations and was an inductee of the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame, died "on May 16 after battling a long illness."

In the last few weeks of his life, he apparently didn't find time to respond to the FCC's March letter, and was certainly unable to respond to its August letter. His failure to respond led the FCC to issue a February 2012 Order to Show Cause demanding that Lopez demonstrate why his Class A status should not be revoked. When, not surprisingly, the licensee was unable to deliver that message from beyond the grave, the FCC issued last week's Order, stating "Lopez did not file a written statement in response to the Order to Show Cause, and, therefore, we deem him to have accepted the modification of the KVHM-LP license to low power television status." Talk about being tough on a licensee; the FCC demanded not just that Lopez rise from the grave to defend his Class A status, but that he do so in writing.

While it is easy enough to ridicule an FCC Order that is on its face so completely preposterous as to invite comparison with the worst cinematic portrayals of soulless bureaucracy, the real lesson of this case can be found by delving a bit deeper into the facts. On the FCC's side of the ledger, it is true that the first investigatory letter did arrive while the licensee was still alive, and that it was at least theoretically possible the licensee could have responded. Had the FCC's Order been based on this fact alone, rather than on the licensee's failure to respond long after his death to the 2012 Order to Show Cause, its action would have been hard-hearted, but perhaps defensible. The FCC could have argued that, given the licensee's failure to meet the original response deadline, his estate lacked the "clean hands" necessary to protest the loss of Class A status, and that the FCC was just playing the hand it was dealt. However, as it turns out, the FCC lacked clean hands as well.

Why, you may ask, did the licensee's estate not step up to oppose the Class A revocation? Apparently because it is still waiting for the FCC to grant the application to transfer control of the station from the deceased licensee to the licensee's estate (controlled by an Executor). Despite the fact that such post-death transfers are normally accorded nearly automatic grants, that application remains pending at the FCC since early November 2011. Worse, the apparent reason why the transfer application is hung up at the FCC is because the FCC has still not acted on the station's 2006 license renewal, which also remains pending. To be blunt, the licensee literally died waiting for the FCC to act on his license renewal application. While the FCC will often sit on a transfer application until the underlying station's license renewal is granted based on the theory that the "seller" shouldn't profit from the transfer of a station unless the FCC can first determine he was qualified to own it, the licensee here is beyond caring about such profit.

So in the fair world we like to think we live in, the FCC would have promptly granted the station's transfer application (and perhaps its license renewal application as well), transferring control of the station to the Executor of the licensee's estate. Without altering its timetable one iota, the FCC could then have proceeded to issue its February Order to Show Cause, and the Executor would have had a reasonable opportunity to try to defend the station's Class A status. Instead, in its apparent haste to clear "voluntary" spectrum for auction, the FCC cut all of these procedural corners, leaving Lopez's wife and (according to the obituary) twelve children with an asset of significantly diminished value, and no opportunity to seek their share of any spectrum auction proceeds.

What is particularly ironic is that the Lopez family is the archetype of the kind of licensee the FCC has argued will be interested in participating in the auction--a licensee that may no longer be as interested in running the station as in monetizing it to pay estate taxes and to split any remaining proceeds among the many heirs. The FCC has placed itself in the role of the cattle baron who dams up the stream, depriving his neighbors of water so that he can obtain their land for next to nothing (or in this case, nothing). If the FCC's thirst for broadcast spectrum has become so intense that it is willing to sacrifice fundamental fairness and "widows and orphans" to get it, all broadcasters need to be looking over their shoulders for the next regulatory lightning bolt encouraging them to also "volunteer" their spectrum. Like death and taxes, it appears the FCC is determined to make surrendering spectrum for the auction an unavoidable fact of life (and death).

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick

Posted April 30, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren A. Birzon

April 2012
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:


  • The FCC's $10,000 fines for items missing from the public inspection file continue

  • License cancellation no obstacle to FCC proposing $18,000 fine against former broadcaster
FCC Again Issues $10,000 Fines for Public Inspection File Violations

As we have reported on numerous occasions, $10,000 has become the standard fine for even minor public inspection file violations. That proved true again this month, with the FCC issuing a number of $10,000 fines for failure to include all Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists in a station's public inspection file.

The FCC's public inspection file requirements are found at Sections 73.3526 (commercial stations) and 73.3527 (noncommercial stations) of the FCC's Rules. They require broadcast licensees to maintain particular information in their files, including the Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, and to update the material in the file regularly throughout the license term.

In one decision, the FCC assessed a $10,000 fine against a noncommercial radio station in Louisiana for excluding twenty-four Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists (six years' worth) from its file over a seven-year period. The licensee had disclosed the problem in its license renewal application. In a second decision, the FCC fined a South Carolina commercial radio station $10,000 for ten absent Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists over a four-year period. Like the first case, the fact that the documents were missing from the file was disclosed in the station's license renewal application. The station belatedly placed the missing documents in the file when it filed its license renewal application.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Client Inspection Alert: FCC Votes to Require Online Posting of TV Public Inspection/Political Files

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted April 27, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

To follow up on my post from last week regarding the FCC's open meeting on implementing its proposals to require online posting of TV station public inspection files, including the political file, the FCC today voted to require television broadcasters to post their entire public inspection files online. FCC Commissioner McDowell dissented regarding the requirement that TV stations' political files be included online.

According to statements made in the FCC's meeting today, all TV stations will have six months to move their public inspection files online. The FCC has agreed to host TV public inspection files on its own website. With respect to the political file, online posting will be a "phased in" process. Stations affiliated with the top-four national networks in the top-50 Nielsen markets will be required to begin placing their political files online, with all other TV stations to follow on July 1, 2014. The FCC also indicated that it plans to issue a Public Notice in a year to evaluate the effectiveness of the process.

In adopting its Order, the FCC rejected a compromise proposal advanced last Friday by the National Association of Broadcasters, the ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and Univision networks, State Broadcasters Associations, as well as various television station groups. The compromise proposal would have permitted TV stations to provide summary information online, including the total amount of an advertising buy and the total amount of money a candidate has spent at that station on ads during a particular election window. The compromise proposal would have kept commercially-sensitive per unit rate information out of the online public file, while still including this information in the hard copy of the political file for candidates to inspect regarding lowest unit rate and other political advertising requirements.

Much more on these issues to follow, including further specifics on the details of the FCC's Order in this proceeding.

Online Political File a Hot Topic at Vegas NAB Show and Beyond

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted April 20, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

As many of you know by now, very few topics were hotter during the NAB Show in Las Vegas this week than the FCC's looming April 27 public meeting vote to decide how to implement its proposals to require online posting of TV station public inspection files. As Laurie Lynch Flick reported previously here, the FCC is proposing to require television broadcasters to replace their existing locally-maintained public inspection files with digital public inspection files to be maintained online, including stations' political records. The online public file has broadcasters concerned because creating and maintaining a centralized online public file substantially increases their public inspection file burdens, while the political portion of the file contains sensitive competitive and pricing information that broadcasters would prefer not be made available to competitors online on a near real-time basis.

The proposals have proven to be so controversial that earlier today the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) filed a request with the FCC to grant a two business day delay of the commencement of the "sunshine period" in the FCC's online public file proceeding. For those who are not familiar with the "sunshine period" requirement, the term refers to the week before one of the Commission's monthly public business meetings (known as "open meetings") during which time all contacts with Commission staff concerning the matters to be decided at the meeting are prohibited, until such time as the text of the Commission's decision is publicly released. The sunshine period for the online file proceeding is scheduled to commence today, and the NAB is asking the FCC to delay the effective date until next Tuesday, April 24, in order to allow interested parties to continue to discuss the FCC's proposals with FCC staff members.

To make matters even more interesting, yesterday a media placement company asked the FCC to refrain from going forward at the April 27 meeting with any requirements regarding placing political files online.

The precise details of the FCC's online public file requirements, including those for the political file, aren't likely to be released until the FCC's April 27 monthly meeting. However, during discussions at the NAB Show, FCC staff informed broadcasters that the FCC's Order is expected to, at a minimum, require online posting of public inspection files by all television stations this year, with the posting of the online political file portion of the public file to be phased in, initially applying to network-affiliated stations in the top 50 markets. All other television stations would be required to move their political files online within the next two years.

Regardless of the precise approach taken by the FCC for putting political file information online, stations would be wise to ensure that their current political file is complete and that their political sales practices comply with the numerous legal requirements. Moving a poorly kept political file online is an invitation to trouble.

A good place to start for ensuring your political file compliance is with our Political Broadcasting Advisory, which is regularly updated and is a comprehensive guide for broadcasters to use to help them comply with the FCC's political broadcasting rules, including the political file requirements. The time to fix any public file/political file and political sales problems is now, before the data has to be posted on the Internet.

As the details of the Order the FCC is expected to release on April 27 leak out, the FCC continues to revise its positions and there may be a few more twists and turns before we are done. The FCC has moved this item to the front burner of its agenda about as fast as any in recent memory. What makes it more of an immediate concern for TV broadcasters is that the item will be released just prior to the time TV stations are preparing for what is expected to be the most expensive presidential campaign advertising blitz on record.

As the online public file/political file debate rages on, there can be no doubt we will have plenty more to discuss regarding these issues in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form Due

April 14, 2012

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending February 29, 2012.

Road Trip! Pillsbury at the NAB Show

Scott R. Flick

Posted April 13, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

It's that time of year. Broadcasters, brokers, bankers, and broadcast lawyers hop on the proverbial bus and head to Las Vegas to seek their fortunes. In contrast to the last few recessionary years, during which the crowds were thinner and many attendees had the glassy-eyed look of disaster survivors, indications are that 2012 will mark the return of the dealmaking, equipment buying, and venture launching that animate the industry. More broadly, cautious optimism about the state of the industry and the economy seems to be giving way to genuine enthusiasm about moving forward. It is a welcome sight.

Attending the show this year to help that process along are eight of our communications attorneys, including myself, Dick Zaragoza, Cliff Harrington, Lauren Lynch Flick, Miles Mason, Paul Cicelski, Lauren Birzon, and our newest addition, partner Lew Paper.

If you see us at the show, say hello, or better yet, buy us a drink and we'll regale you with tales of great legal battles (buy us two drinks, and we promise not to talk about law at all!). You can reach us by email at the Show by clicking on the name links above. They will take you to our respective bios at Pillsbury where you can find our email addresses.

For those of you headed to the Show, we look forward to seeing you there. For those who aren't going, we hope to see you there next year.

Court of Appeals Finds Prohibition on Political Ads on Noncommercial Stations Unconstitutional

Clifford M. Harrington

Posted April 12, 2012

By Clifford M. Harrington

A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco today ruled, in a 2 - 1 decision, that the long-standing prohibition on the carriage of paid political and issue advertising by noncommercial television and radio stations is unconstitutional and may no longer be enforced by the FCC.

The majority opinion in Minority Television Project Inc v. FCC was authored by Judge Carlos Bea, a George W. Bush appointee, and joined in by Judge John Noonen, a Reagan appointee; Judge Richard Paez, a Clinton appointee, wrote a dissenting opinion. The case arose when Minority Television Project, licensee of noncommercial television station KMTP-TV was fined $10,000 by the FCC for violating the prohibition in Section 399B of the Communications Act against noncommercial stations carrying paid advertising for commercial entities. According to the FCC, KMTP-TV had carried over 1,900 advertisements for entities such as State Farm, Chevrolet and Asiana Airlines in the period from 1999-2002. Minority Television Project paid the fine, but filed suit in District Court for reimbursement of the fine and declaratory relief. After its arguments were rejected by the District Court, Minority Television Project brought this appeal.

The Court of Appeals focused on whether the statutory prohibitions on paid advertising in Section 399B are consistent with the U.S. Constitution. It concluded that the statute contains content-related restrictions that must be reviewed under the standard of "intermediate scrutiny," which provides that the government must show that the statute "promotes a substantial governmental interest" and "does not burden substantially more speech than necessary to further that interest."

The Court found that the prohibition on broadcasting paid commercial advertising on behalf of for-profit entities, the primary focus of Minority Television Project's appeal, was narrowly tailored and promotes the substantial governmental goal of preventing the commercialization of educational television. As a result, the fine imposed on Minority Television Project was upheld. However, the Court went on to address the prohibition on carriage of paid candidate and paid issue advertising by noncommercial stations. It found no legitimate governmental goal underlying that prohibition. The Court reviewed the Congressional record developed when the prohibition on political and issue advertising was adopted, and failed to find any evidence to support the provision. It therefore held that aspect of the law to be unconstitutional.

The decision leaves open many important questions as to how to implement it. For example, the questions of whether or how the lowest unit charge provision of Section 315 of the Communications Act will apply to noncommercial stations are not addressed. Similarly, the Decision does not consider whether federal candidates will be entitled to
"reasonable access" rights on noncommercial stations, permitting federal candidates to buy advertising on noncommercial stations that do not want to accept political advertising. While the reasonable access provision of the Communications Act appears to exempt noncommercial educational stations from that requirement, it is a content-related law, and therefore raises questions as to whether the disparate treatment of commercial and noncommercial stations for this purpose is constitutional. Other practical questions, such as the application of equal opportunities rights, political file obligations, and the like will also have to be resolved if this decision is implemented. More broadly, if the decision stands, it could have a fundamental impact on the nature and funding of noncommercial broadcasting.

The Ninth Circuit's decision only applies to states located within the jurisdiction of that Court (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington). The FCC and the Justice Department may seek review by the entire Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, or seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court. As that drama plays out during an active political season, a lot of noncommercial stations will be scratching their heads trying to figure out what they can, can't, and must do in light of the decision. Conversely, a lot of commercial stations aren't going to be happy if they find that their political advertising revenues are being diverted to noncommercial stations. One thing is certain--if upheld, the implications of this decision for both noncommercial and commercial stations will be far reaching.

FCC's Motive for Demanding Copies of TV Station Public Files Confirmed

Scott R. Flick

Posted April 10, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

Late last month I wrote about a strange occurrence at a number of TV stations that were visited by FCC inspectors demanding that the station make a copy of its entire public inspection file in 24-48 hours and provide that copy to the FCC.

I commented at the time that this highly unusual event was more likely connected to the FCC's pending proceeding to move the public inspection file online than to any enforcement action, noting that "while this would seem bizarre any place outside of Washington (well, it's bizarre here too, but you get used to that after a while), the FCC has been on the receiving end of numerous comments and declarations from broadcasters noting how large the public inspection file has become, and how burdensome and time-consuming it would be to require stations to scan the entire contents of it for the sake of posting it online." It therefore seemed likely that the FCC was not so much interested in the substance of each station's public file as in determining the sheer size of those files. Regardless, stations with the misfortune of being on the receiving end of these requests had to absorb the overtime and copying costs involved to comply.

Since that time, the FCC has scheduled a vote at its April 27 meeting to require that the public file, including the political file portion of it, be posted online. The timing of the planned vote is not a good sign for broadcasters, as it is a long-standing FCC tradition to schedule votes on orders that are favorable to broadcasters so that they can be released just before the NAB Show, ensuring that FCC commissioners speaking at the NAB Show will receive a warm reception. Conversely, FCC orders that broadcasters are not going to be happy about tend to be delayed until after the NAB Show concludes. With the FCC's scheduled vote coming the week after the NAB Show, it should surprise no one that the FCC appears ready to adopt an order requiring that public files (including the political file) be moved online.

On the good news side, the FCC appears to be dropping its proposals to require that certain inter-station agreements and sponsorship identification lists be added to the file, either because broadcasters' complaints about those proposals were heard, or because the FCC saw them as unnecessary judicial baggage in an order that it would like to see implemented quickly.

Returning, however, to the mystery of why the FCC was demanding copies of stations' public files, the last document placed in the FCC's record in the online public file proceeding this past Friday (just before the holiday weekend) is illuminating. It is a one-page "Submission for the Record" from the Media Bureau noting that "[t]he Commission requested a copy of the public file from all broadcast stations in the Baltimore DMA in March of 2012, received the documents either on paper or electronically, and subsequently reviewed each file, counting the total number of pages in the following categories...." The Submission then notes the total number of pages in each file (with the award for the largest file going to WJZ-TV, at 8,222 pages), and breaks out the number of pages in the categories of Political File, letters/emails from the public, documents currently available online at the FCC, and documents the FCC found extraneous to the file. This certainly appears to confirm that the FCC's goal in demanding that stations rapidly provide a copy of their entire public file was merely to determine the quantity, and not the quality, of those files. By placing that information in the public record, the FCC can now rely on it in its decision to implement an online public file requirement (although how it supports that result is still unclear).

While one can question the burden placed on individual stations merely to determine the number of pages in a public inspection file (which is information that is already in the record, having been submitted in numerous broadcasters' comments), once that information has been gathered, it is fair for the FCC to make use of it by placing it in the record. What is curious, however, is the effort the FCC appears to have expended to do so as quietly as possible. In addition to it being dropped into the record right before the holiday weekend, the Submission itself is an unusual document. It is not on letterhead, it is not dated, and it is not signed. If it were not for the fact that the FCC's filing system indicates it was submitted by the Media Bureau, you might well wonder where it came from. There may, however, be a reason for this.

When the FCC moved its public comment system online, the FCC and communications lawyers quickly found that the number of one-page submissions from the public stating a position but providing no supporting rationale exploded exponentially. The result was that it became difficult to locate the more substantive comments filed in a proceeding, as they were lost among hundreds or thousands of short "me too" submissions. To the FCC's eternal credit, it modified its comment search filter so that you can exclude "Brief Comments" from your search, allowing you to focus on the more substantial comments filed. Parties actively following a proceeding therefore tend to use this option and exclude "Brief Comments" when checking the record.

By eliminating all extraneous information, the FCC was able to keep its Submission down to one page in length, and as it turns out, the system's definition of a Brief Comment is one that is one page long, meaning that those using the search filter will not see it. That may well be nothing more than a coincidence, but it would at least explain the unusually brief and cryptic nature of the FCC's Submission. But if that is the case, we have just traded one mystery for another--having gone to such lengths to gather this information, why is the FCC being so shy about having found it?

Class A Television Continuing Eligibility Certification

April 10, 2012

Class A television stations are required to maintain documentation in their public inspection files sufficient to demonstrate continuing compliance with the FCC's Class A eligibility requirements. We recommend that by this date Class A television stations generate such documentation for the period January 1, 2012 through March 31, 2012 and place it in their public inspection files.

FCC Form 398 Children's Programming Report Due

April 10, 2012

Commercial full-power and Class A television stations must by this date electronically file FCC Form 398 demonstrating their responsiveness to "the educational and informational needs of children" for the period January 1, 2012 through March 31, 2012, and place a copy of the form as filed with the FCC in the station's public inspection file.

Certification of Children's Commercial Time Limitations Required

April 10, 2012

Commercial full-power and Class A television stations must place in their public inspection files by this date records "sufficient to verify compliance" with the FCC's commercial time limitations in children's programming broadcast during the period January 1, 2012 through March 31, 2012.

Quarterly Issues/Programs List Required

April 10, 2012

All full-power radio, full-power television, and Class A television stations must place in their public inspection files by this date the Quarterly Issues/Programs List covering the period January 1, 2012 through March 31, 2012.

Equipment Vendors Will Be Making CALM Act Noise at NAB Show

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted April 6, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

The clock is ticking away the minutes until December 13, the effective date of the FCC's new Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM Act) rules. TV broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) attending the upcoming NAB Show in Las Vegas will be looking for the equipment necessary to meet the CALM Act requirements, and they will have plenty to see and do. According to the NAB's agenda for the Vegas Show, there will be seminars led by equipment manufacturers discussing the CALM Act and dozens of vendors and manufacturers on hand to showcase their CALM Act monitoring, processing, and verification equipment at the Las Vegas Convention Center during the event.

The reason CALM Act compliance and equipment are likely to be "big in Vegas" this year is because, as you may recall, last December the FCC adopted rules for the implementation of the CALM Act which require TV stations and MVPDs to keep the volume of commercials at the same level as the accompanying programming. The FCC's new rules incorporate the Advanced Television Systems Committee's (ATSC) Recommended Practice (RP), which essentially allows broadcast stations and MVPDs to comply with the rules by meeting the requirements of the ATSC protocol (known as the A/85 RP). Stations and MVPDs must be in compliance with the A/85 RP and the FCC's rules by December 13, 2012.

The CALM Act arises from decades of complaints to the FCC and Congress regarding excessively loud commercials. In fact, according to the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the CALM Act proceeding, loud commercials "have been a leading source of complaints to the Commission since the FCC Consumer Call Center began reporting the top consumer complaints in 2002." The subsequent rules adopted by the FCC are therefore designed to limit the volume of commercials transmitted to consumers and apply to advertisements locally inserted by television stations and MVPDs as well as to advertisements embedded in programs from third-party suppliers.

For locally inserted commercials, TV stations and MVPDs will be required to demonstrate that they have installed the necessary equipment to ensure compliance. The FCC will assume that a broadcast station or MVPD is in compliance if it has installed, uses, and maintains equipment that complies with the A/85 RP. For advertisements already embedded in programming received from third parties, networks and other program suppliers must certify that their programming is in compliance with the CALM Act.

The FCC's rules establish a "safe harbor" for embedded advertisements received from suppliers. To use the safe harbor, TV stations and MVPDs are allowed to rely on certifications of compliance from their program supplier which certify that the programming is A/85 RP-compliant. For programming that has not been certified, "large" TV stations (i.e., those stations with more than $14 million in annual revenue) and "very large" MVPDs (i.e., those with over 10 million subscribers) may still transmit the third-party programming, but will be required to perform annual "spot checks" of 100 percent of the third-party programming they transmit. "Large" MVPDs (i.e., those with at least 400,000 subscribers nationally) will need to annually spot check 50 percent (chosen at random) of the noncertified channels carried by any system operated by the MVPD. The spot check requirements will phase out after two years. Small stations and cable systems do not need to conduct any spot checks to be in the safe harbor.

While many broadcasters and MVPDs won't be at the NAB Show to attend "loudness legislation" seminars or to acquire the hardware and software tools needed to comply with the FCC's CALM Act rules, all TV broadcasters and MVPDs need to make sure that they are familiar with the rules and understand their CALM Act obligations. Even though the CALM Act has been passed by Congress and is being implemented by the FCC, there is little doubt that the FCC will continue to hear complaints from consumers regarding loud commercials for the foreseeable future. The difference is that the FCC now has an enforcement mechanism to address those complaints.

Pre-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio and Television Stations

April 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Michigan or Ohio, and television stations and Class A television stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia or the District of Columbia must on this date begin to air their pre-filing renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on April 16, May 1 and May 16.

Post-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio Stations

April 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Indiana, Kentucky or Tennessee must begin on this date to air their post-filing license renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on April 16, May 1, May 16, June 1 and June 16. FM Translator stations licensed to communities in these states must arrange for the required newspaper public notice of their license renewal application filing.

Filing of Applications for Renewal of Licenses for Radio Stations

April 1, 2012

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations, as well as FM Translator stations, licensed to communities in Indiana, Kentucky or Tennessee must electronically file their applications for renewal of license on FCC Form 303-S, along with their Equal Opportunity Employment Reports on FCC Form 396 by this date, and commercial stations must promptly submit their FCC license renewal application filing fee. Note that since this filing deadline falls on a weekend, the submission of this item to the FCC can be made on April 2. FCC Forms 303-S and 396 as filed must be placed in stations' public inspection files.

FCC Form 323-E Biennial Ownership Report Due

April 1, 2012

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania or Tennessee and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Texas (other than sole proprietorships or partnerships composed entirely of natural persons) must electronically file by this date their biennial ownership reports on FCC Form 323-E, unless they have consolidated this filing date with that of other commonly owned stations licensed to communities in other states. FCC Form 323-E does not require a filing fee. The form as filed must be placed in stations' public inspection files. Note that since this filing deadline falls on a weekend, the submission of this item to the FCC can be made on April 2.

Annual EEO Public File Report Required

April 1, 2012

Station employment units that have five or more full-time employees and are comprised of radio and/or television stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee or Texas must by this date place in their public inspection file and post on their station website a report regarding station compliance with the FCC's EEO Rule during the period April 1, 2011 through March 31, 2012. A more detailed review of station EEO obligations and the steps for implementing an effective EEO program can be found in our most recent EEO Advisory.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted March 30, 2012

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:

  • A discussion of a number of forfeitures issued by the FCC fining individuals up to $25,000 for operating unlicensed radio stations.
FCC Sends Warning to Unlicensed Radio Operators

The FCC has recently been taking an active stance against unlicensed radio operations, as further evidenced by four recently issued penalties for violations of the Communications Act. Radio stations operating without a license should take this as a warning of future enforcement actions against such illegal operations.

In the first two instances involving the same individual in San Jose, California, the Enforcement Bureau issued two separate Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture ("NAL") for $25,000 each to the operator for unlicensed broadcasting on various FM band frequencies and for a failure to allow inspection of an unlicensed broadcast station. After several months, the operator failed to respond to either of the NALs. As a result, the Enforcement Bureau issued the two $25,000 Forfeiture Orders against the individual.

In a second case, a Florida man was found apparently liable for $15,000 for operating an unlicensed FM radio transmitter in Miami. In September 2011, the Enforcement Bureau, following up on a complaint lodged by a national telecommunications carrier, discovered two antennas used for unlicensed operations on the frequency 88.7 MHz on the roof of a building. During the site visit, the building's owner indicated that the equipment was located in a rooftop suite rented by a tenant. The Enforcement Bureau agents left a hand-delivered Notice of Unlicensed Operations ("NOUO") with the building owner, who indicated that he would deliver the NOUO to the tenant. On three subsequent occasions, agents from the Miami Field Office determined that the antennas in question were the source of radio frequency transmissions in excess of the limits of Part 15 of the FCC's rules, therefore requiring a license for operation.

When the agents were finally able to interview the tenant, he admitted to owning the transmitter and operating the station. He also stated that he had been employed as a disc jockey for a station previously authorized to operate on 88.7 and was "aware he needed a license to operate the station."

The base forfeiture amount under the FCC's rules for operation without an authorization is $10,000. In this case, the FCC concluded that a $5,000 upward adjustment of the NAL was warranted because the operator was aware that his operations were unlawful prior to and after receipt of the NOUO.

Though the FCC issued the multiple hefty penalties for unlicensed operations described above, the FCC was ultimately more sympathetic to a third unlicensed operator. In September 2011, the Enforcement Bureau's San Juan Office issued a NAL against the operator of an unlicensed radio transmitter in Guayama, Puerto Rico for $15,000. In response to the NAL, the operator argued that he believed his broadcast operations were legal, and he submitted financial information to support the claim that he was unable to pay the full amount of the NAL. Though the FCC affirmed its claims that the operator willfully violated the FCC's rules, the FCC nevertheless lowered the fine to $1,500 due to the operator's inability to pay.

After issuing multiple fines against unlicensed operators this month, the FCC is likely to continue issuing similar penalties in the future. Radio operators should be mindful of the equipment used in their operations and the signal levels transmitted during operations to avoid facing similar consequences.

Online or Out of Line? FCC Requests Copies of Entire Public Files

Scott R. Flick

Posted March 29, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

As the FCC's proceeding to require television stations to place their public inspection files (including their political files) online heats up, life is becoming strange for a number of television stations around the country. In a move presumably connected with the online public file proceeding, FCC inspectors have appeared at television stations in several markets and demanded that the stations provide them with a complete copy of their entire public inspection files within 48 hours or less. Given that most public files are measured in yards, not feet, of paper, there are a lot of broadcast employees burning the midnight oil trying to comply.

But why such a strange and burdensome request? If the FCC wanted to merely determine whether a station's file is complete, it can just look at the original file during its visit to the station--it doesn't need its own copy. Besides, the fact that a document is missing from the duplicates provided to the FCC would be weak evidence that the station's actual file is defective, since it would hardly be surprising if a few documents failed to get copied in this highly rushed process.

Alternatively, if the FCC were doing an in-depth audit of a specific portion of the file (for example, the EEO section) which is difficult to thoroughly review while at the station, FCC personnel could request copies of just that portion of the file. In asking for a copy of the entire file, it appears that the FCC is not particularly interested in the substance of those copies, but in how quickly the station can produce them (particularly since there appears to be no massive emergency file review going on at the FCC actually requiring rapid access to copies of the entire file).

While this would seem bizarre any place outside of Washington (well, it's bizarre here too, but you get used to that after a while), the FCC has been on the receiving end of numerous comments and declarations from broadcasters noting how large the public inspection file has become, and how burdensome and time-consuming it would be to require stations to scan the entire contents of it for the sake of posting it online. Broadcasters have argued that this burden is hard to justify given that very few members of their local communities have ever expressed the slightest interest in seeing the public file, online or otherwise.

While scanning and posting the content of a public file online will obviously be far more time consuming than just making copies of it, these recent events may suggest that the FCC considers them sufficiently analogous to attempt to prove a point--that scanning every document in a public file is not as time-consuming as many broadcasters have claimed, and is therefore not a fatal flaw in the online file proposal, either from a public interest or Paperwork Reduction Act perspective. Or, the Commission may think broadcasters are bluffing about the size of their public files, and want to prove that they are really not as extensive as claimed. Apparently, the FCC has not realized just how many station renewal applications remain pending for years after filing due to indecency and other complaints, requiring stations to maintain data in their files even longer than usual.

Unfortunately, the affected broadcasters are now caught in the middle, and face a conundrum: attempt to move heaven and earth in an effort to meet the FCC's seemingly arbitrary deadline, or risk being accused by the FCC of failing to provide the requested information by the deadline set by the FCC (or both, for the many stations that pull out all stops and still have no hope of meeting the FCC's stated deadline). Particularly ironic of course is that stations that manage to pull it off in anything close to that time frame may well have that fact presented to them as the very reason why it is not unduly burdensome to have them repeat the process when posting their file online.

As a broadcaster, the obvious thing to do when the FCC may be coming to your door is to make sure that your public inspection file is complete and up to date. However, if the actual point of this exercise is not to look at the substance of what stations produce, but at how fast they can produce it, then these unfortunate stations have been tasked with the regulatory equivalent of a snipe hunt.

Glenn Richards of Pillsbury to Speak on VoIP Regulation, at Cloud Communications Alliance Meeting, March 27, Las Vegas, NV

March 27, 2012

Glenn S. Richards of Pillsbury will speak at this event which takes place from 11:15 to 12:00 pm at Ceasar's Palace in Las Vegas. Glenn will report on legal and regulatory issues facing our industry on behalf of the Cloud Communications Alliance Regulatory Committee.

For additional details and to register, please click here.

Revamped EAS Rules Go Into Effect April 23

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted March 22, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

Earlier today, the FCC's Fifth Report and Order revising the Part 11 EAS Rules and codifying the obligation that EAS Participants be able to process alert messages formatted in the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) was published in the Federal Register. As a result of today's Federal Register publication, the primary rule changes adopted by the FCC in the Order will be effective April 23, 2012.

If you recall from my previous posts on the matter found here and here, the main focus of the FCC's Order was to specify the manner in which EAS Participants must be able to receive CAP-formatted alert messages and to clarify the FCC's Part 11 Rules. Among other things, the FCC took the following actions in its Order:

  • It required EAS Participants to be able to convert CAP-formatted EAS messages into messages that comply with the EAS Protocol requirements, following the conversion procedures described in the EAS-CAP Industry Group's (ECIG's) Implementation Guide;
  • It required EAS Participants to monitor FEMA's IPAWS system for federal CAP-formatted alert messages using whatever interface technology is appropriate;
  • It adopted rules to generally allow EAS Participants to use "intermediary devices" to meet CAP requirements;
  • It required EAS Participants to use the enhanced text in CAP messages to meet the video display requirements; and
  • It adopted streamlined procedures for equipment certification that take into account standards and testing procedures adopted by FEMA.

Although the FCC's new rules will be on the books as of next month, EAS Participants actually have until June 30, 2012 to install the equipment necessary to receive and convert CAP-formatted EAS alerts. When this deadline hits, five years or so of FCC CAP-related FCC decisions will come to a close. But don't worry, the FCC and FEMA have already indicated that CAP is only the beginning of the digital emergency alert era and that more proceedings related to the so-called "next generation" of emergency alerting, including improving the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), will likely be coming soon. Stay tuned.

Retransmission Without an Agreement Is an Expensive Mistake

Scott R. Flick

Posted March 19, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

As those who follow our interactive calendar are aware, I spoke last week as a representative of broadcasters on a retransmission panel at the American Cable Association Annual Summit. The ACA's membership is predominantly smaller cable system operators, and because of that, the ACA has been very vocal in Washington regarding its displeasure with the current state of retransmission law.

While broadcasters are understandably tired of being paid less per viewer than cable networks, smaller cable operators feel they are being squeezed in the middle--forced to pay more to retransmit broadcast programming, but unable to free up money for those additional payments by paying cable networks less than the amount to which those networks have become accustomed. While the economics of supply and demand should eventually bring programming fees in line with the attractiveness of that programming to viewers, this process will take some time. In the meantime, as I heard from operator after operator during the panel, they are looking for a much faster solution, and that solution is for the government to step in and by some method guarantee cable operators low-cost access to broadcast signals.

A discussion of the dynamics of retransmission negotiations and policy could easily fill a book, but for the limited purposes of this post, I just want to focus on a particular refrain I heard from cable operators, which is that losing a broadcast network signal for even a short time is devastating to their business, leaving them in a tenuous bargaining position during retransmission negotiations.

The reason this came to mind today is a pair of decisions just released by the FCC which illustrate the temptation for a small cable operator to engage in a little "self-help" to overcome what it perceives as an unfair negotiation. These decisions also illustrate why other cable operators should ensure they never succumb to that temptation. In these decisions (here and here), the FCC issued two Notices of Apparent Liability to the same cable operator for continuing to carry the signals of two broadcasters after the old retransmission agreements with those stations expired and before new retransmission agreements were executed.

The affected broadcasters filed complaints with the FCC, and the cable operator responded that it "does not refute that it retransmitted [the stations] without express, written consent. Rather, [the cable operator] argues that it faced a 'dramatic increase' in requested retransmission consent fees, and states that it receives the signal by antenna rather than satellite or the Internet. [The cable operator] claims that [the broadcaster] is 'using [the Commission] as a tool to negotiate a dramatic increase in rates' and it requests that the Commission require the fair negotiation of a reasonable rate."

After a telephone conference with FCC staff, the parties reached agreement on a new retransmission agreement for each of the stations involved, and the agreements were executed on February 3, 2012. However, the really interesting part of these decisions relates not to how the FCC proceeding arose, but to how the FCC chose to assess proposed forfeitures against the cable operator in the twin Notices of Apparent Liability. The FCC noted that the base forfeiture for carriage of a broadcast station without a retransmission agreement in place is $7,500. Since the cable operator had carried the stations without a retransmission agreement for 34 days, the FCC determined that the base forfeiture for each of the violations was $7,500 x 34, or $255,000. That would make the total base forfeiture for illegally carrying both stations during that time $510,000.

Fortunately for the cable operator, the FCC reviewed the operator's financial data and concluded that a half-million dollar fine "would place the company in extreme financial hardship." The FCC therefore exercised its discretion to reduce the proposed forfeitures to $15,000 each, for a total of $30,000. These decisions certainly demonstrate that no matter how frustrated a cable operator is with retransmission costs, the self-help approach is not a wise path to take.

In fact, the proposed FCC fines are only the beginning of a cable operator's potential liability for illegal retransmission. Not addressed by the FCC in its decisions is the fact that retransmission of a broadcast station without an agreement is a violation of not just the FCC's Rules and the Communications Act of 1934, but also of copyright laws. If the illegally-carried broadcast stations chose to pursue it, they could seek copyright damages against the cable operator, and the proposed FCC fines pale in comparison to the potential copyright damages for illegal retransmission. The Copyright Act authorizes the award of up to $150,000 in statutory damages for each infringement, with each program retransmitted being considered a separate infringement. So, for example, if we assume that each station in these decisions aired 24 programs a day for 34 days, the potential copyright damages for such illegal carriage would be $122,400,000 per station. The potential damages for illegally carrying both stations would therefore be close to a quarter-Billion dollars! While it is very unlikely that a court would impose the maximum damages allowed under the Copyright Act, no cable operator would want to run the risk of being ordered to pay even a tiny fraction of that amount for illegal retransmission.

In short, though cable operators certainly may not like paying retransmission fees for broadcast programming, these decisions make clear that the price of not having a retransmission agreement in place can be far higher.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form Due

March 16, 2012

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending January 31, 2012.

Scott Flick of Pillsbury to Speak at the American Cable Association Summit Retransmission Consent Panel, on March 14, 2012

March 14, 2012

Scott R. Flick will speak during this session which takes place on March 14th from 1:45 pm to 3:00 pm at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC.

This panel will address more than 300 independent, small to mid-sized communication providers and vendors serving rural America with cable and IP video and VOIP phone, and broadband internet service.

For more information, contact Rob Shema, 412-889-1657

FCC Declares Open Season on Television License Renewal Applications

Lauren Lynch Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted March 12, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

The FCC today issued a Public Notice officially launching the television station license renewal cycle. The Public Notice, however, also contains an unusual new request. Specifically, the FCC asks that television station licensees or their counsel log into their accounts in the FCC's Consolidated Database System (CDBS) and update the licensee's and its counsel's contact information using the Account Maintenance function. The FCC will use this information to e-mail stations a reminder that their license renewal application is due. This is a new use of the CDBS system and makes one wonder how else the FCC will be able to use CDBS to communicate with licensees in the future.

Licensees that do not have a CDBS account must create one, since, as the FCC notes, all renewal filings must be made electronically. Licensees creating new accounts, however, must both create the new account and immediately use it to file a Change in Official Mailing Address form, which is found by clicking on the link labeled "Additional non-form Filings." Existing account holders making changes to their contact information must also follow this procedure.

The Public Notice announces that license renewal applications can be filed beginning on May 1, 2012. The first stations to file will be television stations licensed to communities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, which must begin airing pre-filing announcements starting on April 1, and file their renewal applications by June 1, 2012. We note that even though the FCC has announced that applications can be filed as early as May 1, stations should not file in advance of the schedule for their state, and that full power licensees in the first group of stations will still be airing pre-filing announcements until May 16 and should file their applications after that date.

The FCC's Public Notice also contained some other pointers to jog memories, since most stations have not had to file this particular application in eight years. Specifically, it noted that the obligation to file a renewal application applies to all TV, Class A TV, LPTV, and TV Translator stations (even those that may still be waiting for their last renewal application to be granted), that a Form 396 EEO filing must also be made, and that noncommercial licensees must submit an Ownership Report on Form 323-E as well. Finally, the FCC reminded stations that they will need to respond to a new question which asks them to certify whether their advertising sales contracts have contained a non-discrimination clause since March 14, 2011.

The major point of the Public Notice, though, was unmistakeable. "Failure to recieve a notice does not excuse a licensee from timely compliance with the Commission's license renewal requirements."

We're here to help.

NAB State Leadership Conference and NASBA Winter Meeting: March 12-14 - Washington, DC

March 12, 2012

A Reprieve--and a Lesson--for Class A TV Stations?

Scott R. Flick

Posted March 7, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

I wrote in February about a sudden deluge of nearly identical FCC decisions, all released on the same day, proposing to revoke the Class A status of sixteen LPTV stations for failure to timely file all of their Form 398 children's television reports. While I noted at the time that the affected licensees had done themselves no favors by apparently failing to respond to FCC letters of inquiry, the decisions were still somewhat surprising in that the FCC has traditionally fined Class A stations for rule violations rather than revoked their Class A status. Class A status is important because it provides LPTV stations with protection from being displaced by full-power TV stations, and is now more important than ever, as the recently enacted spectrum auction legislation allows Class A stations both the opportunity to participate in auction revenues, and protection from being eliminated in the broadcast spectrum repacking associated with the auction.

Given the peculiar timing of the FCC's decisions (just days after the spectrum auction legislation became law), the sudden shift from fines to Class A revocation, and the release of sixteen such decisions at the same time, the decisions raise the specter that the FCC may be moving to delete the Class A status of non-compliant stations in order to facilitate clearing broadcast spectrum as cheaply as possible in preparation for the newly-authorized wireless spectrum auction. Within a few days of my post, a number of trade publications picked up on this possibility as well. The result was a lot of Class A stations checking to make sure their regulatory house is in order, and a growing concern in the industry that these decisions might be the leading edge of an FCC effort to clear the way for recovering broadcast spectrum for the planned auction.

While that may still turn out to be the case, I was nonetheless at least somewhat relieved to see a trio of decisions released this morning by the FCC that are largely identical to the February decisions with one big exception--the FCC proposed fining the stations for failing to file all of their children's television reports rather than seeking to revoke their Class A status. Specifically, the FCC proposed fining two of the licensees $13,000 each, and the third licensee $26,000 (because it had two stations that failed to file all of their reports).

Each $13,000 fine consisted of $3000--the base fine for failing to file a required form--and an additional $10,000, which is the base fine for having such documents missing from a station's public file. While a $13,000 fine is painful, particularly for a low power station, loss of Class A status could be far more devastating for these stations, and for Class A stations in general. Setting aside spectrum auction considerations, buyers, lenders and investors will be hesitant to risk their money on Class A stations that could suddenly lose their Class A status, and shortly thereafter be displaced out of existence. Stated differently, those considering buying, lending to, or investing in Class A stations will want to do a thorough due diligence on such stations' rule compliance record before proceeding.

So why did the FCC propose fines for these stations while the sixteen stations in the February decisions were threatened with deletion of their Class A status? Although today's decisions and the February decisions are similar in many respects, there is one big distinction. Unlike the licensees in the February decisions, the licensees named in today's decisions promptly responded to the letters of inquiry sent by the FCC, and upon realizing that they had failed to file all of their children's television reports, belatedly completed and submitted those reports to the FCC. While that didn't stop the FCC from seeking to fine these stations, it does seem to have avoided a reexamination of their Class A status.

While the FCC's February decisions to pursue deletion of Class A status are still a worrisome development for all Class A stations, today's decisions thankfully shed some much needed light on when the FCC is likely to pursue that option, and when it will be satisfied with merely issuing a fine. As I noted in my earlier post, a licensee that fails to promptly respond to a letter from the FCC is living life dangerously, and today's decisions confirm that fact. As a result, Class A stations should continue to make sure that their regulatory house is in order, and if they receive a letter of inquiry from the FCC, should contact their lawyer immediately to timely put forth the best possible response to the FCC.

Spectrum Auction Legislation Becomes Law, But Now What?

Scott R. Flick

Posted March 2, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

Following many months of debate and after trying several potential legislative vehicles, the House and Senate finally enacted spectrum auction legislation as part of the bill to extend payroll tax cuts for another year. It was signed by the President last week, and for those following the process for the past two years, the result was somewhat anticlimactic. That is mostly good news for broadcasters, as the NAB was successful in ensuring that the law contains enough protections for broadcasters to prevent the spectral armageddon that it once appeared broadcasters might face.

Having said that, we can't ignore that there were bodies left out on the legislative battlefield, the most obvious being low power TV and TV translator stations. Under the new law, these stations are not permitted to participate in the spectrum auction, are not protected from being displaced to oblivion in the repacking process, and are not entitled to reimbursement of displacement expenses. It is that last point that may be the most important in rural areas. While it is possible there could be enough post-repacking broadcast spectrum in rural areas for TV translators to survive, they will still need to move off of the nationwide swaths of spectrum the FCC intends to auction to wireless companies. Unfortunately, many if not most TV translator licensees are local and regional entities with minimal financial resources. Telling such a licensee that it needs to move to a new channel, or worse, to a different location to make the new channel work, may be the same as telling it to shut down.

This is particularly true when the sheer quantity of translator facilities that might have to be moved is considered. For example, there are nearly 350 TV translators in Montana alone. Moving even a third of them will be an expensive proposition for licensees whose primary purpose is not profit, but the continued availability of rural broadcast service. Further complicating the picture is the fact that in border states like Montana, protecting spectrum for low power TV and TV translators will inevitably be a very low priority when negotiating a new spectrum realignment treaty with Canada or Mexico to permit reallotment of the band.

While full-power and Class A television stations therefore fared much better in the legislation, for those uninterested in selling their spectrum, spectrum repacking will still not be a pleasant experience. Those of us who endured the repacking process during the DTV transition can attest to how complex and challenging the process can be, and the DTV process had the luxury of fifteen years of planning and execution, as well as a lot more spectrum in the broadcast band with which to work. Having already squeezed the broadcast spectrum lemon pretty hard during the DTV transition, the FCC may find that there isn't much juice left in it for a second go around. That, combined with a much tighter time frame, could make this an even more complex and messy process.

In addition, while it hasn't drawn as much attention as it should have, one other changed factor is that after the DTV transition was completed, the FCC opened up TV "white spaces" (spectrum between allotted broadcast channels) for unlicensed use by technology companies seeking to introduce new products and services requiring spectrum. Having enticed companies into investing many millions of dollars in research and development for these white spaces products and services, eliminating the white spaces during the repacking process (which is the point of repacking) could leave many of these companies out in the cold. This is a particularly likely outcome given that the very markets white spaces companies are interested in--densely populated urban areas--are precisely those areas where the FCC most desperately wants to obtain additional spectrum for wireless, and where available spectrum is already scarce. Like low power TV and TV translator licensees, these white spaces companies are pretty much going to be told to "suck the lemon" and hope there are a few drops of spectrum left for them after the repacking.

Still, while there certainly are some obstacles to overcome, the DTV transition gave the FCC staff priceless experience in navigating a repacking, and the FCC already has ample experience auctioning off spectrum. The question is whether this particular undertaking is so vast as to be unmanageable, or whether quick but careful planning can remove most of the sharp edges. Once again, the devil will be in the details, and no one envies the FCC with regard to the task it has before it. However, the chance for an optimal outcome will be maximized if all affected parties engage the FCC as it designs the process. In addition to hopefully producing a workable result for the FCC, broadcasters engaged in the process can ensure that the result is good not just for broadcasters in general, but for their particular stations.

For those interested in getting an advance view of what specifically is involved, Harry Jessell of TVNewsCheck recently interviewed our own John Hane to discuss some of the pragmatic issues facing the FCC and the broadcast industry in navigating the spectrum auction landscape. The transcript of the interview can be found here. John's comments provide additional detail on the tasks facing the FCC, as well as how long the process will likely take.

While everyone impacted by the spectrum auction and repacking process faces many uncertainties as to its outcome, of this we can be certain: challenging times lay ahead.

Pre-Filing and Post-Filing License Renewal Announcement Reminder for TV Stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington DC

Scott R. Flick Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted March 1, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

March 2012

TV, Class A TV, LPTV, and TV translator stations licensed to communities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington DC must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on April 1, 2012. License renewal applications for these stations are due by June 1, 2012.

Pre-Filing License Renewal Announcements

Stations in the video services that are licensed to communities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington DC must file their license renewal applications by June 1, 2012.

Beginning two months prior that filing, full power TV, Class A TV, and LPTV stations capable of local origi¬nation must air four pre-filing renewal announcements alerting the public to the upcoming license renewal application filing. These stations must air the first pre-filing announcement on April 1, 2012. The remaining announcements must air on April 16, May 1, and May 16, for a total of four announcements. A sign board or slide showing the licensee's address and the FCC's Washington DC address must be displayed while the pre-filing announcements are broadcast.

For commercial stations, at least two of these four announcements must air between 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm. Locally-originating LPTV stations must broadcast these announcements as close to the above schedule as their operating schedule permits. Noncommercial stations must air the announcements at the same times as commercial stations; however, noncommercial stations need not air any announcements in a month in which the station does not operate. A noncommercial station that will not air some announcements because it is off the air must air the remaining announcements in the order listed above, i.e. the first two must air between 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm.

Article continues . . .

Biennial Ownership Reports are due by April 2, 2012 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, and for Noncommercial Television Stations in Texas

Lauren Lynch Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted March 1, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

March 2012

The staggered deadlines for filing Biennial Ownership Reports by noncommercial radio and television stations remain in effect and are tied to each station's respective license renewal filing deadline.

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, and television stations licensed to communities in Texas must electronically file their Biennial Ownership Reports by April 2, 2012, as the filing deadline of April 1 falls on a Sunday. Licensees must file using FCC Form 323-E, and must place the form as filed in their stations' public inspection files.

In 2009, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on whether the Commission should adopt a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial 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 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 application filing.

A PDF version of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports are due by April 2, 2012 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, and for Noncommercial Television Stations in Texas

Pre-Filing and Post-Filing License Renewal Announcement Reminder for Radio Stations in Michigan and Ohio

Lauren Lynch Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted March 1, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

March 2012

Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations licensed to communities in Michigan and Ohio must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on April 1, 2012. License renewal applications for these stations, and for in-state FM translator stations, are due by June 1, 2012.

Pre-Filing License Renewal Announcements

Full power commercial and noncommercial radio, LPFM, and FM Translator stations whose communities of license are located in Michigan and Ohio must file their license renewal applications with the FCC by June 1, 2012.

Beginning two months prior to that filing, however, full power commercial and noncommercial radio and LPFM stations must air four pre-filing announcements alerting the public to the upcoming renewal application filing. As a result, these radio stations must air the first pre-filing renewal announcement on April 1. The remaining pre-filing announcements must air once a day on April 16, May 1, and May 16, for a total of four announcements. At least two of these four announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.

The text of the pre-filing announcement is as follows:

On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until October 1, 2012. [Stations that have not received a renewal grant since the filing of their previous renewal application should modify the foregoing to read: "(Call letters) is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee."]

Our license will expire on October 1, 2012. We must file an application for renewal with the FCC by June 1, 2012. When filed, a copy of this application will be available for public inspection during our regular business hours. It contains information concerning this station's performance during the last eight years [or other period of time covered by the application, if the station's license term was not a standard eight-year license term].

Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the Commission by September 1, 2012.

Further information concerning the FCC's broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of station's public inspection file] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554.

Article continues . . .

Broadcast Station EEO Advisory

Lauren Lynch Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted March 1, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

March 2012

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, 2012 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection files and post the report on stations' websites.

Under the FCC's EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units ("SEUs"), regardless of staff size, must afford equal 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 notifica¬tion, 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.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the public inspection files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station's FCC license renewal application. The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU's EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities. Stations must also submit the two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports at the midpoint of their license terms and with their license renewal applications.

Exempt SEUs - those with fewer than 5 full time employees - do not have to prepare or file Annual or Mid-Term EEO Reports.

For a detailed description of the EEO rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broad¬casters should consult "Making It Work: A Broadcaster's Guide to the FCC's Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies" published by the Communications Practice Group. This publication is available at: >http://www.pillsburylaw.com/siteFiles/Publications/CommunicationsAdvisoryMay2011.pdf.

Continue reading "Broadcast Station EEO Advisory"

2012 First Quarter Children's Television Programming Documentation

Lauren Lynch Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted March 1, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

March 2012

The next Children's Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations' local public inspection files by April 10, 2012, reflecting programming aired during the months of January, February, and March 2012.

On 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.

These two obligations, in turn, require broadcasters to comply with two paperwork requirements 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 the station has aired for children 16 years of age and under. 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's Television Programming Rule is $10,000.

Article continues . . .

2012 First Quarter Issues/Programs List Advisory for Broadcast Stations

Scott R. Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted March 1, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Christine A. Reilly

March 2012

The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List ("Quarterly List") must be placed in stations' local inspection files by April 10, 2012, reflecting information for the months of January, February, and March 2012.

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. Article continues . . .

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted February 29, 2012

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:

  • Inadequate Sponsorship ID Ends with $44,000 Fine
  • Unattended Main Studio Fine Warrants Upward Adjustment
  • $16,000 Consent Decree Seems Like a Deal

Licensee Fined $44,000 for Failure to Properly Disclose Sponsorship ID
For years, the FCC has been tough on licensees that are paid to air content but do not acknowledge such sponsorship, and an Illinois licensee was painfully reminded that failing to identify sponsors of broadcast content has a high cost. In a recent Notice of Apparent Liability ("NAL"), the FCC fined the licensee $44,000 for violating its rule requiring licensees to provide sponsorship information when they broadcast content in return for money or other "valuable consideration."

Section 317 of the Communications Act and Section 73.1212 of the FCC's Rules require all broadcast stations to disclose at the time the content is aired whether any broadcast content is made in exchange for valuable consideration or the promise of valuable consideration. Specifically, the disclosure must include (1) an announcement that part or all of the content has been sponsored or paid for, and (2) information regarding the person or organization that sponsored or paid for the content.

In 2009, the FCC received a complaint alleging a program was aired without adequate disclosures. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the program did not disclose that it was an advertisement rather than a news story. Two years after the complaint, the FCC issued a Letter of Inquiry ("LOI") to the licensee. In its response to the LOI, the licensee maintained that its programming satisfied the FCC's requirements and explained that all of the airings of the content at issue contained sponsorship identification information, with the exception of eleven 90-second spots. In these eleven spots, the name of the sponsoring organization was identified, but the segment did not explicitly state that the content was paid for by that organization.

Though the licensee defended its program content and the disclosure of the sponsor's name as sufficient to meet the FCC's requirements, the FCC was clearly not persuaded. The FCC expressed particular concern over preventing viewer deception, especially when the content of the programming is not readily distinguishable from other non-sponsored news programming, as was the case here.

The base forfeiture for sponsorship identification violations is $4,000. The FCC fined the licensee $44,000, which represents $4,000 for each of the eleven segments that aired without adequate disclosure of sponsorship information.

Absence of Main Studio Staffing Lands AM Broadcaster a $10,000 Penalty
In another recently released NAL, the FCC reminds broadcasters that a station's main studio must be attended by at least one of its two mandatory full-time employees during regular business hours as required by Section 73.1125 of the FCC's Rules. Section 73.1125 states that broadcast stations must maintain a main studio within or near their community of license. The FCC's policies require that the main studio must maintain at least two full-time employees (one management level and the other staff level). The FCC has repeatedly indicated in other NALs that the management level employee, although not "chained to their desk", must report to the main studio on a daily basis. The FCC defines normal business hours as any eight hour period between 8am and 6pm. The base forfeiture for violations of Section 73.1125 is $7,000.

According to the NAL, agents from the Detroit Field Office ("DFO") attempted to inspect the main studio of an Ohio AM broadcaster at 2:20pm on March 30, 2010. Upon arrival, the agents determined that the main studio building was unattended and the doors were locked. Prior to leaving the main studio, an individual arrived at the location, explained that the agents must call another individual, later identified as the licensee's Chief Executive Officer ("CEO"), in order to gain access to the studio, and provided the CEO's contact number. The agents attempted to call the CEO without success prior to leaving the main studio.

Approximately two months later, the DFO issued an LOI. In the AM broadcaster's LOI response, the CEO indicated that the "station personnel did not have specific days and times that they work, but rather are 'scheduled as needed.'" Additionally, the LOI response indicated that the DFO agents could have entered the station on their initial visit if they had "push[ed] the entry buzzer."

In August 2010, the DFO agents made a second visit to the AM station's main studio. Again the agents found the main studio unattended and the doors locked. The agents looked for, but did not find, the "entry buzzer" described in the LOI response.

The NAL stated that the AM broadcaster's "deliberate disregard" for the FCC's rules, as evidenced by its continued noncompliance after the DFO's warning, warranted an upward adjustment of $3,000, resulting in a total fine of $10,000. The FCC also mandated that the licensee submit a statement to the FCC within 30 days certifying that its main studio has been made rule-compliant.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick of Pillsbury to Speak on "Playing by the Rules: A Broadcaster's Guide to Contests and Sweepstakes," February 29, 2012

February 29, 2012

Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick of Pillsbury will review the FCC rules governing on-air contests and sweepstakes during this Executive Briefing Webinar presented by Texas Association of Broadcasters on February 29th from 2-3:30 pm Central Time. Learn the best practices and pitfalls when it comes to airing contests on your station and why to be wary of "boiler plate" contest rules.

Click here for more information and to register for this FREE informative session.

TV Stations' Class A Status on the Chopping Block

Scott R. Flick

Posted February 28, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

This morning the FCC released copies of 16 Orders to Show Cause sent to licensees of low power TV stations that have Class A status. Class A status protects such stations from being displaced by modifications to full-power stations and, with the recent enactment of the spectrum auction legislation, qualifies them to participate in the auction (for a share of the auction revenues) while protecting them from being spectrum repacked out of existence as part of the auction preparations.

Each of the Orders is surprisingly similar, noting that the FCC sent letters to the licensee in March and August of last year asking why it had not been regularly filing its FCC Form 398 Children's Television Reports with the Commission. The Orders note that the licensees failed to respond to either of the FCC letters, and that the FCC is therefore demanding they now tell the FCC if there is any reason why it should not relieve them of their Class A status, making them regular LPTV licensees with attendant secondary status.

It is possible that these are just the beginning of a tidal wave of FCC orders aimed at thinning the ranks of Class A stations. First, given that these stations were told they had not filed all of their Children's Television Reports and they then failed to respond to the FCC, these are the "easy" cases for the FCC, since it can assert that the licensee effectively defaulted by not responding. Presumably, for each licensee that did not respond at all, there were several that did respond to explain why their Children's Television Reports might not be showing up in the FCC's database. These cases will have more individualized facts, requiring the Media Bureau to write more detailed and diverse responses. Drafting those types of responses will take FCC staff more time than this largely cookie-cutter first batch, and that is why there likely will be more Show Cause Orders being sent to Class A stations in the not too distant future.

Beyond proving once again that "you don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger, and you don't fail to respond to an FCC letter" (Jim Croce as channeled by a communications lawyer), the Orders are a bit surprising since the FCC had previously taken the position that, like full-power TV stations, the penalty for a Class A station failing to comply with a rule is typically a fine, not the loss of Class A status. While the licensees that failed to respond to the FCC letters in March and August certainly did themselves no favors, it is likely that loss of Class A status is going to be the FCC's favored enforcement tool going forward.

Why? Well, as I explain in a post coming out later this week on the new spectrum auction law, unlike Class A stations, LPTV stations were given no protections under the auction statute, leaving them at risk of being displaced into oblivion, with no right to participate in spectrum auction proceeds and no right to reimbursement for the cost of moving to a new channel during the repacking process (assuming a channel is available).

However, because the statute gives Class A stations rights similar to full-power TV stations, every Class A station the FCC can now eliminate increases the amount of spectrum the FCC can recover for an auction, reduces the amount of spectrum the FCC must leave available for broadcasters in the repacking process, and increases the potential profitability of the auction for the government (since it can just displace LPTV stations rather than compensate them as Class A stations).

That the FCC seems to now be moving quickly to cull LPTV stations from the Class A herd just a week after Congress cleared the way for a spectrum auction is likely no coincidence. Instead, these Orders represent the first of many actions the FCC is likely to take to simplify the repacking process while reducing the costs inherent in conducting an auction for vacated broadcast spectrum. For the FCC, LPTV stations and "former" Class A stations are the low-hanging fruit in conducting a successful spectrum auction. The question for other television licensees is how much further up the tree the FCC is going to climb to make more spectrum available for an auction at minimal cost to the government.

The FCC's "Stopwatch" Proposal to Evaluate Station Program Content

Richard R. Zaragoza

Posted February 24, 2012

By Richard R. Zaragoza and Lauren A. Birzon

Despite spring-like weather in Washington this winter, broadcasters, with good reason, have been busy filing frosty comments in response to the FCC's Notice of Inquiry (NOI) regarding "Standardizing Program Reporting Requirements for Broadcast Licensees."

Free Press and others are urging the FCC to require television stations to complete and publicly file a "Sample Form" setting forth the number of minutes that a station devoted, during a composite week period, to the broadcast of certain categories of FCC-selected programming. The proposed form (or some version of it) would take the place of the Quarterly Issues/Programs List requirement that was adopted by the Commission nearly thirty years ago after an exhaustive review of many of the same issues that caused the FCC in 2007 to adopt FCC Form 355 ("Standardized Television Disclosure Form"), which the Commission abandoned last year on its own motion.

The 46 State Broadcasters Associations (represented by our firm), three other State Broadcasters Associations, the National Association of Broadcasters, and a coalition of network television station owners, among others, filed comments alerting the FCC that its proposals to adopt new and detailed program reporting requirements raise serious questions about the Commission's authority to do so under the First Amendment. The 46 State Associations noted that "substitut[ing] a chiefly quantity of programming measure for public service performance, which is the focus of Free Press' Sample Form, would, in the State Associations' view, inappropriately, (i) elevate form (quantity of minutes) over substance (treatment of specific issues), (ii) place other undue burdens on stations, and (iii) intertwine the government for years to come in the journalistic news judgments of television broadcast stations throughout the country."

According to the State Associations and the NAB, the FCC's failure to address the clear constitutional questions raised is peculiar in light of First Amendment case law. They are referring to the Commission's proposed adoption of a quantity of programming approach to measure station performance, which would introduce the same type of "raised eyebrow" regulatory dynamic that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Lutheran Church found unlawfully pressured stations to hire based on race. According to that same court in the more recent MD/DC/DE Broadcasters case, the FCC has "a long history of employing...a variety of sub silentio pressures and 'raised eyebrow' regulation of program content...as means for communicating official pressures to the licensee." In Lutheran Church, the court concluded that "[n]o rational firm--particularly one holding a government-issued license--welcomes a government audit." The court also concluded that no rational broadcast station licensee would welcome having to expend its resources, and suffer any attendant application processing delays in having to justify their actions to the FCC, regardless of whether in response to a petition to deny an application, a complaint, or other objection filed by a third party.

The network television station owners also pressed the First Amendment issue by pointing out that it is well established that the First Amendment precludes the FCC from requiring the broadcast of particular amounts and types of programming. The network owners also noted that few broadcasters, confronted with a Commission form asking them to list all of their programming related to certain content categories, will not feel pressure to skew their editorial judgments in a conforming manner.

These comments reveal the difficult position in which the FCC places itself when it attempts to craft rules that relate to specific programming content. Having launched itself down that path, the question becomes whether the Commission will attempt to face these issues and address them in any resulting rule, or merely downplay them, requiring an appeals court to address them at a later date. Only after we know the answer to that question will we know whether the term "stopwatch review" refers to a new regime of FCC content regulation, or is merely a reference to how long it takes a court to find that such rules can't coexist with the First Amendment.

FCC Enforcement and the Five-Percent Solution

Scott R. Flick

Posted February 15, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

According to the The Sign of Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's second Sherlock Holmes novel, Holmes preferred a seven-percent solution (a reference that would serve as the basis for another Holmes novel and movie some seventy years later). The FCC, on the other hand, has shown a regulatory fondness for relying on a five-percent solution. For example, a five-percent voting interest triggers application of the FCC's multiple ownership rules, and when the FCC announced it would conduct random annual EEO audits, it decided that it would audit five percent of radio stations, five percent of TV stations, and five percent of cable systems each year for EEO compliance.

Further evidence of the FCC's five-percent fondness arose this week in the context of a proceeding we first wrote about in the December FCC Enforcement Monitor. That story discussed a South Carolina AM station which, in an unusual twist, was fined twice for failing to file a license renewal application on time.

Section 73.3539(a) of the FCC's Rules requires license renewal applications to be filed four months prior to the expiration date of the license. The AM station's license was set to expire in December 2003, but no license renewal application was filed. The station licensee later explained that it did not file a license renewal application because it did not realize its license had expired. In May of 2011, seven years later, the FCC notified the station that its license had indeed expired, its authority to operate had been terminated, and its call letters had been deleted from the FCC's database.

After receiving this letter, the station filed a late license renewal application and a subsequent request for Special Temporary Authority to operate the station until the license renewal application was granted. Because so much time had passed since the station failed to timely file its 2003 license renewal application, however, the deadline for the station's 2011 license renewal application (for the 2011-2019 license term) also passed without the station filing a timely license renewal application. As a result, the FCC found the station liable for an additional violation of its license renewal filing obligations.

The base fine for failing to file required forms is $3,000. Thus, the FCC found the station liable for a total of $6,000 relating to these two violations, and an additional $4,000 for violating Section 301 of the Communications Act by continuing to operate for seven years after license expiration. The base forfeiture for the latter offense is $10,000, but the FCC reduced its proposed forfeiture to $4,000 because the station was not a pirate, and had previously been licensed. Combining all of the various proposed fines, however, still left the station holding a Notice of Apparent Liability for $10,000. On the good news side, the FCC did elect to renew the station's license, holding that the station's alleged rule violations did not evidence a "pattern of abuse."

This week brought an additional chapter to the tale when the FCC released a decision on Valentine's Day responding to the licensee's request to have the $10,000 fine reduced or cancelled. The licensee presented two grounds for modifying the FCC's original order. First, the licensee noted that one of the station's co-owners had been in very poor health, and it was because of this that the station had missed the license renewal filing deadline (the decision fails to make clear whether it was the first or second license renewal application that the illness caused to be missed). The FCC indicated that it was sympathetic to the co-owner's health issues, but it made clear that illness does not excuse the failure to timely file a license renewal application, particularly where the person in poor health was not the sole owner of the station.

The second ground presented was that the $10,000 fine was excessive for a small town AM station, particularly given the station's financial status. As required by the FCC for those pleading financial hardship, the licensee turned over its tax returns for the past three years, showing annual gross revenues of $86,437, $88,947, and $103,707. Applying its five-percent solution, the FCC concluded that the licensee was entitled to a reduction in the fine, stating that "the Bureau has found forfeitures of approximately 5 percent of a licensee's average gross revenue to be reasonable," and that the "current proposed forfeiture of $10,000 constitutes approximately 11 percent of Licensee's average gross revenue from 2008 to 2010." The FCC therefore reduced the forfeiture to $4,600, stating that it would "align this case with the 5 percent standard used in prior cases."

While few licensees would be pleased to hand over five percent of their annual gross revenue to the FCC, all should be aware that five percent marks the FCC's threshold for assessing when a fine moves from being big enough to ensure future rule compliance, to instead causing undue financial hardship. For those facing an FCC fine, that is an important distinction.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form and Quarterly Report of Use Form Due

February 14, 2012

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending December 31, 2011.

Increase in HSR Thresholds Makes More Room for Larger Communications Transactions

Miles S. Mason

Posted February 9, 2012

By Miles S. Mason

While the FCC gets to have a say in nearly every sale or merger in the communications industry, no matter how small, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission will also be called upon if a transaction is large enough. The test for when a transaction is large enough to require a filing with the DOJ or the FTC is whether it exceeds the minimum financial thresholds of the Hart-Scott-Rodino ("HSR") Act.

Because of inflation and other factors, however, the HSR thresholds must be annually adjusted to accurately separate small deals from big deals. This separation is critical because the DOJ and the FTC have limited resources to investigate transactions, and therefore only require advance notification of transactions that involve companies or transactions above a certain minimum size. Transactions that fall below the HSR reporting thresholds, however, are not immune from antitrust scrutiny even after they are consummated if they are likely to have an anticompetitive effect in any relevant market.

On February 27, 2012, the HSR thresholds will increase significantly, with the "minimum size-of-transaction test" threshold increasing from $50 million to $68.2 million. If the value of the proposed transaction is above $68.2 million but below $272.8 million (up from $200 million), reporting is required only if the ultimate parents of the acquiring and acquired entities meet certain "size-of-person" tests, the thresholds for which will also increase on February 27, 2012. Subject to a myriad of exemptions, transactions valued at over $272.8 million under the HSR regulations must generally be reported. If that sounds complicated (and it can be), Pillsbury's Antitrust lawyers recently published an Advisory with more details on these changes.

While transactions that meet these thresholds must be reported whether or not they are communications-related, the thresholds can be particularly relevant to large broadcasters, since broadcasters that enter into a transaction requiring an HSR filing need to be aware that they may not be able to implement a local marketing agreement or similar cooperative arrangement in conjunction with an anticipated acquisition until the HSR filing has been made and the mandatory post-filing waiting period has either passed without action by the DOJ/FTC, or the DOJ/FTC have agreed to terminate the HSR waiting period early.

With communications transactions starting to heat up again, the increase in the HSR thresholds is welcome, and may simplify transactions that fall above the current HSR thresholds, but below the new ones.

When Is a Coordinate Correction Just a Coordinate Correction?

Christine A. Reilly

Posted February 6, 2012

By Christine A. Reilly

Last Thursday, the FCC's Media Bureau issued a Letter Decision involving two disputed coordinate correction applications for a station's main and auxiliary antennas that, at least on paper, proposed to increase the short spacing to another radio station. In the Letter Decision, the Media Bureau spelled out the circumstances under which a requested coordinate correction, absent an actual change in facilities, will be approved by the Media Bureau.

Certain FCC applications and registrations require parties to specify the geographic coordinates for the site that is the subject of the filing. Examples of such FCC filings include applications for modifications to an AM or FM broadcast station on FCC Form 301 or 302, antenna and tower registrations on FCC Form 854, and applications seeking authorization to operate studio transmitter links on FCC Form 601. The Letter Decision emphasized that the coordinates supplied to the FCC should be accurate not only to prevent interference among stations, but also to avoid unanticipated and potentially costly disputes like the one discussed in this decision.

As detailed in the Letter Decision, a California broadcaster filed applications seeking to correct its main and auxiliary transmitter site coordinates on FCC Form 302-FM pursuant to the FCC rule that allows a station to correct its coordinates by no more than three seconds of latitude and/or longitude without requesting a new construction permit. The applications in question were opposed by a broadcaster in an adjacent market who argued that the applications to correct the coordinates would impermissibly increase the existing short spacing between the applicant's station and its station. While the correction of coordinates did technically reduce the stated distance between the stations, it did so by only 304 feet.

The Media Bureau stated in the Letter Decision that it is an "undisputed fact" that the coordinate changes proposed would increase the short spacing, but it decided to approve the applications because the increase in short spacing was negligible, or "de minimis." In doing so, the Media Bureau relied on a 1998 case involving a coordinate correction that proposed a "paper" change in coordinates of a similar distance (less than a tenth of a kilometer).

However, the Media Bureau also concluded that in assessing the distances between transmitter sites to determine whether a short-spacing is increased under the FCC's Rules, it will round distances to the nearest kilometer. Using this rounding methodology, the distance between the stations in the Letter Decision remained unchanged by the correction, since both the old and the new distances rounded to 221 kilometers, and therefore created no "change" in the short spacing between the stations.

The take away from the Letter Decision is that the Media Bureau will likely approve applications to correct coordinates that increase an existing short spacing where (i) the application is for correction of site data that does not involve an actual facility change; (ii) the correction raises no environmental or international (or other) issues; (iii) the difference between the authorized and corrected spacing involved is de minimis (keep in mind the only clear line even after the Letter Decision is that a tenth of a kilometer, or less, will be considered de minimis by the FCC); and (iv) a change of more than a tenth of a kilometer may be permissible where rounding to the nearest kilometer would indicate no change in the distance between stations.

FCC Rejects Randall Terry Political Complaint in Illinois

Scott R. Flick

Posted February 3, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

As a follow up to my earlier post today, the FCC has just released a decision rejecting a political advertising complaint filed by Randall Terry against WMAQ-TV in Chicago.

The FCC ruled that Terry failed to meet his burden to demonstrate to the station that he is a bona fide candidate for the Democratic Presidential Primary in Illinois. The FCC also ruled that even if Terry were a bona fide candidate, it was reasonable for the station to reject his request for ad time during the Super Bowl, since a station could reasonably conclude that "it may well be impossible, given the station's limited spot inventory for that broadcast, including the pre-game and post-game shows, to provide reasonable access to all eligible federal candidates who request time during that broadcast."

One aspect of the decision that is particularly interesting is the FCC's conclusion that the mere fact that some stations may have aired the spots did not make another station's decision not to air them unreasonable. The FCC assessed the degree to which Terry demonstrated he had broadly campaigned in Illinois, concluding that "[r]eview of the information provided by Terry to the station regarding his substantial showing demonstrates that much of it is either incomplete or without specific facts to support his claims regarding particular campaign activities" and that "the few locations in which he mentions campaigning fail to demonstrate that he has engaged in campaign activities throughout a substantial part of the state, as required by Commission precedent."

While it is unlikely this decision marks the end of the controversy, it will certainly allow broadcasters to breathe easier for the moment. Unavoidably, however, the decision provides a road map to those seeking to exploit the rules in the future, detailing the type of showing they will need to make "next time" to establish a right to reasonable access, equal opportunity, and lowest unit charge (although probably not during the Super Bowl). While the FCC today set the bar appropriately high for establishing a bona fide candidacy, the benefits conveyed to candidates by the Communications Act are sufficiently at