2013 Archives

Comment Dates Set for FCC's Proposal to Mandate Captioning of IP-Delivered "Video Clips"

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted December 26, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

As I have noted on several occasions in the past, the FCC requires that certain video programming delivered online by television stations be captioned if that programming previously aired on television with captions (for a quick refresher you can view my posts "FCC Seeks Greater Clarity on IP Video Captioning Rules", "Second Online Captioning Deadline Arrives March 30", and "First Online Video Closed Captioning Deadline Is Here").

All video programming that appeared on television with captions after April 30, 2012, is considered "covered Internet Protocol (IP) video" and is required to be captioned when shown online. In January of 2012, the FCC released an Order exempting "video clips" and outtakes while requiring that television stations display captioning for prerecorded full-length programming delivered via IP if the programming had aired on television with captions. Where a captioned TV program is streamed on the Internet in segments, it must be captioned if substantial portions of the entire program are shown via those segments.

However, in the latest turn, the FCC is now asking for updated information regarding whether it should remove the "video clip" exemption. It is seeking public comment on the issue, with comments due on January 27, 2014, and reply comments due on February 26, 2014. The FCC's Public Notice asks commenters to answer a number of questions regarding the current state of captioning of IP-delivered video clips, including:

  • What portion of IP-delivered video clips generally, and of IP-delivered news clips specifically, are captioned?
  • Has the availability of captioned versions of such clips been increasing?
  • What is the quality of the captioning on IP-delivered video clips?
  • Should the FCC require captioning of IP-delivered video clips?
  • How are the positions of commenters consistent with the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), its legislative history, and the intent of Congress to provide video programming access to people with disabilities?
  • What are the potential costs and benefits of requiring captioning of IP-delivered video clips?
  • How have consumers been affected by the absence of closed captioning on IP-delivered video clips, particularly news clips?
  • To the extent that some entities have already captioned these clips, what technical challenges, if any, had to be addressed? How does the captioning of IP-delivered video clips differ from the captioning of full-length IP-delivered video programming?
  • What are the differences between captioning live or near-live IP-delivered video clips, such as news clips, and prerecorded IP-delivered video clips?
  • If the FCC imposes closed captioning obligations on IP-delivered video clips, should the requirements apply to all video clips, or only to a subset of such clips?
  • If only to a subset, what subsets would be most appropriate and what would be the rationale for excluding others?

The FCC also asks for comment on any additional issues relevant to its determination of whether closed captioning of IP-delivered video clips should be required.

TV stations have been making greater use of their websites over the last few years to deliver video programming, and that use is only likely to increase in the years ahead as TV stations expand their use of mobile applications to reach viewers. As a result, the FCC's new proceeding raises important issues that will affect stations' video streaming, online marketing, and bottom line. As the saying goes, you're not entitled to complain about an elected official if you didn't bother to vote, and broadcasters need to speak up now if they want to avoid having to complain later about any complex or burdensome online captioning requirements that might be adopted in this proceeding.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted December 19, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

December 2013

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 Cancels $20,000 Children's Television Fine
  • Fine and Reporting Requirements Imposed for EEO Violations
  • Individual Fined $15,000 for Unauthorized Operation of a Radio Transmitter

$20,000 Kidvid Fine Rescinded Due to Timely Filing

The FCC has continued to impose fines on numerous licensees for failing to timely file their Children's Television Programming Reports on FCC Form 398. The FCC's rules require that full power and Class A television stations file a Children's Television Programming Report each quarter listing the station's programming that is educational and informational for children, and regularly notify the public as to where to find those reports. The base fine for failing to file a required form with the FCC is $3,000.

In July of this year, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture ("NAL") against a Louisiana licensee for failing to timely file its Children's Television Programing Reports 18 times. After examining the facts and circumstances, including the licensee's failure to disclose the late filings in its license renewal application, the FCC proposed a $20,000 fine.

In response to the NAL, the licensee asserted that the reports in question had been timely filed, and that the "late" dates the FCC was seeing in its filing database were merely amendments to the timely filed reports. Unfortunately, as those who have dealt with the FCC's filing systems are aware, when an amendment to an existing report is filed, the FCC's filing system changes the filing date shown from the original filing date to the filing date of the amendment. That is why it is important to print out evidence of the original filing when it is made, allowing the licensee to demonstrate that a timely filing was made if it is later questioned.

Based on the licensee's ability to produce Submission Confirmation printouts showing that the reports were timely filed, the FCC agreed to rescind the NAL and cancel the $20,000 fine.

License Assessed $20,000 Fine and Reporting Obligations for Failing to Notify Job Referral Sources and Self-Assess Its EEO Performance

Earlier this month, the FCC imposed a $20,000 fine and detailed reporting requirements on an Illinois radio licensee. Under Section 73.2080(c)(1)(ii) of the FCC's Rules, a licensee must provide notices of job openings to any organization that "distributes information about employment opportunities to job seekers upon request by such organization," and under Section 73.2080(c)(3), must "analyze the recruitment program for its employment unit on an ongoing basis."

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Breaking News: FCC Moves Up Ownership Report Deadline (Slightly)

Scott R. Flick

Posted December 9, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

As our own Lauren Lynch Flick reported last month, the deadline for commercial broadcast stations to file their biennial ownership reports with the FCC, which the FCC in August moved from November 1st to December 2nd, and then in November moved from December 2nd to December 20th, has now been moved up, but just by a little.

In a Public Notice released today, the FCC announced that:

The Media Bureau previously issued an order granting requests to extend the 2013 biennial ownership report filing deadline to December 20, 2013. Subsequently, a power outage of the FCC headquarters building's electrical systems, as required by the District of Columbia Fire Code, was scheduled. The Commission's systems, including CDBS, will become unavailable after business hours on the evening of the filing deadline. The outage is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on December 20, 2013. Filers must complete electronic filing of their 2013 biennial Ownership Report for Commercial Broadcast Stations prior to that time to comply with the filing due date.

Because the FCC's website has been known to struggle on days where large numbers of filings are due, broadcasters should generally avoid filing documents on their due date unless there is good reason to do so. However, one benefit of electronic filing has been the ability to file after normal business hours, when traffic on the FCC's filing databases eases. That will not be possible this year, and for those on the West Coast, the 7 p.m. (Eastern) deadline means that they will need to get their ownership reports on file by 4 p.m. Pacific time, before their business day actually ends.

As a result, broadcasters will need to be extra vigilant this year to ensure that they don't find themselves trying to file their ownership reports late in the day on December 20th, only to realize that the FCC's filing system is moving at the speed of molasses from the high volume of filers. When the lights go out at the FCC on December 20th, so will your chance of a timely filing.

FCC Detective Work Leads to Renewal Fines

Richard R. Zaragoza

Posted December 5, 2013

By Richard R. Zaragoza

If there had been any doubt that the Video Division of the FCC's Media Bureau would check a television station's online public inspection file to confirm the truthfulness of certifications made by the licensee in a pending license renewal application, that doubt has been eliminated.

In a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture released December 3, the Video Division has proposed a $9,000 fine against the licensee of two Michigan televisions stations on the grounds that (i) each station had filed their Children's Television Programming Reports ("Kidvid Reports") late, and (ii) the stations failed to report those violations in responding to one of the certifications contained in their license renewal applications.

According to the FCC, the licensee had filed each station's Kidvid Report late for three quarters during the license term in violation of Section 73.3526(e)(11)(iii) of the Commission's Rules.

The problem was compounded when the licensee failed to disclose those violations in responding to Section IV, Question 3 of the Form 303-S, which requires licensees to certify "that the documentation, required by 47 C.F.R. Section 73.3526...has been placed in the station's public inspection file at the appropriate times." That same certification requires the applicant to submit an exhibit explaining any violations.

The Video Division of the FCC proposed that each station be assessed a fine of $3,000, the base forfeiture amount for failing to timely file Kidvid Reports, plus a fine of $1,500 for omitting from its renewal applications information regarding those violations. The Division suggested that it could have fined each station $3,000, rather than $1,500, for the reporting failure, but reduced the amount because each licensee "made a good faith effort to identify other deficiencies."

Fortunately for the licensee in this case, it had checked the certification box with a "no," and disclosed that its quarterly issues/programs lists had not been timely uploaded to the FCC's online public file for the station. While the licensee did not mention anything about the late-filed Kidvid Reports, apparently the Video Division believed that the licensee's failure to disclose was intentional enough to warrant a fine, but not deliberate enough to warrant a charge of misrepresentation or lack of candor that could have resulted in a much larger fine or worse.

The lessons learned from the Video Division's action include: before signing off and filing a station license renewal application, (i) check the FCC's online database to make sure that it has a record of all documents that were required to be timely filed, (ii) check the station's paper (in the case of radio) and online (in the case of television) public inspection file to confirm (or not) that the file is complete and that the documents required to be in the file were placed there on a timely basis, and (iii) discuss with counsel what may need to be disclosed (or not disclosed) in response to certifications contained in a station's application for renewal of license.

Of future concern is whether the Media Bureau will now be more inclined to impose even higher fines, claiming misrepresentation/lack of candor, where a license renewal applicant makes an unqualified affirmative certification that is not correct, or where the applicant states that it is unable to make an affirmative certification and provides an explanation, but does not fully disclose all material facts in its explanation. Recently the Media Bureau imposed a $17,000 fine against a station for violating Section 1.17 (misrepresentation/lack of candor) after having concluded that had the station "exercised even minimal due diligence, it would not have submitted incorrect and misleading material factual information to the Commission." The Bureau made a point of the fact that the base statutory fine for misrepresentation or lack of candor is $37,500. Affirmative due diligence and caution are your best insurance policies in avoiding such a new and unbudgeted line item expense on your company's next P&L.

FCC Provides LPFM Window Debriefing

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted December 3, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

Earlier today, the FCC released a Public Notice detailing the results of the recent LPFM filing window, along with guidance as to what happens next. More than 2,800 low power FM (LPFM) applications were filed during the October 15 - November 15 (as extended) filing window, with the largest numbers coming from Texas (303), California (283), and Florida (276). To put that number in perspective, if it were possible to grant all of the filed LPFM applications, it would increase the number of radio stations in the U.S. (not including translators) by nearly 20%.

However, many if not most of the applications will indeed conflict with each other, so part of the reason for today's Public Notice is to respond to inquiries regarding the processing of singleton and mutually exclusive applications. This includes such topics as amendments, settlement agreements between mutually exclusive applicants, time-sharing agreements, petitions to deny, and how parties can obtain reinstatement of dismissed applications. Given the more than a decade it took to process applications from the 2003 FM translator filing window, the breakneck speed at which the FCC is moving to process LPFM applications is notable.

According to the Public Notice, the FCC intends to begin rapidly processing applications as early as this month, stating that:

  • The Bureau's first priority has been to identify singleton applications (applications that do not conflict with other applications filed in the window), of which there appear to be about 900. The FCC indicates it hopes to begin granting such applications in January 2014.
  • Later this month, the Bureau will release a Public Notice identifying the mutually exclusive (MX) application groups.
  • Effective with the release of the Public Notice on MX application groups, mutually exclusive applicants will have the ability to file technical amendments and/or enter into settlement and time-sharing agreements to resolve application conflicts.
  • Following the Bureau's review of technical amendments and agreements filed to remove application conflicts, the FCC will identify one or more tentative selectees from each mutually exclusive group. The Bureau will then analyze petitions to deny filed against each tentative selectee, and either grant or dismiss that application. In certain cases, the FCC will identify a successor tentative selectee or selectees after acting on the application of the original tentative selectee.

The Public Notice also provided the following information:

Mutually Exclusive Applications: For applications that do not meet the minimum separation requirements of the FCC's rules, parties are allowed to negotiate settlements and/or file technical amendments to resolve conflicts after the FCC releases the MX Public Notice. As noted above, the FCC intends to release the MX Public Notice later this month.

Amendments: Once the MX Public Notice is released, parties will be allowed to file certain minor amendments to their applications. Major amendments can only be filed by tentative selectees, and only after the FCC announces which applicants have been anointed with that status.

Settlement Agreements: MX applicants will also be allowed to resolve technical conflicts through settlement agreements among applicants, including agreements to make technical amendments to their applications to eliminate the conflict. The Public Notice spells out a detailed process applicants must follow to notify the FCC of their settlement plans.

Voluntary Time-Share Agreements: Parties are also allowed to enter into "partial or universal time-share" agreements. Time-share agreements must (i) specify the proposed hours of operation of each time-share proponent; (ii) not include simultaneous operation of the time-share proponents; and (iii) include a proposal by each time-share proponent to operate for at least 10 hours per week.

Petitions to Deny: All applications that the Commission accepts are subject to petition to deny filings within 30 days after a Public Notice announcing that the application has been accepted for filing.

Dismissed Applications: The FCC is required to dismiss any application that does not comply with the FCC's minimum distance separation requirements to pre-existing facilities. Any application that does not meet the separation requirements to existing facilities cannot be amended to fix that problem.

It is clear from today's Public Notice that the FCC is working quickly to try and wrap up much of this proceeding by Christmas or shortly after the new year begins. Parties involved or potentially affected by this proceeding should therefore start adjusting their holiday schedules to be able to move quickly in response to the promised notices that will be rolling out of the FCC in the next few weeks.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted November 26, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

November 2013

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:

  • Multiple Indecency Complaints Result in $110,000 Payment
  • $42,000 in Fines for Excessive Power, Wrong Directional Patterns and Incomplete Public Inspection Files
  • Cable Operator Fined $25,000 for Children's Programming Reports

Broadcaster Enters Into $110,000 Consent Decree Involving Allegations of Indecent Material

The FCC recently approved a consent decree involving a broadcaster with TV stations in California, Utah and Texas accused of airing indecent and profane content.

Section 73.3999 of the FCC's Rules prohibits radio and television stations from broadcasting obscene material at all times and prohibits indecent material aired between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

The FCC received multiple complaints about the television show in question and sent Letters of Inquiry to the broadcaster asking it to provide a copy of the program and to answer questions about possible violations of the FCC's indecency rule. The licensee complied with the requests but maintained that the program did not contain indecent content.

Earlier this month, the FCC entered into a consent decree with the broadcaster and agreed to terminate its investigation and dismiss the pending indecency complaints. Under the terms of the consent decree, the broadcaster is required to (a) designate a Compliance Officer within 30 days, and (b) create and implement a company-wide Compliance Plan within 60 days, which must include: (i) creating operating procedures to ensure compliance with the FCC's restrictions on indecency, (ii) drafting a Compliance Manual, (iii) training employees about what constitutes indecent content, and (iv) reporting noncompliance to the FCC within 30 days of discovering any violations. The consent decree also requires the filing of a compliance report with the FCC in 90 days and annually thereafter for a period of 3 years. The requirements imposed under the consent decree expire after three years.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Richard R. Zaragoza and Scott R. Flick to Speak on "Is Your Radio Station Ready for License Renewal," November 21, 2013

Scott R. Flick Richard R. Zaragoza

November 21, 2013

Richard R. Zaragoza and Scott R. Flick will review the FCC's Broadcast License Renewal Process during this Webinar hosted by the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcastsers on November 21, 2013 from 10:00 AM to 11;45 AM.

Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick of Pillsbury to Speak on Current Issues and Concerns in Broadcast Advertising, November 21, 2013

Scott R. Flick Lauren Lynch Flick

November 21, 2013

Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick will discuss regulatory issues that are currently affecting broadcast advertising and station outreach through websites and text messaging in this webinar hosted by the Texas Association of Broadcasters on November 21, 2013 from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM Central Time. Topics of discussion will include: E-Cigarettes, False EAS Tones in Ads, COPPA Revisited, and the FCC's new Robo-Call Rules.

Glenn Richards of PIllsbury to Speak at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Meeting, November 17, 2013, Orlando, FL

Glenn S. Richards

November 17, 2013

Glenn S. Richards of Pillsbury will be representing the Voice on the Net Coalition on a panel discussing cramming at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners meeting in Orlando, on November 17 at 10:45 AM.

For additional details please click here.

Breaking News: FCC Extends Ownership Reporting Deadline

Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted November 15, 2013

By Lauren Lynch Flick

A few minutes ago, the FCC released an Order extending the December 2, 2013 deadline for commercial broadcast stations to file their biennial ownership reports to December 20, 2013. The extension is meant to respond to the fact that the FCC took its website (including the Consolidated Database System used for preparing and filing reports and applications) offline during the October government shutdown. Because of this, broadcasters were prevented from preparing their voluminous ownership reports until the FCC reopened and the website was reactivated.

Since the biennial ownership report requires filers to provide their ownership information as it existed on October 1, 2013, broadcasters normally have sixty days after the October 1 reporting date to prepare and submit their reports. By extending the deadline to December 20, the FCC is seeking to maintain that sixty day preparation period.

Noncommercial broadcasters whose biennial ownership reports are due on December 2, 2013 (radio stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota) should be aware that this extension does not apply to noncommercial ownership reports. Barring further action by the FCC, noncommercial stations in the listed states should continue to plan on filing their ownership reports by the current December 2, 2013 deadline.

Taking a Narrow View of the UHF Discount

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted November 14, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

This morning, the FCC's proposal to eliminate the UHF Discount was published in the Federal Register, establishing the comment and reply comment dates for that proceeding. Comments are due December 16, 2013, and reply comments are due January 13, 2014.

Under current law, no individual or entity is permitted to hold an interest in broadcast TV stations that, in the aggregate, reach more than 39 percent of U.S. television households. While this if often shorthanded as "no broadcast group can reach more than 39% of the population", the rule is actually more restrictive than that. Since it applies not just to broadcast groups but to individuals, the rule prohibits an investor from holding 5% of the voting stock of two different TV groups if those otherwise unconnected groups' stations together reach more than 39% of the population. Similarly, the rule would be violated if an individual served as a director for both companies.

Fortunately, the rule's impact on broadcast investment has been lessened by the FCC's UHF Discount, under which the FCC counts only half of the population in a station's market towards the 39% cap if the station operates on a UHF channel (14-51) rather than on a VHF channel (2-13). Because most digital television stations operate on UHF channels, the practical effect has been to permit a group or individual to hold interests in TV stations located in markets representing more than 39% of the population (note, however, that the rule still counts every TV household in the market against the 39% cap, even where the station does not actually serve those households with an over-the-air signal).

The FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes to eliminate the UHF Discount on the theory that while UHF stations had weaker coverage than VHF stations in an analog world, VHF frequencies are not well suited to digital transmissions, and it is now VHF stations that are suffering from poor coverage. That is accurate, but it would seem to be an argument for also creating a VHF Discount rather than eliminating the UHF Discount. While it is true that the FCC provided UHF stations with an opportunity to increase their operating power in transitioning to digital television if they could do so without creating interference to other stations, the guiding principal of making channel allotments in the DTV transition was replicating analog service areas, meaning that UHF analog stations were given digital allotments replicating their flawed analog coverage.

Oddly, however, the NPRM looks past that history, focusing instead on the fact that UHF stations and VHF stations are now much more equivalent because of VHF's digital woes. While the 39% ownership cap, and how it is calculated, may well merit revisiting, the NPRM explicitly makes the decision to forego an examination of the 39% cap and how compliance with that cap should be calculated, and instead limits the FCC's review to whether the UHF Discount should be eliminated.

In his dissent to the NPRM, FCC Commissioner Pai noted this fact, chiding the FCC for putting on its regulatory blinders while plunging ahead on the UHF Discount:

[B]ecause we are proposing to end the UHF discount, we should ask whether it is time to raise the 39 percent cap. Indeed, this step is long overdue notwithstanding any change to the UHF discount. The Commission has not formally addressed the appropriate level of the national audience cap since its 2002 Biennial Review Order, and it has been nearly a decade since the 39 percent cap was established. The media landscape has changed dramatically in the many years since. I've spoken a lot about the importance of reviewing our rules to keep pace with changes in technology and the marketplace, and I wish today's item had done so with respect to this issue in a comprehensive manner.

Like the story of the blind men and the elephant, the FCC's NPRM thrusts out its hand, touching only one aspect of the FCC's ownership rules, and risks discovering later that there is much more to the elephant than its tail.

FCC Reaches Tipping Point on False EAS Alerts

Scott R. Flick

Posted November 5, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

Over the years, I've written a number of times of the FCC's concern about airing emergency sounds, from the siren blare telling you that Indiana Wants Me, to Emergency Alert System tones promoting the movie Skyline, to an actual EAS alert warning of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Section 11.45 of the FCC's Rules states that "[n]o person may transmit or cause to transmit the EAS codes or Attention Signal, or a recording or simulation thereof, in any circumstance other than in an actual National, State or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS." As a result, every time that annoying EAS digital squeal slips onto the airwaves during a commercial rather than in an EAS test, it is guaranteed that the employee charged with screening ads is going to have a very bad day.

Fortunately, most broadcasters and cable operators are well aware of the restriction and go to great lengths to screen out such content. Unfortunately, advertisers and ad agencies are often not so attuned, and given the sheer amount of ad content being aired, an EAS-laden ad will slip through sooner or later.

Aggravating the situation is that while airing the tone from the old Emergency Broadcast System could cause public confusion, the EAS squeal contains digital information that is relayed to other media entities, whose EAS equipment then reads that data and automatically transmits the alert on down the alert chain. The farther the alert travels from the original source (where observant viewers or listeners might have figured out it was just part of a commercial), the greater the likelihood of public confusion and panic.

While the FCC certainly takes EAS false alerts seriously, it has seemed to recognize that the media entity airing the ad is usually as much a victim of the false alert signal as anyone, and as long as prompt action was taken to prevent a recurrence, has not been particularly punitive in its enforcement actions. Its strongest reaction to false EAS alerts up till now has been to issue an Urgent Advisory after the Zombie Apocalypse telling EAS participants to change the default password on their EAS equipment to prevent hackers from commandeering the equipment over the Internet to send out false alerts.

That changed late today, when the FCC issued a News Release and an FCC Enforcement Advisory warning against "False, Fraudulent or Unauthorized Use of the Emergency Alert System Attention Signal and Codes", along with a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) for $25,000 against Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and a $39,000 consent decree against a Kentucky TV station.

According to the NAL, Turner aired a promo for the Conan show that contained a simulated EAS tone in connection with an appearance by comic actor Jack Black. The FCC was not amused. While the base fine for violating Section 11.45 is $8,000, the FCC found that the seriousness of the violation, particularly given the nationwide transmission of the false alert signal, as well as Turner's ability to pay, justified increasing the proposed fine to $25,000. While not specifically addressed in the NAL, the fact that Turner produced the promo itself, rather than this being a case of a third party advertiser slipping it past Turner, appears to have drawn the FCC's ire.

More interesting still is the $39,000 consent decree, where the Kentucky station did not contest that it aired an ad for a sports apparel store that "stops in the middle of the commercial and sounds the exact tone used for the Emergency Alert warnings." Besides the eye-opening $39,000 payment, the consent decree requires extensive further efforts by the licensee, including implementing a Section 11.45 compliance program for its staff, creating and distributing a compliance manual to its staff, implementing a compliance training program, filing annual compliance reports for the next three years, reporting any future violations to the FCC, and developing and implementing a program to "educate members of the public about the EAS alerts, the limits of public warning capabilities, and appropriate responses to emergency warning messages." With regard to this last requirement, the educational program must include:

  • Airing 160 public service announcements (80 on the station's primary channel and 80 on its multicast channel).
  • Interviewing local emergency preparedness officials and including vignettes on emergency awareness topics at least twice a month on the station's morning program.
  • Expanding the station's website to include links to local emergency agencies, banner messages with emergency-related information, and video messages from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local emergency preparedness agencies.
  • Installing an additional SkyCam at its tower site and using "special radio equipment" to communicate with local emergency management officials and which will relay alerts to the station's master control personnel.
  • Leasing tower space to the local emergency management agency for a "new modernized communications system" linking local agencies and organizations.
  • Using social media and digital technologies to promptly disseminate emergency alerts, including posting information culled from the station's public service announcements, vignettes, and the local emergency management agency on the station's Facebook page weekly, and including timely late-breaking news coverage of severe weather conditions and forecasts on the station's smartphone app.
  • Utilizing specific computer hardware and software to render weather data and maps for use on-air, online, and in mobile applications, as well as to track severe weather events.
  • Periodically reviewing and revising the station's educational program to improve it and ensure it is current and complete, including conferring with the National Weather Service and state, county and federal emergency preparedness managers and public safety officials.
The consent decree does not indicate how many times the offending ad aired, or if the station produced it, but the severity of the consent decree terms is startling. Also noteworthy is the FCC Enforcement Advisory's admonition that not just broadcast stations and multichannel video programming distributors are on the hook, but that "[t]he prohibition thus applies to programmers that distribute programming containing a prohibited sound regardless of whether or not they deliver the unlawful signal directly to consumers; it also applies to a person who transmits an unlawful signal even if that person did not create or produce the prohibited programming in the first instance."

The FCC has therefore decided that it is time to crack down on violations, and ominously, today's FCC Enforcement Advisory notes that "[o]ther investigations remain ongoing, and the Bureau will take further enforcement action if warranted." Given today's actions by the FCC, everyone whose job it is to review ad content before it airs is having a very bad day.

FCC Moves Forward on Revitalizing AM Radio

Andrew S. Kersting

Posted November 1, 2013

By Andrew S. Kersting

Yesterday, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making setting forth a number of potential changes to its technical rules governing AM radio designed to revitalize AM stations and enhance the quality of AM service.

In the past several years, the Commission has instituted several changes to its AM rules and policies in hopes of improving AM radio and reducing the regulatory burdens on AM broadcasters. Among these are:

  • 2005 and 2008 - Announced simplified AM licensing procedures for KinStar (2005) and Valcom (2008) low-profile and streamlined AM antennas, which provide additional siting flexibility for non-directional stations to locate in areas where local zoning approval for taller towers cannot be obtained;
  • 2006 - Adopted streamlined procedures for AM station community of license changes;
  • 2008 - Adopted moment method modeling as an alternative methodology to verify AM directional antenna performance, reducing the cost of AM proof of performance showings substantially;
  • 2009 - Authorized rebroadcasting of AM stations on FM translators, which has proven to be extremely successful, with over 10% of all AM stations now using FM translators to provide improved daytime and nighttime service to their communities of license;
  • 2011 - Authorized AM stations to use Modulation Dependent Carrier Level ("MDCL") control technologies, which allow AM stations to cut energy costs through reduced electrical consumption on transmissions and related cooling functions;
  • 2011 - Announced an FM translator minor modification rule waiver policy and waiver standards to expand opportunities for AM stations to provide fill-in coverage with FM translators;
  • 2012 - Authorized all future FM translator stations licensed from Auction 83 to be used for AM station rebroadcasting;
  • 2012 - Granted first Experimental Authorization for all-digital AM operation; and
  • 2013 - Improved protection to AM stations from potential re-radiators and signal pattern disturbances by establishing a single protection scheme for tower construction and modification near AM tower arrays, and designating moment method modeling as the principal means of determining whether a nearby tower affects an AM radiation pattern.

Now, with the introduction of yesterday's Notice of Proposed Rule Making, the FCC is considering yet more changes to its rules to help AM radio. Among the proposals in the Notice of Proposed Rule Making are:

(1) Open an FM translator filing window exclusively for AM licensees and permittees during which AM broadcasters may apply for a single FM translator station in the commercial FM band to be used solely to rebroadcast the AM station's signal to provide fill-in and/or nighttime service. The window, as proposed, would have the following limitations:

  • Applications filed during this window must strictly comply with the existing restrictions on fill-in coverage governing AM use of FM translators (e.g., they must be located so that no part of the 60 dBu contour of the FM translator will extend beyond the smaller of a 25-mile radius from the AM station's transmitter site, or the AM station's daytime 2 mV/m contour; and
  • Any FM translator station authorized though this filing window will be permanently linked to the licensee or permittee of the primary AM station acquiring the authorization, and the FM translator authorization may not be assigned or transferred except in conjunction with that AM station.
(2) Modify the daytime community coverage standards for existing AM stations contained in Section 74.24(i) of the FCC's Rules to require only that stations cover either 50% of the population or 50% of the area of the station's community of license with a daytime 5 mV/m signal. This proposal would not affect applications for new AM stations, or proposals to change the community of license of an existing AM station, both of which will continue to require that 100% of the community of license receive at least a 5 mV/m signal during the day, and cover at least 80% of the community of license at night with a nighttime interference-free signal.

(3) Modify nighttime community coverage requirements for existing AM stations by (i) eliminating the nighttime coverage requirement for existing licensed AM stations, and (ii) in the case of new AM stations and AM stations seeking to change their community of license, modify the rules so the station would be required to cover either 50% of the population or 50% of the area of the community of license with a nighttime 5 mV/m signal or a nighttime interference-free contour, whichever value is higher.

(4) Delete the AM "Ratchet Rule," which currently results in a reduction of nighttime signal coverage for AM stations relocating their licensed facilities.

(5) Permit wider implementation of Modulation Dependent Carrier Level control technologies by amending the FCC's rules to allow AM stations to commence operation using MDCL control technologies without seeking prior FCC authority, provided that they notify the FCC of the MDCL operation using the Media Bureau's Consolidated Database System within 10 days of commencing such operation.

(6) Modify AM antenna efficiency standards, and consider whether the minimum field strength values set forth in various technical rules could be reduced by approximately 25%.

While the changes under consideration are significant, AM broadcasters will have a fair amount of time to contemplate them before comments on the proposals are due at the FCC. The comment deadline will be 60 days after Federal Register publication of the Notice of Proposed Rule Making, with reply comments due 30 days after that.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted October 25, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

October 2013

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:

  • Online Public File Violations and Failure to Respond Result in $14,400 Fine
  • Unlicensed Broadcast Operation Draws $7,000 Fine
  • Fines Continue for Class A Children's Television Violations

Licensee Fined for Public Inspection File Violations and Failure to Respond to FCC Inquiries
The FCC issued a Forfeiture Order in the amount of $14,400 to a California television licensee for failing to keep its online public inspection file up to date and for not responding to the FCC's letters of inquiry.

Earlier this year, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture ("NAL") against the licensee, asserting that the station had failed to place required documentation in its online public inspection file and failed to respond to FCC letters of inquiry. The NAL concluded that the licensee should be assessed a $16,000 forfeiture for these violations, which was comprised of $10,000 for the public file violation and $6,000 for failure to respond to the FCC's correspondence. Although the usual penalty for failure to respond is $4,000, the FCC imposed the higher penalty of $6,000 on this licensee because its "misconduct was egregious and repeated."

The licensee timely responded to the NAL and argued against the imposition of a $16,000 fine. The FCC rejected all but the last of the station's arguments. First, the FCC disagreed with the licensee's argument that uploading documents into its online inspection file was unnecessary because of their availability at the station's main studio, noting that "the online public file is a crucial source of information for the public." Second, the FCC noted that providing the FCC with updated contact information is the responsibility of the licensee, and therefore rejected the licensee's argument that the station's failure to reply to FCC letters sent to an outdated address was unintentional. Third, the FCC ignored the licensee's argument that paying a fine would impose a financial hardship, as the station declined to provide the required documentation of its financial status. Ultimately, however, the FCC agreed to reduce the fine from $16,000 to $14,400 in light of the station's history of compliance with the FCC's Rules.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Kansas Association of Broadcasters, October 20-22, 2013, Hilton Garden Inn and Convention Center, New York, NY

October 20, 2013

For more information, please visit www.kab.net/conventioninformation/.

FCC Announcement Provides Guidance on Post-Shutdown Filing Deadlines

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted October 18, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

As Scott Flick of our office reminded everyone yesterday morning, the FCC shut down from October 1, 2013 through October 16, 2013, and upon reopening, suspended filing deadlines until it could sort out some rational way of returning to normality. Late last night, the FCC announced its solution to that problem. After the past few weeks of uncertainty, those regulated by the FCC now know how to proceed (more or less). The FCC's approach will win no points for elegant simplicity, but it is an earnest--and appreciated--effort to avoid merely going with a "one size fits all" approach.

According to the Public Notice:

Flings, with the exception of [Network Outage Reporting System] filings and certain other specified filings, that were due between October 1 and October 6 will be due on October 22, 2013. Filings, with the exception of NORS filings and certain other specified filings, that were due between October 7 and October 16 will be due 16 days after the original filing date, an extension equivalent to the period of the Commission's closure. Thus, for example, a filing that would have been due on October 7, will be due on October 23, an extension of 16 days. To the extent the revised due dates for filings under this Public Notice fall on a weekend or other Commission holiday, they will be due on the next business day. Finally, any regulatory and enforcement filings that would otherwise be required to be filed between October 17 and November 4 with the exception of the NORS filings and other specified filings, will be due for filing on November 4, 2013 (which is the first business day following a 16-day period after the Commission's October 17 reopening).

That Public Notice also added that:

To the extent the due dates for filings to which reply or responsive pleadings are allowed are extended by this Public Notice, the due dates for the reply or responsive pleadings are extended by the same number of days. Thus, for example, if comments were originally due on October 30 and reply comments due ten days later, comments would now be due on November 4 and reply comments on November 14. In addition, any STAs expiring between October 1, 2013 and October 22, 2013 are extended until November 4.

FCC regulatees should read the public notice in full for more detail, and to discern whether their planned filings fall into that "other specified filings" category mentioned above, for which the FCC has announced yet more individualized deadlines.

The federal shutdown has not been easy on anyone inside or outside the FCC, and we have received an absolute deluge of calls from clients trying to deal with the disruption. With last night's announcement, FCC applicants now have a path forward. Let the frenzied filing begin!

Breaking News: FCC Reopens and Suspends Filing Deadlines

Scott R. Flick

Posted October 17, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

As the FCC reopens today after being shut down for 16 days, it has reactivated its website and posted the following notice:


As a result of the recent shutdown of Commission services, including access to electronic dockets on the Commission's web site, due to a government-wide lapse in appropriations, we suspend all Commission filing deadlines that occurred during the shutdown or that will occur on or before October 21, other than Network Outage Reporting System (NORS) filing deadlines, until further notice. The Commission will soon issue further guidance on revised filing deadlines.

We recommend that parties refrain from submitting filings seeking additional relief until after they consider the further guidance.

Given that this was the first government shutdown of the online era, today's announcement is welcome news for many FCC filers. Unlike in previous shutdowns, where applications could be prepared offline (or "on paper" as the communications bar refers to it) and just submitted when the government reopens, the FCC's movement of most applications to online filings made this shutdown far more disruptive. With the FCC website shut down, applicants couldn't even prepare their applications, much less file them, meaning that there will be a lot of activity on the FCC website over the next week as applicants make up for lost time. We'll know in the next few days whether the newly reactivated FCC website is able to handle that sudden load.

Of course, how intense that activity will be depends on how much additional time the FCC provides for filings in its promised "further guidance" announcement. Stay tuned.

New "Robocall" Rules Impact How Businesses Can Text Consumers

Lauren Lynch Flick Andrew D. Bluth

Posted October 15, 2013

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Andrew Bluth

Beginning tomorrow, October 16, 2013, new FCC "robocalling" rules go into effect that require all businesses to obtain specific written consent from a consumer before sending that consumer marketing messages by telephone or text. While we did an earlier Pillsbury Advisory on these rules, they still appear to be catching businesses off-guard, as many business owners incorrectly assumed that the rules were targeted only at robocallers and text spammers, and are just now beginning to realize that the breadth of business activities reached by these rules is far more extensive.

When calling or texting a cell phone for any non-emergency reason, the FCC's rules have always required that businesses using autodialer technology, like that used in text campaigns, or pre-recorded voices, must first get express consent from the recipient. Prior express consent has also been required before making marketing calls to residential landlines, but the rules contained an exception to that requirement if the business had an established business relationship with the called party (e.g., you ordered something from their catalog in the past eighteen months).

The big change under the new rules is that the prior express consent required to send marketing messages to cell phones (the FCC treats calls and texts the same) or to residential landlines must now be in writing, and there is no longer an exception to that requirement for those with an established business relationship with the called party.

While the impact of this rule change on robocallers is obvious, it applies to most other businesses as well. For example, many broadcast stations have a variety of texting programs, ranging from news, weather and traffic alerts to promotional texts about upcoming programming events or contests. Those stations should now review how the numbers they are texting were originally added to their contact lists, and either be certain that they meet the FCC's new requirements, or suspend texting to those numbers.

For purely informational texts, such as news, weather and traffic alerts, the station need only have previously received express consent to send the type of text message involved. Written consent was not required and is still not required if there is no marketing component to the call. As a result, if the station previously stated it would only use the consumer's cell phone number to send weather alert texts, then weather alerts are the only type of texts the station can send to those who signed up for that type of text message. The weather alert contact database therefore could not be combined with the station's marketing contact database.

The rub is that such stations must also make sure that those weather texts do not include any marketing messages in addition to the weather-related messages. If a marketing component is included (and the definition of marketing for this purpose is very broad), starting tomorrow, they will need to get written consent before sending any more of those messages.

To send promotional or other forms of marketing texts, a business needs to have made a clear and conspicuous disclosure and received clear consent in writing. Importantly, the business cannot require that the written consent be given as a condition of purchasing any product or service. As to the consent being in writing, the FCC permits electronic signatures collected via webforms, email, text messages, telephone keypresses, or voice recordings.

Businesses that previously signed consumers up for their texting programs via a webform, for example, may have given sufficiently clear notice and generated an electronic signature sufficient to fulfill these requirements. Affected businesses should therefore review the language used in their disclosures to be sure that it clearly communicated to the consumer what the texting program involves, and that it did not condition the consumer's ability to make a purchase on their giving this consent. If a business is able to meet these tests, then it should verify that it has retained sufficient records to demonstrate that it obtained the necessary written consent before continuing to text the affected consumers.

While we have covered the high points of the new rules in this post, those affected should definitely read the more detailed description found in our Pillsbury Advisory. In particular, businesses need to be aware that these new rules were adopted pursuant to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. That law is the source of many class action lawsuits brought on behalf of consumers who have received texts or calls alleged to be in violation of the law, and provides statutory damages where violations are found to have occurred.

Unfortunately, the prospect of class action damages is likely to attract lawsuits for even benign potential violations of the new rules, and just being named a defendant in such a lawsuit can have devastating consequences for that business. While the effort involved in ensuring that your business is in compliance with these rules could be substantial, the risks of proceeding to contact consumers via marketing texts or calls, even where they are your existing customers, is far too great to be ignored.

Glenn Richards of Pillsbury to Speak at the Cloud Communications Alliance Meeting, October 15, 2013, San Diego, CA

Glenn S. Richards

October 10, 2013

Glenn S. Richards of Pillsbury will be discussing regulation of IP communications services and the IP transition at this meeting which takes place on October 15, 2013 at 12:00 pm PT at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, San Diego, CA.

For additional details and to register, please click here.

Washington State Association of Broadcasters and Oregon Association of Broadcasters Joint Fall Conference, October 3-5, 3013, Skamania Lodge, Stevenson, WA

October 3, 2013

A Lesson for Congress on Retrans Negotiations?

Scott R. Flick

Posted October 2, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

The irony. The sheer irony. Just a few weeks ago, Congress was holding hearings in which the challenges of concluding retransmission negotiations without the occasional service disruption featured prominently. Representative Eshoo's draft legislation targeting such disruptions had just been released, and there was little doubt that some members of Congress felt that CBS and Time Warner Cable had not worked hard enough at preventing a disruption of CBS programming on TWC cable systems, or worse, had been indifferent to the impact on cable viewers.

Fast forward a few weeks and we now face another impasse where the parties have been unable to negotiate an accord, with the resulting disruption greatly affecting the public. Also familiar are the statements to the press and the public by the negotiators that the inability to reach a negotiated resolution is entirely the other party's fault.

The difference this week is that we are not talking about a retrans dispute, but the shutdown of the federal government. While the ramifications of this disruption are far greater than any retrans dispute, the similarity of circumstances is striking. First, all of the parties to the negotiation knew well in advance exactly when the current authorization was expiring and of the need to negotiate an extension. Second, all of the parties knew that the stakes are high and that disruption of service to the public should be avoided if at all possible. Third, it is primarily a dispute about money.

And yet, despite the early warning, the high stakes, and the impending loss of service to the public, Congress failed to reach agreement and the government shut down. As I wrote a few weeks ago, as nice as it would be to avoid it, one of the inherent characteristics of arm's length negotiations is that a disruption is sometimes necessary to jolt the parties into moving off of their original positions and on to a negotiated result. Admittedly, national budgetary policy is more complex than most (but perhaps not all) retransmission negotiations, but then the adverse impact of the accompanying disruption is vastly greater as well.

Unlike a retrans dispute, however, where the public can fully restore service with a set of rabbit ears, nothing I can buy at my local radio Radio Shack will open the national parks or allow FCC staffers to return to their desks to process my applications. In short, even where the harm from service disruption is infinitely greater than in any retrans negotiation, Congress failed to find common ground and avoid that disruption.

Given the high stakes, it is interesting that there are actually far more protections against failed negotiations in the retrans context than in the congressional context. For example, unlike Congress, parties to retransmission negotiations are subject to the FCC's rule requiring good faith negotiations. While those who assert that the current retrans process is broken frequently argue that merely policing the negotiation process to ensure the parties are negotiating in good faith is not enough, it seems like those rules might actually be fairly useful in the current congressional conundrum.

For example, a party violates the FCC's good faith rule if it refuses to show up for negotiations, unreasonably delays negotiations, refuses to put forth more than a single unilateral proposal (the "take it or leave it" approach), or fails to respond to a proposal by the other party. Some might argue that such restrictions limit a party's freedom to negotiate, but all retrans negotiations are conducted within that regulatory framework, making retrans negotiations more regulated than most, and giving proponents of adding yet further layers of restrictions a high hurdle to jump.

That will of course not prevent continued efforts by regulatory proponents to make that leap, but given the events of this week, it will be hard for members of Congress to feign shock and disbelief that two parties, even after making arduous efforts, aren't always able to negotiate away their differences before those differences disrupt service to the public. Where such intractable disputes arise, we should all be thrilled if all that is needed to solve the problem is a pair of rabbit ears.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted September 30, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

September 2013

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 Substantial Fine for Antenna Lighting Outage
  • Big Fines for Children's Television Violations

Failure to Monitor Antenna Lighting Costly

The FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) in the amount of $20,000 to an Alaskan telecommunications company for tower lighting violations.

The height of the antenna structure placed it within the jurisdiction of both the FAA and the FCC. FAA rules required the structure to have dual lighting: red lights at night and medium intensity flashing white lights during the daytime and at twilight.

The company's troubles began when an agent from the FCC's Anchorage Enforcement Bureau office observed that the tower was unlit during the daytime. The FCC agent contacted the FAA, which confirmed that no Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) had been issued for the lighting outage. Tower operators are required to notify the FAA immediately of any lighting outage lasting more than 30 minutes. The FCC agent also alerted the tower owner of the situation. According to the FCC, the owner did not appear to have a functioning monitoring system for the tower lighting.

The NAL cited the owner's failure to visually monitor obstruction lighting on a daily basis or to maintain a functioning alarm system. In response, the owner acknowledged the violation and stated it had identified the source of the problem to be a failing capacitor on the system's control board. It then replaced the failing component and installed a remote monitoring and alarm system for the antenna structure.

The base fine for failing to comply with tower lighting and monitoring requirements and for failing to provide notification of extinguished lights is $10,000. The NAL stated that the fine was increased to $20,000 as part of the FCC's policy of fining "large" companies larger dollar amounts to ensure that the fine "is a deterrent and not simply a cost of doing business."

FCC Actively Pursuing Kidvid Violations

This month, the FCC has once again been bringing enforcement actions against a number of Class A stations for failure to timely file Children's Television Programming Reports on FCC Form 398. The Commission has issued at least ten NALs for Kidvid violations since the beginning of this month.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor "

Lew Paper of Pillsbury to Moderate Leadership Breakfast at the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show on September 19, 2013, Orlando, FL

Lew Paper

September 19, 2013

Lew Paper will again moderate the Leadership Breakfast entitled, "Opportunities in a Changing Economy," taking place on September 19 from 7:15 am - 9:00 am at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel Gatlin D.

The event will feature opening remarks from Marci Ryvicker, Managing Director and Senior Equity Analyst at Wells Fargo Securities, Lew Dickey, CEO of Cumulus Media, Mary Quass, CEO of NRG Media, Jeff Warshaw, CEO of Connoisseur Media, and Larry Wilson, CEO of Alpha Broadcasting and L&L Broadcasting. The event will focus on expanding opportunities for acquisitions and revenues in a growing economy.

For more information, please click here.

DOJ Clears the Air on E-Cigarette Ads

Scott R. Flick

Posted September 18, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

One of the perennial challenges of being a broadcaster is determining what you can air, when you can air it, and how it must be aired without incurring the wrath of the federal government. While the FCC tends to be the federal agency most commonly encountered on content issues, various other government agencies create additional layers of complexity, with the Department of Justice, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission all having an interest in what is aired, particularly where it involves advertising. As new products become available and are marketed, the government struggles to keep up, sometimes leaving the media in the lurch as to whether a particular ad is "safe" for airing.

For that reason, broadcasters have stepped carefully with regard to advertisements for medical marijuana (which I've discussed previously here), tobacco products, and other items of federal concern. While enforcement encounters with the FCC can be unpleasant, encounters with the DOJ can be downright incarcerating. Fortunately, broadcasters' encounters with the DOJ are rare, and usually involve the DOJ bringing a court action to enforce collection of an FCC-imposed fine. However, that also means the body of DOJ precedent on substantive content issues can be pretty thin, leaving broadcasters guessing as to what can and cannot be aired.

One area where the DOJ has definitely had a broad role to play is in the advertising of tobacco products. From the original ban on broadcast cigarette advertising implemented in 1971 to its later expansion to little cigars (1973) and smokeless tobacco (1986), the DOJ is the entity charged with enforcing the ban on most types of tobacco broadcast advertising. While a ban on tobacco advertising might seem straightforward, complying with it can be fairly complex, resulting in a number of DOJ decisions regarding what can be said in advertising for tobacco shops and tobacco products not affected by the ad ban. Our recently updated Pillsbury Advisory on tobacco advertising restrictions is a good place to learn more about those nuances.

One new product that continues to garner attention (and confusion) is e-cigarettes, which are battery-powered devices designed to imitate the look and feel of a cigarette, but which deliver nicotine vapor rather than tobacco smoke to the lungs. While e-cigarettes have become fairly common, only limited research has been done on their health effects, and many countries have now regulated them in a variety of ways.

In the U.S., the FDA has expressed serious concerns about the manufacturing and marketing of e-cigarettes, but has not yet been successful in implementing restrictions on e-cigarette sales. However, there have been indications the FDA will move as early as next month to launch a rulemaking to implement restrictions on e-cigarette sales. While it is likely that any ultimate FDA rules will prohibit the marketing of e-cigarettes to minors, it is at this point unknown whether the FDA might try to impose broader restrictions on advertising, and whether such restrictions would stand up in court. What is known is that rulemakings at federal agencies take time, so it will likely be a while before any new FDA rules could be implemented.

That pretty much leaves the question of whether e-cigarettes can currently be advertised up to the DOJ. Given the DOJ's dim view under existing tobacco ad restrictions of any ad that even mentions the word "cigarette", many assumed that the DOJ would take a similar view of e-cigarette advertising. However, because the DOJ has not publicly moved to take action against a growing number of e-cigarette ads, broadcasters have so far been left wondering where the government stands on the issue.

We now know the answer to that question. My Pillsbury colleague Paul Cicelski has obtained clarification from the Department of Justice in the form of a letter stating the DOJ's position on e-cigarette advertising. The letter notes that the ad ban covers "any roll of tobacco" wrapped in paper, tobacco, or any other substance likely to be purchased by consumers as a "cigarette". It proceeds to note that while e-cigarettes are often manufactured to look like conventional cigarettes, they do not contain a "roll of tobacco" and therefore are not subject to the federal ban on cigarette ads.

So does that mean the floodgates are open on e-cigarette ads? Not quite. First, the DOJ letter indicates that it reflects the views of the Consumer Protection Branch of the DOJ and not "any other governmental office, agency or department," specifically noting that the Federal Trade Commission has authority over e-cigarette ads that are deceptive, such as those that make health claims without adequate scientific support. Similarly, many states have grown concerned about e-cigarettes and have introduced legislation to restrict their use and advertising. As a result, in addition to being wary of health claims in ads like "e-cigarettes will help you stop smoking", broadcasters should check the laws of their state for any state-based limitations on e-cigarette advertising. Finally, as noted above, the FDA is clearly interested in this area, and likely will have something to say about e-cigarette regulation once it concludes its soon-to-be-launched e-cigarette proceeding.

Fortunately, the FTC and FDA have traditionally focused their enforcement efforts on advertisers rather than on the media entities carrying the ads, so even if e-cigarette regulations are ultimately adopted, those regulations are unlikely to principally target broadcasters for merely running the ads. As a result, the DOJ's position on e-cigarettes goes a long way toward resolving a significant source of confusion and angst for many broadcasters while opening up an additional avenue for broadcast ad dollars.

Scott Flick of PIllsbury to Speak at the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show, September 18-19, 2013, Orlando, FL

Scott R. Flick

September 18, 2013

Scott R. Flick will participate in a panel session entitled ". . . And the Answer is: What is Radio Regulatory Jeopardy?," taking place on September 18, 2013 from 10:15 am - 11:15 pm at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel Gatlin A4.

Questions will focus on the latest regulatory issues and will include such categories as AM Revitalization, Translators and LPFM, Content and Contests, Advertising, and EAS.

For more information, please click here.

NAB and RAB Radio Show, September 18-20, 2013, Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel, Orlando, FL

September 18, 2013

For more information, please visit www.radioshowweb.com/.

A New Term for Retrans

Scott R. Flick

Posted September 16, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

Today's exploration in vocabulary:

INTRANSIGENT: characterized by refusal to compromise or to abandon an extreme position or attitude : uncompromising <intransigent in their opposition> <an intransigent attitude> (from Merriam-Webster.com).

RETRANSIGENT: characterized by an insistent belief that negotiations which inevitably result in a signed retransmission agreement with less than a 0.01% chance of viewer disruption are 'broken' and demand immediate intervention by Congress <he was retransigent in his refusal to negotiate terms> (from CommLawCenter.com).

In the aftermath of the CBS/Time Warner Cable retransmission deal, I noted that one legacy of that negotiation would be lessened concern by future negotiators of finding themselves in a three way negotiation, with the FCC being the third wheel in the room. Since that time, several interesting developments have emerged. First, the Media Daily News reported that a Time Warner Cable representative revealed that the FCC actively discouraged Time Warner from filing a retrans complaint against CBS, indicating that the agency did not just passively decline to intervene, but sought to avoid being drawn into the middle of the negotiation ("don't call us, we'll call you!). If true, that puts an exclamation point on the conclusion that the FCC is none too interested in being drawn into retrans negotiations.

MVPDs apparently heard that message as well. They redoubled their efforts on Capitol Hill to have Congress change retrans law, running an ad in Politico aimed at members of Congress and making sure that a discussion of retransmission negotiations occupied an inordinately large portion of two hearings in the House of Representatives last week regarding reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA). STELA is the law that permits carriage of distant broadcast signals by Satellite TV providers until the end of 2014. A bill to extend that authority is deemed by most to be must-pass legislation, meaning that retrans reform advocates are hoping to use it as a vehicle to modify retrans laws. That is a long shot effort, but not nearly as daunting as attempting to pass a standalone retrans bill.

Still, that did not prevent Representative Eshoo, who has been sympathetic to the pleas of MVPDs in the past, from introducing draft legislation last week titled The Video CHOICE (Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment) Act. As described by its sponsor, the bill, among other things:

  • "Gives the FCC explicit statutory authority to grant interim carriage of a television broadcast station during a retransmission consent negotiation impasse."
  • "Ensures that a consumer can purchase cable television service without subscribing to the broadcast stations electing retransmission consent."
  • "Prohibits a television broadcast station engaged in a retransmission consent negotiation from making their owned or affiliated cable programming a condition for receiving broadcast programming."
  • "Instructs the FCC to examine whether the blocking of a television broadcast station's owned or affiliated online content during a retransmission consent negotiation constitutes a failure to negotiate in 'good faith.' "

At one of last week's hearings, Representative Eshoo appeared to concede that the bill had little chance of passage, indicating it was "a series of ideas intended to spur constructive and actionable debate on ways to improve the video marketplace for video content creators, pay-TV providers and, most importantly, consumers."

However, the bill demonstrates why government involvement is more complicated than proponents of retrans reform might assert. For example, regarding the requirement that viewers be able to subscribe to cable without subscribing to retrans stations, if the reason for changing the law is to ensure consumers are able to get broadcast programming over their cable system during retrans negotiations, giving consumers the right to not get the broadcast programming at any time over their cable system is not very helpful. In fact, this provision seems to concede that consumers can just use an antenna for broadcast programming rather than rely on their cable system, and since that is the case, these same consumers can just use an antenna to avoid any retrans-based disruptions, obviating the need for the law in the first place.

Because that result is so obviously illogical, I have to assume that this provision is instead aimed at preventing the unfairness of consumers being charged for a broadcast channel they aren't receiving from their cable provider during a retrans disruption. That, however, has nothing to do with the retrans negotiation itself, and the stated provision wouldn't fix that problem. If the retrans agreement has expired and the cable system therefore isn't carrying the broadcast channel, the cable system also isn't paying the broadcaster for retransmission. As a result, any money paid by subscribers for broadcast content they aren't receiving is merely an economic windfall for the cable system. If that is the bill's concern, the solution is to require MVPDs to issue subscriber refunds instead of pocketing the cash. Interfering with negotiations intended to put an end to that inequitable subscriber scenario would actually be counterproductive, as it merely causes the inequity to be extended longer still.

The provision prohibiting bundled negotiations has an even simpler flaw--if broadcasters are prohibited from accepting carriage of their cable networks as a form of compensation for granting retrans consent, they will be forced to shift to requesting all-cash compensation. Doing that, however, would increase a cable operator's out of pocket program costs while eliminating a currently available avenue for bringing negotiations to a successful conclusion. The result would be more drawn-out and contentious all-cash negotiations that would serve to increase subscription fees, precisely the opposite of the bill's intent.

Of course, the provision of the bill that has drawn the most attention is the first one, which would allow the FCC to mandate continued carriage of a broadcast station during retrans negotiations. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see the flaws in that idea; the big one being that retrans negotiations would never end since the MVPD has no incentive to agree to any deal as long as it can continue to retransmit the programming at the prior subscriber rate (or for that matter at any arbitrary fee that is less than what it would pay in an arm's length negotiation). To try to solve that problem, the law would need to create some methodology for determining when FCC-imposed retransmission should end if no deal is reached. The logical point in time would be when negotiations cease. However, all such a law would accomplish is to move the time of the retrans disruption to a different date, while incentivizing broadcasters to formally declare negotiations broken off (most likely because the law incentivized MVPDs to negotiate as slowly as possible in the first place by granting forced retransmission). Such incentives merely encourage arbitrary disruptions in the negotiations, making it more difficult to promptly complete negotiations, and causing uncertainty, expense, and aggravation for everyone.

An alternative to that approach would be to limit the FCC's authority to impose forced retransmission under such a law to a fixed period (e.g., one month), but all that would do is shift any program disruption by a month. In other words, the industry would just move from three-year retransmission agreements to two-year-and-eleven-months agreements that are followed by a one-month FCC-imposed retrans period. In either case, if a retrans disruption was going to occur because the parties couldn't agree on price, then the disruption is going to occur no matter how the legislation is written.

The unavoidable truth is that the rare retrans disruption doesn't occur because the parties didn't begin negotiating early enough to get a deal done; it occurs because the parties can't agree on price and won't change their views on pricing until the pressures of a retrans disruption are upon them. In the end, private contractual negotiations are about agreeing on the value of an item to be conveyed, and if the parties can't agree on that, a transaction doesn't happen. All the king's horses and all the king's men can't change that. To think otherwise is merely to be retransigent.

Pillsbury at the NAB Show

Lew Paper

Posted September 12, 2013

By Lew Paper

As we prepare to head down to Orlando for the NAB/RAB Radio Show next week, I wanted to remind those who will be at the Show that Pillsbury is again sponsoring the Leadership Breakfast. This year, the event will be in Gatlin Ballroom D at the Rosen Creek Shingle Hotel on Thursday, September 19, beginning at 7:15 a.m., with the presentations to begin at 7:45 am. As before, we will have opening remarks from Marci Ryvicker, a Managing Director with Wells Fargo Securities and Wall Street's number one broadcast analyst, and then a panel featuring Lew Dickey (CEO of Cumulus Media), Mary Quass (CEO of NRG Media), Jeffrey Warshaw (CEO of Connoisseur Media), and Larry Wilson (CEO of Alpha Broadcasting and L&L Broadcasting).

This year's event should prove to be especially timely because of changes in the economy and the increased M&A activity, particularly with regard to radio. Cumulus has just announced deals with Townsquare Media to sell some stations and acquire others as well as a separate deal to buy Westwood One; Connoisseur as well as L&L Broadcasting have been active in buying stations; and NRG is always in the hunt. Beyond the particulars for individual companies are new technological developments, including the placement of an FM chip in Sprint's mobile phones, which will help make radio that much more ubiquitous in the digital world.

The Leadership Breakfast is always a packed event (in part because of a free hot breakfast!), and I expect this year to be no different.

On a separate front, my Pillsbury partner Scott Flick will be speaking on an NAB panel (to be held on Wednesday, September 18, at 10:15 a.m. in Gatlin Ballroom A4) entitled "And the Answer Is: What is Radio Regulatory Jeopardy?" As regular readers of CommLawCenter have probably picked up from his posts here, Scott has an encyclopedic knowledge of FCC rules and decisions, and the session will no doubt be an entertaining and informative look at troublesome FCC issues.

Some of my other colleagues -- including Dick Zaragoza, Miles Mason and Andy Kersting -- will also be at the Show. One of the great benefits of NAB shows is the opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, so if you are going to be there, feel free to reach out to any of us and we'll try to get together. We look forward to seeing you there.

North Dakota Broadcasters Association Fall Conference, September 4, 2013, Ramada Plaza Suites, Fargo, ND

September 4, 2013

CBS/Time Warner Deal Marks the Beginning of Retrans Version 3.0

Scott R. Flick

Posted September 4, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

When CBS and Time Warner announced Monday they had ended their month-long standoff over retransmission of CBS programming on Time Warner cable systems, the announcement brought a sigh of relief from Time Warner subscribers, particularly the NFL fans among them, and the usual press statements putting each party's best spin on the highly confidential result. However, the real legacy of these negotiations will be to alter how retrans agreements are negotiated in the future, and the somewhat surprising result will be less, not more, retrans blackouts.

When a change in the law in 1992 gave broadcasters the right to negotiate with cable system operators wishing to resell their programming to the public, the idea was to balance the playing field between cable networks, which relied on both ad revenue and a share of cable subscriber fees, and local broadcast stations, which had only ad revenue to support their operations. Prior to that time, broadcasters had effectively subsidized competition from cable because cable system operators could resell broadcast programming without paying for the underlying content, and then use the profits to launch and invest in cable networks that competed with broadcasters for both programming and advertising. These economics are what initiated the migration of sports programming from broadcasting to cable.

In the early retrans negotiations, which I'll refer to here as Retrans Version 1.0, cable still had local monopolies, leaving broadcasters in the awkward position of attempting to negotiate with a party whose only "competition" was the broadcaster's free signal. If the broadcaster's programming disappeared from the local cable system, subscribers couldn't leave for a new provider. Their only option was to put up an antenna and continue to be a subscriber in order to receive non-broadcast content. Under those circumstances, cable operators didn't see any reason to pay money for the right to resell broadcast programming--they were the only resellers in town. The result was very few retransmission blackouts, as broadcasters knew that dropping off of the only cable system in town would hurt the broadcaster a lot more than the cable operator.

Unable to obtain money for retrans rights, the compensation broadcasters typically received for permitting retransmission of their signal was the right to program additional channels on the cable system. This cost the cable operator little to nothing while providing it with yet more free content from the broadcaster, making it an easy "give" in retrans negotiations. Ultimately, however, it ended up providing the public with its first great benefit from retransmission negotiations--the launch of a plethora of diverse new program services that not only developed into some of today's most popular cable networks, but provided an alternative to existing cable networks that were largely owned by the cable systems themselves.

Retrans Version 2.0 commenced after Congress passed the 1999 Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act, which finally allowed satellite TV to carry local broadcast signals. As a TV service wanting to be competitive to cable, satellite TV operators knew they needed to provide local broadcast signals and fought hard to persuade Congress to change the law to make that a reality. However, lacking the monopoly status enjoyed by most cable systems at the time, satellite TV operators understood they couldn't replicate the strongarm negotiating tactics that had been employed so successfully by cable operators. Instead, they agreed to pay broadcasters money for the right to retransmit broadcast content, allowing them to attract subscribers away from cable and ultimately end cable's monopoly. For the first time, broadcasters had competing multichannel providers vying for the right to resell their content to subscribers. As satellite TV's market share grew, cable operators needed to ensure continued access to the most popular programming on their systems to fend off that competitive threat, and grudgingly began paying for the right to resell broadcast programming as well.

While you might think these competitive developments would have quickly led to a mature market for program retransmission rights with stable pricing, reaching that inevitable destination has been slowed by two factors. The first is simply that the monopoly years of cable so badly distorted market forces that the market for retransmission rights didn't begin to develop until satellite TV became a competitive force and the retransmission contracts in place in 1999 began to expire, requiring negotiation of new retransmission deals. This occurred much later in markets where satellite-delivered "local into local" service was delayed because of capacity limitations of the satellite systems themselves. Even then, progress was slow for broadcasters, with cable operators being understandably resistant to paying for something they previously saw themselves as receiving for free. One of the best examples of this era is the cable operator who told us during negotiations that he believed paying for the right to retransmit broadcast signals was "unethical" and proceeded to carry my client's broadcast programming illegally. The negotiation was concluded shortly after the cable operator became the first party ever to be found in violation of the FCC's rules on good faith retrans negotiations, and the FCC ordered retransmission to cease until an agreement was in place.

Which brings us to the second factor that has delayed countless retrans negotiations and slowed the maturation of the market for broadcast retransmission rights--the possibility of government intervention. Retrans negotiations over the past decade have been conducted with a spectral third party in the room--the threat of governmental intrusion into the negotiations. While the FCC previously concluded that it has no authority to force any particular result in retrans negotiations beyond ensuring that the parties are negotiating in good faith, that has not stopped cable and satellite TV operators from regularly calling upon the FCC to intervene in negotiations. When the FCC resists, the call goes to Congress to "fix" retransmission laws or provide the FCC with authority to step in and alter the dynamics of a retrans negotiation. While such multichannel distributors certainly are hoping to place the government's heavy thumb on their side of the scale, creating even the possibility of government intervention generates uncertainty which the cable or satellite TV operator hopes will cause the broadcaster to take the deal that's on the table.

Uncertainty, however, is the enemy of efficient negotiations. When each party knows exactly where it stands, the parties focus on reaching an agreement and getting the deal done as quickly as possible. Where the possibility of government intervention is introduced, the parties cease focusing on each other and start playing to the FCC (or Congress). At best, that means grandstanding and delays in the negotiations while one party hopes to generate enough noise to entice the FCC to step in and get a better result than the party can negotiate on its own. At worst, it means creating high visibility blackouts in an effort to draw the FCC or Congress into launching retrans "reform". Both approaches are the antithesis of efficient and swift negotiations, with one party quite literally putting off "getting down to business" in hopes that it is buying time for the FCC to join the fray. This approach has unfortunately made some Retrans 2.0 negotiations slow, messy, and unpleasant for all involved, including subscribers.

That is why this week's CBS and Time Warner deal, regardless of its economic terms, is a watershed event. The negotiations started in typical Retrans 2.0 fashion, resulting in a blackout of CBS programming on Time Warner systems and the traditional public exchange of unpleasantries between the parties as government intervention was sought to protect subscribers from the loss of CBS programming. In fact, some have speculated that Time Warner dug in its heels specifically to create a high profile program disruption that might draw in Congress or the FCC. The FCC played its part in the drama, with a spokesman for the acting Chair of the FCC announcing just five days into the blackout that the agency "stand[s] ready to take appropriate action if the dispute continues."

However, it is what happened in the nearly four weeks of CBS blackout after that comment was made that carried us from Retrans 2.0 into the world of Retrans 3.0. Specifically: the blackout occurred in the highest profile markets, but the government did not step in; the blackout was geographically widespread, but the government did not step in; the blackout involved high-profile network programming, but the government did not step in; the blackout drug on far longer than imagined, but the government did not step in; the blackout affected a major sporting event and threatened to affect upcoming NFL games, but the government did not step in. In short, it presented one of the most politically-appealing invitations for the government to second guess the path of a free market retrans negotiation, and the government declined to do so. Perhaps just as important, viewers came to realize that the sun still rose in the morning despite the CBS blackout, antenna manufacturers enjoyed a sales boost, and a retrans deal was achieved in less time than it typically takes Congress to name a post office.

Having seen the government's lack of enthusiasm for getting involved in one of the most extreme examples of a blackout, parties to retrans negotiations will hopefully be able to retire "threatening to involve the government" as a negotiating tactic. While I have no illusions that such threats will now cease, their impact has been considerably diminished over the past month. The CBS/Time Warner dispute presented an unprecedented opportunity for broadcasters and multichannel providers to peer into the deepest recesses of their corporate closets and confirm that there is no government bogeyman residing within, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting negotiators. Freed from the need to look over their shoulder during retrans negotiations, or to play to the governmental crowd, parties can focus on getting retrans deals done quickly and efficiently, without being distracted by the uncertainties and contingency planning surrounding disruptions from outside the negotiating room.

Blackouts are caused by one or both parties to a retrans negotiation misgauging their negotiating power relative to the other party. While that will inevitably still happen from time to time for the same reasons it happens in any business negotiation, the legacy of Retrans 3.0 is that it should no longer happen because one party thinks that if it delays enough, or causes enough of a public stir over a retrans dispute, the FCC will come to its rescue. The result will be better for all, including subscribers.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted August 29, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

August 2013

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 Catches GPS Jammer at Airport
  • $75,000 Consent Decree Adopted for Class A TV Violations

Jamming Device in Truck Disrupts GPS Navigation at Newark Liberty International Airport

On August 1, 2013, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) in the amount of $31,875 to an individual in New Jersey for repeated use of a GPS jamming device. The individual had installed a signal jammer in his company-supplied truck, apparently to prevent his employer's GPS tracking system from knowing his whereabouts.

While use of a signal jammer is itself illegal, the offender compounded his troubles when his GPS signal jammer interfered with the navigation signals at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The FCC's investigation into this matter arose when the FCC was contacted by the Federal Aviation Administration on behalf of the Port Authority. The FAA reported that the Port Authority had been experiencing interference in testing a ground-based aviation navigation system at Newark Liberty International Airport.

At that airport--one of the busiest in the nation, according to the FCC--an agent from the FCC's New York Enforcement Bureau office determined that a red Ford pickup truck was emanating radio signals within the restricted 1559 to 1610 MHz band used by GPS satellites. The driver was stopped by Port Authority police at the airport gate. He then surrendered the jamming device to the FCC agent, and the interference with Newark's navigation equipment ceased.

In determining the appropriate penalty, the FCC found three separate violations of its rules: (1) operating the transmission equipment without a license; (2) using unauthorized equipment; and (3) interfering with authorized communications, which was of particular concern in this case, with repeated and dangerous interference to critical air navigation equipment. That the signal jammer was truck-mounted also caused great concern, as its mobile nature made the interference widespread and its source difficult for authorities to locate and eliminate. Simply driving around the area could have had disastrous effects on GPS-based systems for aircraft.

In light of these concerns, the FCC issued a substantial upward adjustment to the normal base fine of $22,000, resulting in a total fine of $42,500. However, it then decided to lower the fine to $31,875 (a 25% reduction) because the individual voluntarily handed over the illegal device. The FCC indicated that it wanted to provide "incentives" for parties to do the same in the future.

Pittsburgh-Based Stations Pay Big for Kidvid and Other Violations

This week, the FCC pursued a Pittsburgh-area group of ten Class A television stations for failure to file, or to timely file, their children's programming reports with the FCC, as well as for being silent without authorization. In addition to the kidvid violations, some of which had gone on for several years, the FCC states that the stations had, at various times, applied to go silent and proceeded to do so without first obtaining the necessary FCC authorization.

The matter was settled by consent decree, which included a voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury of $75,000. Not coincidentally, the licensee of the stations was in the process of selling them, and needed FCC approval to complete that transaction. The FCC granted the assignment application in the same order in which it adopted the consent decree.

This case is merely the latest in a continuing effort by the FCC to crack down on rule violations by Class A TV stations. In this case, by entry into the consent decree, the stations were able to avoid the imposition of fines and the risk of losing their Class A status. In addition to being subject to displacement by full-power TV stations, stations that lose their Class A status forfeit their eligibility to participate in the spectrum incentive auction (and to avoid being repacked out of existence subsequent to that auction).

Given this risk, Class A TV licensees should ensure they are in full compliance with the FCC's rules to maintain their Class A eligibility. To be eligible for Class A status, the Community Broadcasters Protection Act of 1999 and the Commission's rules implementing it require that Class A stations: (1) operate a minimum of 18 hours per day; (2) air an average of at least 3 hours per week of programming produced within the market area served by the station; and (3) comply with the Commission's rules for full-power television stations.

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

Client Alert: FCC Sets September 20, 2013 Deadline for Payment of 2013 Annual Regulatory Fees

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted August 23, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

Full payment of annual regulatory fees for Fiscal Year 2013 (FY 2013) must be received no later than 11:59 PM Eastern Time on September 20, 2013. As of today, the Commission's automated filing and payment system, the Fee Filer System, is available for filing and payment of FY 2013 regulatory fees. For more information on the FY 2013 annual regulatory fees, please see our Client Alert and our prior posts here and here.

FCC Commences E-Rate Program Overhaul

Christine A. Reilly Glenn S. Richards

Posted August 22, 2013

By Christine A. Reilly and Glenn S. Richards

The August 20, 2013 Federal Register ("FedReg") included a notice officially establishing the comment and reply cycle associated with the Federal Communications Commission's ("FCC" or "Commission") recently released Modernizing the E-Rate Program for Schools and Libraries Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("NPRM").1 According to the FedReg notice, comments are due September 16, 2013 and reply comments are due October 16, 2013. This is the Commission's latest effort to modernize and streamline the E-Rate program.

The catalyst for this ambitious initiative is President Obama's ConnectED initiative (the "Initiative")2, which establishes that within five years 99 percent of U.S. students will have access to broadband and high-speed Internet access (at least 100 MBPS with a goal of 1 GPS within five years) within their schools and libraries. The Initiative includes: 1) providing the training and support for teachers needed for the effective use of technology in the classroom and 2) encouraging the development and deployment of complimentary devices and software to enhance learning experiences and 3) resurrecting the U.S. as a world leader in educational achievement.

The E-rate program was created in 1997 to "ensur[e] that schools and libraries ha[d] the connectivity necessary to enable students and library patrons to participate in the digital world."3 According to the NPRM, the program commenced when "only 14 percent of the classrooms had access to the Internet, and most schools with Internet access (74 percent) used dial-up Internet access."4 Seven years later, "nearly all schools had access to the Internet, and 94 percent of all instructional classrooms had Internet access." A year later, "nearly all public libraries were connected to the Internet...."5

The E-rate program requires recipients to file annual funding requests. Those funding requests are categorized as either Priority One or Priority Two. Priority One funds may be applied to support telecommunications services, telecommunications and Internet access services, including but not limited to, digital transmission services, e-mail services, fiber and dark fiber, interconnected VoIP, paging, telephone service, voice mail service and wireless Internet access. Priority Two funds are allocated for support of internal connections, including, but not limited to, cabling/connectors, circuit cards and components, data distribution, data protection, interfaces, gateways and antennas, servers and software. The funds are calculated as discounts for acquiring, constructing and maintaining the services. Discount eligibility, which ranges between 20-90 percent, is established by the recipient's status within the National School and Lunch Program ("NSLP") or an "alternative mechanism".6 The NPRM indicated that, "the most disadvantaged schools and libraries, where at least 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price school lunch, receive a 90 percent discount on eligible services, and thus pay only 10 percent of the cost of those services."7

The advent of high-capacity broadband has transformed Internet access into a portal by which students can experience interactive and collaborative learning experiences regardless of their geographic (rural or urban) location while preparing them to "compete in the global economy."8 As with most improvements, this transformation is encumbered in the ways and means for acquiring, constructing and maintaining such technology. The E-rate program, including its administration and funding provisions, has remained relatively unchanged since 1997. The initial, and still current, cap on funding was $2.25 billion dollars. The FCC has indicated that requests for funding have exceeded that cap almost from the beginning. In 2013, requests for E-rate funding totaled more than $4.9 billion dollars.

Article continues -- the full article can be found at FCC Commences E-Rate Program Overhaul.

Alabama Broadcasters Association Annual Convention, August 16-17, 2013, Hyatt Regency Birmingham - Wynfrey Hotel, Birmingham, AL

August 16, 2013

FCC Adopts Proposed FY 2013 Regulatory Fees

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted August 15, 2013

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 2013 (FY 2013), and in some cases how the FCC will calculate Annual Regulatory Fees beginning in FY 2014. The FCC collects Annual Regulatory Fees to offset the cost of its non-application processing functions, such as conducting rulemaking proceedings.

The FCC adopted many of its proposals without material changes. Some of the more notably proposals include:

  • Eliminating the fee disparity between UHF and VHF television stations beginning in FY 2014, which is not a particularly surprising development given the FCC's recently renewed interest in eliminating the UHF discount for purposes of calculating compliance with the FCC's ownership limits;
  • Imposing on Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) providers the same regulatory fees as cable providers beginning in FY 2014. In adopting this proposal, the Commission specifically noted that it was not stating that IPTV providers are cable television providers, which is an issue pending before the Commission in another proceeding;
  • Using more current (FY 2012) Full Time Employees (FTE) data instead of FY 1998 FTE data to assess the costs of providing regulatory services, which resulted in some significant shifts in the allocation of regulatory fees among the FCC's Bureaus. In particular, the portion of regulatory fees allocated to the Wireline Competition Bureau decreased 6.89% and that of all other Bureaus increased, with the Media Bureau's portion of the regulatory fees increasing 3.49%; and
  • Imposing a maximum annual regulatory rate increase of 7.5% for each type of license, which is essentially the rate increase for all commercial UHF and VHF television stations and all radio stations. A chart reflecting the FY 2013 fees for the various types of licenses affecting broadcast stations is provided here.
The Commission deferred decisions on the following proposals in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that launched this proceeding: 1) combining the Interstate Telecommunications Service Providers (ITSPs) and wireless telecommunications services into one regulatory fee category; 2) using revenues to calculate regulatory fees; and 3) whether to consider Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) providers as a new multi-channel video programming distributor (MVPD) category.

The Annual Regulatory Fees will be due in "middle of September" according to the FCC. The FCC will soon release a Public Notice announcing the precise payment window for submitting the fees. As has been the case for the past few years, the FCC no longer mails a hard copy 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. However, beginning October 1, 2013, i.e. FY 2014, the FCC will no longer accept paper and check filings for payment of Annual Regulatory Fees.

Nebraska Broadcasters Association Convention, August 14-15, 2013, Embassy Suites Convention Center, La Vista, NE

August 14, 2013

Texas Association of Broadcasters Annual Convention & Trade Show, August 7-8, 2013, Renaissance Austin Hotel, Austin, TX

August 7, 2013

For more information, please visit www.tab.org/convention-and-trade-show.

FCC Grants More Time for 2013 Commercial Station Ownership Reports

Scott R. Flick

Posted August 6, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

A few moments ago, on its own motion, the FCC released an Order extending the 2013 deadline for commercial radio and television stations (including Class A and LPTV stations) to file their biennial ownership reports with the FCC. The reports, which are normally due on November 1 of odd-numbered years, must include ownership information that is accurate as of October 1 of that year.

Because of today's Order, however, the 2013 commercial ownership reports will be due on December 2, 2013 (December 1 is a Sunday). Despite the delayed filing date, the FCC indicates that the reports should still contain information that was accurate as of October 1, 2013.

Today's move by the FCC is hardly unprecedented. When the FCC first implemented a uniform biennial ownership report filing deadline for commercial stations in 2009, it ended up extending the deadline a number of times because of issues related to the new reporting form, etc. Ultimately, the deadline for 2009 reports fell on July 8, 2010, creating a fair amount of confusion for station owners who had bought their stations between November 2009 and July 2010, and therefore found themselves filing ownership reports certifying as to the ownership structure of the prior station owner.

In 2011, the FCC delayed the ownership report filing deadline by just thirty days. The short delay, along with growing familiarity with the revised reporting form, resulted in a much smoother reporting process in 2011.

Now, explaining the need for an extension in 2013, the FCC states that "we are aware that some licensees and parent entities of multiple stations may be required to file numerous forms and the extra time is intended to permit adequate time to prepare such filings. We believe it is in the public interest to provide additional time to ensure that all filers provide the Commission with accurate and reliable data on which the Commission may rely for research and other purposes." Despite the extension, the FCC is still encouraging licensees to file their ownership reports as early as possible.

While it is starting to look like these biennial extensions are becoming the norm given the complexity of reporting various ownership structures on the current form, it is risky for stations to start assuming that the deadline will always be extended. It would therefore be helpful if the FCC would permanently change the deadline so that licensees know they will always have sixty days to create and file the various biennial ownership reports required. Alternatively, the reporting form and process could be simplified so that completing the filing within 30 days would not be so difficult. Given the challenge that would present to the FCC, however, we may be seeing more of these ownership reporting extensions in the future.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted July 31, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

July 2013

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 "Lighting Fixture" Citation
  • Consent Decree Adopted for Sponsorship ID Violation

FCC Issues Citation to Credit Union for Operating Lighting Fixtures Causing Harmful Interference to Licensed Communications

On July 17, 2013, the FCC issued a citation to the Caribe Federal Credit Union ("CFCU") in San Juan, Puerto Rico for operating incidental radiators and causing harmful interference to licensed communications in violation of the FCC's rules. The FCC's investigation into this matter arose after receiving complaints of interference from an FCC licensee.

On June 12, 2013, an agent of the FCC's San Juan Office of the Enforcement Bureau used direction finding techniques to determine that the interference, which was transmitting on 712.5 MHz, originated from the CFCU building at 193-195 O'Neill Street, San Juan, Puerto Rico. After further testing, the FCC agent determined that the particular source of the transmission was the interior lighting on the highest ceiling in the building (fifteen light fixtures about 40 feet above the floor).

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

One More Piece of the TV Auction Puzzle

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted July 23, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

Late yesterday, the FCC released a public notice providing information on the repacking process that will follow the broadcast spectrum incentive auction. This is the FCC's second response to calls by a number of parties seeking greater transparency (and information in general) regarding the technical aspects of the repacking process, including the FCC's repacking model and modeling assumptions. The FCC anticipates that more pieces of the puzzle, including details about how bids will be selected, how channels will be assigned, and the associated algorithms, will be made public in the coming months.

Specifically, in conjunction with the public notice, the FCC has made available the following:

  1. an update to its TVStudy computer software (now version 1.2) and supporting data for determining the coverage area and population served by television stations using the methodology described in OET Bulletin 69. According to the FCC's public notice, the updated software operates in the same way as the prior version, but has an improved user interface and enhanced capabilities for station-to-station analysis;
  2. data about Canadian and Mexican television allotments and incumbent licensees in a format that can be readily used with the updated TVStudy software program; and
  3. descriptions of the analysis for "pre-calculating" which stations could be assigned to which channels in the repacking process, and which stations cannot operate on the same channels or adjacent channels, based on geographic issues. The software and data being provided contain preliminary assumptions necessary to perform the analysis. The Commission states that those assumptions are for illustrative purposes only and that the FCC has made no decision as to whether to adopt any of them.

While all additional information regarding the auction and repacking process is welcome, this most recent release appears incremental at best, and we have a long way to go before broadcasters or potential auction bidders will be able to accurately assess their options. Given the stakes, however, those who can decipher the FCC's auction tea leaves earliest, and most accurately, will be at an advantage in the months to come.

Today's Aereo Decision: Technology Takes a Backseat

Scott R. Flick

Posted July 16, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

In a decision that disappointed but didn't entirely surprise broadcasters, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit today declined to rehear in banc its earlier decision rejecting a request by broadcasters to terminate with extreme prejudice Aereo's broadcast subscription service in New York. Today's announcement was not a decision on the merits, but merely the result of a poll taken among the Second Circuit judges in which less than a majority indicated an interest in hearing the case in banc. Barring an effort by broadcasters to seek Supreme Court review (and Fox, at least, has indicated that option is not off the table), the matter will return to the trial court for a full trial on whether Aereo is infringing on broadcast copyrights.

Once again, Second Circuit Judge Denny Chin, who had been the district judge in the earlier Cablevision case on which Aereo has built its business, dissented from today's decision. His dissent is respectful but spirited, and so thoroughly dismantles the court's earlier decision in favor of Aereo that a reader new to the dispute could be forgiven for being mystified as to how the other two judges on the original panel could have reached a contrary conclusion.

As interesting as the legal dispute itself is (at least to lawyers), the end result may well be governed more by technology than by law. If you have spent much time in the communications world, you have heard the old saw that "the law struggles to keep up with technology." In the case of Aereo, however, it has been quite the opposite, with technology struggling to keep up with the law.

After the Second Circuit's decision in Cablevision created, as Judge Chin's dissent today puts it, "'guideposts' on how to avoid compliance with our copyright laws," Aereo and others apparently raced to develop technology that could neatly fit through the legal loophole Cablevision ostensibly created. Judge Chin is obviously not a fan of such reverse engineering, noting today that "[i]n my view, however, the system is a sham, as it was designed solely to avoid the reach of the Copyright Act and to take advantage of a perceived loophole in the law purportedly created by Cablevision."

So far, the Aereo legal proceedings have presumed that Aereo was successful in its engineering efforts, and that its "one tiny antenna per subscriber" approach allows it to technologically clear the legal hurdles of the Copyright Act. Those familiar with the intricacies of radiofrequency engineering, however, have been quick to point out that the biggest obstacle to the Aereo system isn't the laws of copyright, but the laws of physics.

One of the immutable laws of RF antenna design is that the size of the receiving antenna must correlate to the wavelengths it is meant to receive. As a result, high frequency devices (which means short wavelengths) can get by with smaller antennas, whereas the comparatively massive wavelengths of TV signals require much larger receiving antennas. That is why, during the golden age of over-the-air TV reception, and during the silver age of over-the-air HDTV reception, the promises of smaller and smaller antennas that would work "just as good" as hulking rooftop antennas never came to fruition.

Aereo's claim of reliable reception with dime-size TV antennas (particularly in New York, the world capital of urban multipath interference) therefore seemed more akin to alchemy than to advanced RF antenna design. However, with the exception of patent lawyers and a fair number of communications lawyers, engineering expertise is not a common skill in the legal trade. As a result, the debate over Aereo has focused on that which lawyers know--the law--rather than on that which determines whether Aereo even fits within the legal loophole it claims to exploit--incredible advancements in TV antenna design.

Communications lawyers are perhaps more sensitized than most to the law/engineering dichotomy, as communications is one of the few fields where engineering solutions to legal problems are often an elegant alternative to brute force legal tactics. Because of this, one of the most interesting commentaries on the Aereo dispute I have come across is a piece by Deborah McAdams titled Aereo's Unlikely Proposition.

It is a very intriguing article (and well worth a read) in which a number of engineers discuss why the "fits exactly into the shape of the loophole" system described by Aereo can't exist in the real world. In other words, that Aereo isn't an example of the law falling behind technology, but of technology being unable to produce an antenna capable of outrunning the law. If true, then the success of Aereo's legal battle hangs not on whether it has a groundbreaking legal theory, but on whether the claimed antenna technology emerged from Aereo's engineering department, or from its marketing department.

In either case, Aereo's claims for its technology would be better assessed in an RF testing lab than in a courtroom. Extended debate over the legality of Aereo's claimed technology is pointful only once it has been confirmed that Aereo has indeed created a revolutionary antenna technology that functions as described. If not, then the legal wranglings over a theoretical retransmission system are much ado about nothing.

FCC Seeks Greater Clarity on IP Video Captioning Rules

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted July 12, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

Last month, the FCC released an Order on Reconsideration and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that clarified a number of aspects of the FCC's complex closed captioning requirements for video programming delivered using Internet Protocol (IP) and the devices used by consumers to view it. In the FCC's words, the Order and Further Notice was issued to "affirm, modify, and clarify certain decisions" made by the Commission last year implementing closed captioning requirements for video programming distributed via IP.

The original IP captioning rules were adopted in January 2012 in response to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). The Order on Reconsideration and Further Notice has now been published in the Federal Register, and the rules adopted in the Order are set to take effect on August 1, 2013. For those who would like a refresher on the CVAA and the IP requirements, you can find my previous posts on the subject here and here.

In the Further Notice adopted simultaneously with the Order, the Commission asked for comment on imposing "closed captioning synchronization requirements for covered apparatus, and on how DVD and Blu-ray players can fulfill the closed captioning requirements of the statute." Based on the publication of the Further Notice in the Federal Register, comments on the Further Notice are now due on September 3, 2013, and reply comments are due September 30, 2013.

The bulk of the Order is largely a response to three Petitions for Reconsideration filed in connection with last year's Report and Order, which adopted rules governing the closed captioning requirements for owners, providers, and distributors of IP-delivered video programming, as well as the closed captioning capabilities of devices used by consumers to view video programming. The Petitions were filed by the Consumer Electronics Association, TV Guardian, and a coalition of consumer groups, respectively.

Highlights of the FCC's Order and Further Notice include:

  • Refusing to limit covered devices to those intentionally designed to play back video programming, but clarifying the rule and issuing two class-based waivers in response to requests by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) to exclude equipment such as digital cameras and baby monitors;
  • Clarifying that the January 1, 2014, deadline for devices to be equipped to display closed captioned video programming applies to the date of manufacture of the apparatus, and "not to the date of importation, shipment, or sale";
  • Reaffirming its decision to allow video programming providers and distributors to select either the rendering or pass through of captions to end users; and
  • Delaying a final decision regarding whether video clips (i.e., "excerpts of full length programming") should be included within the scope of covered programming until more information is collected as part of another public notice that the FCC plans to issue within the next six months.

The CEA had requested that the FCC narrow the applicability of the closed captioning equipment requirements to cover only those devices intended by the manufacturer to receive, play back, or record IP video programming, rather than broadly applying the rules to any device with a video player.

In response, the FCC revised its definition of "apparatus" to make clear that "video players" requiring captioning capability include only those that display "video programming transmitted with sound." The FCC declined to limit the requirement to only those devices intentionally designed to play back video programming, but clarified its rule and issued two class-based waivers excluding from the requirement equipment such as still digital cameras and baby monitors, which play back consumer generated images and not IP "video programming" as defined by the CVAA.

The following two classes of "apparatus" qualify for the waiver:

(i) devices that are primarily designed to capture and display still and/or moving images consisting of consumer-generated media, or of other images that are not video programming as defined under the CVAA and our rules, and that have limited capability to display video programming transmitted simultaneously with sound ... and (ii) devices that are primarily designed to display still images and that have limited capability to display video programming transmitted simultaneously with sound.

The FCC also decided to delay the January 1, 2014 compliance deadline for DVD players that do not render or pass through closed captions. According to the Commission, that extension was granted to give the FCC more time to collect data regarding additional costs that might be imposed by adding IP captioning functionality to low-cost devices like DVD and Blu-ray players. The extension does not apply to other removable media players or to DVD players that already have the ability to caption.

Regarding the TV Guardian Petition, the FCC denied the Petition, which had requested that the Commission prohibit video programming providers and distributors from rendering captions where passing through captions is "technically feasible", determining that the request was inconsistent with the language of the CVAA. The FCC also noted that the consumer electronics industry "coalesced around the use of HDMI, which permits the use of rendered captions but does not pass through closed captions, meaning that it only conveys captions when they have been decoded and mixed into the video stream."

The FCC deferred a decision on the main thrust of the third Petition, filed by a number of consumer groups, which questioned why IP video captioning requirements only apply to "full-length programming" that appears on TV with captions and is then distributed via IP to end users substantially in its entirety. The coalition of consumer groups urged the FCC to expand the captioning requirement to also cover "video clips" containing less than a full-length program. The FCC is keeping the record open on this issue until more information is gathered on the captioning of video clips, including the difficulty of doing so, and the degree to which such captioning already occurs voluntarily.

Finally, in the Further Notice, the FCC asked for "further information necessary to determine whether the Commission should impose synchronization requirements on device manufacturers." What the FCC is asking for here is additional information to determine whether to "require apparatus manufacturers to ensure that their apparatus synchronize the appearance of closed captions with the display of the corresponding video." In the Report and Order, the FCC had declined to impose synchronization requirements on manufacturers, instead placing the obligation on video programming distributors and providers.

As noted, initial comments on the Further Notice are due September 3, 2013, with reply comments due on September 30, 2013. The issues raised in the proceeding are obviously complex, so those who wish to file comments should start preparing sooner rather than later.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted June 30, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

June 2013

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 Heavy Fines for Late-Filed Children's Television Programming Reports
  • Motel with Multichannel Video Programming Distribution System Is Cited for Excessive Cable Signal Leakage

FCC Fines Multiple Licensees for Failure to Timely File Children's Television Programming Reports

As broadcasters have learned, the FCC takes licensees' public inspection file and reporting obligations very seriously. This month, the FCC issued multiple Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture ("NAL") against licensees for failing to file Children's Television Programming Reports on Form 398 in a timely manner. On June 18 and 21, the FCC issued a total of seven decisions proposing to fine stations between $3,000 and $18,000 for not filing their Form 398s on time.

Under the FCC's rules, commercial television stations must report their children's educational and informational broadcast programming efforts each quarter by electronically filing FCC Form 398, the Children's Television Programming Report. Historically, the FCC has fined stations for failing to file their reports, and there would be nothing new about the FCC issuing an NAL for "failure to file".

In these seven cases, however, the stations were not fined for a failure to file their reports, but for failing to file their reports on time. In the decisions, the FCC issued the following fines:

  • For a station that missed the filing deadline twenty-three times, the FCC issued an NAL in the amount of $18,000.
  • For a licensee that missed the filing deadline eleven times on one station and thirteen times on another, the FCC issued an NAL in the amount of $15,000.
  • For a station that missed the filing deadline fourteen times, the FCC issued an NAL in the amount of $9,000.
  • For a station that missed the filing deadline ten times, the FCC issued an NAL in the amount of $9,000 (eight reports were filed more than 30 days late).
  • For a station that missed the filing deadline three times, the FCC issued an NAL in the amount of $6,000 (three reports were filed more than 30 days late).
  • For a station that missed the deadline sixteen times, the FCC issued an NAL in the amount of $6,000.
  • For a station that missed the filing deadline eleven times, the FCC issued an NAL in the amount of $3,000.

The cases were all relatively similar. As an example, in the $15,000 NAL, the licensee filed license renewal applications for its two Class A TV stations. At the time of the applications, the licensee did not disclose that it had filed some of its Children's Television Programming Reports late, and in fact, certified in its renewal applications that it had timely filed all relevant programming reports with the FCC. However, the Commission subsequently reviewed its records and found that the licensee failed to file programming reports on time for 11 quarters for one station and 13 quarters for another.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

Florida Association of Broadcasters Annual Convention, June 26-27, 2013, Eden Roc Resort, Miami Beach, FL

June 26, 2013

For more information, please visit www.fab.org/2013Convention.html.

What's the Cost of Not Having a Retrans Agreement? $2.25 Million

Scott R. Flick

Posted June 25, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

We now know what the per-subscriber fee for cable systems lacking retransmission agreements with local broadcast stations is, and it isn't "free".

Section 76.64 of the FCC's Rules requires cable systems to have a written retransmission agreement in place before retransmitting the signal of a station that elected retransmission consent status. Because the law is clear on this point (for a differing view, see Aereo), there have been few cases where the FCC has had to address complaints of illegal retransmission.

In the first of these cases, the FCC found the cable system violated its obligation to negotiate in good faith with the broadcaster and ordered retransmission to cease until an agreement was in place. Two later cases for a pair of 34-day violations against one cable system operator resulted in base fine calculations of $255,000 each, but the FCC reduced the fines to $15,000 each based upon the cable system operator's inability to pay.

Today, the FCC upped the ante, proposing a fine of $2.25 million for TV Max, Inc. and related parties for retransmitting six local TV stations to 245 multiple dwelling unit buildings in Houston without a retransmission agreement. Despite having previously had retransmission agreements with all of the stations, the cable system operator claimed it now qualified for an exemption from the retransmission agreement requirement because it had installed a master antenna on each of the buildings, allowing residents to obtain the broadcast signals for free over-the-air. Each of the six stations filed a complaint with the FCC, noting that the respective retransmission agreements with the cable system operator had expired or been terminated for non-payment, but that retransmission was continuing.

On December 20, 2012, following an investigation, the FCC's Media Bureau issued a letter to TV Max stating its "initial finding that TV Max had willfully and repeatedly violated, and continued to violate, the Commission's retransmission consent rules, and stating that it planned to recommend that the Commission issue a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture for these violations." The Media Bureau later followed up with a March 28, 2013 letter to all of the parties asking for the status of carriage and whether retransmission agreements were now in place. While the stations all responded that they were still being carried without their consent, TV Max indicated it had not retransmitted the stations over its fiber since June 7, 2012.

That led to today's Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order. In its decision, the FCC found that some of the cable system operator's statements to the FCC were "lacking in candor". Specifically, the FCC concluded that the cable system had continued to retransmit the stations over its fiber and had not installed master antennas on all of its buildings by the time it claimed to have ceased fiber retransmission:

Based upon the evidence before us, and in view of the applicable law and Commission precedent, we conclude that TV Max has willfully and repeatedly violated Section 325 of the Act and Section 76.64 of the Commission's rules, and persists in its violation of these provisions, by retransmitting the Stations' signals without the express authority of the originating stations. As discussed below, the violations are based on (1) TV Max's admitted carriage of the Stations from the time their retransmission consent agreements expired through at least July 25, 2012 without the Stations' consent and without a master antenna television (MATV) system in place in all the buildings it serves; and (2) TV Max's ongoing carriage of the Stations without their consent since July 26, 2012 because it was not exclusively using its MATV facilities to retransmit the broadcast signals to its subscribers.

While the precise length of time any particular station was carried without a retransmission agreement varied, the FCC noted in its decision that Section 503 of the Communications Act limits its ability to issue fines for cable violations occurring more than one year ago. As a result, the FCC based its proposed fine on 365 days worth of violations involving six stations. While the decision is a bit fuzzy on the precise math behind the final number (particularly given that the maximum fine is much higher than the fine proposed), a little reverse engineering provides some real-world context for a $2.25 million fine.

The FCC notes that the system has about 10,000 subscribers, that six stations were carried without a retransmission agreement, and that the fine reflected one year's worth of violations. That works out to a monthly retransmission "fee" of $3.13 per subscriber for each station (apparently the federal government has less negotiating leverage than ESPN). Still, that is more than the cable system operator would have paid under an arms-length negotiated broadcast retransmission agreement. Unfortunately for the affected stations, however, payment of the fine goes to the U.S. Government rather than to the television stations.

On the other hand, retransmitting programs without consent is also a copyright violation, meaning that stations pursuing copyright claims against the cable system operator could add significantly to the operator's financial pain. Such are the risks of reinterpreting the breadth of the Communications Act's retransmission consent requirements (see Aereo?).

The North Carolina Association of Broadcasters Annual Convention, Grandover Resort & Conference Center, June 24-25, Greensboro, NC

June 24, 2013

For more information, please visit www.ncbroadcast.com/aws/NCAB/pt/sd/calendar/24193/_PARENT/layout_details/false.

New York State Broadcasters Association Executive Conference, June 24-25, 2013, Sagamore Resort Hotel, Bolton Landing, NY

June 24, 2013

For more information, please visit www.nysbroadcasters.org/event-registration/?ee=11.

The Virginia Association of Broadcasters Annual Summer Convention, June 20-22, Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront, Virginia Beach, VA

June 20, 2013

For more information, please visit www.vabonline.com/events/76th-annual-summer-convention/.

Illinois Broadcasters Association Annual Convention, June 19, 2013, Embassy Suites Hotel, Peoria, IL

June 19, 2013

New Jersey Broadcasters Association Conference, June 11-12, 2013

June 11, 2013

The Cable Show, June 10-12, 2013, Walter Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC

June 10, 2013

For more information, please visit www.2013.thecableshow.com/.

Wyoming Association of Broadcasters Summer Convention, June 7-8, 2013, Little America Convention Center, Cheyenne, WY

June 7, 2013

For more information, please visit www.wyomingbroadcasting.org/WAB%20Events.htm.

New Mexico Broadcasters Association Convention, June 6-8, 2013, Marriott Hotel and Resort Uptown, Albuquerque, NM

June 6, 2013

For more information, please visit www.newmexicobroadcasters.org/convention/index.php.

Comments Due Soon on FCC's Proposed 2013 Regulatory Fees

Paul A. Cicelski Richard R. Zaragoza

Posted June 5, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski and Richard R. Zaragoza

Last month, the FCC issued its latest annual Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) as well as a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) containing regulatory fee proposals for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Those who wish to file comments on the FCC's proposed fees must do so by June 19, 2013, with reply comments due by June 26, 2013. The NPRM proposes to collect just under $340 million in regulatory fees for FY 2013.

The FCC indicates that this year's Congressional budget sequester reduced FCC salaries and expenditures by $17 million but that the sequester does not impact the collection of regulatory fees. According to the NPRM, this is because the sequester does not change the amount Congress required the FCC to collect in the FY 2012 appropriation (and continued in effect in FY 2013 by virtue of the Further Continuing Appropriations Act in 2013).

The NPRM seeks comments on adoption and implementation of proposals to reallocate the Agency's regulatory fees based on the matters actually worked on by current FCC full time employees (FTEs) for FY 2013 to more accurately assess the costs of providing regulatory services to various industry sectors and to account for changes in the wireless and wireline industries in recent years. Understanding that a modification of its current fee allocation method based on FTE workload will result in significantly higher fees for some fee categories, the NPRM proposes to potentially cap rate increases at 7.5% for FY 2013.

The FCC's NPRM also asks for comment on the following:

  1. Combining Interstate Telecommunications Service Providers (ITSPs) and wireless telecommunications services into one regulatory fee category and using revenues as the basis for calculating the resulting regulatory fees;
  2. Using revenues to calculate regulatory fees for other industries that now use subscribers as the basis for regulatory fee calculations, such as the cable industry;
  3. Consolidating UHF and VHF television stations into one regulatory fee category;
  4. Proposing a regulatory fee for Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) equivalent to cable regulatory fees;
  5. Alleviating large fluctuations in the fee rate for Multiyear Wireless Services; and
  6. Determining whether the Commission should modify its methodology for collecting regulatory fees from those in declining industries (e.g., CMRS Messaging).

In the FNPRM, the FCC seeks comment on the how to treat, for regulatory fee purposes, services such as non-U.S.-Licensed Space Stations, Direct Broadcast Satellites and broadband.

The FCC also notes that it is seeking to modernize its electronic filing and payment systems. As a result, beginning on October 1, 2013, the FCC will no longer accept paper and check filings for payment of Annual Regulatory Fees. What that means is that this year's regulatory fee filing is likely the last time that regulatory fees can be paid without using electronic funds.

We will be publishing a full Advisory on the FY 2013 Regulatory Fees once they are adopted (likely this summer). You may also immediately access the FCC's FY 2013 proposed fee tables attached to the NPRM, in order to estimate, at least approximately, the size payment the FCC will be expecting from you this fall.

Louisiana Association of Broadcasters and Mississippi Association of Broadcasters Joint Convention, June 5-7, 2013, IP Casino, Resort & Spa, Biloxi, MS

June 5, 2013

Missouri Broadcasters Association Annual Convention, May 31 - June 1, 2013, The Lodge of Four Seasons, Lake Ozark, MO

May 31, 2013

For more information, please visit www.mbaconvention.com.

Stations Find Out When Airing a Fake EAS Tone Is Okay

Scott R. Flick

Posted May 31, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

In what has been a recurring theme at CommLawCenter, I've written about the FCC rule prohibiting the airing of Emergency Alert System codes and tones unless there is an actual emergency or EAS test. Despite the rule, the draw of using an EAS tone is apparently irresistible, and we've seen it used in movie ads, oil company ads, and even zombie alerts.

Unlike many FCC rules, the ambiguity of which can leave seasoned practitioners arguing over what is or isn't prohibited, Section 11.45 of the FCC's Rules has been a model of clarity:

"No person may transmit or cause to transmit the EAS codes or Attention Signal, or a recording or simulation thereof, in any circumstance other than in an actual National, State or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS."

As a result, while advertisers might succumb to the temptation to slip an EAS tone (really, it's more of a digital squeal) into their ads, the broadcaster's duty was straightforward--try to catch the ad before it airs, and then let the advertiser know that the ad can't be run unless it is modified to delete the tone.

Yesterday, however, life suddenly became more complicated for broadcasters when stations began receiving copies of a Public Service Announcement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency seeking to educate the public about the Emergency Alert System using the EAS tone to get that message across. Station operators were understandably confused, thinking that surely FEMA, as a fellow federal agency to the FCC (and an expert on all things related to EAS), wouldn't be distributing a PSA that included an illegal EAS tone.

That was not, however, a safe assumption. On multiple occasions, federal and state agencies have, for example, distributed ads or PSAs that lack the sponsorship identification announcement required by the FCC, with one of the more famous examples leading to a 2002 FCC decision refusing to grant a waiver of its sponsorship identification rule to allow the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to run anti-drug ads without disclosing that it was the sponsor.

As stations began to decline to run the PSAs for fear or incurring the FCC's wrath, the FCC moved quickly (and quietly, I might add) to break from its prior approach, and today released a decision granting an unprecedented one-year waiver of Section 11.45, permitting FEMA spots to use the EAS tone as long as they make "clear that the WEA [Wireless Emergency Alert] Attention Signals are being used in the context of the PSA and for the purpose of educating the viewing or listening public about the functions of their WEA-capable mobile devices and the WEA program." The FCC also "recommend[s] that FEMA take steps to ensure that such PSAs clearly state that they are part of FEMA's public education campaign."

The good news today is that the FCC approached the problem head on by granting a waiver rather than trying to "interpret" its rule to somehow not cover the FEMA PSA tones. Such an interpretation would have left broadcasters scratching their heads every time an EAS tone pops up in a future spot, trying to figure out whether that use might also fit into such an exception. The bad news, however, is that broadcasters have now been told that fake EAS tones are sometimes okay, and they need to be watching the FCC's daily releases to determine if a particular use has suddenly become acceptable. Hopefully, such spots will actually educate the public to better understand the purpose of EAS alerts, as opposed to merely acclimating them to hearing the tone on-air and learning to ignore it.

Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski of Pillsbury to Speak on "Making It Work: A Broadcaster's Guide to the FCC's EEO Rule," May 30, 2013

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

May 30, 2013

Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski will discuss the requirements of a successful station EEO program in this webinar hosted in conjunction with the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association and the New Hampshire Association of Broadcasters on May 30, 2013 from 2:00-3:00pm ET/12:00-1:00pm PT.

Topics to be discussed will include the three major elements of the FCC's EEO rule, employment outreach requirements, the 16 FCC outreach credits, record keeping and reporting requirements, FCC EEO form information, the FCC's EEO enforcement practices and more.

For more information and to register, please see mab or nhab.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted May 23, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

May 2013

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 Establishes New Enforcement Policy for Student-Run Noncommercial Radio Stations
  • CB Radio Owner Receives Fine for Harmful Interference and Lack of Responsiveness
Student-Run Noncommercial Radio Stations Will Face Lighter Sanctions on Some FCC Enforcement Actions

In a recent Policy Statement and Order, the FCC established a new policy for certain first-time violations of FCC documentation requirements committed by student-run noncommercial radio stations. The new policy allows such stations the option of entering into a Consent Decree with the FCC that includes a compliance plan and a "voluntary" contribution to the government that is smaller than the typical base fines for these violations.

In justifying its more lenient policy toward student-run stations, the FCC noted that such stations are staffed by a continually changing roster of young students lacking experience in regulatory compliance. In addition, such stations function without any professional oversight other than that provided by over-worked faculty advisors, and often operate with budgets so small that they are exceeded by even the base fine for a public inspection file violation. In the past, the FCC has issued numerous fines of $8,000-$10,000 to licensees of student-run stations, and with this new policy, the FCC recognizes that continuing to impose such fines could result in schools selling their stations altogether, as has indeed happened.

In the past, the FCC rejected arguments that fines on student-run stations should be reduced solely because the stations are run by students. The FCC has also typically rejected "inability to pay" arguments for these types of stations, and instead looked at the financial resources of the entire university or college, rather than the financial resources of the station, when assessing a fine. However, the FCC now concludes that allowing the cost of a first-time documentation violation to be reduced in exchange for a consent decree with a compliance plan will actually improve compliance with the FCC's rules. Specifically, the FCC believes that such compliance plans will assist in the training of students while contributing to the educational function of these stations.

In its Policy Statement, the FCC emphasized that the policy will apply only to student-run noncommercial radio stations where the station is staffed completely by students. Stations that employ any professional staff, other than faculty advisors, do not qualify. The policy is also limited to violations where a student-run station has failed to (a) file required materials with the FCC (e.g., an Ownership Report), (b) place required materials in the public inspection file, or (c) publish a notice in a local newspaper or broadcast an announcement on the air. This new policy will not change the FCC's forfeiture policies for any other type of violation or licensee.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

FCC Grants Extension of Indecency Comment Deadlines

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted May 10, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

A few minutes ago, the FCC issued a Public Notice granting a thirty-day extension of the deadlines for submitting comments and reply comments in response to the FCC's April 1, 2013 Public Notice seeking input on whether the Commission should make changes to its current broadcast indecency policies. Comments and reply comments were originally due on May 20 and June 18, 2013, respectively, but have now been extended to June 19, 2013 (comments) and July 18, 2013 (reply comments). The extension was granted in response to a Motion filed by the National Association of Broadcasters on April 26, 2013.

Scott Flick of our office posted a detailed analysis of the Public Notice early last month. To refresh your memory, the Public Notice (jointly released by the FCC's Enforcement Bureau and General Counsel's Office) was issued in response to FCC Chairman Genachowski's request that FCC staff review the "Commission's broadcast indecency policies and enforcement to ensure they are fully consistent with vital First Amendment principles."

With respect to guidance for parties planning to file comments, the quoted language below from the Public Notice describes the matters on which the FCC is seeking comment:

  1. [W]hether the full Commission should ... treat isolated expletives in a manner consistent with our decision in Pacifica Foundation, Inc., Memorandum Opinion and Order, 2 FCC Rcd 2698, 2699 (1987) ("If a complaint focuses solely on the use of expletives, we believe that . . . deliberate and repetitive use in a patently offensive manner is a requisite to a finding of indecency.")?
  2. Should the Commission instead maintain the approach to isolated expletives set forth in its decision in Complaints Against Various Broadcast Licensees Regarding Their Airing of the "Golden Globe Awards" Program, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 19 FCC Rcd 4975 (2004)?
  3. As another example, should the Commission treat isolated (non-sexual) nudity the same as or differently than isolated expletives?

The Public Notice also states that parties are invited "to address these issues as well as any other aspect of the Commission's substantive indecency policies." As Scott pointed out in his analysis last month, this final question appears to open the door to a broader review of indecency doctrine than the FCC has engaged in for quite some time.

Given the controversy the FCC's indecency policies have historically generated, you can expect to see plenty of comments filed on June 19 and reply comments on July 18 by parties on all sides of this issue. As the FCC moves toward new leadership with the departure of Chairman Genachowski, the FCC's indecency enforcement policies could take some interesting turns.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted April 30, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

April 2013

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:

  • Assignment of Paired AM Stations Denied by the FCC
  • Use of Illegal Cell Phone Jammers Leads to Fines in Excess of $125,000

FCC Denies Two Assignment Applications of Paired AM Stations

Early this month, the FCC issued two letters denying several assignment applications seeking to separately assign jointly-operated AM stations to different licensees, contrary to the FCC's rules.

In the 1990s, the FCC expanded the AM band frequencies and permitted AM licensees to operate both existing AM band stations and expanded band AM stations in order to improve the quality of the AM service. However, this dual operating authority was contingent upon the surrender of one of the two licenses within five years from the grant of the license for the expanded band station.

In September 1999, one of the licensees filed an assignment application to assign two paired AM band stations to a second licensee. The FCC granted this assignment application, but the receiving licensee only consummated the assignment of one of the two AM stations due to "environmental issues." Several years later, the two licensees filed several new assignment applications requesting FCC approval to separately assign the stations to new licensees, including one application in 2006 and two applications in 2012. In none of these applications did the licensees mention that the stations were part of a jointly-operated pair or that any additional special conditions might apply.

In its letters, the FCC denied all of the pending assignment applications and declined to grant a waiver of the FCC's rule requiring the surrender of one of the two licenses. In its decisions, the FCC stated that the grant of the applications would be contrary to the public interest and would "(1) constitute a further violation of a Commission-imposed processing policy; (2) bestow a further benefit on a party that knowingly engaged in such violation; (3) be unfair to those licensees that have returned one of the paired licenses; and (4) be inconsistent with the expanded band licensing principle that each licensee surrender one license at the expiration of the dual operating authority period." In other words, the FCC made clear that the only assignment application it would be willing to accept is one resulting in both AM stations being held by a single licensee.

Use of Cell Phone Jammers to Prevent Cell Phone Use during Working Hours Does Not Pay Off

The FCC has long kept a careful eye on the sale and use of illegal cell phone jamming devices that interfere with cellular communications. This month, the FCC continued to take action against the use of illegal cell phone jammers by issuing two hefty Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture ("NAL") against two companies, one in Alabama and one in Louisiana, both of which used several cell phone jamming devices at their worksites.

As described in the two NALs, each company purchased four cell phone jammers from various Internet sources (and a fifth jammer as a backup) and installed them throughout their worksites to prevent their employees from using cell phones while working. In both instances, agents from the FCC's Enforcement Bureau responded to anonymous complaints and inspected the worksites.

Using direction finding techniques, the agents discovered strong wideband emissions on the cellular bands and determined that the source of these emissions was from signal jammers.

The Enforcement Bureau agents then inspected the worksites and interviewed the managers of the two companies, both of whom admitted that they had purchased the jammers online and operated them at their worksites--one company for a period of two years and the other for a period of a few months. Both managers showed the agents the locations of the jamming devices and voluntarily surrendered them.

Sections 301, 302(b), and 333 of the Communications Act generally prohibit the importation, use, marketing, and manufacture of cell phone jammers because jammers are designed to impede authorized communications and can disrupt safety communications, such as 911 calls. Moreover, since the primary purpose of a jammer is to interfere with authorized communications, jamming devices cannot be certified and cannot comply with the FCC's technical standards for operation.

In response to the use of illegal jamming devices, the FCC issued substantial forfeitures to both companies. The relevant base forfeiture amounts are $10,000 for operating without FCC authorization, $5,000 for using unauthorized or illegal equipment, and $7,000 for interference with authorized communications. The base forfeiture for violations of the prohibition on signal jamming is $16,000 per violation or per day, up to a maximum of $112,500 for a single violation. For the company in Alabama that operated four jamming devices for a period of two years, the FCC found that the company committed 12 total violations, representing three violations for each of the four jamming devices in use. Thus, the fine would normally be $16,000 per violation, for a total fine of $192,000. However, since the company immediately surrendered the jamming devices and was cooperative with the Enforcement Bureau agents, the FCC reduced the penalty by 25% to $144,000. The FCC applied the same type of calculation to the company in Louisiana that operated four jamming devices for a period of a few months, resulting in a fine of $126,000 after a 25% reduction in the total fine amount. The FCC also ordered both companies to submit sworn written statements providing contact information for the sellers of the jamming devices and all information regarding the sources from which the jamming devices were purchased.

In addition, the FCC cautioned the companies that while the FCC chose not to impose separate forfeitures for the illegal importation of the jamming devices, the FCC has the power to impose "substantial monetary penalties" on individuals or businesses who illegally import jammers. The FCC further warned the companies and other individuals and businesses that the FCC "may pursue alternative or more aggressive sanctions, should the approach set forth [here] prove ineffective in deterring the unlawful operation of jamming devices."

FCC Modernizes Its Experimental Licensing Rules

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted April 29, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

The FCC's revised rules for its Experimental Radio Services ("ERS") were published in today's Federal Register, and become effective on May 29, 2013 (except for several rules that contain new or modified information collection requirements, which require further approval by the Office of Management and Budget). These revised rules allow parties, including manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and students, to engage in a wide variety of experiments involving radio spectrum, including, for example, technical demonstrations, equipment testing, limited market studies, and development of radio techniques. The FCC's revisions streamline and modernize the ERS rules, allowing parties to more quickly develop new technologies and products for the marketplace.

One of the primary changes to the rules is the creation of three types of ERS licenses: (1) Program Licenses; (2) Compliance Testing Licenses; and (3) Medical Testing Licenses. An applicant for a license must demonstrate in its application that it meets the eligibility requirements, must provide a certification of radio frequency (RF) expertise or partner with another entity with such expertise, and must explain the purpose of its experiment. Each license has a term of five years and is renewable.

Under a Program License, the license holder is permitted to conduct an ongoing program of research and experimentation under a single authorization without having to obtain prior FCC consent for each distinct experiment or series of unrelated experiments, as would have been required under the FCC's prior rules. Eligibility is limited to colleges, universities, research laboratories, manufacturers of radio frequency equipment or end-user products with integrated radio frequency equipment, and medical research institutions. Authorized entities must provide a "stop buzzer" point of contact, identify the specifics of each proposed experiment in advance of the testing on a public web database established by the FCC, and post a report detailing the results of each experiment upon completion of the experiment (A "stop buzzer" point of contact is a person who can address interference concerns and cease all transmissions immediately if interference occurs).

A Compliance Testing License allows a test lab to conduct testing for FCC equipment authorizations. Such licenses are available to labs that are currently recognized for RF product testing as well as any other lab that the FCC finds has sufficient expertise to undertake such testing. Unlike a Program Licensee, a compliance testing licensee does not have to identify a "stop buzzer" point of contact, provide any notification period prior to testing, or file any narrative statement regarding test results. Testing is limited to those activities necessary for product certification.

The third type of experimental license is a Medical Testing License. This license allows an eligible entity to conduct clinical trials of medical devices (i.e., a device that uses RF wireless technology or communications functions for diagnosis, treatment, or patient monitoring). Only health care facilities (defined as hospitals and other establishments that offer services, facilities and beds for beyond a 24-hour period in rendering medical treatment, as well as institutions and organizations regularly engaged in providing medical services through clinics, public health facilities, and similar establishments, including government entities and agencies) are eligible for this type of experimental license. Medical devices tested under a Medical Testing License must comply with the FCC's Part 15, 18 and 95 rules. Authorized health care entities must provide a "stop buzzer" point of contact and also follow the same notice and reporting requirements as Program Licensees. A Medical Testing Licensee is required to file a yearly report with the FCC on the activity that has been performed under the license.

The FCC's other changes to its ERS rules include:

  • consolidating all of the experimental licensing rules into Part 5 of the FCC's Rules;
  • consolidating its rules regarding marketing of unauthorized devices;
  • allowing demonstrations in residential areas of devices not yet authorized, so long as the relevant spectrum licensee is working with the device manufacturer;
  • permitting, without an experimental license, the operation of devices not yet authorized, so long as the devices are operated as part of a trade show demonstration and at or below the maximum power level permitted for unlicensed devices under the FCC's Part 15 rules;
  • allowing more flexible product development and market trials;
  • standardizing and increasing the importation limit for devices that have not yet been authorized to 4,000 units; and
  • codifying the existing practice of allowing RF tests and experiments conducted within an anechoic chamber or Faraday cage without the need for obtaining an experimental license.
Parties interested in learning more about the FCC's revised ERS rules should contact their communications counsel for advice.

Maryland, DC, Delaware Broadcasters Association 2013 Annual Meeting and Dinner, April 22, 2013, Turf Valley, Ellicott City, MD

April 22, 2013

For more information, please visit www.mdcd.com/aws/MDCD/pt/sd/calendar/24559/_PARENT/layout_details/false.

Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters Annual Convention, April 18-19, 2013, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Tulsa, OK

April 18, 2013

For more information, please visit www.oabok.org/Conventions.

Free TV Doesn't Mean Free Lunch

John K. Hane

Posted April 16, 2013

By John Hane

Recently, TVNewsCheck.com ran a short item noting that a large broadcast group (not a network owned and operated group) and a large multichannel video distributor (MVPD) successfully concluded carriage negotiations. There was no interruption of service. Given the successful outcome, I was surprised to see that someone posted a comment regarding the piece saying the deal illustrates why the FCC should tighten its broadcast ownership rules. No matter how many times I read comments of this sort, I am perplexed that people actually believe it's a good thing for the government to mandate that broadcasters be the underdogs in all major negotiations that impact the quality and availability of broadcasters' programming. If anything, government policy should encourage broadcasters to grow to a scale that is meaningful in today's complex television marketplace. Not one of the other major distributors makes its programming available for free.

If independent (non-O&O) broadcasters aren't permitted to achieve a scale large enough to negotiate effectively with upstream programmers and downstream distributors, you won't have to wait long see high cost, high quality, high value programming available for free to those who choose to opt out of the pay TV ecosystem. It's much better to have two, three or four strong competitors in each market, owned by companies that can compete for rational economics in the upstream and downstream markets, than to have eight or more weak competitors, few of which can afford to invest in truly local service or negotiate at arms-length with program suppliers and distributors.

For those who have not been paying attention, the television market has changed profoundly in the past 20 years. The big programmers and the big MVPDs have gotten a whole lot bigger. The largest non-O&O broadcast groups have grown too, but not nearly as much. Fox, Disney/ABC, NBCU and the other programmers are vastly bigger companies with incomparable market power vis-a-vis even the largest broadcast groups. The same is true of the large MVPDs, which together serve the great majority of television households.

There's nothing inherently bad about big content aggregators and big MVPD distributors. And anyway, they are a fact of life. Despite their size, each is trying to deliver a competitive service and deliver good returns for shareholders. That's what they are supposed to do, and in general (with a few exceptions) they serve the country well. But again, they are much, much larger than even the largest broadcast groups. If you believe that having a viable and competitive free television option is a good thing, that's a problem.

So in response to the suggestion that the FCC further limit the scale of broadcasters, I reply: why does the government make it so damn hard for the only television service that is available for free to bargain and compete with vastly larger enterprises that are comparatively unregulated?

Continue reading "Free TV Doesn't Mean Free Lunch"

FCC Issues Lessons Learned From First Ever Nationwide EAS Test

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted April 14, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

As our readers are aware, we did a great deal of reporting before and after the first-ever Nationwide Emergency Alert System (EAS) Test conducted on November 9, 2011. The purpose of that test was to assess the readiness and effectiveness of the system in the event of an actual national emergency. Broadcasters, as well as cable, satellite, and wireline providers across the country (EAS Participants), all took part in the test. For a quick refresher, see my previous posts on the test here, here, here, here, and here. Late this past Friday, the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau released a report summarizing the outcome of the national test entitled: "Strengthening the Emergency Alert System (EAS): Lessons Learned from the Nationwide EAS Test".

As the FCC and FEMA have made clear on numerous ocassions, the national EAS test was not intended to be a pass or fail event, but was to be used to identify and address the limitations of the current EAS. The Report concludes that the national EAS alert distribution architecture is sound and that the national test was received by a large majority of EAS Participants and could be seen and heard by most Americans. The results of the test show that more than 80 percent of EAS Participants across the country successfully received and relayed the FEMA test message.

The Report also indicates, however, that there are a number of technical areas where the system can be improved. According to the Report, among the problems that impeded the ability of EAS Participants to receive and/or retransmit the emergency Action Notification (EAN) issued by FEMA, and of the public to receive it, were:

  • Widespread poor audio quality;
  • Lack of a Primary Entry Point (PEP) in an area to provide a direct connection to FEMA;
  • Use of alternatives to PEP-based EAN distribution;
  • The inability of some EAS Participants either to receive or retransmit the EAN;
  • Short test length; and
  • Anomalies in EAS equipment programming and operation.

As a result of its findings, the Report recommends that another nationwide test be conducted after the FCC commences a number of formal rulemaking proceedings seeking public comment on steps to improve EAS related to these and other shortcomings.

In its Report, the Bureau also recommends that, in connection with any future EAS testing, the FCC develop a new Nationwide EAS Test Reporting System to improve the electronic filing of test result data. The Report also encourages the Executive Office of the President to reconvene the Federal EAS Test Working Group to work with Federal partners and other stakeholders to use the results of the test to find ways to improve EAS and plan for future nationwide tests.

Despite the audio problems and other issues identified in the Report with respect to the nationwide EAS test, the first ever test appears to have achieved its goal of helping the FCC, FEMA, and EAS Participants identify areas where EAS can be improved in the event of an actual emergency. If the recommendations outlined in the Report are implemented by the FCC, the public will likely have a number of opportunities during upcoming rulemaking proceedings to provide their input to the FCC on ways to further improve the reliability of the nation's EAS.

NAB Show, April 6-11, 2013, Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV

April 6, 2013

For more information, please visit http://www.nab.org/events/slc/2013.

FCC Announces Immediate Freeze on TV Modification Applications

Scott R. Flick

Posted April 5, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

This morning, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing that, commencing immediately and until further notice, it will no longer accept modification applications (or amendments to modification applications) from full power and Class A television stations if the modification would increase the station's coverage in any direction beyond its current authorization.

The Public Notice also indicates that the FCC will cease processing modification applications that are already on file if the modification will increase the station's coverage in any direction. Applicants with a pending modification application subject to the freeze are being given 60 days to amend their application to prevent an increase in coverage (or seek a waiver), thereby allowing those applications to be processed by the FCC. Modification applications that are not amended within that period will not be processed until after the FCC releases its order in the Spectrum Auction proceeding, and at that point will be subject to any new rules or policies adopted in that rulemaking that would limit station modifications.

With regard to Class A stations specifically, the FCC will also not accept Class A displacement applications that increase a station's coverage in any direction. Class A applications to implement the digital transition (flash cut and digital companion channels) will continue to be processed as long as they comply with the existing restrictions on such applications.

The FCC states that the reason for putting modification applications in the deep freeze is that:

We find that the imposition of limits on the filing and processing of modification applications is now appropriate to facilitate analysis of repacking methodologies and to assure that the objectives of the broadcast television incentive auction are not frustrated. The repacking methodology the Commission ultimately adopts will be a critical tool in reorganizing the broadcast TV spectrum pursuant to the statutory mandate. Additional development and analysis of potential repacking methodologies is required in light of the technical, policy, and auction design issues raised in the rulemaking proceeding. This work requires a stable database of full power and Class A broadcast facilities. In addition, to avoid frustrating the central goal of "repurpos[ing] the maximum amount of UHF band spectrum for flexible licensed and unlicensed use," we believe it is now necessary to limit the filing and processing of modification applications that would expand broadcast television stations' use of spectrum.

So once again, television broadcasters are tossed into a digital ice age, unable to adapt their facilities to shifting population areas, which seems to be the polar opposite of what Congress intended in requiring that spectrum incentive auctions not reduce broadcast service to the public. Aggravating the situation is that, unlike some of the DTV transition application freezes, the FCC is not limiting this freeze to large urban markets where it hopes to free up broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband. Indeed, modification applications were already less likely in those heavily populated urban areas because of the existing spectrum congestion that makes modifying a TV station's signal difficult.

As a result, the broadcasters most likely to be hurt by the freeze are those in more rural areas--areas that have ample available spectrum for broadcasting and broadband, and which the FCC has said are not really the target of its spectrum incentive auction. Those broadcasters will have to hope that the FCC is serious about considering freeze waiver requests. Otherwise, rural Americans will once again see improvements in their communications services delayed while the FCC focuses all its attention on securing more spectrum for broadband in urban population centers.

Pillsbury Attorneys Heading to NAB Show in Vegas

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted April 4, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

Marking the end of a winter that has been way too long is an annual rite of Spring for the media industry--the National Association of Broadcasters' Show in Las Vegas. This year's Show is taking place from April 6th to the 11th at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The NAB touts the Show as "the world's largest media and entertainment event covering the development, management and delivery of content across all mediums." The growing technological and business diversity of the Show is reflected in the NAB's additional description of the Show as being "home to the solutions that transcend traditional broadcasting and embrace content delivery to new screens in new ways." That is certainly true, with the diversity of exhibitors covering every sector even tangentially related to media and content production.

Of course, for all that the Show itself is, one of the most compelling reasons to spend a few pleasant April days in Las Vegas is to reconnect with friends and colleagues in the industry, as well as meeting in person a lot of the people that you have previously known only by phone or email.

This year's Pillsbury contingent includes six of our communications attorneys, including myself, Dick Zaragoza, Lew Paper, Scott Flick, Miles Mason, and Andrew Kersting.

If you see us at the Show, please stop and say hello. You can also reach out to us via email at the Show by clicking on the links above. They take you to our respective bios at Pillsbury, including email addresses.

If you are headed to the Show, we look forward to seeing you there. For those who won't be there, I'll be writing a post after the Show summarizing some of the highlights.

FCC Hits Reset Button on Indecency

Scott R. Flick

Posted April 1, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

After nine months of rumors and uncertainty as to where the FCC is headed after last summer's indecency decision by the Supreme Court in FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc. (which we discussed in this post), the FCC today released a very brief public notice that:

  1. Announces the FCC staff has disposed of over one million indecency complaints (which it states is over 70% of those that were pending at the FCC), "principally by closing pending complaints that were beyond the statute of limitations or too stale to pursue, that involved cases outside FCC jurisdiction, that contained insufficient information, or that were foreclosed by settled precedent."
  2. Announces that the FCC will continue to actively investigate "egregious indecency cases."

  3. Announces that it is opening up a new docket (GN Docket No. 13-86), and is seeking comments from the public in that docket as to whether the FCC should change its broadcast indecency policies, and if so, how. While not limiting the breadth of potential changes, the FCC specifically asks whether it is time to go back to the old policy of prosecuting on-air expletives only where there is "deliberate and repetitive use in a patently offensive manner," or stick with the more recent policy of pouncing on a single fleeting expletive, the policy that led to the Supreme Court's 2012 decision. The Public Notice also asks if the FCC should treat "isolated (non-sexual) nudity the same or different than isolated expletives?"

  4. Finally, emphasizing again the broad nature of the FCC's proposed review, the Public Notice asks commenters "to address these issues as well as any other aspect of the Commission's substantive indecency policies."
The Public Notice indicates that comments will be due 30 days after the request for comments is published in the Federal Register, with reply comments being due 30 days after that.

While the timing of the Public Notice, just ahead of Chairman Genachowski's (and Commissioner McDowell's) announced departure from the FCC, is interesting, more interesting is the "spontaneous" look of the document. In an agency that can readily produce requests for comments that are hundreds of pages long, and on a subject that has produced reams of pleadings and precedent over several decades, the substantive portion of the Public Notice is but a few paragraphs long--a few paragraphs that open the door to a fundamental rethinking of the FCC's approach to indecency.

The Public Notice therefore has the look of a document that was not long in the making, and which may have emerged as result of a departing Chairman beginning to move the ball forward for his successor. The process forward will likely be complex and arduous, and the ultimate result is anyone's guess, but by at least launching the proceeding before his departure, Chairman Genachowski will absorb some of the political heat that could have otherwise fallen on his successor, while also challenging that successor to address an issue that has become a significant distraction and consumer of increasingly scarce FCC resources.

While also a result of its brevity, the lack of any "initial" or "tentative" conclusions by the FCC in the document gives the impression that the FCC may indeed be ready to commence a fundamental reexamination of indecency policy, and is not just going through the motions of collecting comments before proceeding on a largely predetermined route. It is not asking so much how it should proceed in light of the Supreme Court's decision, but how it should proceed in general. For those who loudly proclaim that the FCC has failed in its duties as a "content cop", as well as broadcasters struggling to figure out on a minute by minute basis what program content might cross the FCC's invisible indecency line, a fresh look at the issue will be welcome. Whether this "reset" can resolve the many tough questions surrounding indecency enforcement is, however, another question entirely.

Captioning of Video Programming Delivered via Internet

March 30, 2013

On this date, all live and near-live programming that is shown on the Internet after being shown on television must be captioned for online viewing, in accordance with the rules implementing the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. "Live" programming is defined as programming that airs on TV "substantially simultaneously" with its performance (e.g., 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 (e.g., "The Late Show with David Letterman").

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted March 29, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

March 2013

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:

  • Delay in Providing Access to Public Inspection File Leads to Fine
  • FCC Fines Broadcaster for Antenna Tower Fencing, EAS and Public Inspection File Violations
Radio Station Fined $10,000 for Not Providing Immediate Access to Public File

This month, the Enforcement Bureau of the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order ("NAL") in the amount of $10,000 against a Texas noncommercial broadcaster for failing to promptly make its public inspection file available. For the delay of a few hours, the Commission proposed a fine of $10,000 and reminded the licensee that stations must make their public inspection file available for inspection at any time during regular business hours and that a simple request to review the public file is all it takes to mandate access.

According to the NAL, an individual from a competitor arrived at the station at approximately 10:45 a.m. and asked to review the station public inspection file. Station personnel informed the individual that the General Manager could give him access to the public files, but that the General Manager would not arrive at the station until "after noon." The individual returned to the studio at 12:30 p.m.; however, the General Manager had still not arrived at the studio. According to the visiting individual, the receptionist repeatedly asked him if he "was with the FCC." Ultimately, the receptionist was able to reach the General Manager by phone, and the parties do not dispute that at that time, the individual asked to see the public file. During that call, the General Manager told the receptionist to give the visitor access to the file. According to the visitor, when the General Manager finally arrived, he too asked if the individual was from the FCC, and then proceeded to monitor the individual's review of the public file.

After the station visit, the competitor filed a Complaint with the FCC alleging that the station public files were incomplete and that the station improperly denied access to the public inspection files. The FCC then issued a Letter of Inquiry to the station, requesting that the station respond to the allegations and to provide additional information. The station denied that any items were missing from the public file and also denied that it failed to provide access to the files.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

First Quarter FCC KidVid Reports Confirm Accuracy of Mayan Calendar

Scott R. Flick Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted March 26, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick

At the end of every quarter, TV stations across the land must electronically file with the FCC a Form 398--The Children's Television Programming Report. However, stations attempting to do that filing for the first quarter of 2013 are discovering that the FCC's online filing system for those forms ends with the fourth quarter of 2012. As a result, it is preventing many TV stations from preparing their electronic report for the first quarter of 2013, rejecting all efforts to select "First Quarter 2013" as the report to be filed.

At first, it appeared that the FCC had bought into the "Mayan Prophecy" that the world was ending in December 2012, marking the end of the Mayan (and perhaps the FCC's) calendar. And, had the world actually ended in 2012, filing a Form 398 covering the first quarter of 2013 would have indeed ranked low on most broadcasters' "to do" lists. However, with 2013 well under way, TV stations are now flummoxed as to how to get the FCC's electronic filing system to allow the preparation and filing of a first quarter 2013 kidvid report.

Fortunately, there is an answer, but it requires a little background. We reported in a 2010 KidVid Advisory that the FCC had suddenly begun requiring stations to enter their FCC Registration Number and password as the final step before permitting a Form 398 to be filed. As it turned out, this was apparently the first step in creating a new FCC Form 398 filing system.

In July 2012, the FCC released what it termed an "alternate" link for accessing the Form 398 filing system and updated its user manual to indicate that the web address for filing the form is the alternate link. However, the FCC's main Children's Television Programming page on the Internet continues to show that the original link is the one to use for filing a Form 398, and until this quarter, that original link has continued to work correctly. Of course, most TV stations just have the original link bookmarked, and have no reason to visit the FCC's website/user manual to see if the filing procedures have been changed. Adding to the confusion is the fact that following the original link does not generate a warning or error message, but takes you to the same filing page stations have been using for years. It is only when a station tries to create a report for first quarter 2013 that a problem arises.

As a result, the "alternate" link is not just an alternate any more, and must be used to file all post-2012 kidvid reports. So, from here on out, use this link for filing your kidvid reports: http://licensing.fcc.gov/KidVidNew/public/filing/submit_login.faces

Note also that, at the new link, you will have to provide your call sign, Facility ID, FCC Registration Number and Password to even be able to log into the system. This is all information you previously needed to file a Form 398, but you supplied it at the end of the filing process. Now, you can't even get started without it. For TV stations that have been banging their heads against the wall trying to figure out why they can't prepare, much less file, their Form 398, using the alternate link should solve that problem. It may be a small problem compared to the end of the world, but then the Mayans never had to deal with online filing.

Second Online Captioning Deadline Arrives March 30

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted March 25, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

As we have discussed at great length in the past, the FCC's rules require that certain video programming delivered online be captioned if the programming previously aired on television with captions. The rules kicked in on April 30 of last year, and all video programming that appeared on television with captions after that date is considered "covered Internet Protocol (IP) video" and will ultimately need to be captioned when being shown online.

The first step of the captioning phase-in occurred on September 30, 2012. Since that date, stations have been required to display captioning for prerecorded full-length programming delivered via IP if the programming was first aired on television with captions on or after the April 30 date noted above.

The second phase of the FCC's IP captioning rules begins March 30, 2013 (a Saturday), at which time the FCC's IP captioning rules require all live and near-live programming subject to the rules and shown on television with captions to be captioned when delivered online. The FCC's definition of "live" or "near-live" captures all programming performed simultaneously or recorded within 24 hours of its first transmission to a video programming distributor. Note that as long as they do not constitute "substantially all" of a full-length program, online video clips are currently exempt from the IP captioning rules.

As a result, the question we probably receive most often from clients about online captioning is: what exactly does the FCC mean by "substantially all" of a full-length program? It's a good question that lacks a precise answer. The FCC intentionally decided not to provide a specific threshold for the length or number of clips aired that would constitute "substantially all" of a program. According to the FCC, it did not see "any evidence that Congress sought to exclude only clips of a certain duration or percentage of the full-length program."

Parties should keep in mind, however, that the FCC will not allow them to game the system by simply "shaving" off a few minutes or brief segments of a full length program in order to avoid the IP captioning obligation. The FCC emphasized that "if there is clear evidence that an entity has developed a pattern of attempting to use video clips to evade its captioning obligations," the FCC may find that a rule violation has occurred.

There is of course more to come. The captioning requirements for "full length" and "live or near-live" programming are just the beginning of the new IP captioning obligations being implemented in the near future. The next deadline is coming up soon with the September 30, 2013 requirement that all pre-recorded programming that is edited for Internet distribution be captioned for online viewing. Also, don't forget there are separate captioning compliance deadlines for captioning of IP video programming that previously aired on television prior to the effective date of the rules, but that is shown again on television with captions after the effective date. Those phased-in captioning requirements are scheduled to take place between March 2014 and March 2016, with progressively shorter periods to caption the programming for IP video after it airs on television with captions.

As was the case with the original broadcast captioning rules, each phase-in "deadline" shrinks the amount of programming exempt from the online captioning requirement while requiring the distributor to tackle ever more complex captioning issues. IP captioning will therefore consume a growing portion of the attention of those posting broadcast video online. The big difference is that broadcast captioning was phased in over eight years (twelve years for Spanish language programming), whereas online captioning is being phased in on a much faster schedule.

A Farewell to Commissioner McDowell and a Nod to the "Rational Regulator"

Scott R. Flick

Posted March 20, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

While in the works for a while, today's formal announcement by FCC Commissioner McDowell that he will be departing the FCC leaves a hole in the FCC's ranks that will be difficult to fill. In many regards, Commissioner McDowell was a throwback to an earlier time, both at the FCC and in Washington, in that his tenure was distinguished not just by his congenial nature, but by an abiding adherence to his regulatory principles, rather than to reaching a particular result. While I suspect he might bristle at being described as a "rational regulator", preferring instead to be known as a "devoted deregulator", Commissioner McDowell represented a common-sense approach to the communications industry and the business of regulating it.

Since the job of a lawyer is to obtain for a client the best result legally possible, you would think that lawyers would be big fans of the "predictable vote"--the commissioner whose policy positions are so embedded that there is little doubt as to where they will stand on any particular issue. And of course, if three of the five commissioners are on your side of an issue, that's a pretty warm and fuzzy place to be. The problem, however, is that for every time three of the five commissioners support your position, there will be a time when three of the five do not.

For that reason, an experienced lawyer will always prefer an inquisitive and open-minded regulator over an ideologue, even when it is an ideologue that agrees with you (today). While the independent-minded regulator will make you work to persuade them each and every time, the opportunity to persuade them is never foreclosed. If you fail to persuade them that your cause is just, then the failure is yours, and not just the result of an agency formalizing a preordained result.

Over the years, the FCC has been blessed with a number of commissioners that have been particularly good at compartmentalizing natural biases, and giving the parties before them a full and fair opportunity to make their case. Probably not coincidentally, many of these same commissioners have had both a healthy sense of humor and humility, putting those around them at ease and creating an environment conducive to an open and lively discussion of the issues. A final characteristic found among this select group--and helpful to anyone in Washington--is the ability to separate the advocate from the issue, recognizing that just because you disagree with the argument that the advocate must make today on behalf of a client doesn't diminish the advocate who, like the commissioner, is just trying to do their job to the best of their ability, and will have to make a different argument on behalf of a different client tomorrow.

Unfortunately, these characteristics are rarely those that will get you nominated by a President, or see you through a partisan confirmation process, so commissioners with all of these characteristics will inevitably tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Because of this, Commissioner McDowell will be missed by many who work at, and with, the FCC. In a town where some individuals have countdown calendars marking the number of days remaining in a particular government official's tenure, it is perhaps the ultimate backhanded Washington compliment that the most arresting part of Commissioner McDowell's departure announcement was where it noted he had been at the FCC for "nearly seven years." It's hard to believe it has been that long.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form Due

March 17, 2013

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, 2013.

FCC Mulls Over Raising Limits on Foreign Ownership of Broadcast Stations

Richard R. Zaragoza

Posted March 13, 2013

By Richard R. Zaragoza

In response to a request by the Coalition for Broadcast Investment ("Coalition"), the FCC, through its Media Bureau, has invited the filing of comments on the question of whether the Commission should now be open to allowing non-citizens and foreign companies to hold more than a 25% equity interest in U.S. radio and television stations. The deadline for filing comments is April 15, with reply comments due by April 30.

The Coalition is comprised of national broadcast networks, radio and television station licensees, as well as community and consumer organizations. It is urging the FCC to publicly commit, going forward, to considering on their individual merits transactions proposing significant foreign investment in broadcast stations, rather than reflexively rejecting foreign ownership above the 25% mark, as the FCC has traditionally done when reviewing broadcast transactions.

But for the Commission's decades-old refusal to be flexible, the Coalition's request would not have been necessary as Section 310(b)(4) of the Communications Act states that a broadcast license will not be granted to "any corporation directly or indirectly controlled by any other corporation of which more than one-fourth of the capital stock is owned of record or voted by aliens, their representatives, or by a foreign government or representative thereof, or by any corporation organized under the laws of a foreign country, if the Commission finds that the public interest will be served by the refusal or revocation of such license." The very language of the Act therefore indicates that alien ownership above the 25% mark will be permitted unless the FCC specifically finds that such foreign ownership would not, in the particular situation presented, serve the public interest.

Despite the language of the statute, the FCC has routinely declined to consider broadcast-related transactions proposing more than 25% foreign ownership of a broadcast parent company. The Coalition contends that, by considering the merits foreign ownership proposals in excess of the 25% mark, the FCC will encourage "access to additional and new sources of investment capital [which] will benefit the broadcast industry and American consumers by financing advanced infrastructure, innovative services and high quality programming; and by promoting the creation of highly skilled, well-paying jobs" as well as "provide new opportunities for minority businesses and entrepreneurs, whose access to the domestic capital markets has been limited...."

A clear statement by the FCC that it will now review, on the merits, radio and television transactions proposing significant foreign investment in U.S. broadcast stations should send a very constructive signal to the broadcast industry, to potential foreign investors and to U.S. investors looking to syndicate more of their capital needs offshore for U.S. broadcast investments. Such a new openness and flexibility on the part of the Commission will also serve to create a more equitable "access to capital" environment for broadcasters particularly in relation to other forms of media.

Future Commission actions publicly approving, disapproving and conditioning transactions proposing "plus 25%" foreign ownership will, over time, provide the necessary predictability that is so important for investment decision-making. Pillsbury has considerable experience in crafting FCC-friendly ownership/control structures for banks, companies and firms with foreign ownership that wish to invest in U.S. broadcast stations. Action by the Commission on the Coalition's letter will hopefully simplify and speed the heretofore painstaking process of balancing the return on investment objectives of foreign investors against the need to meet the letter and intent of the FCC's rules and policies with respect to foreign ownership of U.S. broadcast stations.

FCC Reduces Station Filing Burden For 2013 EEO Audits

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted March 7, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

As we all know, it's easy to complain about the Federal Government these days given the gridlock that currently exists on Capitol Hill, the Sequester, and the looming debt ceiling battle. But let's give credit where credit is due.

The FCC has revised its Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) audit letter for all broadcast licensees, and has eased the burden on respondents by eliminating the need to produce copies of each and every job vacancy notice that was sent out to every referral source, allowing stations instead to file only a representative copy of each job opening notice along with a list of the referral sources to which it was sent. In addition, the FCC has changed its audit letter to allow the submission of a single on-air job advertisement log sheet instead of requiring stations to provide multiple log sheets. The letter also states that stations are not required to provide copies of "applicants' resumes ..., company training manuals, posters, employee handbooks, or corporate guidebooks." While responding to an EEO audit remains a time consuming task, the FCC has at least taken a step in the right direction by better focusing the audit request on the most consequential materials.

The new version of the EEO audit letter was, as required by the FCC's rules, sent to randomly selected radio and television stations in the past few weeks. The FCC annually audits the EEO programs of approximately five percent of broadcast stations and has released the list of the stations subject to the most recent audit. All stations, whether targeted for this round of audits or not, should carefully review the FCC's sample audit letter, as it informs stations of what they will need to present when their time comes.

The FCC's EEO rules require broadcast station employment units with five or more full-time employees to recruit broadly and inclusively for all job openings, and require substantial recordkeeping, periodic reports to the FCC, and the placement of those reports in stations' public inspection files and on their websites. Broadcasters must also regularly analyze the results of their recruitment efforts to ensure that broad and inclusive outreach is being achieved and must keep detailed records of their recruitment outreach efforts to submit to the FCC in the event of an EEO audit.

For everything you ever wanted to know about ensuring compliance with the FCC's EEO rules, see our comprehensive and recently updated Client Advisory: "The FCC's Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies - A Guide for Broadcasters."

The fact that stations will no longer need to provide multiple ad log sheets or the corporate materials described above will certainly make responding to an audit easier. That said, the FCC's EEO rules are, and will continue to be, a significant regulatory burden on broadcasters. While broadcasters will not be required to submit as much material to the FCC as part of an EEO audit, they will continue to be required to maintain records extensively detailing their job recruitment efforts. In addition, stations should take note that the FCC's Public Notice released with the new version of the EEO audit letter seems to indicate that in exchange for the reduced response burdens, the FCC is raising the bar and now expects stations to adopt a standard of "vigorous recruitment."

Still, despite concerns as to what the FCC means by "vigorous", it's nice to see that the FCC is moving in the direction of simplified audits in an effort to actually ease regulatory filing burdens on broadcasters.

NAB State Leadership Conference: March 4 - 6, 2013, Ritz Carlton Hotel, Washington, DC

March 4, 2013

For more information, please visit http://www.nab.org/events/slc/2012/.

The FCC's Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies - A Guide for Broadcasters

Posted February 28, 2013

June 1, 2011 marked the beginning of a four-year cycle during which all commercial and noncommercial radio and television stations in the United States will come under special scrutiny by the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC" or "Commission") as the FCC considers whether to renew each station's license to broadcast.

This is a period of regulatory uncertainty and vulnerability for stations, during which the FCC closely reviews their record of compliance with its rules and service to the public during the license term, and third parties have the opportunity to petition the FCC to deny the station's license renewal request. One significant focus of the FCC's and petitioners' attention will be each station's performance under the FCC's rules concerning equal employment opportunity ("EEO").

In light of the ongoing renewal cycle, this Guide is designed to assist stations in charting a course for full compliance going forward, as well as in evaluating their level of past compliance and the risks the station may face when filing its license renewal application.

Article continues -- a full version of this article can be found at The FCC's Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies - A Guide for Broadcasters.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted February 25, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

February 2013

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 Interference and Unlicensed Operations
  • FCC Assesses $25,000 Fine for Unresponsiveness

Licensee Cannot Escape Fine for Intentional Jamming and Unlicensed Operations
In a rather odd chain of events, the FCC recently issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order ("Order") against an individual in Thousand Oaks, California stemming from a 2009 investigation and a 2011 Forfeiture Order. The Order rejected a petition for reconsideration of the earlier Forfeiture Order and affirmed the FCC's decision to fine the individual for unlicensed radio operations, intentional interference with radio operations, and refusal to allow an inspection of radio equipment.

In March 2009, an agent from the FCC's Enforcement Bureau investigated radio interference at a shopping center. The agent located an unlicensed repeater transmitter operating from a secure radio communications facility on Oat Mountain with a beam antenna pointed in the direction of the shopping center. The repeater was transmitting pulsating signals on 461.375 and 466.375 MHz, the land mobile frequencies licensed to the shopping center for its own operations. These transmissions were jamming the shopping center's licensed land mobile operations.

During the investigation, an unidentified individual communicated with shopping center personnel on a different set of frequencies, telling them they had "plenty of warning", that he was jamming their licensed frequencies to force them to cease use of those frequencies, and that they needed to apply to the FCC to cancel their current land mobile license and apply for a new license to operate on different frequencies. He then began transmitting NOAA weather radio on the licensed frequencies to block any use of those frequencies by the shopping center.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"

West Virginia Broadcasters Association Spring Meeting, February 23, Embassy Suites, Charleston, WV

February 23, 2013

For more information, please visit http://www.wvba.com/home.html

Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick of Pillsbury to Speak on "EEO on the Road to Renewal: Seizing Your Last Chance to Avoid EEO Problems at License Renewal Time," February 20, 2013

Scott R. Flick Lauren Lynch Flick

February 20, 2013

Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick will discuss the FCC's EEO requirements for broadcasters at license renewal time in this webinar hosted by the Texas Association of Broadcasters on February 20, 2013 from 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM Eastern Time.

For more information and to register, please click here.

EAS Alerts and the Zombie Apocalypse Make Skynet a Reality

Scott R. Flick

Posted February 14, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

At this stage in the media cycle, few could have missed the news of several Michigan and Montana TV stations airing an EAS alert warning the public of a zombie attack. As I noted earlier this week, while the facts surrounding these alerts are still developing, it appears they were the result of someone outside the U.S. triggering the stations' EAS equipment via that equipment's Internet connection. While the resulting burst of media stories quickly devolved into a flurry of zombie jokes, the movie that came to mind as the story developed was not Night of the Living Dead, but the Terminator films, which feature an interconnected national defense network called Skynet. In the films, Skynet becomes so sophisticated as to turn on its creators, causing a nuclear launch that brings destruction to the human race and, after the movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger to the California Governor's Office.

For many years, the EAS system, as well as its predecessor, the Emergency Broadcast System, operated by having a number of primary broadcast stations connected to governmental agencies through a closed network (typically over telephone lines). When an alert was sent to these primary stations, they would broadcast the alert, which would then be picked up and aired by stations monitoring the signal of the primary station, and in turn, by other stations monitoring those secondary stations. This created a daisy chain in which an announcement over one station quickly spread to stations throughout the alert area.

One of the perceived flaws of the Emergency Broadcast System was the amount of human interaction it required. For example, when a national alert was accidentally triggered in 1971, it caused little disruption, since many station managers intercepted it and did not air it because they heard no corroboration of the emergency over their newswires. While it turned out that those station managers were correct in concluding it was an accidental alert, critics of the Emergency Broadcast System counted this event as a failure of the system, since the delay inherent in station managers deciding whether an alert should be aired (and the risk that they may reach the wrong conclusion) puts more lives in danger.

The shift to EAS from the Emergency Broadcast System was done largely to increase the automation, and therefore the reliability, of the system. That digital squeal you hear accompanying an EAS warning is a digital code instructing other equipment, including the public's radios (if properly equipped), to activate, lessening the chance that emergency alerts go unheard, either because a link in the daisy chain failed to relay the message, or because the public was not listening to radio or watching TV at the time.

The downside to this level of automation soon became apparent. As I wrote in September of 2010, a radio ad for gas stations sought to satirize emergency alert announcements, right down to including the EAS digital tone. Because EAS equipment has a poor sense of humor and is no judge of context, any station airing the ad would trigger EAS alerts on the stations "downstream" from it in the EAS daisy chain. For this reason, Section §11.45 of the FCC's Rules provides that "No person may transmit or cause to transmit the EAS codes or Attention Signal, or a recording or simulation thereof, in any circumstance other than in an actual National, State or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS." Just a few months later, the problem repeated itself when TV ads for the disaster movie Skyline included an EAS tone among the many sound effects in the ad.

The highly automated nature of EAS was demonstrated yet again this week, when a Wisconsin radio station's morning show disc jockeys played a tape of the zombie EAS alert, including the digital tone. The result was--you guessed it--the alert being automatically rebroadcast over at least one local television station whose EAS equipment was activated by the digital EAS tone.

While the automatic nature of EAS creates the risk of false alerts propagating rapidly, at least the false alerts up until now were somewhat self-inflicted wounds, caused by either the system being erroneously activated by a governmental mistake, or by an EAS Participant accidentally airing an activation code contained in third-party content. Because of the closed nature of the system, false activations necessarily required a mistake from a participant in the EAS system, even if that mistake was airing third party content that had not been screened for EAS tones.

This week's episode, however, appears to have been something entirely different. In an effort to expand the types of consumer devices capable of relaying an alert, the backbone of the EAS system was moved not long ago from the closed network model to an Internet-based system. The benefit is that mobile and other devices connected to the Internet will be able to relay alerts to the public automatically, ensuring the broadest possible distribution of the alert. The bad news, however, is that by shifting to an Internet backbone, we have opened the public alert system to the same outside forces that plague every other aspect of the Internet. In this week's case, it appears that someone outside the U.S. spent a number of days trying to use those Internet connections to access station EAS equipment. In at least a few cases, they succeeded, generating the now-infamous zombie alerts.

So the good news is that we are well along in the development of an automated emergency alert system that can spread emergency information to most Americans in a matter of minutes. The bad news is that by putting the system almost entirely under the control of "the machines" (a Terminator term), the moderating effect of human involvement is greatly limited. In addition, by connecting this equipment through the Internet, we have expanded the ubiquity of the system, but at the cost of making every EAS Participant's equipment, whether in Michigan, Montana, or elsewhere, readily accessible to every miscreant in the world with an Internet connection.

Thus, we are perfecting an automated response system that operates most efficiently without human involvement, while creating opportunities for control of that system (or at least portions of it) to fall into the hands of those who do not have our best interests at heart. In other words, Skynet is now a reality. This Skynet does not, thankfully, have the power to initiate nuclear launches, but it certainly does have the capability to launch public panic. A more realistic alert than a zombie attack could cause immense confusion and harm, particularly where the false message is being reinforced by identical EAS alerts on every source of information available, whether it be broadcast, cable, satellite, or smartphone.

I have worked with many of the individuals who created and have dedicated themselves to improving and expanding the current EAS system, and I have no doubt that they are moving quickly to seal off any vulnerabilities discovered in the zombie attacks. Still, I can't help but wonder if EAS is now subject to the same Internet arms race that bedevils online security everywhere, with ever-evolving measures and countermeasures being deployed in an effort to stay one step ahead of those wishing to commandeer the alert system for their own benefit or amusement. If so, the questions becomes: which is worse, false alerts that panic the populace, or a populace that becomes so used to false alerts that they ignore a real one?

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

February 14, 2013

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, 2012.

FCC Urges IMMEDIATE Action to Prevent Further Fake EAS Alerts

Scott R. Flick

Posted February 12, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

With the State of the Union Address occurring tonight, the FCC wasted no time in advising broadcast stations and other EAS Participants to take immediate steps to prevent unauthorized uses of the Emergency Alert System like the fake zombie attack alerts that went out over a few stations in Michigan and Montana yesterday. While federal and state authorities are investigating the source of those hoax alerts, which appear to have come from outside the U.S., the FCC has just released instructions for EAS Participants in hopes of heading off any more false alerts.

The haste with which these instructions have been generated is demonstrated by the fact that they are not even on FCC letterhead, nor formatted for such a release. It is also worth noting that they are not described as "recommendations" or "guidelines", but as actions EAS Participants "must" or "are required" to take. A copy of the FCC release can be found here, but the full text is below:

Urgent Advisory: Immediate actions to be taken regarding CAP EAS device security.

All EAS Participants are required to take immediate action to secure their CAP EAS equipment, including resetting passwords, and ensuring CAP EAS equipment is secured behind properly configured firewalls and other defensive measures. All CAP EAS equipment manufacturer models are included in this advisory.

All Broadcast and Cable EAS Participants are urged to take the following actions immediately

  1. EAS Participants must change all passwords on their CAP EAS equipment from default factory settings, including administrator and user accounts.
  2. EAS Participants are also urged to ensure that their firewalls and other solutions are properly configured and up-to-date.
  3. EAS Participants are further advised to examine their CAP EAS equipment to ensure that no unauthorized alerts or messages have been set (queued) for future transmission.
  4. If you are unable to reset the default passwords on your equipment, you may consider disconnecting your device's Ethernet connection until those settings have been updated.
  5. EAS Participants that have questions about securing their equipment should consult their equipment manufacturer.

I'll have more to say about the zombie apocalypse in the next few days, as I was already writing a post on the subject when the FCC release arrived. However, I wanted to get the FCC's message out to broadcasters, cable operators, and other EAS Participants quickly, so that they can take action to prevent further hoax alerts, as well as be aware of the seriousness with which the FCC is taking these false alerts. Management should make sure that their staff is on alert for unusual EAS activity, particularly during major events coverage.

While the farcical nature of the initial hoax caused more amusement than panic, it is easy to see how a more realistic message could have caused far more damage. Yesterday's events will hopefully be isolated incidents, but we will be seeing a lot more attention focused on the security, as opposed to the reliability, of the EAS system.

Should the Entire TV Band Be Repurposed?

John K. Hane

Posted February 7, 2013

By John Hane

The engineers who worked heroically to push broadcasting across the digital threshold had barely caught up on their sleep before agitation for more change began to erupt. The National Broadband Plan concluded that the amount of over-the-air viewing doesn't justify the number of broadcast stations, and that the FCC could use incentive auctions to re-pack broadcasting into a smaller band of spectrum. Now incentive auctions are the law. This decade we will likely see more broadcast spectrum repurposed for mobile services and another "transition" as hundreds of broadcasters conform their facilities.

So what's the connection between incentive auctions and talk of a new technical standard? The FCC thinks we need more spectrum for mobile services -- in large part because of rising use of video on mobile devices. But the FCC's rules dictate a broadcast television technical standard that means much of the most popular video -- which is already available free-to-air -- can't be received by mobile devices. The FCC is right that spectrum best suited for mobile services should be useful for mobile services. So why stop with the highest frequency TV channels? If we're going to do all the work of another transition, why not open a path for consumers to access the entire TV band with mobile devices? Many of the same forward-looking broadcasters that championed 8-VSB are working with others on a new standard that incorporates next-generation transmission technologies, as an article in TVNewsCheck reported earlier today. ATSC 3.0 would be easily accessible on mobile devices and provide a much better indoor viewing experience as well. And it will be ready to deploy when incentive auction repacking takes place.

But will every broadcaster want to upgrade at the same time? And what about consumers? FCC rules require all broadcasters to use the same digital standard to ensure universality -- so every television can receive every broadcast signal. But not everybody thinks that's the best policy. Back in the 1990s, the FCC itself debated whether it should select one standard, approve several standards, or simply let the market work things out. It adopted the ATSC standard, but it also asked whether the requirement to use that standard should sunset after a critical mass of deployment was reached.

Nobody wants a television Babel. But what does universal access mean when people increasingly consume their video on-the-move and on devices that we don't think of as televisions? In my home near downtown Bethesda, Maryland, pretty close to many of the region's television towers, I can reliably receive only three stations, even with an attic-mounted antenna. I can't receive any broadcasts on any of my computers, tablets, or other mobile devices.

I love broadcast television, but in my case, it's difficult or impossible to use most of the time. Millions of other Americans either don't use over-the-air television directly, or use it less than they otherwise might, for similar reasons.

Continue reading "Should the Entire TV Band Be Repurposed?"

Pre-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio and Television Stations

February 1, 2013

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Texas, and television stations and Class A television stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in Indiana, Kentucky or Tennessee, must on this date begin to air their pre-filing renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on February 16, March 1 and March 16.

Post-filing Renewal Announcements for Radio and Television Stations

February 1, 2013

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 begin on this date to air their post-filing license renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC's regulations. Additional announcements must air on February 16, March 1, March 16, April 1 and April 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 and Television Stations

February 1, 2013

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations, as well as FM Translator 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 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

February 1, 2013

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Kansas, Nebraska or Oklahoma, and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey or New York (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

February 1, 2013

Station employment units that have five or more full-time employees and are comprised of radio and/or television stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, or Oklahoma 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 February 1, 2012 through January 31, 2013. 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 Provides a Little Online Public File Relief for "Some" TV Stations

Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted January 31, 2013

By Lauren Lynch Flick

Late this afternoon, the FCC released a short Report and Order allowing a limited set of television stations to forego uploading a portion of their paper public inspection files to the FCC's online system by the upcoming Monday, February 4 deadline.

As we previously reported, under FCC rules adopted last year, all full power and Class A television stations had to begin using an online public inspection file hosted on the FCC's website beginning August 2, 2012. In order to comply with the new rules, stations have been required to make sure that all public inspection file documents created beginning on August 2, 2012 have been promptly uploaded to the FCC's online database, except for emails and letters from the public and the political files for stations not affiliated with the ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox networks in the top 50 markets. Documents that were already in stations' public inspection files prior to August 2, 2012 must be uploaded to the new online public file by Monday's deadline.

Under the FCC's public file rule, some categories of documents must remain in the public file until final action has been taken on the station's next license renewal application. Most notable among these documents are all of the station's quarterly filings, such as Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, Children's Television Programming Reports on Form 398, Certifications of Compliance with Commercial Limits in Children's Programming, and Certifications of Continuing Class A Eligibility. Where action on a station's license renewal application is delayed, many years' worth of documents can pile up in the station's public inspection file waiting for the license renewal grant.

One station in this situation petitioned the FCC to allow it to continue to retain the Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists covering quarters prior to the start of its current eight year license term at the station's main studio, rather than having to upload the voluminous documents to the online public file. The FCC today granted this request and provided the same relief to all other "similarly situated" stations.

Specifically, a station can forego uploading its "prior term" Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists to the FCC's website if (1) the station's license renewal application was not challenged; (2) action on the station's license renewal application is delayed for an enforcement reason other than one relating to issue-responsive programming and the related recordkeeping requirements; and (3) the station retains the prior term Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists at the station's main studio public file until final action on the station's license renewal application. The station must still upload the Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists for its current license term to the online public file.

The FCC stated that this relief was warranted in part because of the burden of uploading these documents. The FCC also cited its policy that stations with a pending license renewal application must still file their next license renewal application when normally due. The FCC felt that the online availability of a station's Quarterly Issues/ Programs Lists from the prior license term could confuse the public regarding what they should review and comment on with regard to the station's performance during the current license term.

What is odd, however, is that this rationale applies equally to other quarterly filings mentioned above that the FCC is still requiring be uploaded to the online public file. As a result, stations should keep in mind that the Order is very limited in scope, and the amount of materials subject to the uploading exemption is only a portion of the documents relating to the prior license term.

Still, to the extent the FCC has provided at least some relief with regard to uploading Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, stations with a license renewal application from their preceding eight year license term still pending should take the time to determine whether they qualify for this relief.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Annual Minimum Fee Statement of Account Form Due

January 31, 2013

By this date, most commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must submit the Minimum Fee Statement of Account Form and the annual $500 copyright royalty fee to SoundExchange. January 31 is also the date by which certain webcasters and simulcasters are eligible to make elections affecting their royalty rates and reporting requirements for the upcoming year. If your radio broadcast station is simulcast or rebroadcast over the Internet, we encourage you to consult qualified counsel with regard to your obligations.

FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted January 31, 2013

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

January 2013

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 $8,000 Fine for EAS Equipment Installation Problems
  • Notice of Violation Issued against FM Station for a Variety of Reasons

FCC Proposes Fine for Operational, But Not Fully Functional, EAS Equipment

The FCC has often noted the importance of the national Emergency Alert System ("EAS") while taking enforcement action against broadcast stations whose EAS equipment is not functioning or who otherwise fail to transmit required EAS messages. In a slightly atypical case, the FCC this month issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order ("NAL") for $8,000 against the licensee of an FM radio station in Puerto Rico because, even though the station's EAS equipment was fully operational, the manner of installation made it incapable of broadcasting the required EAS tests automatically.

In April 2012, agents from the FCC's Enforcement Bureau inspected the station's main studio and discovered that the EAS equipment was installed in such a way that it was not able to automatically interrupt programming to transmit an EAS message. Section 11.35 of the FCC's Rules requires that all broadcast stations have EAS equipment that is fully operational so that the monitoring and transmitting functions are available when the station is in operation. The Rules further require that broadcast stations be able to receive EAS messages, interrupt on-air programming, and transmit required EAS messages. When a facility is unattended, automatic systems must be in place to perform these functions. During the inspection, the station's director admitted that the EAS equipment was not capable of transmitting an EAS message without someone manually reducing the on-air programming volume. He further admitted that the equipment had been in this condition since at least September 2011, if not earlier.

The station broadcast programming 24 hours a day, but was only staffed from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm. As a result, when the station was unattended, it could not interrupt programming to transmit EAS messages. The base forfeiture for failing to maintain operational EAS equipment is $8,000, which the FCC thought was appropriate in this case. The FCC also directed the licensee to submit a written statement indicating that the EAS equipment is now fully operational at all times, particularly when unattended, and otherwise in full compliance with the FCC's rules.

FM Station Receives Notice of Violation for an Assortment of Violations

At the end of last month, the FCC issued a Notice of Violation ("NOV") against the licensee of an FM radio station in Texas based upon an October 2012 inspection by an agent from the Enforcement Bureau. The agent concluded that the licensee was violating a number of FCC rules.

Section 73.1350 of the FCC's Rules requires that licensees establish monitoring procedures to ensure that the equipment used by a station complies with FCC rules. Upon inspection, the FCC agents found no records indicating that the licensee had established or implemented such monitoring procedures, and the station's chief engineer had difficulty monitoring the equipment's output when asked to do so by the agent. Sections 73.1870 and 73.3526 also require that a chief operator be designated, that designation be posted with the station's license at the main studio, and a copy of the station's current authorization be kept in the station's public inspection file. At the time of the inspection, the NOV indicated there was no written designation of the chief operator and the station's license renewal authorization was not at the station's main studio.

During the inspection, the agent also found that the FM station's EAS equipment was unable to send and receive tests and was not properly installed to transmit the required weekly and monthly tests. The licensee also did not have any EAS logs documenting the tests sent and received and, if tests were not sent or received, the reasons why those tests were not sent or received, all in violation of Section 11.35 of the FCC's Rules.

Finally, pursuant to Section 73.1560 of the FCC's Rules, if a station operates at reduced power for 10 consecutive days, it must notify the FCC of that fact. Operation at reduced power for more than 30 days requires the licensee to obtain a grant of Special Temporary Authority from the FCC for such operation. In this instance, the FM station had been operating at reduced power for 14 consecutive days, and the FCC found no indication that it had been notified by the licensee of the station's reduced power operations.

As a result of the NOV, the licensee must submit a written response, explaining each alleged violation and providing a description and timeline of any corrective actions the licensee will take to bring its operations into compliance with the FCC's rules. The FCC may elect to assess a fine or take other enforcement action against the station in the future if it ultimately determines the facts call for such a response.

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

Scott Flick and Paul Cicelski of PIllsbury to Speak to Illinois and Wisconsin TV Broadcasters on License Renewal, January 30, 2013

January 30, 2013

Scott Flick and Paul Cicelski of Pillsbury Law will review the FCC's Broadcast License Renewal Process during this Webinar presented by the Illinois Broadcasters Association and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association on January 30, 2013.

South Carolina Broadcasters Association Winter Conference, January 24-25, 2013, Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, Columbia, SC

January 24, 2013

For more information, please visit www.scba.net/winter_convention.htm.

Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Winter Conference: January 23, 2013, Concourse Hotel, Madison, WI

January 23, 2013

Recent Decisions Make Too Much Employee Confidentiality a Problem

Scott R. Flick

Posted January 22, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

Being businesses built upon the value of information, and working constantly to create new business models aimed at monetizing that information, the communications industry tends to be very careful about letting any form of information leave the building. That, along with the highly competitive nature of the industry, means many industry players keep a very tight grip on all business-related information. As a result, the communications industry often ranks up there with defense contractors in imposing broad confidentiality restrictions on their employees, either by contract or through general corporate policy.

There are times, however, when the government has determined that public policy considerations outweigh the need of a business for secrecy. The most obvious exceptions come in the form of subpoenas and search warrants. However, there are also more subtle exceptions, one of which is addressed today in a Pillsbury Client Alert from our employment and litigation practices. The Client Alert addresses a number of decisions that have been coming out of the National Labor Relations Board, several of which found that the respective employer's confidentiality policies violated the National Labor Relations Act because the policies could be read to prohibit employees from discussing wages, benefits, or other terms and conditions of employment with anyone else.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, such confidentiality restrictions are illegal, largely because they impede employees from engaging in collective bargaining or other employee protection activities. For those who are about to breath a sigh of relief after thinking to themselves "this doesn't affect me since my business isn't unionized," hold that breath for a moment. As the Client Alert points out, while it is true that the National Labor Relations Act, and the National Labor Relations Board, are known mostly for their union-related jurisdiction, the National Labor Relations Act applies to all private employers that affect interstate commerce, not just union shops.

As the federal government's regulation of much of the communications industry, particularly broadcasting, is based upon the interstate nature of those businesses (even where a station's service area is entirely within a single state), it is safe to say there are few in the communications industry that are not subject to these recent rulings. In fact, while I won't attempt to summarize the Client Alert here, as it is brief and well worth taking the time to read, I will note that one of the decisions discussed involves a player in the communications industry whose confidentiality policy was actually found to be acceptable.

In light of these recent decisions, all businesses should take a look at their confidentiality policies to determine whether they can be read to prohibit, for example, employees from discussing their salaries, raises and bonuses with each other. If the confidentiality policy is written so broadly as to unintentionally prohibit such activities, a rewrite of that policy is in order. In contrast, if the very notion of employees discussing their salaries with each other gives you heartburn, and your confidentiality policy is specifically targeted at preventing such conversations, then you have a more extensive policy rewrite ahead of you, and a lot more heartburn coming.

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

January 14, 2013

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and online simulcasters must file Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms for the month ending November 30, 2012.

Online Public Inspection File Deadline Fast Approaching

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted January 11, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

Despite the many distractions of the new year, it's important not to forget that by February 4, 2013, all full-power and Class A television stations must have completed the process of uploading public file materials to the FCC's online public file system.

As we reported in July and August of last year, the FCC's new rules require television stations to replace the public files they maintain at their studios with electronic files hosted online by the FCC. The new rules mean that each station must inventory their current paper public inspection file to determine which documents need to be uploaded to the FCC's website. In order to comply with the new rules, stations must make sure that everything in their current paper public inspection file is uploaded to the FCC's website except political broadcasting files created prior to August 2, 2012, and emails and letters from the public. While the focus has been on shifting the paper files into an online public file database, stations must remember that they will still be required to keep, at a minimum, the emails and letters from the public in the paper public file at each station's main studio, and therefore take steps to ensure that the public will still be able to access that file during normal business hours. In other words, just because most of the file will be online, the procedures for allowing the public to promptly review public file materials that remain at the main studio must remain in place, including the need to ensure that the public can access the file during lunch hours.

Also, keep in mind that ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates located in the top 50 markets were required to begin placing new political file information online on August 2, 2012. These stations are not required to upload any political file documentation that was placed in the file prior to August 2, but they are required to keep the pre-August 2 materials in their paper public inspection files for two years from the date on which the documents were created. All other TV and Class A stations must continue to maintain their political files at their main studio, unless they voluntarily choose to upload their political files in advance of the July 1, 2014 deadline to do so.

Among the items that stations are required to upload on their own from their paper files to the FCC's online file:

  • Citizens Agreements (if any)
  • Political Files since August 2, 2012 (top 50/top 4 networks for now)
  • Annual EEO Public File Reports
  • Responses to FCC inquiries
  • Records concerning commercial limits for children's programming
  • Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists
  • Public Notices of assignment/transfer applications and renewal of license applications
  • Carriage elections of must-carry/retransmission consent
  • Joint sales agreements or time brokerage agreements
  • Non-commercial station donor lists
  • Class A statements of continuing eligibility
There are also a number of other documents that the FCC has indicated it will upload into stations' online public files. However, it is important that stations diligently check their online public files to ensure they are complete, as the ultimate responsibility for maintaining a complete online public file is the station's, and not the FCC's. Items that should be automatically uploaded by the FCC are:
  • Authorizations
  • Applications and related materials
  • Contour maps
  • Ownership Reports (FCC Form 323)
  • The Public and Broadcasting Manual
  • EEO Forms (Forms 396 and 397)
  • Investigation materials originated by the FCC
  • Children's Programming Reports (FCC Form 398)
Given the sheer size of public inspection files, the uploading process can be very labor intensive, and stations that have not yet commenced that process should immediately turn their attention to it. Stations should also understand that their public inspection files are now open to anyone with an Internet connection, making it for less likely that any omissions will go unnoticed. As recent issues of our monthly FCC Enforcement Monitor indicate, the FCC has not been hesitant to fine even noncommercial stations for public inspection file violations, and we are definitely seeing a trend by the FCC of issuing $15,000 fines rather than the base fine of $10,000. Time to get those page scanners running at top speed.

FCC Form 398 Children's Programming Report Due

January 10, 2013

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 October 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012, and ensure a copy of the form as filed with the FCC is in the station's online public inspection file.

Certification of Children's Commercial Time Limitations Required

January 10, 2013

Commercial full-power and Class A television stations must place in their online 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 October 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012.

Quarterly Issues/Programs List Required

January 10, 2013

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 October 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012.

Yes, the FCC Still Wants Your Social Security Number

Scott R. Flick

Posted January 3, 2013

By Scott R. Flick

Earlier today, the FCC released a Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking relating to its biennial broadcast ownership report filing requirements, reigniting a controversy over privacy, broadcast investment, and indeed, the very purpose of the reports.

In 2009, the FCC revamped its Form 323, the Commercial Broadcast Station Ownership Report, somewhat to address data collection shortcomings identified by the U.S. Government Accounting Office, but mostly to try to make the information more standardized and transparent for academic researchers wishing to generate industry-wide ownership statistics, particularly with regard to minority and female ownership. Unfortunately, the FCC's initial effort to revise the form seemed to have focused on trying to create a form that researchers would applaud, rather than on the "user experience" of those required to fill it out. The result was an awkward effort at forcing complex ownership information into highly redundant machine-readable spreadsheet formats.

Causing particular consternation, however, was a new requirement that every officer, director and shareholder mentioned in those reports have a unique FCC-issued Federal Registration Number (FRN). Because the FCC wants researchers to be able to track the race, ethnicity and gender of each individual connected with a broadcast station, it requires that those registering to obtain an FRN provide either a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), or a Social Security Number (SSN). This, according to the FCC, is necessary to allow it to differentiate between individuals that may have similar names and addresses.

Not surprisingly, this requirement met with fierce opposition from numerous groups, including: (1) those who have heard the admonition of government and others to never reveal your SSN to anyone or risk identity theft; (2) broadcasters, who found less than thrilling the experience of badgering their shareholders to either hand over their SSN or take the time to apply for and deliver the FRN themselves; (iii) broadcast lawyers, trying to get ownership reports on file by the deadline despite never hearing back from a significant percentage of those asked to cooperate to provide individual FRNs; and (iv) the investor community, which is not fond of the idea of having to hand over personal information because an individual chose to buy shares of a broadcast company rather than a movie studio.

After fierce opposition and various failed efforts to get the FCC to eliminate the requirement or at least create an alternate method of obtaining an FRN that didn't require an SSN or TIN, the FCC had a change of heart when required by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to explain itself (you can read Paul Cicelski's discussion of that response here). The FCC defended the new ownership report filing requirements by telling the court that no one would be forced to hand over their SSN or TIN, as it was going to permit broadcasters to apply for a Special Use FRN (SUFRN, one of the most descriptive acronyms you will find) in cases where a party refuses to allow use of its SSN/TIN. In light of this representation, the court declined to intervene, and the FCC proceeded with implementation of the new ownership report form and requirements.

With the availability of SUFRNs and various other changes to the ownership report form and filing system, the FCC was finally able to make the oft-extended filing deadline stick, with commercial broadcasters filing their November 1, 2009 ownership reports by a July 8, 2010 deadline. However, the effort at making the data more accessible for researchers ended up making the form very burdensome for broadcasters required to complete and submit the reports. The biggest issue is structural--requiring the submission of the exact same information over and over in a filing system never lauded for its user-friendliness. During the numerous extensions of the filing deadline, the FCC did incorporate some features like copy and paste to lessen the burden of creating duplicative reports, but no tech feature can overcome the burden created by requiring the filing of the exact same ownership information over and over again for each station in a group rather than just reporting the ownership of that group (once) and the stations that are in it. Because of this, even a relatively small broadcast group can find itself filing well over a hundred ownership report forms.

The irony is that even media researchers--the very group for which this unwieldy reporting system was created--have begun to complain that the sheer volume of filings makes it difficult to sort through the mass of repetitive data. Many communications lawyers seem to agree, finding the "old" ownership reports far more useful in understanding a station's ownership than the current edition.

Still, broadcasters and the FCC seemed to have reached a detente over the reports, with broadcasters quietly grumbling to themselves about the mind-numbing repetitiveness of drafting and filing the reports, but (having seen in the earlier iterations of the "new" report) knowing how much worse it could be. That detente may have ended today when the FCC released the Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which tentatively concludes that the need to uniquely identify each person connected with a broadcast station is so strong that it must end the availability of SUFRNs and require that all reported individuals get an FRN based upon their SSN or TIN.

While the FCC's conclusions are "tentative", and it requests comment on these and many other questions relating to the ownership report, you can feel the collective chill go down broadcasters' spines as the FCC proceeds to suggest that it could fine individuals who fail to provides an SSN/TIN-based FRN, and queries whether broadcasters should be required to warn their shareholders of that. Telling shareholders or potential shareholders that they face fines for electing to invest their money in broadcasting is not exactly the best way to attract investment to broadcasting, including investment by the minority and female investors the FCC so clearly wants.

But it is that last issue that raises the most curious point of all: to get minority and female ownership information, the FCC seeks to implement an awkward, intrusive, burdensome, privacy-insensitive ownership reporting regime premised on the need for both massive ownership filings and the tracking of individuals by their SSN to determine minority and female ownership trends in the industry. Wouldn't it be far simpler, less intrusive, and less burdensome to just ask broadcasters to provide in their ownership reports (or elsewhere) aggregate data on their minority and female officers, directors, and shareholders? Researchers could then just utilize that data to create industry totals rather than having to wade through mountains of unrelated ownership data to derive it themselves.

Instead of this simplified approach, the FCC seems intent upon using the clumsy mechanism of ownership reports to assess minority and female representation in the industry, stating in the Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that "Unlike many of our filing obligations, the fundamental objective of the biennial Form 323 filing requirement is to track trends in media ownership by individuals with particular racial, ethnic, and gender characteristics." For those of us who have been in the industry for quite some time, that claim is surprising, as the very first sentence of Section 73.3615, the FCC rule that governs the filing of ownership reports, states: "The Ownership Report for Commercial Broadcast Stations (FCC Form 323) must be electronically filed every two years by each licensee of a commercial AM, FM, or TV broadcast station (a "Licensee"); and each entity that holds an interest in the licensee that is attributable for purposes of determining compliance with the Commission's multiple ownership rules."

In attempting to convert a reporting obligation designed to ensure multiple ownership rule compliance into an academic research tool on minority and female broadcast ownership, the FCC undermines both goals. Broadcasters have routinely provided the minority and female ownership data the FCC seeks without fuss, and can hardly be faulted for wishing to do so in a straightforward manner that: (a) doesn't require unnecessarily complex and redundant filings; and (b) doesn't require them to badger their shareholders for private information while threatening their shareholders with federal fines for failing to comply. Rather than "doubling down" on a flawed approach, perhaps it is time for the FCC to step back and reassess the most efficient way of obtaining the desired information--more efficient for broadcasters, more efficient for the FCC, and more efficient for media researchers.