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Last April, the broadcast industry was abuzz with the need to register previously unlicensed earth stations in order to reduce the chance of future displacement.  In April 2018, the deadline for submitting the registrations was announced, and after two extensions, all fixed-satellite service (FSS) earth stations in use prior to April 19, 2018 that operated in the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz band were to be registered with the FCC by October 31, 2018.

Subsequent to the April 2018 announcement, the FCC adopted an Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the potential for re-purposing the 3.7-4.2 GHz band.  Since then, most of the focus (over 400 submissions thus far) has been on various proposals for reallocating the spectrum band for 5G use.  Simultaneously, the FCC has worked to implement the Order’s information collection requirements.

In particular, the Order required all FSS earth station operators in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (either licensed or registered) to submit a certification which confirmed that the information currently contained in the FCC’s records is accurate and complete.  Reducing the potential impact of this new requirement somewhat was the FCC’s decision to exempt those operators that submitted license applications or registrations during the April-October 2018 window referenced above.  The Order also sought additional information from both (i) operators of temporary fixed or transportable earth stations (i.e., satellite news gathering trucks) and (ii) operators of FSS space stations (or grantees of U.S. market access).

On April 11, 2019, the FCC released a Public Notice outlining the procedures for submitting the required certifications and related information by May 28, 2019.  Operators of FSS earth stations that were licensed or in use prior to April 19, 2018, must therefore submit the following information:

  • Relevant call sign(s);
  • File numbers;
  • Applicant or registrant name; and
  • Signed certification statement: “The undersigned, individually and for the applicant, licensee, or registrant, hereby certifies that all information reflected in his or her licenses or registrations in IBFS, including any attached exhibits, are true, complete and correct to the best of his or her knowledge and belief, and have been made in good faith.”

Additionally, all operators of temporary-fixed or transportable FSS earth stations (regardless of when the stations were licensed and/or registered) must also submit the following information for each licensed or registered facility:

  • Earth station call sign (or IBFS file number if a registration filed between April 19, 2018 and October 31, 2018 is pending);
  • Address where the equipment is typically stored;
  • The area within which the equipment is typically used;
  • How often the equipment is used and the duration of such use (i.e., examples of typical deployments, such as operation x days a week at sports arenas within a radius of y miles of its home base);
  • Number of transponders typically used in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band and extent of use on both the uplink and downlink; and
  • Licensee/registrant and point of contact information.

Interestingly, the FCC did not create a new electronic submission form for these filings.  Instead, the required information must be submitted through the International Bureau’s filing system as a pleading, which will provide additional flexibility for operators in preparing their submissions.  However, given the short period of time to file, we suggest that operators start working on gathering the required information as soon as possible.

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Embedded in the Music Modernization Act signed into law in 2018 was a provision that extended most federal copyright protections to pre-1972 sound recordings.  Prior to the enactment of the MMA, sound recordings made prior to February 15, 1972, may have been protected under state law, but federal copyright law protections did not apply.

While the MMA extended federal copyright protections to this subset of sound recordings, it also included language that provided an opportunity for digital audio service providers (i.e., streamers and podcasters) that play pre-1972 songs to avoid statutory damages and payment of attorney’s fees should the provider be found to have infringed the artist’s copyright.

On March 22, 2019, the Copyright Office adopted its final rule, requiring interested digital audio service providers to file a form with the Copyright Office providing contact information for the provider, and payment of a filing fee of $105 per digital audio platform.  The online form must be filed (and the payment submitted) no later than Tuesday, April 9, 2019.

As described in the Copyright Office’s adopting order:

Under the Act, rights owners must also provide specific notice of unauthorized use to certain entities that were previously transmitting Pre-1972 Sound Recordings before pursuing certain remedies against them. To be entitled to receive direct notice of unauthorized activity from a rights owner, an entity must have been publicly performing a Pre-1972 Sound Recording by means of digital audio transmission at the time of enactment of section 1401 and must file its contact information with the Copyright Office within 180 days of enactment, that is, by April 9, 2019. Where a valid notice of contact information has been filed, the rights owner may be eligible to obtain statutory damages and/or attorneys’ fees only after directly sending the transmitting entity a notice stating that it is not legally authorized to use the Pre-1972 Sound Recording, and identifying the Pre-1972 Sound Recording in a schedule conforming to the requirements by the Office for filing Pre-1972 Schedules. For any eligible transmitting entities that do not file contact information by April 9, 2019, rights owners may seek statutory damages and/or attorneys’ fees resulting from unauthorized uses by those entities after filing Pre-1972 Schedules as described above.

So once the form is filed, an artist who alleges that the digital audio provider has infringed the artist’s pre-1972 copyright must first provide notice of the allegation to the individual listed in the form.  Should the digital audio service provider resolve the alleged infringement within 90 days, the provider will be not be found liable for statutory damages ($150,000 per recording) or for the artist’s attorney’s fees arising from enforcement of the artist’s copyright.

Those that already pay SoundExchange for the right to play pre-1972 sound recordings may balk at the additional effort to submit the Notice of Contact form and pay a fee when, hopefully, they have at all times been in compliance with the SoundExchange-related requirements in that regard.  However, given the simple, straight-forward form, the relatively nominal fee of $105.00 per platform, and the legal minefield that pre-1972 recordings have shown themselves to be over the past several years, streaming platforms that feature classic jazz, oldies, or similar recordings from before February 15, 1972 may find filing the form a worthwhile effort to minimize future infringement hassles.

 

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At its February 14th meeting, the FCC gave a rather significant Valentine’s Day gift to broadcasters, eliminating the requirement that larger radio and television stations submit the EEO Mid-Term Report (FCC Form 397) at the midpoint of their license terms.  While the FCC will continue to conduct EEO mid-term reviews, it determined that filing the EEO Mid-Term Report was no longer necessary, as most of the information required for an EEO mid-term review is already available in a broadcaster’s Online Public Inspection File.

Specifically, the EEO Mid-Term Report required broadcasters to provide three pieces of information: (i) the number of full-time employees; (ii) the point of contact for the station(s) that is responsible for compliance with the EEO rules; and (iii) the two most recent Annual EEO Public File reports.  In eliminating the obligation to file the EEO Mid-Term Report, the FCC reasoned that the point of contact information and the Annual EEO Public File reports are already kept in a broadcaster’s Online Public Inspection File.  As such, the additional requirement of filing an EEO Mid-Term Report with the FCC was unnecessary.

To gather the third piece of information requested in the EEO Mid-Term Report—the current number of full-time employees—the FCC will require that radio station employment groups indicate when uploading their Annual EEO Public File Reports whether or not they have 11 or more full-time employees (the number which triggers the need for an EEO mid-term review in radio).  Because TV licensees are subjected to EEO mid-term reviews when the station employment group only has five or more full time employees—the same number that triggers the requirement to file Annual EEO Public File Reports—the FCC deemed such a requirement for TV licensees unnecessary (i.e., if a TV station is filing Annual EEO Public File Reports, the FCC already knows the station employment group is large enough to qualify for an EEO mid-term review).

The change in rules will be effective on May 1, 2019.  The FCC noted that television stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania will therefore still be required to file their EEO Mid-Term Reports on April 1, 2019.

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Originally intended as an “innovation band” for the testing of new wireless broadband services, the Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) was created in 2015 to permit commercial and federal spectrum users to operate in the same spectrum band. By utilizing smaller geographic areas for licenses, and short-term authorizations lacking an expectation of renewal, the CBRS was seen as a test bed for a variety of different wireless broadband services, including those of rural wireless broadband service providers.

To that end, the FCC created two new classes of licenses, Priority Access Licenses (PALs) and General Authorized Access Licenses (GAAs).  GAAs are permitted to operate anywhere within the CBRS band, so long as incumbent licensees and PALs are protected. PALs are required to protect the incumbent licensees, and will receive protection from GAAs. A key component of the CBRS licensing scheme is the implementation of a central database, the Spectrum Access System (SAS) (had enough acronyms yet?), maintained by third parties who will coordinate among licensees to prevent interference.

At its October meeting, the FCC revised its rules for the service with the stated goal of further encouraging the rapid development of 5G technologies.  The revised rules were adopted in response to petitions filed by CTIA and T-Mobile in 2017 which proposed several changes to the original 2015 rules.  The FCC sought comment on those proposals, which suggested several changes to the Priority Access Licenses, including adjusting the size of the geographic license, expanding the initial and renewal terms for licenses, and adopting performance standards. Although the FCC did not fully adopt the proposals, the revised rules make significant changes before the FCC has even issued the first CBRS authorization.

License Area: Under the 2015 rules, PALs were to be issued based on census tracts. The intent was to encourage local broadband development, especially in rural areas that may not receive service by nationwide carriers. By highlighting the difficulty of managing the licensing and build-out of service in 74,000 separate census tracts, CTIA, T-Mobile and several other parties argued that the FCC should expand the PAL geographic area to the more-manageable Partial Economic Areas. Ultimately, the FCC rejected that proposal, but instead expanded the PAL geographic area to county-based authorizations.

License Terms: In 2015, the FCC was concerned about the warehousing of spectrum, so it limited the license term of PALs in a particular geographic area to two sequential three-year periods, with no option for renewal. Several parties filed comments arguing that the three-year limit for licenses would serve as a roadblock to robust investment by wireless companies. The FCC has now agreed and extended the initial term to ten years. The FCC also modified its rules to permit licensees to renew their PAL authorizations.

Performance Standards: In light of its decision to extend the license term and permit renewals, the FCC imposed a “substantial service” performance standard for services operating in the CBRS band. For mobile and point-to-multipoint services, a licensee must demonstrate that it provides service to at least 50 percent of the licensed service area. For point-to-point service, a licensee must demonstrate that it provides at least four links in areas with a service population of 134,000 people or less, and at least one link per 33,500 people in service areas with a population greater than 134,000 people. This showing will be required when the licensee files its license renewal application.

Competitive Bidding: Finally, the FCC decided to grant PALs in accordance with its competitive bidding auction rules, permitting applicants to claim bidding credits as “small” or “very small business” entities, as a rural service provider, and/or if they propose to serve qualifying Tribal lands.

Support for the proposed rule changes was first signaled by then-Commissioner Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly in their concurring statements when the original rules were adopted in 2015. Because the FCC is still working on approval of the various SAS database proposals, and because there was a change in FCC leadership in January 2017, it was possible for the petitioning parties to seek revision of the 2015 rules before the FCC issued its first CBRS authorization. To date, the FCC has not issued authorizations for PALs or GAAs, but it is possible that new authorizations could be issued in 2019. Thus, while the rule changes will not impact any existing PAL or GAA licensees, these changes will have a significant impact on the operation of the CBRS band in the future.

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In adopting a Notice of Proposed Rule Making late last week, the FCC took the first step in establishing ground rules for reimbursing Low Power Television, TV translator and FM radio stations affected by the TV spectrum repack. Most of the proposed rules track the statutory direction contained in the Reimbursement Expansion Act (REA) adopted in March, but a few potentially controversial proposals were included as well.

The REA limited reimbursement eligibility for LPTV, TV translators and FM radio stations to stations that were licensed and operating on April 13, 2017. In addition, LPTV stations must establish that they were broadcasting for nine of the twelve months prior to April 13, 2017, which was the date the Incentive Auction officially ended. The FCC is seeking comment on what evidence it should request from licensees to substantiate their eligibility, including potentially requiring licensees to provide program guides and/or power bills.

The FCC is also seeking comment on guidelines for reimbursing licensees, focusing on both the types of expenses that should be reimbursed, and the process for licensees seeking reimbursement. For example, the REA limited eligibility to those LPTV and TV translators that filed a Special Displacement application, so the FCC proposed to limit the reimbursable expenses to just those relating to the displacement of such stations.

While it is likely that no FM radio stations will be permanently displaced as a result of the Incentive Auction, the FCC developed a three-tier proposal to reimburse FM stations for expenses to operate auxiliary stations instead of temporarily ceasing operations while tower work is done. The FCC noted that its rules permit stations to either power down or temporarily discontinue operations for less than thirty days without seeking advance authority, so the FCC proposes to limit reimbursement for constructing new or upgraded FM auxiliary facilities to those stations that will be off-air for extended periods of times.

Under the proposal, FM radio stations off-air for more than 30 days would receive reimbursement for 100% of their expenses to construct or modify existing auxiliary facilities, but stations off-air between 11 and 30 days would receive reimbursement for only 75% of their expenses, and stations expected to be off-air for 1-10 days would receive reimbursement for only 50% of their expenses. To be eligible for reimbursement, FM auxiliary facilities will need to cover 80% of the existing station’s geographic or population coverage.

While the FCC obviously intends to borrow heavily from the existing reimbursement process used by Class A and full-power television stations, it is clear that there are unique circumstances surrounding the reimbursement of expenses for LPTV, TV Translator and FM radio stations that will require further examination. Moreover, Commissioner O’Rielly noted in his separate statement that the FCC has proposed to allocate reimbursement funds based on the length of time that FM radio stations will be off air, but urged parties to submit alternative proposals if the FCC’s assumption that “time equals money” is incorrect.

Comment deadlines have not yet been established, but comments on the FCC’s proposals will be due 30 days after the NPRM’s publication in the Federal Register, with reply comments due 30 days after that date.