August 2013 Archives

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.