I just finished speaking on a panel at the Radio Ink Convergence ’09 conference in San Jose.  My panel was called "The Distribution Dilemma: Opportunities, Partnership and Landmines."  As the legal representative, my role was, of course, to talk about the landmines.  And one occurred to me in the middle of the panel when a representative of Ibiquity, the HD Radio people, about one of the opportunities available for the multicast channels available in that system, where an FM radio operator can, on one FM station, send out two or three different digital signals.  The particular opportunity that was discussed was the ability to bring in outside programmers to program the digital channels, specifically talking about a recent deal where a broadcaster had entered into a deal with a company that would be brokering a digital channel in major markets, and programming that station with a format directed to the Asian communities.  Broadcasters are generally familiar with the fact that, when they broker their traditional analog broadcast station to a third party, the licensee remains responsible for the content that is delivered in that brokered programming – e.g. making sure that there are no payola, indecency, lottery or other legal issues that pop up in that brokered programming.  Broadcasters need to remember that that same responsibility applies to multicast streams, whether they are on HD radio or on a multicast stream broadcast by a digital television station.  These stream are over-the-air broadcast channels subject to all FCC programming rules.

Foreign language programming has traditionally presented programming issues for broadcasters.  In the 1970s and 1980s, there were multiple cases where broadcasters actually lost licenses because there was illegal activity taking place in brokered programming.  In these cases, the programming contained illegal content and the licensee had no way to monitor the content of the programs as the licensee had no one on staff who spoke the language in which the programming was produced.  The FCC basically said that the licensee had the responsibility to be able to monitor all programming broadcast on its station – so they had abdicated their responsibility to keep the station in compliance with FCC rules by not knowing what was being said in the brokered programming.


Continue Reading Caution on Multicast Streams – Remember It’s Still Over-the-Air Broadcasting

2009 – a new year, and a whole new cycle of regulatory requirements.  We wrote last week about the potential for changes in regulations that may be forthcoming but, like death and taxes, there are certain regulatory dates each year that broadcasters need to note and certain deadlines that must be met.  Those dates

Come the New Year, we all engage in speculation about what’s ahead in our chosen fields, so it’s time for us to look into our crystal ball to try to discern what Washington may have in store for broadcasters in 2009. With each new year, a new set of regulatory issues face the broadcaster from the powers-that-be in Washington. But this year, with a new Presidential administration, new chairs of the Congressional committees that regulate broadcasters, and with a new FCC on the way, the potential regulatory challenges may cause the broadcaster to look at the new year with more trepidation than usual. In a year when the digital television transition finally becomes a reality, and with a troubled economy and no election or Olympic dollars to ease the downturn, who wants to deal with new regulatory obstacles? Yet, there are potential changes that could affect virtually all phases of the broadcast operations for both radio and television stations – technical, programming, sales, and even the use of music – all of which may have a direct impact on a station’s bottom line that can’t be ignored. 

With the digital conversion, one would think that television broadcasters have all the technical issues that they need for 2009. But the FCC’s recent adoption of its “White Spaces” order, authorizing the operation of unlicensed wireless devices on the TV channels, insures that there will be other issues to watch. The White Spaces decision will likely be appealed. While the appeal is going on, the FCC will have to work on the details of the order’s implementation, including approving operators of the database that is supposed to list all the stations that the new wireless devices will have to protect, as well as “type accepting” the devices themselves, essentially certifying that the devices can do what their backers claim – knowing where they are through the use of geolocation technology, “sniffing” out signals to protect, and communicating with the database to avoid interference with local television, land mobile radio, and wireless microphone signals.


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – The Outlook for Broadcast Regulation in 2009

As broadcasters are aware, earlier this year, the FCC imposed DTV Consumer Education requirements mandating that television stations and other video providers educate viewers about the upcoming transition from analog to digital television (DTV).  Thus far, the education efforts have consisted primarily of Public Service Announcements (PSAs), crawls, and longer format programs designed to educate the

The FCC has released a Public Notice reminding TV stations to update their FCC Form 387 DTV Transition Status Reports by October 20, 2008.  If you will recall, these Reports were filed by stations earlier this year (and updated in July) outlining the steps remaining for the stations to complete the transition to DTV.

As we’re

On Monday, the President signed into law a bill adjusting the reimbursement dates of the Low Power Television grant program by which LPTV and TV translator stations can seek a $1,000 grant in order to ensure that they are able to continue to receive and rebroadcast the signals of primary full-power television stations once the full-power stations complete the transition to digital television.   In late 2007, the government announced the start of the LPTV Digital-to-Analog grant program designed to help translators and low power television stations continue their analog broadcasts after the February 17, 2009 conversion of full-power television stations to DTV.  Specifically, the LPTV Digital-to-Analog Conversion grant program will provide funds to eligible translators and LPTV stations that need to purchase a digital-to-analog converter box in order to convert the incoming signal of a full-power DTV station to analog format for retransmission on the analog LPTV station.  The program has been funded with a total of $8 million, which is available in $1,000 grants to eligible LPTV stations.  As a result of the recent change, funds granted through the LPTV Digital-to-Analog grant program will available beginning in fiscal year 2009 (Oct. 1, 2008 – Sept. 30, 2009), rather than in fiscal year 2011.  In addition, the recent bill also extends the availability of funding through fiscal year 2012.

Any low-power television broadcast station, Class A television station, television translator station, or television booster station that meets the following three criteria may apply for the grant to defray the cost of the digital-to-analog converter box:

  1. It is itself broadcasting exclusively in analog format;
  2. It has not purchased a digital-to-analog conversion device prior to February 8, 2006; and
  3. It is (or will be) re-transmitting the off-air digital signal of a full-power DTV station.

Applications for this grant program are being accepted until February 17, 2009.  Priority compensation will be given to eligible LPTV stations licensed to 501(c) non-profit entities or LPTV stations serving a rural area of fewer than 10,000 viewers.  Thus, priority is given to stations owned by translator associations and others that might not otherwise be able to afford the costs of converting the signals that they receive from analog to digital, and which might, without the grants, go off the air.  More information on how to apply for such grants is available on the NTIA’s website here.   


Continue Reading Dates for Reimbursement Under the LPTV Digital-to-Analog Grant Program Revised

The Commission’s DTV Third Periodic Review adopting the rules and procedures for moving television stations through the end of the DTV transition was published in the Federal Register today, meaning that almost all of the new rules and forms adopted by the Order are now effective.   Now that the majority of the new rules are

On the last day of 2007, the FCC released a 108 page order detailing its rules for the final stages of the transition of US full power television stations from analog to digital, a transition that is to be completed in less than 14 months.  The Third Periodic Review, as the order is titled, covers in detail the timing of required construction of the final facilities for each full power television station, as well as various details on other transition issues.  While we will prepare a more detailed summary of the order, some of the more significant issues that the Commission addressed include the following:

  • Established firm construction deadlines for final digital facilities for television stations which have not yet constructed those facilities. The deadlines are:
    • February 17, 2009 for stations moving to a new digital channel, or to their analog channel, for their ultimate digital operations
    • May 18, 2008 for stations that will remain on their current digital channel and which already hold a construction permit for their digital operations
    • August 18, 2008 for stations that will remain on their current digital channel but which do not have a construction permit for their ultimate facilities
  • Extensions of these deadlines will be permitted only upon a showing that the circumstances preventing construction were unexpected or beyond the control of the licensee, including zoning and financial inability – though these standards were made more limited than those that previously applied.  Any extension beyond February 17, 2009 will be granted only if it meets the Commission’s tolling standards, e.g. there is litigation which must be resolved before the construction can begin or an Act of God that temporarily precludes construction.
  • By February 18, 2008, each television station licensee must file a new form with the FCC, Form 387, detailing the status of construction of the digital facilities of the station, and must update the information periodically if they have not yet completed their DTV construction.
  • The Commission has agreed to allow stations to receive Special Temporary Authority to operate with limited facilities, and to even cease analog broadcasting before the end of the transition or for periods of up to 30 days, if necessary to facilitate their ultimate construction, under certain specific guidelines and after prior notification that must be given to viewers. 
  • The current freeze on applications for increased facilities will be lifted after August 18, 2008
  • The Commission adopted new interference standards for applications for improvement in digital stations
  • Any digital station, whether operating as a licensee or permittee, must pay fees for any ancillary or supplementary services that they provide with their digital spectrum
  • Provided a format for the station identification that must be used when a digital station uses a secondary channel to rebroadcast another station, such as a low power television station.


Continue Reading FCC Releases Order Addressing the Process for the Final Transition to Digital Television

Late Tuesday night, in a meeting originally scheduled to start at 9:30 in the morning, the FCC adopted an order establishing the rules governing the carriage of broadcast signals by cable operators after the February 17, 2009 transition to digital television.  While the full text of the Commission’s action has not yet been released (and may not be released for quite some time), based on the FCC’s formal news release and the statements made by the commissioners at the meeting and in their accompanying press releases, we can provide the following summary of these important FCC actions.

First, for a period of at least three years after the February 17, 2009 transition from analog to digital broadcasting, cable operators will be required to make the signals of local broadcast stations available to all of their subscribers by either:  (1) carrying the television station’s digital signal in an analog format, or (2) carrying the signal only in digital format, provided that all subscribers have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content.  This rule reflects a compromise position offered by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and is regarded as less burdensome on cable systems then the FCC’s original proposal of an indefinite analog carriage obligation. 

Second, the FCC reaffirmed its existing requirement that cable systems must carry High Definition (HD) broadcast signals in HD format, and further that it must carry signals with “no material degradation”, i.e., with picture quality as good as any other programming carried by the operator.  In affirming its "no material degradation" standard, the FCC rejected a proposal by the broadcast industry that would have required operators to pass-through all of the bits in digital television broadcast signal.


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Post-Digital Transition “Must-Carry” Rules, Extends Ban on Exclusive Programming Contracts, and Opens Inquiry Into “Tying” Agreements