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NTIA Concludes UAS Multistakeholder Process; Releases Consensus Document on Voluntary Best Practices

Posted in Uncategorized

uasThe National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) has concluded its multistakeholder process on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and released a consensus document proposing voluntary best practices for UAS privacy, transparency, and accountability. The best practices document is the product of a 13-month process that included a request for public comment, several public meetings, and the involvement of dozens of stakeholders from the UAS industry, civil society, and academia. Although some stakeholders declined to support the resulting document, the document achieved consensus.

The resulting best practices are non-binding, but important nonetheless. Best practices could form the basis for subsequent Federal, state, or local regulation. They also could set a de facto industry standard that could guide state or federal enforcement activities. Companies that publicly commit to following the best practices may open themselves to enforcement under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act for unfair or deceptive acts or practices if they fail to comply. Continue Reading

Third Circuit Vacates Joint Sales Agreement Attribution Rule, Expresses Displeasure Regarding FCC Delay in Concluding Quadrennial Reviews, and Orders Mediation Regarding an Eligible Entity Definition

Posted in Broadcast Attribution, Broadcast Regulation, Transactions

In what will no doubt become quickly known as Prometheus III, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has issued its opinion reviewing the latest of the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC’s”) decisions (or lack of decisions) in the Quadrennial Review of its media ownership rules pursuant to Section 202(h) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  At issue was the FCC’s 2014 determination that, although it lacked sufficient information to conclude the 2010 review, it had a sufficient record on which to effectively expand the local television ownership rule by treating certain television joint sales agreements (“JSAs”) as “attributable interests” akin to ownership.

Section 202(h) imposes an obligation upon the FCC to review its media ownership rules every four years, to determine whether those rules remain necessary in the public interest, and to repeal or modify any rule that does not meet that standard. Since 1998 (the first review following adoption of the media ownership review mandate in 1996), the FCC’s periodic review decisions have been the subject of requests for judicial review and remands.  As it now stands, the FCC has yet to complete any such review to a reviewing court’s full satisfaction.  In the most recent litigation, media company petitioners challenged the FCC’s decision to attribute television JSAs and its failure to complete the 2010 quadrennial review in a timely fashion, while citizens’ groups faulted the FCC for its refusal to adopt an appropriate definition of “eligible entity” for purposes of rules designed to increase minority and female ownership.  In essence, the FCC was faced with challenges from both sides, and the Third Circuit, at least in part, sided with the challengers in all respects.

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The New Online Public File Rules Go Into Effect on June 24, 2016

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Political Broadcasting

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) has announced that its new online public file rules, adopted in January of this year, will go into effect on June 24, 2016.

Beginning on June 24, 2016, the following entities must place all new public file material into the online public file database:

  • Commercial Radio Stations located in the top 50 Nielsen Audio radio markets with 5 or more full-time employees;
  • DBS providers;
  • Cable systems with 1,000 or more subscribers; and
  • SDARS licensees.

By December 24, 2016, these same entities must have uploaded all existing public file material to the online public file database, except that existing political file material may be excluded.  Simultaneously with the expansion of the online public file obligations to cover new services, the FCC is rolling out a new public file database with enhanced capabilities.  The new database will go live on June 24, 2016.  The Commission will transition all existing public file material (for television stations) into this new database by that date.  The expanded database will have several features requested by broadcasters, including the ability to:

  • Connect to third-party web hosting services (i.e., Dropbox, Box);
  • Upload a document into multiple folders;
  • Move a document between folders while preserving the original upload date; and
  • Update the Closed Captioning contact information.

Beginning May 12, 2016, the new public file database is available for users to test, and can be found here: https://publicfiles-demo.fcc.gov/admin/.  Note that this database is only available for testing at this time.  Any material uploaded here prior to June 24, 2016 will be deleted.  Television broadcasters should continue uploading material to the existing public file database until June 24.  The FCC will also host a webinar to explain the features of the public file database at a date to be announced.

The FCC will entertain waiver requests from entities that believe that transitioning to the online public file will impose an undue burden.  Parties requesting a waiver must provide information documenting the economic hardship that they will incur, their technical inability to comply, or other reasons justifying a waiver.  The Commission indicated that it will give “careful consideration” to requests by commercial radio stations with between five and ten full-time employees and that it will be “favorably inclined” to grant requests from very small radio stations with fewer than five full-time employees that require additional time.

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New FCC Online Public File Requirements Approved by OMB; Effective Date Coming Soon

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

This morning, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the FCC’s new online public file requirements for radio stations, cable systems, DBS operators, and SDARS operators.  The rules are not yet effective, but will become effective on a rolling basis on the schedule below after an approval notice is published in the Federal Register.  Based on past experience, we expect Federal Register publication to occur within a few days to a few weeks.  When Federal Register publication occurs, the FCC will announce the actual effective date of the new rules.  The FCC has also said that it will schedule tutorial sessions (as it did when the television online public file was implemented) prior to the effective date of the new rules.

  • Within 30 days of the publication of approval of the rules by OMB: Commercial broadcast radio stations in the top 50 markets with five or more full time employees in their station employment unit, cable systems with 1,000 or more subscribers, DBS providers, and SDARS licensees must begin uploading new public inspection file material and new political file material to the online public file. Cable systems with between 1,000 and 5,000 subscribers initially will be exempt from the requirement to upload new political file material.
  • Within six months of the publication of approval of the rules by the OMB: Commercial broadcast radio stations in the top 50 markets with five or more full time employees in their station employment unit, cable systems with 1,000 or more subscribers, DBS providers, and SDARS licensees must complete the process of uploading their existing public file material to the online public file.
  • March 1, 2018: Commercial broadcast radio stations outside the top 50 markets or with fewer than five full-time employees in their station employment unit and all NCE radio broadcast stations will have until March 1, 2018 to upload their existing public inspection file material to the online public file. From that date forward, such stations must also upload new public inspection file material and new political file material to the online public file. Additionally, cable systems with between 1,000 and 5,000 employees must begin uploading new political file material to the online public file by this date.

 

What to Make of the 126 MHz Incentive Auction Clearing Target

Posted in Spectrum

auction-block-150x140This morning, the FCC announced that the initial clearing target for the reverse auction will be 126 MHz, which is at the high end of expected clearing targets (although the FCC adopted potential band plans up to 144 MHz, its agreements with Mexico and Canada limited the utility of band plans above 126 MHz).  The high clearing target reflects robust broadcaster participation in the auction.  In a statement, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said: “The wireless industry has said it needs additional spectrum to meet growing customer demand and usher in the age of 5G. The broadcasters have stepped up and done their part to fulfill that demand.”

Under the 126 MHz clearing target, the new UHF television band will be 14-29.  Although the FCC has not announced how many television stations will be repacked on channels above 29 (and within the new 600 MHz band), based on the other information that the FCC released, the number of such stations appears to be low (which will come as a relief to many broadcasters that did not submit bids to participate in the auction).

With the initial clearing target out of the way, much attention will turn to the forward side of the auction and whether there will be sufficient demand to allow the auction to close in the first stage.  Under the Spectrum Act and the FCC’s rules, the auction can only close if forward auction revenues are sufficient to cover the cost of clearing broadcasters and the FCC’s auction costs, as well as to fund the $1.75 billion TV broadcaster repacking fund.  If the forward auction falls just short, the FCC will hold an extended round in an effort to close the auction in that stage.  Otherwise, the FCC will advance to a second stage of the auction at a 114 MHz clearing target.  Continue Reading

FCC to Reimburse Repacking Expenses Incurred Before Auction Close — But With a Catch

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Broadcast Technology

prepareThe FCC has some good news for broadcasters that want to get a jump on the repacking process.  In a Declaratory Ruling issued today, the Commission announced that “costs reasonably incurred” by broadcasters prior to the close of the Incentive Auction and the issuance of the Channel Reassignment Public Notice may be eligible for reimbursement under the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund.  The Declaratory Ruling removes a potential barrier for stations that wanted to take certain actions in preparation for the repack, such as conducting tower studies.

However, there are three constraints on obtaining reimbursement for expenses incurred before the auction is complete: Continue Reading

Five Things Television Broadcasters Should Know About ATSC 3.0

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Broadcast Technology

UPDATE (4/27/16):  The FCC has solicited comments on the Petition for Rulemaking.  Comments are due by May 26, 2016 and reply comments are due by June 27, 2016.

There is a lot of buzz in the bATSC 3roadcast industry about ATSC 3.0.  Yesterday, a coalition of groups representing broadcasters and equipment manufacturers took an important step in the transition to the next generation broadcast standard, asking the FCC to adopt rules allowing television stations to begin broadcast transmissions utilizing the rapidly evolving new standard.  And at the NAB Show next week, there will be countless displays showing off the potential of “Next Generation TV.”  With that backdrop, we thought that it would be a good time to highlight several things that broadcasters should know about ATSC 3.0. Continue Reading

FCC Proposes Expanding Video Description Requirements

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, MVPD Regulation

communicationOn April 1, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on whether to expand its video description requirements to cover additional networks, to increase the number of hours of programming that must be video described, and to improve consumer access to video description information. Comments are due thirty days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register; Reply Comments are due sixty days after Federal Register publication.

The Commission’s current video description rules require commercial television stations affiliated with the top four networks and located in the top 60 television markets to provide 50 hours per calendar quarter of video described prime time or children’s programming. In addition, multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) that serve 50,000 or more subscribers must provide 50 hours of video description per calendar quarter during prime time or children’s programming on each of the top five national nonbroadcast networks (currently USA, TNT, TBS, History, and Disney Channel). The current rules also require all network-affiliated broadcast stations regardless of market size, and all MVPDs regardless of numbers of subscribers, to pass through video description if the station or network has the technical capacity to do so. The current rules were adopted pursuant to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), which authorizes the FCC, subject to certain limitations, to issue additional regulations, if the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.

As detailed further below, the Commission proposes increasing both (1) the number of hours of programming that must be video described, and (2) the number of covered networks. It also proposes to adopt rules designed to enhance consumer access to information about video described programming and to increase the availability of such programming. The NPRM does not propose to expand video description obligations beyond the top 60 DMAs (in part because the CVAA prohibits the Commission from doing so until 2020) or any changes to the pass through requirement. Continue Reading

FCC Rejects Petition to Expand Multilingual EAS; Imposes New Reporting Requirement for EAS Participants

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

MM900297089The FCC has rejected a petition by a group of organizations seeking to make emergency information more accessible to non-English speakers. In an Order released on March 30, 2016, the Commission declared that it “support[s] the general goal of making emergency alert content distributed over the Emergency Alert System (EAS) more accessible to persons whose primary language is not English.” However, the agency determined that state and local authorities are best positioned to distribute multilingual alerts.

Nevertheless, “consistent with the stated purpose” of the petition, the Commission is requiring State Emergency Communications Committees (SECCs) to obtain information from EAS Participants—which include radio stations, television stations, cable systems, wireline video systems, wireless, direct broadcast satellite service providers, and digital audio radio service providers —about how they provide emergency alerts to persons speaking language other than English and to include such information in state EAS plans. Continue Reading

The Auction Block: It’s March 29 – Now What?

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Spectrum

auction-block-150x140Like an episode of Seinfeld, this is a blog post about nothing.

Today marks the official start of the FCC’s broadcast television incentive auction.  Auction-eligible stations have just hours left (until 6:00 p.m. EDT) to submit their initial commitments through the FCC’s auction system.

So you have a full power or Class A television station and submitted your initial commitment—what happens next?  Nothing.  That’s right, nothing.  Okay, not exactly nothing, but it will feel like nothing for auction participants.  FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will not be showing up on anyone’s doorstep tomorrow morning with an oversized check and a camera crew in tow (call it a missed PR opportunity for the Commission). Continue Reading