Telecommunications Category

Glenn Richards of Pillsbury to Speak on Voice Interconnection: Yesterday's Framework, Tomorrow's Service, May 9, 2014

Glenn S. Richards

Posted May 9, 2014

Glenn S. Richards of Pillsbury will be speaking on a panel discussing how the nation's current regulatory structure operates and evaluate the best approach to voice interconnection going forward at this event hosted US Telecom on May 9, 8:30-10:30 a.m. EDT at the US Telecom Executive Conference Center.

For additional details, please click here.


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.


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 "


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.


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.


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"


FCC Provides Clarity for Businesses Responding to Texting Opt-Outs

Lauren Lynch Flick Andrew D. Bluth

Posted December 3, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Andrew D. Bluth

Resolving a conundrum faced by every business that has entered the world of consumer texting, the FCC has ruled that businesses are not violating the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA") by sending a confirmation text to consumers who have just opted out of receiving further texts. However, the FCC did impose limitations on the content of such confirmation texts to ensure compliance with the TCPA. The threshold requirement is that the purpose of the reply text be solely to confirm to the consumer that the opt-out request has been received and will be acted on. The FCC then enumerated several additional requirements that businesses must observe when sending confirmation texts to avoid violating the TCPA. For those affected, which is pretty much every business that uses texts to communicate with the public, we have released a Client Alert on the subject.

To many, sending a confirmation text to a consumer who has previously opted in to receiving a company's text messages would appear to be nothing more than good customer service and an extension of the common practice of sending a confirmatory email message when a consumer has chosen to unsubscribe from an email list. Indeed, many wireless carriers and mobile marketing and retail trade associations have adopted codes of conduct for mobile marketers that include sending confirmation texts to consumers opting out of future text messages.

However, the TCPA, among other things, makes it illegal to make a non-emergency "call" to a mobile telephone using an automatic telephone dialing system or recorded voice without the prior express consent of the recipient. The FCC's rules and a decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit define a "call" as including text messages. As a result, many businesses have had class action lawsuits filed against them by consumers arguing that, once they send a text message opting out of receiving future texts, their prior consent has been revoked, and the business violates the TCPA by sending ANY further texts, even in reply to the consumer's opt-out text.

Seeking to avoid facing such lawsuits and the potential for conflicting decisions from different courts, businesses sought the FCC's intervention. After reviewing the issue, the FCC rejected the fundamental argument raised by the class action suits, noting that the FCC has never received a single complaint from a consumer about receiving a confirmatory text message. The FCC did note, however, that it had received complaints from consumers about not receiving a confirmation of their opt-out request. The Commission therefore held that when consumers consent to receiving text messages from a business, that consent includes their consent to receiving a text message confirming any later decision to opt out of receiving further text messages.

To avoid creating a loophole in the TCPA that might be exploited by a business, the FCC proceeded to set limits on confirmation texts designed to ensure that they are not really marketing messages disguised as confirmation texts. First and foremost, the implied permission to send a confirmation text message only applies where the consumer has consented to receiving the company's text messages in the first place. Next, the confirmation text message must be sent within five minutes of receiving the consumer's opt-out request, or the company will have to prove that a longer period of time to respond was reasonable in the circumstances. Finally, the text of the message must be truly confirmatory of the opt-out and not contain additional marketing or an effort to dissuade the consumer from opting out of future texts. You can read more about the FCC's decision and these specific requirements in the firm's Client Alert.

By providing clarity on the relationship between confirmation texts and the TCPA, the FCC's ruling provides marketers and other businesses with some welcome protection from class action TCPA suits. In an accompanying statement, Commissioner Ajit Pai stated that "Hopefully, by making clear that the Act does not prohibit confirmation texts, we will end the litigation that has punished some companies for doing the right thing, as well as the threat of litigation that has deterred others from adopting a sound marketing practice." Businesses just need to make sure they comply with the FCC's stated requirements for confirmation texts to avail themselves of these protections.


Does Your Mobile App Provide Reasonable Access to Your Privacy Policy?

Lauren Lynch Flick Amy L. Pierce

Posted November 19, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Amy L. Pierce

The privacy practices of mobile applications ("Apps") have been under scrutiny from a wide variety of domestic and foreign regulatory authorities of late. Most recently, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris issued a press release regarding a new enforcement effort aimed at bringing mobile Apps into compliance with California's Online Privacy Protection Act ("CalOPPA" or "Act").

CalOPPA applies to any online service that collects personally identifiable information through the Internet about a Califorina resident who uses or visits the online service. In other words -- the Act appears to apply to the entire world wide web. And now that includes any mobile App that uses the Internet to collect personally identifiable information.

On October 30, 2012, the California Attorney General sent a series of letters to mobile App operators reminding them that CalOPPA requires that they conspicuously post a privacy policy that complies with specified requirements. She stressed that the privacy policy must be "reasonably accessible ... for consumers of the online service."

The Attorney General did not dictate how Apps could comply with the posting requirement. However, she did state that having a website with the applicable privacy policy conspicuously posted may be adequate, but only if a link to that website is "reasonably accessible" to the user within the App. She also warned that, under California's unfair competition law, violations of CalOPPA may result in penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation. In the context of a mobile App, each copy of the unlawful App downloaded by California consumers would constitute a separate violation.

The California Attorney General's action is another step towards requiring mobile Apps to provide consumers with the same sorts of privacy protections as they have come to expect when surfing the Web at home or work. What industry and regulators continue to struggle with is doing so in the unique environment of mobile devices.

Click here for a copy of California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris' press release and a sample non-compliance letter.


FCC Takes First Steps Towards Telecom Foreign Ownership Reform

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted September 20, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

The FCC recently released an Order giving companies greater flexibility in how they can structure foreign investment in common carrier licensees, such as wireless companies that provide phone service. This action, taken in a proceeding initiated last year, is a first step towards simplifying and streamlining the FCC's cumbersome foreign ownership review and approval process, with the goal of facilitating increased foreign investment in telecommunications companies.

The FCC's foreign ownership policy is governed by Section 310 of the Communications Act. Section (b)(3) of the statute requires the FCC to prohibit certain foreign entities from being FCC licenses themselves and from directly holding ownership interests that exceed specified levels in certain types of FCC licensees, such as common carrier licensees. The FCC's International Bureau previously interpreted this provision to strictly prohibit foreign entities from having more than a 20% non-controlling interest (direct or indirect) in an FCC common carrier licensee.

The Order replaces this absolute prohibition with a discretionary policy already in use under a different section of the statute, Section 310(b)(4). That section restricts foreign entities from having more than a 25% controlling interest (direct or indirect) in any parent company of an FCC common carrier licensee (among other entities), unless the FCC specifically approves a greater foreign ownership interest.

The FCC makes the determination of whether it should allow greater foreign investment under Section 310(b)(4) and now under Section 310(b)(3), by examining whether the foreign investment is from a World Trade Organization (WTO) Member country, using a "principal place of business" test. If under the principal place of business test the investment is from a WTO Member country, the proposed foreign investment is presumed to be competitive and in the public interest. Where the investment is from a non-WTO Member country, the FCC applies what is known as an "effective competitive opportunities" or "ECO" test. The purpose of the ECO test is to determine whether competitive opportunities exist for American companies in those non-WTO Member countries and whether the foreign investment in the U.S. will serve the public interest.

The FCC's foreign ownership review and approval process under Section 310(b)(4) has historically proven to be complex and time-consuming, both for licensees and the FCC. Licensees are required to engage in costly and extensive efforts in order to compile detailed information regarding citizenship and principal places of business of investors. There is no exception for individuals and entities that hold even de minimis interests through multiple intervening investment vehicles and holding companies. Moreover, licensees often have to conduct this exercise repeatedly given the fluid nature of investments. For its part, the FCC must expend considerable resources of its own processing (and often reprocessing) the voluminous and detailed information submitted by licensees.

The FCC's decision liberalizes only its ownership policies under Section 310(b)(3). It leaves for another day the extensive reforms proposed by the FCC in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding foreign ownership under Section 310(b)(4).

The FCC's Order has been published in the Federal Register and is now in effect. Parties interested in learning more about the FCC's Order or the foreign ownership reform proceeding should contact Pillsbury for advice.


FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick

Posted August 30, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Lauren A. Birzon

July 2012
Pillsbury's communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month's issue is a special issue regarding recent FCC actions that provide a detailed (and expensive) look at Section 73.1206, the prohibition on recording telephone calls for broadcast.

FCC Issues a Total of $41,000 in Fines for Broadcaster Airing Prank Telephone Calls

The close of August in Washington, D.C. has brought with it a surge of beautiful weather, baseball excitement (for the first time in recent memory), and ... forfeiture orders related to the improper recording of telephone calls for broadcast. On August 22nd, the FCC issued two forfeiture orders assessing a combined $41,000 in fines against licensees owned by the same parent company for violations of the telephone broadcast rule.

The telephone broadcast rule, Section 73.1206 of the Commission's Rules, requires that, "[b]efore recording a telephone conversation for broadcast, or broadcasting such a conversation simultaneously with its occurrence, a licensee shall inform any party to the call of the licensee's intention to broadcast the conversation, except where such party is aware, or may be presumed to be aware from the circumstances of the conversation, that it is being or likely will be broadcast." While the rule language only talks about providing notice to the calling party, the FCC has reiterated many times that when a station employee intends to record a call for broadcast or broadcasts the call live, the employee must also obtain the party's consent before recording the call or going live.

Both orders released on August 22nd involved a finding that the licensee had violated this rule. The first order involved prank calls made in April 2006 by radio personalities to members of the public during a comedy segment of the station's morning show. In one conversation, the caller pretended to be an intruder hiding under the bed of the person receiving the call; in another, the caller pretended to be a loan shark bent upon collecting a debt.

The FCC began investigating the prank calls after receiving a complaint from a station listener. During the investigation, the licensee indicated it was unable to confirm or deny whether the prank calls aired on its morning show, and could not provide a recording or transcript of the program. The licensee acknowledged, however, that the program identified in the complaint was aired on the station and was simulcast on two co-owned stations.

The second forfeiture order released on the 22nd also involved the broadcast of an alleged prank call in which the caller pretended to be a hospital employee who then informed the call recipient that the recipient's husband had been in a motorcycle accident and died at the hospital. When questioned about the incident, the licensee told the FCC that its parent company had contracted with an outside vendor who made and recorded the call. The licensee admitted that it broadcast the call on multiple occasions.

In the first case, the FCC had proposed a $25,000 fine. In the second case, the FCC had proposed a $16,000 fine. In both cases, the licensee urged cancellation of the proposed fines, to no avail. In batting down a myriad of arguments raised by the licensees, the FCC affirmed not only its broad investigative powers to enforce Section 73.1206, but also the licensees' responsibility to both adhere to and demonstrate their adherence to the Commission's Rules.

These two decisions provide an excellent primer for broadcasters on the FCC's enforcement of the telephone broadcast rule, as between them, the FCC addressed a multitude of defenses raised by the licensees, ultimately concluding that none of those defenses could prevent the imposition of very substantial fines. More specifically, the FCC shot down each of the following licensee arguments:

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"


FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted February 29, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Christine A. Reilly

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:

  • Inadequate Sponsorship ID Ends with $44,000 Fine
  • Unattended Main Studio Fine Warrants Upward Adjustment
  • $16,000 Consent Decree Seems Like a Deal

Licensee Fined $44,000 for Failure to Properly Disclose Sponsorship ID
For years, the FCC has been tough on licensees that are paid to air content but do not acknowledge such sponsorship, and an Illinois licensee was painfully reminded that failing to identify sponsors of broadcast content has a high cost. In a recent Notice of Apparent Liability ("NAL"), the FCC fined the licensee $44,000 for violating its rule requiring licensees to provide sponsorship information when they broadcast content in return for money or other "valuable consideration."

Section 317 of the Communications Act and Section 73.1212 of the FCC's Rules require all broadcast stations to disclose at the time the content is aired whether any broadcast content is made in exchange for valuable consideration or the promise of valuable consideration. Specifically, the disclosure must include (1) an announcement that part or all of the content has been sponsored or paid for, and (2) information regarding the person or organization that sponsored or paid for the content.

In 2009, the FCC received a complaint alleging a program was aired without adequate disclosures. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the program did not disclose that it was an advertisement rather than a news story. Two years after the complaint, the FCC issued a Letter of Inquiry ("LOI") to the licensee. In its response to the LOI, the licensee maintained that its programming satisfied the FCC's requirements and explained that all of the airings of the content at issue contained sponsorship identification information, with the exception of eleven 90-second spots. In these eleven spots, the name of the sponsoring organization was identified, but the segment did not explicitly state that the content was paid for by that organization.

Though the licensee defended its program content and the disclosure of the sponsor's name as sufficient to meet the FCC's requirements, the FCC was clearly not persuaded. The FCC expressed particular concern over preventing viewer deception, especially when the content of the programming is not readily distinguishable from other non-sponsored news programming, as was the case here.

The base forfeiture for sponsorship identification violations is $4,000. The FCC fined the licensee $44,000, which represents $4,000 for each of the eleven segments that aired without adequate disclosure of sponsorship information.

Absence of Main Studio Staffing Lands AM Broadcaster a $10,000 Penalty
In another recently released NAL, the FCC reminds broadcasters that a station's main studio must be attended by at least one of its two mandatory full-time employees during regular business hours as required by Section 73.1125 of the FCC's Rules. Section 73.1125 states that broadcast stations must maintain a main studio within or near their community of license. The FCC's policies require that the main studio must maintain at least two full-time employees (one management level and the other staff level). The FCC has repeatedly indicated in other NALs that the management level employee, although not "chained to their desk", must report to the main studio on a daily basis. The FCC defines normal business hours as any eight hour period between 8am and 6pm. The base forfeiture for violations of Section 73.1125 is $7,000.

According to the NAL, agents from the Detroit Field Office ("DFO") attempted to inspect the main studio of an Ohio AM broadcaster at 2:20pm on March 30, 2010. Upon arrival, the agents determined that the main studio building was unattended and the doors were locked. Prior to leaving the main studio, an individual arrived at the location, explained that the agents must call another individual, later identified as the licensee's Chief Executive Officer ("CEO"), in order to gain access to the studio, and provided the CEO's contact number. The agents attempted to call the CEO without success prior to leaving the main studio.

Approximately two months later, the DFO issued an LOI. In the AM broadcaster's LOI response, the CEO indicated that the "station personnel did not have specific days and times that they work, but rather are 'scheduled as needed.'" Additionally, the LOI response indicated that the DFO agents could have entered the station on their initial visit if they had "push[ed] the entry buzzer."

In August 2010, the DFO agents made a second visit to the AM station's main studio. Again the agents found the main studio unattended and the doors locked. The agents looked for, but did not find, the "entry buzzer" described in the LOI response.

The NAL stated that the AM broadcaster's "deliberate disregard" for the FCC's rules, as evidenced by its continued noncompliance after the DFO's warning, warranted an upward adjustment of $3,000, resulting in a total fine of $10,000. The FCC also mandated that the licensee submit a statement to the FCC within 30 days certifying that its main studio has been made rule-compliant.

Continue reading "FCC Enforcement Monitor"


Increase in HSR Thresholds Makes More Room for Larger Communications Transactions

Miles S. Mason

Posted February 9, 2012

By Miles S. Mason

While the FCC gets to have a say in nearly every sale or merger in the communications industry, no matter how small, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission will also be called upon if a transaction is large enough. The test for when a transaction is large enough to require a filing with the DOJ or the FTC is whether it exceeds the minimum financial thresholds of the Hart-Scott-Rodino ("HSR") Act.

Because of inflation and other factors, however, the HSR thresholds must be annually adjusted to accurately separate small deals from big deals. This separation is critical because the DOJ and the FTC have limited resources to investigate transactions, and therefore only require advance notification of transactions that involve companies or transactions above a certain minimum size. Transactions that fall below the HSR reporting thresholds, however, are not immune from antitrust scrutiny even after they are consummated if they are likely to have an anticompetitive effect in any relevant market.

On February 27, 2012, the HSR thresholds will increase significantly, with the "minimum size-of-transaction test" threshold increasing from $50 million to $68.2 million. If the value of the proposed transaction is above $68.2 million but below $272.8 million (up from $200 million), reporting is required only if the ultimate parents of the acquiring and acquired entities meet certain "size-of-person" tests, the thresholds for which will also increase on February 27, 2012. Subject to a myriad of exemptions, transactions valued at over $272.8 million under the HSR regulations must generally be reported. If that sounds complicated (and it can be), Pillsbury's Antitrust lawyers recently published an Advisory with more details on these changes.

While transactions that meet these thresholds must be reported whether or not they are communications-related, the thresholds can be particularly relevant to large broadcasters, since broadcasters that enter into a transaction requiring an HSR filing need to be aware that they may not be able to implement a local marketing agreement or similar cooperative arrangement in conjunction with an anticipated acquisition until the HSR filing has been made and the mandatory post-filing waiting period has either passed without action by the DOJ/FTC, or the DOJ/FTC have agreed to terminate the HSR waiting period early.

With communications transactions starting to heat up again, the increase in the HSR thresholds is welcome, and may simplify transactions that fall above the current HSR thresholds, but below the new ones.


FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted January 31, 2012

By Scott R. Flick and Christine A. Reilly

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:

  • Failure to Refresh Tower Paint Garners $8,000 Fine
  • FCC Levies $25,000 Fine for Failure to Respond
  • $85,000 Consent Decree Terminates Investigation Into Unauthorized Transfers of Control
Tower Owners Receive Harsh Reminder Regarding Lighting and Painting Compliance The FCC, citing air traffic navigation safety, has fined many tower owners for noncompliance with Part 17 of the Commission's Rules. Part 17 includes regulations pertaining to the registration, maintenance and notification obligations of tower owners. The base fine for violating Part 17 requirements is $10,000.

Part 17 supplements the notification obligations imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA"). Section 17.7 of the FCC's Rules requires that certain tower structures, including most structures over 200 feet in height and those near airports or heliports, be registered with the FCC. Section 17.21 mandates that most towers over 200 feet be lit and painted in accordance with the FAA's recommendations. These recommendations include the use of orange and white paint (alternating bands) and red or white flashing, strobe or static lights.

With the recent release of two Notices of Apparent Liability ("NAL"), the FCC continued its pursuit of those who fail to comply with its tower rules, including Section 17.50, which mandates that any tower required to be painted in accordance with the FAA's guidelines or the FCC's Rules must be cleaned or repainted as often as necessary to maintain good visibility.

In the first of the two NALs, agents from the Dallas Field Office inspected a 402-foot tower located in Quanah, Texas and determined that the existing paint, which was faded, scraped, peeling or missing in certain areas, was insufficient. The NAL indicates that the agents were unable to distinguish between the orange and white bands from a "quarter mile from the [tower]", thereby "reducing the structure's visibility."

Shortly after the Quanah inspection, agents from the Dallas Field Office also inspected a 419-foot tower located in Durant, Oklahoma. The agents found a similar situation, where the tower's paint was faded, scraped, peeling or missing in certain areas. The agents were again unable to distinguish between the orange and white bands from "800 feet away from the [tower]", once again "reducing the structure's visibility."

The FCC levied the full base fine of $10,000 against each tower owner. The FCC also mandated that no later than 30 days after the release of the respective NAL, a "written statement pursuant to Section 1.16 of the Rules signed under penalty of perjury by an officer or director of [the tower owner] stating that the [tower] has been painted to maintain good visibility" be delivered to the Dallas Field Office.

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FCC Enforcement Monitor

Scott R. Flick Christine A. Reilly

Posted December 29, 2011

By Scott R. Flick and Christine A. Reilly

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:

  • Failure to Monitor and Repair EAS Equipment Nets $8,000 Fine
  • Fines for Late-Filed License Renewals Continue
  • $25,000 Fine for Failure to Answer FCC Correspondence
Act of Vandalism Ends With $8,000 Fine

In a recently released Notice of Apparent Liability ("NAL"), the FCC issued a fine totaling $8,000 against a New Mexico AM broadcaster for violating the FCC's Emergency Alert System ("EAS") rules. The NAL alleges that the broadcaster failed to properly maintain its EAS equipment, a violation of Section 11.35 of the FCC's Rules.

During a June 2011 main studio inspection, an agent from the Enforcement Bureau's San Diego Field Office observed that the station's EAS equipment was not operational. According to the NAL, the Station's EAS equipment had been damaged by vandalism six months prior to the inspection. In addition to the equipment failure, Station employees were unable to provide the required EAS documentation (i.e., logs or other EAS records) associated with the mandatory weekly and monthly tests required by Section 11.61 of the FCC's Rules.

Inoperable EAS equipment is a violation of Section 11.35(a) of the Commission's Rules, which mandates that broadcasters must ensure that the required EAS equipment is installed, maintained and monitored. Section 11.35(a) also requires EAS participants to log, among other things, instances when the station experiences technical issues during participation in the weekly or monthly EAS tests. Pursuant to Section 11.35(b), EAS participants must seek FCC approval if their EAS equipment will not be functioning for more than 60 days. The base fine for an EAS violation is $8,000. The FCC, stating that "EAS is critical to public safety," levied the full fine against the broadcaster.

Late Filings and Unauthorized Operations Lead to $10,000 Forfeiture

The FCC recently issued a joint Memorandum Opinion and Order and NAL to the licensee of an AM station in South Carolina for several violations of the FCC's Rules. The licensee was ultimately fined $10,000 for failing to file its license renewal application on time and for unauthorized operation of the station following the license's expiration.

Section 73.3539(a) of the FCC's Rules requires license renewal applications to be filed four months prior to the expiration date of the license. The AM station's license was set to expire in December 2003, but no license renewal application was filed. The station licensee later explained that it did not file a renewal application because it did not realize the license had expired. In May of 2011, seven years later, the FCC notified the station that the station's license had expired, its authority to operate had been terminated, and that its call letters had been deleted from the FCC's database.

After receiving this letter, the station filed a late license renewal application and a subsequent request for Special Temporary Authority ("STA") to operate the station until the license renewal application was granted. Because so much time had passed since the station failed to timely file its 2003 license renewal application, the deadline for the station's 2011 license renewal application (for the 2011-2019 license term) also passed without the station filing a timely license renewal application. As a result, the FCC found the station liable for an additional violation of its license renewal filing obligations. The base fine for failing to file required forms is $3,000. Thus, the FCC found the station liable for a total of $6,000 relating to these two violations.

Further, the FCC found the licensee liable for violations of Section 301 of the Communications Act because the station continued operating for seven years after its license had expired. The base forfeiture for such a violation is $10,000, but the FCC lowered the proposed forfeiture to $4,000 because the station had previously been licensed.

In spite of the rule violations and $10,000 fine, the FCC decided to grant the station's license renewal application, finding that the station's violations did not evidence a "pattern of abuse."

FCC Fines Unresponsive Party $21,000 Above Base Fine

A recent NAL released by the Enforcement Bureau provides a reminder that regulatory ignorance is not bliss. According to the NAL, the Enforcement Bureau, as part of an investigation into billing practices, issued a Letter of Inquiry ("LOI") to a provider of prepaid calling cards on July 15, 2011. The LOI mandated that a response be submitted by August 4, 2011.

The provider failed to respond to the LOI by the initial deadline. The Enforcement Bureau, via e-mail on August 29, 2011, provided an additional extension of time to respond until September 8, 2011. The extended deadline again came and went without action by the provider. As of December 9, 2011, the Enforcement Bureau had not received a response to its July 2011 LOI. Pursuant to Section 1.80 of the FCC's Rules, the base fine for failure to respond to FCC correspondence is $4,000.

The NAL noted that the FCC's authority under Sections 4(i), 218, and 403 of the Communications Act of 1934 "empowers it to compel carriers ... to provide the information and documents sought by the Enforcement Bureau's LOI," and that failure to respond to an Enforcement Bureau request "constitutes a violation of a Commission order." The Enforcement Bureau stated that the provider's "egregious, intentional and continuous" misconduct warranted a $21,000 upward adjustment to the base $4,000 fine, for a total fine of $25,000.

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


Telecom Monitor

Christine A. Reilly Glenn S. Richards

Posted November 4, 2011

By Glenn S. Richards and Christine A. Reilly

The Commission's Implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 Initiates a Two-Year Deadline for Providers of Advanced Communications Services and Manufacturers of Equipment Used in Advanced Communications Services to Comply with Disabilities Access Requirements.

The Federal Communications Commission (the "Commission") recently adopted a Report and Order ("R&O") and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("FNPRM") implementing Section 104 of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (the "CVAA"), codified as Sections 716, 717 and 718 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the "Act"). The purpose of the CVAA is to "ensure that people with disabilities have access to the incredible and innovative communications technologies of the 21st century."

Prior to the passage of the CVAA, and pursuant to Section 255 of the Act, the Commission imposed disabilities access requirements on manufacturers of telecommunications equipment (including answering machines, pagers and telephones) and providers of telecommunications services. In 2007, the Section 255 requirements were extended to providers of interconnected VoIP services and manufacturers of VoIP equipment. The CVAA expands the Commission's regulatory authority to historically unregulated providers of advanced communications services ("ACS") and manufacturers of equipment used for ACS (collectively the "Covered Entities") and codifies the requirement as it applies to interconnected VoIP.

ACS includes interconnected VoIP, noninterconnected VoIP, electronic messaging service and interoperable video conferencing services, which are defined as:

  • Interconnected VoIP: a service that (1) enables real-time, two-way voice communications; (2) requires a broadband connection from the user's location; (3) requires Internet protocol-compatible customer premises equipment ("CPE"); and (4) permits users generally to receive calls that originate on the public switched telephone network ("PSTN") and to terminate calls to the PSTN.
  • Noninterconnected VoIP: a service that (i) enables real-time voice communications that originate from or terminate to the user's location using Internet protocol or any successor protocol; and (ii) requires Internet protocol compatible customer premises equipment" and "does not include any service that is an interconnected VoIP service.
  • Electronic Messaging Service: "means a service that provides real-time or near\real-time non-voice messages in text form between individuals over communications networks. This service does not include interactions that include only one individual (human to machine or machine to human communications).
  • Interoperable Video Conferencing Services: services that provide real-time video communications, including audio, between two or more users. This service does not include video mail. The Commission has sought additional comment, pursuant to the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, regarding the definition and application of "interoperable".

The Commission clarified that the regulations implemented pursuant to the CVAA "do not apply to any telecommunications and interconnected VoIP products and services offered as of October 7, 2010." The R&O also indicates that any regulated equipment or service offered after October 7, 2010 may be governed by both Sections 255 and 716.

The CVAA established, among other things, a phased compliance timeline due to the financial and technical burdens associated with developing and implementing technological changes required by the CVAA. Covered Entities must comply with Sections 716 and 717 within one year of the effective date. Section 718 compliance must be achieved within two years of the effective date or no later than October 8, 2013. The CVAA also includes long-term reporting obligations, enforcement procedures, limitations on liability for violations and finite compliance deadlines. The Commission decided that the rules, as implemented, would not include any safe harbors or technical standards at this time. Finally, the Commission determined that when implementing the CVAA, its rules should include opportunities for waivers and self-executing exemptions.

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