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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.