October 2013 Archives

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licensee, and therefore rejected the licensee's argument that the station's failure to reply to FCC letters sent to an outdated address was unintentional.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:

SUSPENSION OF FILING DEADLINES

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.