November 2012 Archives

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