December 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.