Published on:

As we wrote about at the time, in April the Pai FCC continued its efforts to modernize broadcast regulation by restoring an old rule–the UHF Discount–until it can take a broader look at its national ownership cap later this year.  While restoration of the Discount merely reinstated the status quo that existed before the Wheeler FCC’s rushed effort to eliminate the Discount last fall, the decision was greeted with disdain by advocacy groups concerned about media consolidation.

After the Commission’s April 20 vote to restore the UHF Discount, those groups filed a request that the FCC stay the rule change rather than let it go into effect on June 5, 2017.  The FCC did not act on that stay request, leading the groups to file an additional stay request with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on May 26, 2017.

Given the short time span between the stay filing and the effective date of the Discount reinstatement, the court issued an administrative stay of the effectiveness of the change until it could complete its review of the request and oppositions filed subsequently.  A fair amount of public confusion was caused when a number of publications reported that administrative stay as “court stays reinstatement of UHF Discount”, failing to note that it was just a short term stay unrelated to the merits of the case.

This morning, the court lifted that administrative stay, and denied the groups’ larger request for a stay pending court review of the FCC’s order reinstating the UHF Discount.  In a one-page order, the court tersely stated that the “Petitioners have not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending review” and denied the request.

As a result, the UHF Discount is once again the law of the land.  It is of course still subject to the pending appeal, which the court will rule on at a later date.  However, even that appeal could be mooted by whatever action the FCC takes in its comprehensive review of the national ownership rule later this year.

 

Published on:

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:

Headlines:

  • Former Broadcast Licensee Faces $144,344 Fine for Operating Kentucky LPTV Station Without a License for 18 Years
  • FCC Proposes $20,000 Fine Against California Noncommercial TV Station for Public File and Related Violations
  • FCC Agrees to Reduce Fines for Untimely Children’s Television Programming Reports Based on Inability to Pay

A “Harmless Chihuahua” No More: FCC Proposes Maximum Fine for Operating Low Power TV Station Without a License

Two individuals are facing a $144,344 proposed fine for operating a Kentucky low power TV (“LPTV”) station without a license for the last 18 years. Section 301 of the Communications Act prohibits any person from operating any apparatus for the transmission of energy, communications, or signals by radio within the United States without FCC authorization. Additionally, Section 74.765 of the FCC’s Rules requires licensees to ensure that a copy of the license is placed in the station’s records and is available for public inspection.

The FCC initially authorized construction of the station in 1987, and the station’s license application was granted in 1990. In April 1993, the FCC granted an application to renew the station’s license for a term expiring August 1, 1998. However, no subsequent license renewal application was ever filed for the station. In April 2004, the FCC sent a letter to the station stating it had not received a license renewal application, and set a 30 day deadline to prove that a renewal application had been filed before the FCC would update its CDBS database to reflect that the license had been cancelled. After receiving no response, the FCC updated CDBS to list the station’s license as “cancelled”.

The FCC later came to learn through an unrelated Experimental STA application that the station was still operating. As a result, in August 2016, FCC agents traveled to the station’s formerly authorized antenna site, where a technician confirmed that the station was, in fact, still operating. The agents then traveled to the station’s studio and spoke with an individual who identified himself as the “operations manager”. The operations manager was unable to provide the agents with evidence of a valid license to operate the station, but asserted that the station’s license renewal application had been filed in 1993, implied that the FCC lost the 1993 filing, and that, as a result, the license remained in effect. The agents informed the operations manager that a current, valid license was necessary to operate the station and that, without one, the station’s transmissions must immediately stop. The agents also issued a Notice of Unlicensed Radio Operation (“NOURO”) stating in bold, capital letters: “UNLICENSED OPERATION OF THIS RADIO STATION MUST BE DISCONTINUED IMMEDIATELY.”

In response to the NOURO, the operations manager reiterated the argument he made to the FCC agents at the station. In addition to asserting that the station never received confirmation of grant of the 1993 renewal, the response stated the station operators had never received any other communication from the FCC about the station, and CDBS showed “that the [1993] renewal was granted on 7/27/1993 without an expiration.” The response argued that the failure to file a renewal application in 1998 should therefore be excused. Further, the response indicated that despite the NOURO’s “request” to cease operations, the station remained on air so as to not deprive its viewers of “their only source of news and other events.” FCC agents returned to the station’s antenna site in September and confirmed that the station was still transmitting.

Consequently, the FCC determined that the station operators had willfully and repeatedly violated Section 301 of the Act. According to FCC records, the Media Bureau mailed the 1993 license renewal to the station’s address of record. The FCC emphasized, however, that regardless of whether the license renewal was actually received, licensees are responsible for knowing their obligations, including their duty to seek timely license renewals. In this regard, the FCC noted that license renewal reminders are “merely provided as a courtesy.” The FCC also rejected the operators’ CDBS argument because (1) CDBS did not exist in 1998, so the station could not have relied on it at the time the license renewal was due, and (2) both CDBS and the 1993 renewal authorization state that the license expired August 1, 1998.

The FCC’s base fine for operation of a station without authorization is $10,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation. Citing the “egregious” and “longstanding” nature of the apparent violations, the FCC proposed to fine the station operators $10,000 for each of the 22 days between the day FCC agents spoke to the station’s operations manager in August 2016, and when agents confirmed that the station was still transmitting in September 2016, for a total proposed fine of $220,000. However, because the Communications Act sets the maximum fine amount for continuing violations arising from a single act or failure to act at $144,344, the FCC capped the proposed fine at $144,344. The FCC noted that, absent the statutory maximum, an upward adjustment would have been warranted because the station was operated for more than 18 years after its license expired, and more than 12 years after the FCC declared the station’s license cancelled.

In a separate statement, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly supported the proposed fine, but was appalled that the station “[got] away with operating a pirate TV station for almost twenty years.” He lamented that under past leadership the FCC had “been reduced to a sometimes annoying, sometimes sleepy, but ultimately harmless Chihuahua when it came to protecting broadcast spectrum licenses,” but hoped that pirate operators were now on notice that the FCC “can and will turn that situation around.”

California Noncommercial TV Station Licensee Faces $20,000 Proposed Fine for Public Inspection File and Related Violations

The FCC proposed a $20,000 fine against a California noncommercial educational (“NCE”) TV station licensee for public inspection file and related violations.

Section 73.3527 of the FCC’s Rules requires NCE licensees to maintain a public inspection file containing specific types of information related to station operations, and subsection 73.3527(b)(2) requires NCE stations to upload most of that information to the FCC-hosted online public inspection file. Among the materials required to be in the file are a station’s Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, which must be retained until final FCC action on the station’s next license renewal application. Issues/Programs Lists detail programs that have provided the station’s most significant treatment of community issues during the preceding quarter. Section 73.3527 also requires stations to keep in their public file for two years from the date of broadcast a list of donors that have supported specific programs. Continue reading →

Published on:

Ever since the idea of holding an incentive auction to reclaim and repurpose broadcast spectrum for new wireless uses first surfaced, a major concern has been how to balance full power stations’ need to replicate their pre-auction signal coverage with low power television (LPTV) and TV Translator stations’ need for displacement channels in the remaining television band.  Throughout the process, the FCC has announced a number of initiatives aimed at balancing those needs.

Included among these efforts is the FCC’s creation of a new category of translator for full-power TV stations to fill in loss areas, a special filing window for LPTV, TV Translator and analog-to-digital replacement translator stations seeking displacement channels, and rules permitting LPTV and TV Translator stations to channel share, both among themselves and with full-power stations.  Until last week, stations in these secondary services have had to stand on the sidelines and wait to see how these initiatives play out.  That changed last Friday when the FCC released a detailed Public Notice outlining procedures and timelines applicable to LPTV, TV Translator, and replacement translator stations during the repack.

Most significantly, the FCC announced its intent to open a Special Displacement Window in the first quarter of 2018.  The FCC stated that it anticipates releasing a public notice in November or December of this year that will give 60 days’ warning of the opening of the Special Displacement Window, which will remain open for 30 days.

Only LPTV, TV Translator, and analog-to-digital replacement translator stations that were “operating” on April 13, 2017 will be eligible to file displacement applications in the window.  To be deemed an “operating” station, the station must have constructed its facilities and filed a license to cover application by that date.  These stations can file a displacement application in the Special Displacement Window if they are displaced by a full-power or Class A TV station being repacked in Channels 2 through 36, or if they are on a channel higher than 36 and are displaced by the flexible uses envisioned by the FCC for the portion of the broadcast band repurposed via the auction.

In the filing window, applicants will have to provide interference protection to other users in the repacked TV Band and in adjacent bands, including land mobile operations, existing LPTV, TV translator and analog-to-digital replacement translator stations, full-power and Class A TV stations that were not repacked, repacked full-power and Class A TV stations as specified in the FCC’s Closing and Reassignment Public Notice, and full-power and Class A television station facilities specified in applications filed in either of the two priority windows occurring prior to the Special Displacement Window.

Helping to balance those restrictions, displaced stations may specify as their displacement channel the pre-auction channel of a station being repacked or which relinquished its spectrum, subject to the condition that operations on the displacement channel cannot commence until the full-power or Class A TV station currently occupying the channel vacates it.  To assist stations in developing their displacement proposals, the November/December public notice announcing the Special Displacement Window will also contain updated channel availability information identifying locations and channels that displaced stations cannot propose in their displacement applications.

To avoid a “race to the courthouse” when the window opens, all applications filed in the Special Displacement Window will be deemed to have been filed on the last day of the window for purposes of determining mutual exclusivity.  In other words, an application filed on the first day of the window will have no higher processing priority than an application filed on the last day of the window.  In cases of mutual exclusivity, the parties will be given an opportunity to resolve the mutual exclusivity among themselves via engineering amendments or settlements.

If applications remain mutually exclusive after the settlement period, the FCC will give priority to any application filed by a full-power TV station for displacement of an analog-to-digital replacement translator station or for a new digital-to-digital replacement translator station.  The analog-to-digital replacement translator stations were authorized to fill in areas of a full-power station’s analog contour that were lost in the digital transition.  The digital-to-digital replacement translator stations are a new class of station intended to serve a similar role in filling in areas of a full-power TV station’s digital contour that its repacked facilities can no longer reach.

Full-power TV stations can apply for new digital-to-digital replacement translator stations beginning with the opening of the Special Displacement Window and continuing through July 13, 2021.  Whenever filed, digital-to-digital replacement translator applications will have priority over all prior new, minor change, and displacement applications filed by LPTV and TV Translator stations.  If applying this priority does not resolve mutual exclusivity among applications filed in the Special Displacement Window, the FCC will resort to conducting an auction among the applicants. Continue reading →

Published on:

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:

Headlines:

  • Michigan Class A TV Station Agrees to Pay $45,000 for Numerous Children’s Programming and Public Inspection File Violations
  • New York TV Station Agrees to $10,000 Consent Decree to End FCC Investigation into Indecency Allegations
  • California Radio Licensee Agrees to $8,000 Consent Decree for Unauthorized Transfer of Control

Michigan Class A TV Station Acknowledges Children’s Programming and Public Inspection File Problems

The FCC entered into a Consent Decree with a Class A TV station in Michigan to resolve an investigation into violations of the Children’s Television Act (“CTA”) and the FCC’s public inspection file rule.

The CTA, as implemented by Section 73.671 of the FCC’s Rules, requires full power TV stations to provide sufficient programming designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children, known as “Core Programming”, and Section 73.6026 extends this requirement to Class A stations. The FCC’s license renewal application processing guidelines direct Media Bureau staff to approve the CTA portion of any license renewal application where the licensee shows that it has aired an average of 3 hours per week of Core Programming per program stream. Staff can also approve the CTA portion of a license renewal application where the licensee demonstrates that it has aired a package of different types of educational and informational programming that, even if less than 3 hours of Core Programming per week, shows a level of commitment to educating and informing children equivalent to airing 3 hours per week of Core Programming. Applications that do not satisfy the processing guidelines are referred to the full Commission, where the licensee will have a chance to demonstrate its compliance with the CTA.

Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s Rules requires commercial broadcasters to maintain public inspection files containing specific types of information related to station operations, and subsection 73.3526(b)(2) requires TV and non-exempt radio stations to upload most of that information to the FCC-hosted online public inspection file. For example, subsection 73.3526(e)(11) requires TV stations to place in their public inspection file (i) Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists describing the “programs that have provided the station’s most significant treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period” and (ii) certifications of compliance with the commercial limits on children’s programming. In addition, subsection 73.3526(e)(17) requires Class A stations to place in their public files documentation demonstrating compliance with Class A eligibility requirements.

In May 2013, the station filed its license renewal application. Upon review of the station’s public file, the FCC found that the station had failed to timely file Children’s TV Programming Reports for 35 quarters, and failed to place in its public file numerous required documents, such as Issues/Programs Lists, Commercial Limit Certifications, and Class A Eligibility Certifications. In May 2016, upon request of the FCC, the station amended its renewal application to acknowledge and describe the violations. The station made additional clarifications to the application in November 2016.

The Media Bureau’s audit of the station’s children’s programming revealed that the station failed to meet the three hour Core Programming processing guideline for ten quarters, for an aggregate shortfall of 110 hours, with quarterly deficiencies ranging from one hour to 22 hours. As a result, the station’s application was referred to the full Commission for consideration.

The station subsequently entered into a Consent Decree with the FCC to resolve the investigation into public file and children’s programming violations. As part of the Consent Decree, the station admitted liability, agreed to make a $45,000 settlement payment to the government, and agreed to implement a compliance plan. In turn, the FCC agreed to grant the station’s license renewal application for a short-term period of two years instead of the regular eight-year term.

Under the compliance plan, the station must, among other things, designate a compliance officer responsible for compliance with the FCC’s Rules, air at least four hours of Core Programming per week (as averaged over a six-month period), provide training to staff on compliance with the FCC’s Rules, and work with outside legal counsel to obtain guidance on FCC compliance issues. The compliance plan will stay in effect until final FCC action is taken on the station’s next license renewal application.

New York TV Station Agrees to $10,000 Consent Decree to End FCC Investigation into Indecency Allegations

The FCC entered into a Consent Decree with a New York TV station to resolve an investigation into whether the station aired indecent programming.

Section 73.3999 of the FCC’s Rules restricts the broadcast of indecent material between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. In addition, Section 73.1217 (the “broadcast hoax rule”) forbids the broadcast of “false information concerning a crime or catastrophe if: (a) The [station] knows the information is false; (b) It is foreseeable that broadcast of the information will cause substantial public harm; and (3) Broadcast of the information does in fact cause substantial public harm.”

Continue reading →

Published on:

While the great American songwriter Sammy Cahn felt it was Love and Marriage that were inseparable (as they “go together like a horse and carriage”), the FCC today found the UHF Discount just as inseparable from its 39% National TV Ownership Cap.  By a 2-1 party-line vote, the FCC this morning restored the UHF Discount, reversing a decision of the Wheeler FCC released just seven months ago.  The FCC indicated that it would consider the future of the UHF Discount in a comprehensive review of its broadcast ownership rules commencing later this year.

Most rules aimed at preserving competition focus on a competitor’s market share as the trigger for restricting further growth.  Oddly, the National TV Ownership Cap instead focuses exclusively on a television broadcaster’s mere geographic presence as being the danger.  Using that logic, you would expect Sears to be able to easily crush Amazon since Sears has far more locations than Amazon.  However, if you were ever to make that argument in public, the laughter would be long and loud.

Those unfamiliar with the Cap might assume a 39% limit means an entity is restricted to having no more than a 39% nationwide share of either advertising revenue or viewers (depending on which “market” the government thinks is the relevant one).  That is certainly the way a regulatory cap works in most industries.  In fact, before a court tossed it out for other reasons, the FCC’s own national cable cap rule prohibited ownership of cable systems having more than 30% of all U.S. subscribers.

In contrast, the National TV Ownership Cap just totals the households in each TV market served by a broadcaster (regardless of whether those viewers actually watch or can even receive the station at issue) and yells “Stop!” when the total market population reaches 39% of national TV households.  Even if a broadcaster’s stations have a less than a 1% audience/ad revenue share in each of those markets, it is still treated as a competitive behemoth whose growth must be halted.

In the real world, a station’s over-the-air signal often doesn’t cover all the households in its market, meaning that the Cap is not just measuring the wrong thing, but is doing so inaccurately by attributing all TV households in a market to that station.  Unlike the Cap itself, the UHF Discount acknowledges the illogic of this, and counts only half the TV households in a UHF market toward the Cap in an effort to approximate real world coverage.  Even if the digital transition had actually eliminated the disparity between VHF and UHF coverage (look here for a contrary argument), it doesn’t change the fact that the approach upon which the UHF Discount is based—trying to assess actual signal reach—is far more logical than the treatment of VHF stations under the Cap, which arbitrarily counts all TV households in a geographic market.

So if you are willing to overlook the flawed premise of the Cap itself—that geographic presence rather than actual market share is what is relevant—then the method of counting households under the UHF Discount is actually far more defensible than the arbitrary treatment applied to VHF stations by the Cap.  If the treatment of UHF and VHF stations needs to be conformed, the answer would not be to eliminate the UHF Discount, but to instead conform the treatment of VHF stations and make a similar assessment of their actual population coverage.

There are certainly those who would vigorously challenge that conclusion, and they would likely present two arguments to support their case.  The first is that the Cap is intended not merely to preserve competition, but also to preserve Americans’ access to diverse content.  The second is that cable and satellite carriage now relays a station’s signal to all corners of its market, making it reasonable to attribute all households in that market to the station.  However, these two arguments cancel each other out.

Even with cord-cutting, well over 80% of TV households are cable/satellite subscribers.  That sounds like a point in favor of the “you should count all households” approach, right?  But in those pay-TV households, retransmitted broadcast channels are surrounded by hundreds of other program streams.  As a result, these households have available a level of program diversity that was unimaginable when the National Cap rule was first created in 1985.  That in turn dilutes the potential influence of any one program source, eliminating the need for broadcast ownership restrictions with regard to these households.

It is therefore only in non-cable/satellite households that the Cap could theoretically serve its claimed purpose.  However, if the concern underlying the Cap is a broadcaster having influence over viewers in households lacking a multitude of competing program sources, less than 20% of all U.S. TV households would even be at risk of that (and that assumes we are talking about a broadcaster with a TV station in every market in the country).  While the Cap currently limits a broadcaster to having this influence in markets containing 39% of TV households, it has become physically impossible have such influence in even 20% of TV households.  And of course, all of this overlooks Internet video sources, which are likely heavily utilized in non-cable/satellite households since many are cord-cutters now relying on Internet video services.

Whether or not the UHF Discount is in place won’t alter any of this.  It’s not the UHF Discount that has outlived it usefulness, but the Cap itself.  The UHF Discount merely reduces the damage caused by a now outdated Cap.

Still, there are those who disagree with the FCC’s stated goal of reviewing the Cap and the UHF Discount together, arguing that if there is no longer a UHF/VHF disparity, the FCC should ignore the forest and focus on just that one tree.  However, Chairman Pai correctly noted that, in eliminating the UHF Discount, the “Commission vote[d] to substantially tighten the national audience reach cap,” and the FCC’s action would “substantially change the impact of the national cap.”  The notion that one can be eliminated without affecting the other is indeed a fiction.  By eliminating the UHF Discount without assessing whether the Cap as modified by that action was in the public interest, the FCC failed to meet its most fundamental statutory mandate.  Today, the FCC rectified that error.

So the FCC will now move on to a more unified and comprehensive review of its broadcast ownership rules.  In that review, it will have to recognize that the UHF Discount is just as inseparable from the current Cap as Sammy Cahn’s lyrical horse and carriage.  It might also conclude that, like the horse and carriage, the National Cap has become a relic of another time.

Published on:

To use a metaphor those headed to Vegas for the NAB Show will appreciate, two of the three wheels on the Spectrum Repack slot machine had stopped spinning, and all eyes have since been anxiously watching that third and final wheel.  The first stopped spinning on January 13, 2017 when the Reverse Auction concluded.  The second stopped on March 30, 2017 when the Assignment Phase of the Forward Auction came to an end.  The third wheel stopped this afternoon with the release of the FCC’s long-awaited Incentive Auction Closing and Channel Reassignment Public Notice.  That Public Notice formally marks the end of the Incentive Auction, and publicly reveals which stations got cherries and which stations got lemons in the auction and repack.

According to the FCC, there were 175 TV stations that sold spectrum in the auction for just over $10 Billion in total.  Of these 175, 30 are moving to a VHF channel and 133 have indicated that they will be channel sharing with a station that did not sell spectrum in the auction.  That suggests only twelve stations nationwide sold their spectrum with the intent to go dark permanently.

For those stations that did not sell spectrum in the auction, the FCC indicates that 957 of them are being involuntarily moved to new channels.  As a result, the Spectrum Repack looks like it will be every bit as complex and all-encompassing as many had feared.

In that regard, the Public Notice also locks in the deadlines broadcasters must meet for the 39-month Spectrum Repack, officially launching the rush to secure equipment and services needed by each repacked TV station to build out new transmitting facilities. The FCC had addressed in general terms many of the repack deadlines in various notices and webinars, but nearly all were geared to the release date of the Public Notice.  As a result, while we generally knew how long the FCC was allotting for various steps of the repack, they all remained moving targets until today’s release of the Public Notice.

With the Public Notice now in hand, we have assembled below the key deadlines. Continue reading →

Published on:

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:

  • Failing to Make Timely Uploads to Online Public File Costs TV Station $13,500
  • FCC Fines Church’s Pirate Radio Station $25,000
  • FCC Proposes $7,000 Fine Against TV Station for Public File Violations

Slow Upload Speed: TV Licensee Agrees to Pay $13,500 to Settle FCC Investigation into Online Public File Violations

The FCC entered into a Consent Decree with an Iowa TV station to resolve an investigation into the licensee’s failure to timely upload required documents to its online public inspection file.

Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s Rules requires commercial broadcasters to maintain public inspection files containing specific types of information related to station operations, and subsection 73.3526(b)(2) requires TV and non-exempt radio licensees to upload most of that information to the FCC-hosted online public inspection file. For example, subsection 73.3526(e)(7) requires broadcasters to retain records that document compliance with equal employment opportunity rules; subsection 73.3526(e)(10) requires broadcasters to maintain materials relating to FCC investigations or complaints; and subsection 73.3526(e)(11) requires TV stations to place in their public inspection file (i) Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists describing the “programs that have provided the station’s most significant treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period” and (ii) certifications of compliance with the commercial limits on children’s programming.

In October 2013, the licensee filed its license renewal application, certifying that it timely placed in its public file all required documentation. However, an FCC investigation found that, with the exception of electronically submitted documents that the FCC automatically places in a station’s online file, the station’s online file was empty, meaning the licensee failed to upload any of the other required documents.

The FCC contacted the licensee in March 2014 to request that the station upload all required documents, and the licensee subsequently complied. However, the FCC discovered in January 2016 that the licensee failed to upload Issues/Program Lists and Commercial Limits Certifications for four quarters in 2014 and 2015. The FCC again contacted the licensee, at which point the licensee uploaded the missing documents. Still, in April 2016, the FCC found yet again that the licensee had failed to upload a required Issues/Programs List and commercial limits certification.

The licensee subsequently entered into a Consent Decree with the FCC to resolve the investigation into these public inspection file violations. As part of the Consent Decree, the licensee admitted liability, agreed to make a payment of $13,500 to the U.S. Treasury, and agreed to implement a compliance plan. The compliance plan must, among other things, designate a compliance officer responsible for ensuring compliance with the FCC’s Rules. The compliance officer must conduct training for all station employees and management at least once every 12 months. The compliance plan will remain in effect until FCC action on the station’s next license renewal application (which will be filed in 2021) is complete. Ultimately, the FCC decided to grant the station’s pending license renewal application, provided that the licensee makes the $13,500 payment on time and in full.

Praying with Fire: Church’s Pirate Radio Station Fined $25,000

After repeated warnings, the FCC fined the operators of an unlicensed radio station in California $25,000. Section 301 of the Communications Act prohibits any person from operating any apparatus for the transmission of energy, communications, or signals by radio within the United States without FCC authorization. Continue reading →

Published on:

Under a new federal law, businesses are forbidden from restricting, prohibiting or penalizing consumer-posted reviews of the business or its goods and services. The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 goes into effect tomorrow, March 14, 2017, and declares unlawful any “form contract” that prohibits or restricts the ability of an individual to engage in a “covered communication,” which is broadly defined to include any review, performance assessment, or other similar analysis of the company’s goods, services, or conduct.  Our Pillsbury colleagues Michael Heuga, Amy Pierce and Catherine Meyer discuss the details of the new law in a recent Pillsbury Client Alert.

Published on:

Robocalls and telemarketing calls are reliably the top source of consumer complaints received by the FCC.  Despite the good intentions of the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), FCC decisions implementing the TCPA, and the collective efforts of the telecom industry, there has been little relief from these unwanted calls—particularly at dinner time.  More problematic is that an increasing number of these calls use false (or spoofed) Caller ID to perpetrate scams designed to trick call recipients into believing the call is coming from the Internal Revenue Service, law enforcement, computer support, or a credit card company.

The FCC is now making another attempt to reduce unwanted and sometimes fraudulent telemarketing calls and robocalls.  In a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry circulated March 2nd and to be considered formally at the next FCC Open Meeting on March 23rd, the FCC is proposing to adopt rules that would allow voice service providers (including wireline, wireless and VoIP providers) to block spoofed calls in certain circumstances. Continue reading →

Published on:

As someone who has been deeply involved in planning for the rollout of ATSC 3.0, I get a lot of questions about the next generation broadcasting standard. By far the two most common questions are “When will the transition start?” and “When will it end?”  My answers—which often lead to quizzical looks—are “Very soon.  And never.”

The visible transition to 3.0 in the United States will begin almost immediately after the FCC approves use of the new technology. Transmitters being built today are 3.0 ready, and many hundreds (perhaps more than a thousand) of these transmitters will be installed as a necessary part of the post-incentive auction repacking process.  Broadcasters are already discussing how to provide ATSC 1.0 simulcasts in many markets so that some stations can begin transmitting in 3.0.  Korean television stations will launch ATSC 3.0 broadcasts beginning in May of this year, accelerating the availability of 3.0-compatible receivers.  So, the transition will begin soon.  I would argue it is already underway.

When I say the transition will never end, I don’t mean the broadcast industry is entering its groundhog day. Quite the opposite.  I mean that ATSC 3.0 provides enormous headroom for broadcasting to continue to grow and evolve long after all stations have made the initial conversion.

And that’s the beauty of ATSC 3.0. It will bring a foundational change to the capabilities of our national television broadcast infrastructure.  Most important, it allows broadcasters to continually expand, enhance and improve the services they offer, even after all stations have converted to 3.0.  That’s why I say the “transition” will never end.

Though we can’t put a date on the end, we do know what the first steps are.

Step 1 – Upgrade to 3.0. Within a matter of years, most or perhaps all stations will have completed the transition to ATSC 3.0, in the sense that they will be broadcasting 3.0 signals.  But the services offered, and the networks and systems behind those services, can evolve to meet the changing demands of the incredibly robust and dynamic marketplace in which broadcasters must compete. Continue reading →