Articles Posted in Low Power FM & Translators

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It was once a tradition that the FCC would release a pro-broadcaster rulemaking decision on the eve of the NAB Show to ensure a warm reception when the commissioners and staff arrived to speak at the Show. I say it “once” was a tradition because pro-broadcaster rulemakings are none too common these days, a point alluded to by Chairman Wheeler at the Show when he said “Now, I’ve heard and read how some believe the Federal Communications Commission has been ignoring broadcasting in favor of shiny new baubles such as the Internet.”

Still, it was in the spirit of that tradition that the Chairman posted a blog titled “Let’s Move on Updating the AM Radio Rules” two days before his NAB speech. In it, he stated his intent to call for a vote in the AM Revitalization proceeding, which then-acting-Chairman Clyburn launched at a different NAB convention in September of 2013.

The post was unavoidably sparse on details given its short length, but one detail leapt out at radio broadcasters. While signaling movement on smaller issues (“the proposed Order would give stations more flexibility in choosing site locations, complying with local zoning requirements, obtaining power increases, and incorporating energy-efficient technologies”), the post rejected what the industry sees as the real answer to revitalizing AM radio—opening a filing window for applicants seeking to build translators to rebroadcast AM radio stations on the FM band (a “translator” in the truest sense of the word).

Many see this as the most practical and consequential option since it would allow AM daytimer stations to serve their audiences around the clock, while overcoming many of AM radio’s worst obstacles—interference from appliances and electronics, as well as other AM stations, and AM’s limited sound quality. Most importantly, unlike a number of other potential solutions, FM translators avoid the need for everyone to buy a new radio in order to make the solution viable.

In his blog post, the Chairman gave two reasons for this surprising development. First, he questioned “whether there is an insufficient number of FM translator licenses available for AM licensees.” Second, he raised qualms about opening a window for only AM licensees, stating that “the government shouldn’t favor one class of licensees with an exclusive spectrum opportunity unavailable to others just because the company owns a license in the AM band.”

The first reason is, quite simply, factually unsupported by the proceeding record. In comments and reply comments filed just a year ago, the call for an FM translator filing window was deafening. It’s hard to believe the need for such translators has dramatically plummeted in just a year, or that the call for a window would have been so loud were there truckloads of FM translators already out there (in the right location) just waiting to be purchased. For anyone thinking that AM stations just want a “free” translator rather than buying one, applying for and building a translator is anything but free. In addition, the likelihood of mutually exclusive translator applications raises the specter of licenses being awarded by auction, ensuring that acquiring one from the FCC would hardly be “free”.

Of course, the oversupply argument is logically flawed as well. If a window is unnecessary, no one will show up with an application, and the only energy expended will be that of drafting a public notice announcing the window. In reality, however, few think that would be the result, as the FCC’s last general filing window for FM translators was back in 2003, long before AM stations were even permitted to rebroadcast on an FM translator. In other words, far from receiving preferential treatment, AM licensees have never even had an opportunity to apply for an FM translator to retransmit their stations.

All of which makes the second reason given in the Chairman’s post—avoiding an AM licensee-only filing window—even more curious. Under the current FM translator rule, Section 74.1232, applying for an FM translator license is not limited to broadcast licensees. The rule provides that “a license for an FM broadcast translator station may be issued to any qualified individual, organized group of individuals, broadcast station licensee, or local civil governmental body….”  A common example of this is a community with limited radio service that applies for and builds an FM translator to rebroadcast a distant station that is otherwise difficult to receive locally, providing that community a reliable information lifeline. Indeed, the FCC is finding out on the television side that many of the TV translators that might be repacked out of existence are owned by local communities rather than licensees.

So the FCC would not even need to revise its eligibility rules in order to open an “FM for AM” translator window for all comers. Under the existing rule, anyone is free to apply as long as they have “a valid rebroadcast consent agreement with such a permittee or licensee to rebroadcast that station as the translator’s primary station.” In terms of being limited to serving as a translator for an AM station, that is the nature of an FCC filing window, as the FCC always specifies the type of application it will accept in any filing window announcement, and has never opened a “file for whatever service you want” window.

Thus, the record amply supports the need for an “FM for AM” translator window, and the current rules preclude any concern that a window would offer preferential treatment, as anyone who wants one can apply for one.

So what is the FCC waiting for?

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March 2015

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:

  • Deceptive Practices Yield Multi-Million Dollar Fines for Telephone Interexchange Carriers
  • LPFM Ads Cost $16,000
  • Multiple TV Station Licensees Face $6,000 Fines for Failing to File Children’s TV Programming Reports

Interexchange Carriers’ “Slamming” and “Cramming” Violations Yield Over $16 Million in Fines

Earlier this month, the FCC imposed a $7.62 million fine against one interexchange carrier and proposed a $9 million fine against another for changing the carriers of consumers without their authorization, commonly known as “slamming,” and placing unauthorized charges for service on consumers’ telephone bills, a practice known as “cramming.” Both companies also fabricated audio recordings and submitted the recordings to the FCC, consumers, and state regulatory officials as “proof” that consumers had authorized the companies to switch their long distance carrier and charge them for service when in fact the consumers had never spoken to the companies or agreed to the service.

Section 258 of the Communications Act and Section 64.1120 of the FCC’s Rules make it unlawful for any telecommunications service carrier to submit or execute a change in a subscriber’s selection of telephone exchange service or telecommunications service provider except with prior authorization from the consumer and in accordance with the FCC’s verification procedures. Additionally, Section 201(b) of the Communications Act requires that “all charges, practices, classifications, and regulations for and in connection with [interstate or foreign] communications service [by wire or radio], shall be just and reasonable.” The FCC has found that any assessment of unauthorized charges on a telephone bill for a telecommunications service is an “unjust and unreasonable” practice under Section 201(b), regardless of whether the “crammed” charge is placed on consumers’ local telephone bills by a third party or by the customer’s carrier.

Further, the submission of false and misleading evidence to the FCC violates Section 1.17 of the FCC’s Rules, which states that no person shall “provide material factual information that is incorrect or omit material information . . . without a reasonable basis for believing that any such material factual statement is correct and not misleading.” The FCC has also held that a company’s fabrication of audio recordings associated with its “customers” to make it appear as if the consumers had authorized the company to be their preferred carrier, and thus charge it for service, is a deceptive and fraudulent practice that violates Section 201(b)’s “just and reasonable” mandate.

In the cases at issue, the companies failed to obtain authorization from consumers to switch their carriers and subsequently placed unauthorized charges on consumers’ bills. The FCC found that instead of obtaining the appropriate authorization or even attempting to follow the required verification procedures, the companies created false audio recordings to mislead consumers and regulatory officials into believing that they had received the appropriate authorizations. One consumer who called to investigate suspect charges on her bill was told that her husband authorized them–but her husband had been dead for seven years. Another person was told that her father–who lives on another continent–requested the change in service provider. Other consumers’ “verifications” were given in Spanish even though they did not speak Spanish on the phone and therefore would not have completed any such verification in Spanish. With respect to one of the companies, the FCC remarked that “there was no evidence in the record to show that [the company] had completed a single authentic verification recording for any of the complainants.”

The FCC’s forfeiture guidelines permit the FCC to impose a base fine of $40,000 for “slamming” violations and FCC case law has established a base fine of $40,000 for “cramming” violations as well. Finding that each unlawful request to change service providers and each unauthorized charge constituted a separate and distinct violation, the FCC calculated a base fine of $3.24 million for one company and $4 million for the other. Taking into account the repeated and egregious nature of the violations, the FCC found that significant upward adjustments were warranted–resulting in a $7.62 million fine for the first company and a proposed $9 million fine for the second.

Investigation Into Commercials Aired on LPFM Station Ends With $16,000 Civil Penalty

Late last month, the FCC entered into a consent decree with the licensee of a West Virginia low power FM radio station to terminate an investigation into whether the licensee violated the FCC’s underwriting laws by broadcasting announcements promoting the products, services, or businesses of its financial contributors.

LPFM stations, as noncommercial broadcasters, are allowed to broadcast announcements that identify and thank their sponsors, but Section 399b(b)(2) of the Communications Act and Sections 73.801 and 73.503(d) of the FCC’s Rules prohibit such stations from broadcasting advertisements. The FCC has explained that the rules are intended to protect the public’s use and enjoyment of commercial-free broadcasts in spectrum that is reserved for noncommercial broadcasters that benefit from reduced regulatory fees.

The FCC had received multiple complaints alleging that from August 2010 to October 2010, the licensee’s station broadcast advertisements in violation of the FCC’s noncommercial underwriting rules. Accordingly, the FCC sent a letter of inquiry to the licensee. In its response, the licensee admitted that the broadcasts violated the FCC’s underwriting rules. The licensee subsequently agreed to pay a civil penalty of $16,000, an amount the FCC indicated reflected the licensee’s successful showing of financial hardship. In addition, the licensee agreed to implement a three-year compliance plan, including annual reporting requirements, to ensure no future violations of the FCC’s underwriting rules by the station will occur.

Failure to “Think of the Children” Leads to $6,000 Fines

Three TV licensees are facing $6,000 fines for failing to timely file with the FCC their Form 398 Children’s Television Programming Reports. Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s Rules requires each commercial broadcast licensee to maintain a public inspection file containing specific information related to station operations. Subsection 73.3526(e)(11)(iii) requires a commercial licensee to prepare and place in its public inspection file a Children’s Television Programming Report on FCC Form 398 for each calendar quarter. The report sets forth the efforts the station made during that quarter and has planned for the next quarter to serve the educational and informational needs of children. Licensees are required to file the reports with the FCC and place them in their public files by the tenth day of the month following the quarter, and to publicize the existence and location of those reports.

This month, the FCC took enforcement action against two TV licensees in California and one TV licensee in Ohio for Form 398 filing violations. The first California licensee failed to timely file its reports for two quarters, the second California licensee failed to file its reports for five quarters, and the Ohio licensee failed to file its reports for eight quarters. Each licensee also failed to report these violations in its license renewal application, as required under Section 73.3514(a) of the Rules. Additionally, the Ohio licensee failed to timely file its license renewal application (in violation of Section 73.3539(a) of the Rules), engaged in unauthorized operation of its station after its authorization expired (in violation of Section 301 of the Communications Act), and failed to timely file its biennial ownership reports (in violation of Section 73.3615(a) of the Rules).

Despite the variation in the scope of the violations, each licensee now faces an identical $6,000 fine. The FCC originally contemplated a $16,000 fine against the Ohio licensee, as its guidelines specify a base forfeiture of $10,000 for unauthorized operation alone. However, after assessing the licensee’s gross revenue over the past three years, the FCC determined that a reduction of $10,000 was appropriate, resulting in the third $6,000 fine.

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

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March 2015
The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ public inspection files by April 10, 2015, reflecting information for the months of January, February and March 2015.

Content of the Quarterly List

The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station. The FCC gives each station the discretion to determine which issues facing the community served by the station are the most significant and how best to respond to them in the station’s overall programming.

To demonstrate a station’s compliance with this public interest obligation, the FCC requires the station to maintain and place in the public inspection file a Quarterly List reflecting the “station’s most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period.” By its use of the term “most significant,” the FCC has noted that stations are not required to list all responsive programming, but only that programming which provided the most significant treatment of the issues identified.
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With the heat of Summer now upon us, the FCC is gearing up for its annual regulatory fee filing window, which usually occurs in mid-September. Like other federal agencies, the FCC must raise funds to pay for its operations (“to recover the costs of… enforcement activities, policy and rulemaking activities, user information services, and international activities.”). For Fiscal Year 2014, Congress has, for the third year in a row, mandated that the FCC collect $339,844,000.00 from its regulatees.

Accordingly, the FCC is now tasked with determining how to meet the Congressional mandate. At its most basic level, the FCC employs a formula that breaks down the cost of its employees by “core” bureaus, taking into consideration which employees are considered “direct” (working for one of the four core bureaus), or “indirect” (working for other divisions, including but not limited to, the Enforcement Bureau and the Chairman’s and Commissioners’ offices). The FCC factors in the number of regulatees serviced by each division, and then determines how much each regulatee is obligated to pay so that the FCC can collect the $339M total.

In its quest to meet the annual congressional mandate, the FCC evaluates and, for various reasons, tweaks the definitions or qualifications of its regulatee categories to, most often, increase certain regulatory fee obligations. FY 2014 is just such an occasion. In FY 2013, the FCC, which historically has imposed drastically different fees for VHF and UHF television licensees, decided that, effective this year, FY 2014, VHF and UHF stations would be required to pay the same regulatory fees. In addition, a new class of contributing regulatees, providers of Internet Protocol TV (“IPTV”), was established and is now subject to the same regulatory fees levied upon cable television providers. Prior to FY 2014, IPTV providers were not subject to regulatory fees.

The FCC’s proposals for FY 2014 regulatory fees can be found in its Order and Second NPRM (“Order”). In that Order, the FCC proposes the following FY 2014 commercial VHF/UHF digital TV regulatory fees:

  • Markets 1-10 – $44,875
  • Markets 11-25 – $42,300
  • Markets 26-50 – $27,100
  • Markets 51-100 – $15,675
  • Remaining Markets – $4,775
  • Construction Permits – $4,775

Other proposed TV regulatory fees include:

  • Satellite Television Stations (All Markets) – $1,550
  • Construction Permits for Satellite Television Stations – $1,325
  • Low Power TV, Class A TV, TV Translators & Boosters – $410
  • Broadcast Auxiliaries – $10
  • Earth Stations – $245

The proposed radio fees depend on both the class of station and size of population served. For AM Class A stations:

  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 – $775
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 – $1,550
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 – $2,325
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 – $3,475
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 – $5,025
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 – $7,750
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 – $9,300

For AM Class B stations:

  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 – $645
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 – $1,300
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 – $1,625
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 – $2,750
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 – $4,225
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 – $6,500
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 – $7,800

For AM Class C stations:

  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 – $590
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 – $900
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 – $1,200
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 – $1,800
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 – $3,000
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 – $4,500
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 – $5,700

For AM Class D stations:

  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 – $670
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 – $1,000
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 – $1,675
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 – $2,025
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 – $3,375
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 – $5,400
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 – $6,750

For FM Classes A, B1 &C3 stations:

  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 – $750
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 – $1,500
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 – $2,050
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 – $3,175
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 – $5,050
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 – $8,250
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 – $10,500

For FM Classes B, C, C0, C1 & C2 stations:

  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 – $925
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 – $1,625
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 – $3,000
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 – $3,925
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 – $5,775
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 – $9,250
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 – $12,025

In addition to seeking comment on the proposed fee amounts, the Order seeks comment on proposed changes to the FCC’s basic fee formula (i.e., changes in how it determines the allocation of direct and indirect employees and thus establishes its categorical fees), and on the creation of new, and the combination of existing, fee categories. The Order also seeks comment on previously proposed core bureau allocations, the FCC’s intention to levy regulatory fees on AM Expanded Band Radio Station licensees (which have historically been exempt from regulatory fees), and whether the FCC should implement a cap on 2014 fee increases for each category of regulatee at, for example, 7.5% or 10% above last year’s fees. Comments are due by July 7, 2014 and Reply Comments are due by July 14, 2014.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Yesterday, the FCC adopted a Fifth Order on Reconsideration and a Sixth Report and Order (Sixth R&O) designed to facilitate the processing of approximately 6,000 long-pending FM translator applications and to establish new rules for low power FM (LPFM) stations. The result is that the FCC anticipates opening a filing window for applications for new LPFM stations in October 2013.

A number of parties had filed petitions for reconsideration (in response to the FCC’s March 19, 2012 Fourth Report and Order in this proceeding) challenging the FCC’s new limit on the number of translator applications that could be pursued both on a per-market basis and under a national cap. In response to those challenges, the FCC’s just released Fifth Order on Reconsideration: (1) establishes a national limit of 70 applications so long as no more than 50 of those applications specify communities located inside any of the markets listed in Appendix A to that Order; (2) increases the per-market cap from one application to up to three applications per market in 156 larger markets, subject to certain conditions; and (3) clarifies the application of the per-market cap in “embedded” markets.

In the Sixth R&O, the FCC laid the groundwork for introducing LPFM stations to major urban markets. As mandated by the Local Community Radio Act, the Sixth R&O also establishes a second-adjacent channel spacing waiver standard and an interference-remediation scheme to ensure that LPFM stations operating with these waivers will not cause interference to other stations. In addition, the Sixth R&O creates separate third-adjacent channel interference remediation procedures for short-spaced and fully-spaced LPFM stations, and addresses the potential for predicted interference to FM translator input signals from LPFM stations operating on third-adjacent channels.

The Sixth R&O also revises the following LPFM rules to better promote the localism and diversity goals of the LPFM service:

  • modifies the point system used to select among mutually exclusive LPFM applicants by adding new criteria to promote the establishment and staffing of a main studio, radio service proposals by Tribal Nations to serve Tribal lands, and the entry of new parties into radio broadcasting. A “bonus” point also has been added to the selection criteria for applicants eligible for both the local program origination and main studio credits;
  • clarifies that the localism requirement applies not only to LPFM applicants, but to LPFM permittees and licensees as well;
  • permits cross-ownership of an LPFM station and up to two FM translator stations, but imposes restrictions on such cross-ownership to ensure that the LPFM service retains its local focus;
  • provides for the licensing of LPFM stations to Tribal Nations, and permits Tribal Nations to own or hold attributable interests in up to two LPFM stations;
  • revises the existing exception to the cross-ownership rule for student-run stations;
  • adopts mandatory time-sharing procedures for LPFM stations that operate less than 12 hours per day;
  • modifies the involuntary time-sharing procedures, shifting from sequential to concurrent license terms and limiting involuntary time-sharing arrangements to three applicants;
  • eliminates the LP10 class of LPFM facilities; and
  • eliminates the intermediate frequency protection requirements applicable to LPFM stations.

If some of the above changes seem a bit cryptic, it is because the FCC has issued only a News Release briefly summarizing the changes. Once the FCC releases the full text of the orders, we will have a much more detailed understanding of the modifications. The full texts will hopefully become available in the next few days. In the meantime, radio broadcasters, particularly those with large numbers of FM translator applications pending, will be doing their best to assess how these FCC actions will affect their current and proposed broadcast operations.

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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 2012 (FY 2012). The FCC collects Annual Regulatory Fees to offset the cost of its non-application processing functions, such as conducting rulemaking proceedings.

In May of this year, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) regarding its FY 2012 payment process and the proposed fee amounts for each type of FCC license. In large part, the FCC adopted its proposals without material changes. With respect to the non-fee related proposals, the FCC imposed a new requirement that refund, waiver, fee reduction and/or payment deferment requests must be submitted online rather than via hardcopy. The FCC also adopted its proposal to use 2010 U.S. Census data in calculating regulatory fees. With respect to fees, Commercial UHF Television Station fees increased across the board, except for the fee associated with stations in Markets 11-25. In contrast, Commercial VHF Television Station fees decreased across the board, except for those stations in Markets 11-25. The fees for most categories of radio stations increased modestly. A chart reflecting the fees for the various types of licenses affecting broadcast stations is provided here.

The FCC will release a Public Notice announcing the window for payment of the regulatory fees. As has been the case for the past few years, the FCC no longer mails a hardcopy 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.

Finally, as Paul Cicelski of our office noted earlier this year, the FCC is re-examining its regulatory fee program and has initiated the first of two separate NPRM proceedings seeking comment on issues related to how the FCC should allocate its regulatory costs among different segments of the communications industry. The FCC expects to release the second NPRM “in the near future” and implement any changes from those rulemakings in time for FY 2013.