Articles Posted in Telecommunications

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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:

  • FCC Fires Broadside at Pirate Stronghold: Nearly Half of November Pirate Radio Notices Go to NY/NJ/CT Area
  • Sorry About That: Wireless Broadband Manufacturer Pays $95,000 to End Investigation of Failure to Prevent Harmful Manipulation of Its Products
  • Not Too Bright: FCC Proposes $25,000 Fine for Marketing Unlabeled Fluorescent Lights

No Parlay for Pirates: FCC Turns Up the Heat on Dozens of Alleged Pirate Radio Operators

In its most recent salvo against pirate radio operators, FCC field agents issued dozens of Notices of Violation (“NOV”) or Notices of Unauthorized Operation (“NOUO”) against alleged operators of unlicensed radio stations, particularly in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Under Section 301 of the Communications Act, transmission of radio signals without FCC authorization is prohibited. Unlicensed radio operators risk seizure of their equipment, heavy fines, and criminal sanctions issued for Connecticut pirate radio operations.

On just two consecutive days in October, agents from the New York field office investigated no fewer than eight pirate radio operations in New York and New Jersey, and the past month saw half a dozen NOUOs issued for Connecticut pirate radio operations.

In a similar show of force to the south, the FCC warned a dozen Florida residents of potential violations. The FCC also handed out a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) to an alleged California pirate, proposing a $15,000 fine.

For many years, broadcasters complained bitterly about both the interference from multiplying pirate stations and the FCC’s glacial response to these illegal operations. Too often, the FCC’s response was to shrug its bureaucratic shoulders and note that it had limited resources. Broadcasters thus became even more disheartened when the FCC greatly reduced its field offices and staffing in 2016, making it harder for FCC personnel to quickly reach and investigate pirate operations, even if given authority to do so.

Fortunately, Commissioner O’Rielly took up the cause early in his tenure at the FCC, and under Chairman Pai, the FCC has made prosecution of unauthorized radio operations a priority. While broadcasters are certainly appreciative of the change, the sudden uptick in enforcement actions by a reduced number of field offices and agents has made clear that it was never a matter of resources, but of regulatory will. If you want to hunt pirates, you have to leave port.

Consent Decree Ends FCC Investigation Into Company’s Modifiable Wireless Broadband Devices

The FCC entered into a Consent Decree with a wireless device manufacturer after investigating whether the company violated various rules pertaining to the authorization and marketing of devices that emit radio frequency (“RF”) radiation.

In particular, the FCC looked into the manufacturer’s U-NII (Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure) devices. These devices are commonly used for Wi-Fi and other broadband access technology. However, U-NII devices that operate in the 5 GHz radio band risk interfering with certain weather radar systems. As a result, the FCC regulates how manufacturers make these devices available to the public. Continue reading →

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Toll-free telephone numbers celebrated their 50th birthday this year (frankly, without much fanfare). These numbers allow callers to reach businesses without being charged for the call. When long distance calling was expensive, these numbers were enticing marketing tools used by businesses to encourage customer calls and provide a single number for nationwide customer service—for example, hotel, airline or car rental reservations.

Toll-free numbers are most valuable to businesses when they are easy to remember because they spell a word (1-877-DENTIST) or have a simple dialing pattern (1-855-222-2222). Like all telephone numbers, however, the FCC considers toll-free numbers to be a public resource, not owned by any single person, business or telephone company. Toll-free numbers are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, primarily by telecommunications carriers known as Responsible Organizations. The FCC even has rules that prohibit hoarding (keeping more than you need) or selling toll-free numbers.

But the rules will change if the FCC adopts its recent proposal to assign toll-free numbers by auction as it prepares to open access to its new “833” toll-free numbers. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued last week proposes to auction off approximately 17,000 toll-free numbers for which there have been competing requests. The proceeds of these auctions would then be used to reduce the costs of administering toll-free numbers.

The NPRM also contemplates revising the current rules to promote the development of a secondary market for toll-free numbers. This would allow subscribers to reassign toll-free numbers to other businesses for a fee (think 1-800-STUBHUB!). The FCC suggests this would promote economic efficiencies, as the number would presumably be better utilized by a business owner willing to pay for it than by the company that merely happened to claim it first.

The proposed rules are not without controversy. Some toll-free numbers are used to promote health, safety and other public interest goals (e.g., 1-800-SUICIDE). The NPRM seeks comments on whether toll-free numbers used by governmental or certain nonprofit organizations should be exempt from the auction process. There are also questions about whether the expected demand for the 17,000 new numbers will erode if claiming a number is no longer free.

Comments in this proceeding will be due 30 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, with replies due 30 days after that. If you are interested in filing comments, you can reach us at 1-888-387-5714 Call: 1-888-387-5714.  After all, it’s a toll-free call.

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Imagine dialing 911 and hearing an automated voice tell you that what you have dialed is not a valid number; or reaching a 911 call center only to have emergency personnel dispatched to the wrong location. In response to such problems, the FCC recently released a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) asking a broad range of questions about the capability of enterprise-based communications systems (ECS)—internal phone systems used in places like office buildings, campuses and hotels—to provide access for 911 calls.

According to the FCC, certain of these systems may not support direct 911 dialing, may not have the capability to route calls to the appropriate 911 call center, or may not provide accurate information on the caller’s location. The NOI seeks public comment on consumer expectations regarding the ability to access 911 call centers when calling from an ECS, and seeks ways, including regulation if needed, to improve the capabilities of ECS to provide direct access for 911 calls.

Continue reading →

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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:

  • TV Station Agrees to $17,500 Consent Decree for Failure to Properly Identify Children’s Programming and Other Violations
  • FCC Proposes $22,000 Fine Against Store for Operating Cell Phone Jammer
  • Marketing of Unauthorized Radio Frequency Devices Leads to $30,000 Civil Penalty

Failure to Properly Identify Children’s Programming and Related Violations Lead to $17,500 Settlement with FCC

The FCC entered into a Consent Decree with a New Jersey commercial TV station to resolve an investigation into whether the station failed to properly identify children’s programming on-air, failed to provide publishers of program guides with necessary children’s programming information, failed to report these violations in its license renewal application, and failed to provide complete and accurate information in its Children’s Television Programming Reports.

The Children’s Television Act of 1990 introduced an obligation for television broadcast stations to offer programming that meets the educational and informational needs of children, known as “Core Programming.” Section 73.671(c)(5) of the FCC’s Rules expands on this obligation by requiring that broadcasters identify Core Programming by displaying the “E/I” symbol on the television screen throughout the program. Section 73.673 of the Rules requires a commercial broadcast television station to provide the publishers of program guides with “information identifying programming specifically designed to educate and inform children,” including the age group of the intended audience. Finally, Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s Rules requires each commercial broadcast station to prepare and place in its public inspection files a Children’s Television Programming Report for each calendar quarter showing, among other things, the efforts made during that three-month period to serve the educational and informational needs of children.

The station’s license renewal application was filed in January 2015. In reviewing the application, the FCC looked at the station’s previously filed Children’s Television Programming Reports and learned that the station’s second quarter 2010 report indicated that certain Core Programming failed to display the “E/I” symbol. The FCC subsequently sent an informal inquiry to the station requesting an explanation, which eventually led to the station filing an amended license renewal application.

In its amended application, the station conceded that it: (1) failed to display the “E/I” symbol during certain Core Programming aired on its multicast streams between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the second quarter of 2015; (2) failed to provide the publishers of program guides the necessary children’s programming information between the second quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of 2016; and (3) failed to provide complete and accurate Children’s Television Programming Reports between the second quarter of 2007 and the fourth quarter of 2016. The amended application also revealed that the station failed to disclose these violations in its 2015 license renewal application.

To resolve the investigation of these violations, the station subsequently entered into a Consent Decree with the FCC under which the station: (1) admitted liability for the violations; (2) agreed to make a $17,500 settlement payment; and (3) agreed to implement a three-year compliance plan to ensure future compliance. The FCC stated that it would grant the station’s license renewal application conditioned upon the station “fully and timely satisfying its obligation to make the Settlement payment….”

Texas Store Faces $22,000 Fine for Operating Cell Phone Jammer

The FCC proposed a $22,000 fine against a Texas store for operating a cell phone jammer.

Section 301 of the Communications Act bans the use or operation of “any apparatus for the transmission of energy or communications or signals by radio” without a license. Section 302(b) of the Act states that “[n]o person shall manufacture, import, sell, offer for sale, or ship devices or home electronic equipment and systems, or use devices, which fail to comply with regulations promulgated pursuant to this section.” And Section 333 of the Act provides that “[n]o person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this Act or operated by the United States Government.” Continue reading →

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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:

  • FCC Proposes $66,000 Fine Against Alaska Noncommercial FM Station for EAS and Other Violations
  • Man Faces $120 Million Fine for “Massive” Robocall Operation
  • FCC Proposes $1,500 Fine Against South Carolina AM Station for Late-Filed License Renewal

Alaska Noncommercial FM Station Faces $66,000 Fine for EAS and Other Violations

The FCC proposed a $66,000 fine against an Alaska noncommercial FM station for a number of violations, including actions that the FCC says “undermine the effectiveness of the Emergency Alert System (EAS).”

Section 11.15 of the FCC’s Rules requires that a copy of the EAS Operating Handbook be located “at normal duty stations or EAS equipment locations when an operator is required to be on duty.” In addition, Section 11.35(a) of the Rules states that EAS participants are responsible for ensuring that EAS equipment, such as encoders and decoders, are installed such that “monitoring and transmitting functions are available during the times the stations and system are in operation.” Also, Section 11.52(d)(1) requires EAS participants to monitor two EAS sources.

A June 2013 FCC inspection of the station’s main studio revealed several violations of the FCC’s EAS Rules. Specifically, the FCC agent found that the station (1) did not have an EAS Handbook; (2) did not have properly operating EAS equipment (because the programming and identification of the station’s EAS device was for another station); and (3) was only monitoring one EAS source.

In addition, the agent found numerous violations of the FCC’s other broadcast rules, including: (1) failure to post a valid license as required by Section 73.1230; (2) failure to maintain a public inspection file as required by Section 73.3527; (3) failure to retain the logs required by Section 73.1840; (4) failure to maintain a main studio staff under Section 73.1125(a); (5) inability to produce documentation designating a chief operator as required by Section 73.1870; and (6) failure to ensure that the station was operating in accordance with the terms of the station authorization or within variances permitted under the FCC’s technical rules, as required by Section 73.1400.

The FCC subsequently issued a Notice of Violation (“NOV”) to the station in August 2013. When the FCC did not receive a response from the station within the 20-day deadline specified in the NOV, the FCC sent a Warning Letter to the station in September 2013, and issued two additional NOVs in November 2013 and April 2016 directing the station “to provide information concerning the apparent violations described in the August 2013 NOV.” Despite signing a receipt for the April 2016 NOV, the station again failed to respond.

The base fine amounts for the apparent EAS violations, broadcast violations, and failures to respond to the NOVs total $11,000, $23,000, and $16,000 respectively. The FCC may adjust a fine upward or downward after taking into account the particular facts of each case. Here, citing the station’s failure to respond to FCC documents of four occasions, the FCC concluded that a 100 percent upward adjustment of the base fine for the failures to respond, or an additional $16,000, was warranted. As a result, the FCC proposed a total fine against the station of $66,000.

FCC Proposes $120 Million Fine for Caller ID Spoofing Operation

A Florida man’s spoofing campaign has earned him a proposed $120 million fine. The man apparently caused the display of misleading or inaccurate caller ID information (“spoofing”) on millions of calls to perpetrate an illegal robocalling campaign.

The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, as codified in Section 227(e) of the Communications Act and Section 64.1604 of the FCC’s Rules, prohibits any person from knowingly causing, directly or indirectly, any caller ID service to transmit or display misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value. Continue reading →

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The FCC voted unanimously yesterday to adopt a Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) that may have a profound impact on the delivery of communications services in residential and commercial buildings, shopping malls and other multiple tenant environments (“MTEs”). This proceeding will revisit FCC rules and policies developed during the last 17 years, focusing on whether changes need to be made to enhance broadband deployment and consumer choice.  Building owners and managers, communications service providers, and tenants all have a stake in the outcome of this inquiry.

In a nutshell, current FCC policies favor competitive access by telecom and video service providers (with some exceptions), and prohibit exclusive contracts between service providers and building owners that would limit such access. These rules also cover access to in-building wiring and the conduits and rights-of-way within these properties that are owned or controlled by the service providers.   The rules apply to regulated service providers because the FCC generally lacks jurisdiction over building owners and managers.

The most recent FCC order, issued in 2010, approved the use of exclusive marketing and bulk billing arrangements between video providers and building owners. Exclusive marketing arrangements give video providers the exclusive right to market services to residents in a building.  Bulk billing arrangements permit the video provider to serve each resident of the building, usually at a significant discount from the retail rate.  The billing for services is often included within the rent, whether the resident uses the services or contracts with another service provider.

The FCC initiated this proceeding in response to allegations from fixed and mobile broadband service providers that they face challenges in expanding their service footprint because of MTEs with exclusive contracts. There are also arguments that state regulations intended to encourage competitive access actually hinder the ability to provide competitive services. In one pending proceeding, a group of service providers has asked the FCC to preempt an ordinance recently adopted by the City of San Francisco requiring building owners to give competing service providers access to existing wiring upon request from a resident, which the complaining service providers and many building owners contend will deter investment in the communications infrastructure of new buildings and is impractical because of space limitations in many older buildings.

Unlike the earlier proceedings which were focused on specific markets (telecommunications or video services) or types of buildings (resident or commercial), the NOI will cover all services and all types of MTEs. Indeed, for the purpose of this proceeding, MTEs include both commercial and residential premises such as apartment and condominium buildings, shopping malls, gated communities, mobile home parks, garden apartments and other centrally managed residential real estate developments, or any multi-unit premise occupied by two or more distinct units.  Most buildings are covered by this proceeding.

Some of the specific questions on which the FCC seeks comment include:

  1. Whether there are state and local regulations that may inhibit broadband deployment and competition within MTEs;
  2. Whether the FCC should revisit its decision approving exclusive marketing and bulk billing arrangements;
  3. Whether revenue sharing agreements, exclusive wiring arrangements or other types of contractual provisions are affecting broadband competition within MTEs;
  4. Whether there are statutory or jurisdictional considerations that should guide the FCC’s actions in this proceeding; and
  5. Whether the proposed reclassification of broadband internet access as an information service will impact the FCC’s legal authority to address broadband deployment within MTEs.

Comments in this proceeding will be due July 24, 2017 and reply comments will be due August 22, 2017.   The NOI process is a first step toward the development of new rules.  Once the NOI comment cycle is completed, the FCC may issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing rule changes, requiring another round of comments before new rules could be adopted.

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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 →

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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 Proposes $25,000 Fine Against Individual for Operating a Pirate Radio Station
  • FCC Admonishes Wireless Carrier for Data Breach
  • Telecommunications Relay Service Providers Agree to $9.1 Million Settlement

Pirate Radio Operator Faces $25,000 Proposed Fine After Flaunting Multiple FCC Warnings

After issuing multiple warnings, the FCC proposed a $25,000 fine against a New Jersey man for operating an unlicensed radio station. Section 301 of the Communications Act prohibits any person from operating any apparatus for the transmission of energy or communications or signals by radio within the United States without FCC authorization.

In October 2015, the licensee of an FM translator station in Jersey City complained to the FCC that an unauthorized station was causing co-channel interference. FCC agents verified the complaint and issued a Notice of Unlicensed Operation (“NOUO”) to the owner of the apartment building where the unlicensed station was operating. The unauthorized broadcast subsequently stopped. However, in May 2016, the FCC received another complaint and found that the unlicensed station was operating again. FCC agents issued a second NOUO, this time to both the individual operating the pirate station and the building owner. The individual contacted the FCC in June 2016, at which time he was warned he could face additional enforcement action if unlicensed operations continued.

Despite that admonition, FCC agents found the individual again engaged in unlicensed operation in August 2016, this time at a different site. The FCC issued another NOUO, but later that month found the individual operating without a license again, this time at yet another site.

FCC guidelines set a base fine for unauthorized operation of $10,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation. The FCC may adjust the fine upward or downward after taking into account the particular facts of each case. Here, the FCC found that a “significant upward adjustment was warranted” due to the individual’s disregard of multiple warnings. As a result, the FCC proposed a $20,000 base fine—$10,000 for the May 2016 operations and another $10,000 for the August 2016 operations—and applied a $5,000 upward adjustment, for a total proposed fine of $25,000.

Hack of Wireless Carrier Leads to Admonishment by FCC

The FCC admonished a national wireless phone carrier for a 2015 data breach in which a third party gained unauthorized access to personal information collected by the carrier to run credit checks on customers.

Section 222(a) of the Communications Act requires telecommunications carriers to “protect the confidentiality of proprietary information of, and relating to . . . customers.” It also requires carriers to “take every reasonable precaution” to protect personal customer information. Section 201(b) of the Act requires practices related to interstate or foreign telecommunications to be “just and reasonable.” Continue reading →

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After the election, it was clear that we would be seeing a much different FCC in 2017. Such transitions typically take time, as a president’s nomination of new candidates to fill the Chairman’s or commissioners’ seats, along with the delay typically associated with obtaining Senate confirmation, means that a new fully-staffed FCC won’t typically be ready for action until May or June following the January change in administrations. By that time, the actions of the prior FCC have often become final and unappealable, or at least the regulated industries have already begun to adapt their operations to comply with those rules, making subsequent changes more complicated.

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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 Proposes $10,000 Fine to FM Licensee for Public Inspection File Violations
  • Spoofed Calls Lead to $25,000 Fine
  • Wireless Licensee Agrees to Pay $28,800 Settlement for Operating on Unauthorized Frequencies

FM Licensee Hit with $10,000 Proposed Fine for “Extensive” Public Inspection File Violations

The FCC proposed a $10,000 fine against a South Carolina FM licensee for “willfully and repeatedly” failing to retain all required public inspection file documents.

Continue reading →