The FCC has released its agenda for its September meeting, and it is an important one for television broadcasters. On the agenda for the meeting to be held this Friday, September 28, is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek comments on its proposals to implement the Congressional authority to hold incentive auctions to clear part of the television spectrum so that the spectrum can be used for wireless broadband purposes (see our summary of the legislative authority here). Obviously, this will decision will be important for the television industry, as well as for companies looking to deploy additional wireless broadband and those hoping to reach consumers using wireless broadband.

This proceeding will necessarily be very complex, as it will need to design a system that will take into account many moving parts. First, it will need to take bids from those television stations that are willing to turn in their licenses, or to share spectrum with another station or move to a VHF channel – all of which might qualify the station for compensation. While keeping these bids secret, the Commission must also take bids to buy the cleared spectrum from wireless companies.  The Commission needs to determine if enough money will be received from these bids to pay for stations to turn in their licenses, to repack the remaining TV stations into a smaller television band that will free some television channels to allow for a contiguous swath of spectrum that the wireless operators can use, to pay the auction costs, and to pay for certain public safety wireless uses that are to be subsidized by the auction proceeds. The Commission will also have to design a process for repacking TV stations into a smaller television band, in many ways replicating the process that the FCC went through when it compacted the TV spectrum during the digital transition.


Continue Reading FCC To Consider Incentive Auctions for TV Spectrum This Week

 The Online Public File for television stations is now a reality. While appeals of the imposition of the rules remain pending, both the FCC and the US Court of Appeals denied stays of the August 2 effective date for the new requirements, so full-power and Class A television stations should now be complying with the new obligations to maintain their public files online. The Online Public File is hosted by the FCC, and uses the FCC’s newly created system for uploading, storing and accessing the documents. So far, the system seems to be functioning with a minimum of problems, though one or two glitches have been reported here and there.

Documents that stations file with the FCC are supposed to be uploaded to the Online Public File automatically by the FCC, so individual stations do not need to worry about importing them into the new system. We have heard that this may not have occurred in every instance, so stations should check their files to be sure that the proper uploading has in fact occurred. Other documents will need to be uploaded by the stations themselves, and stations will also be responsible for maintaining and monitoring the file, and deleting documents when their retention is no longer required.

Just what are the requirements for the new online public file? The FCC has put out its own Frequently Asked Questions, available here. There are many other questions that will no doubt arise over time.  We have tried to do our own summary of the obligations as we know them in the answers to common questions that we are getting about the obligations under the new rules.  Those questions and answers are set out below.


Continue Reading Questions and Answers About the TV Online Public Inspection File

The over-the-air reception of television stations has taken on heightened awareness in recent years.  In the regulatory world, this prominence comes from the FCC’s consideration of taking back some of the broadcast spectrum for use by wireless broadband based at least partially on the Commission’s belief that broadcasters are not using that spectrum efficiently as many viewers,over the last

Three broadcast items are tentatively scheduled for the next FCC meeting, to be held on April 27, according to the tentative agenda released today.  In one expected action, though perhaps moving more quickly than many thought possible, the FCC has indicated that it will adopt an Order in its proceeding requiring TV broadcasters to place and maintain their public files on the Internet.  A second broadcast item will adopt rules for channel sharing by TV broadcasters as part of the plan for incentive auctions to entice TV broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum for wireless broadband use.  Finally, the FCC proposes to adopt a NPRM on whether to amend current policies so as to permit noncommercial broadcasters from interrupting their regular programming to raise funds for organizations other than the station itself.

The first item is to determine whether to require that the broadcasters maintain an Online Public Inspection File, is a controversial issue about which we wrote last week. The proposal for the online file grew out of the FCC’s Future of Media Report (renamed the Report on the Information Needs of Communities when it was released last year, see our summary here).  In that same report, it was suggested that the FCC relax rules applicable to noncommercial broadcasters that limit their on-air fundraising for third-parties, if that fundraising interrupts the normal course of programming.  The Future of Media Report suggests that this restriction be relaxed so that noncommercial broadcasters be able to do block programming from time to time to raise funds for other noncommercial entities


Continue Reading On the Schedule for the April 27 FCC Meeting: Television Public Interest Obligations, TV Channel Sharing and Third-Party Fundraising by Noncommercial Broadcasters

While the FCC has not yet started a proceeding to set rules for the auction of television spectrum for broadband purposes, the Commission is taking steps to clear the spectrum in other ways.  Two weeks ago, we wrote about the FCC’s actions proposing to remove the Class A designation from certain LPTV stations that had

Congress finally has given to the FCC authority to conduct spectrum auctions to reclaim parts of the TV spectrum for wireless users, and most DC-based industry associations, including the NAB, have reacted favorably. For a process that was so controversial, this seems like a very favorable result. Television stations, in particular, will have much relief from concerns about the forced-reallocation of their operations to less favorable spectrum. While most trade press reports have reported on these statements and the very general outlines of the legislation, few have looked closely at the provisions that apply to the broadcaster auctions. Just what do they provide?

The auction provisions were adopted as part of the legislation that just extended the Social Security payroll tax deduction rollbacks, extended unemployment benefits, and fixed certain limitations that had arisen on Medicare reimbursements to doctors. All these benefits needed offsetting revenues to avoid unduly increasing the Federal deficit, and the one seemingly easy place to “find” money, was through spectrum auctions. So Congress ordered the President to identify certain Federal spectrum that could be made available for wireless users, and also authorized the FCC to conduct auctions of broadcast spectrum, but under the very specific guidelines set out below.


Continue Reading Congress Authorizes FCC Incentive Auctions to Clear Part of Broadcast TV Spectrum for Wireless Broadband Users – The Details of the Legislation

In the wake of Commission’s rejection of hundreds of closed captioning waivers last year, many small television producers are now seeking new waivers for relief from the Commission’s television closed captioning rules.  Last October, the Commission overturned nearly 300 "economically burdensome" captioning waivers on the grounds that the FCC had failed to apply the correct standard of review and

This afternoon, the FCC released its long-anticipated Report and Order (R&O) setting forth the Commission’s new closed captioning rules for IP-delivered video programming, pursuant to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). 

As we explained when the rules were first proposed in September, the CVAA directed the FCC to establish how and when certain

The FCC approved the first database manager for TV white spaces devices – those wireless communications devices that will operate in the spectrum currently used by broadcast television, operating on channels not in use in a given area and supposedly avoiding interference to the reception of over-the-air television stations.  Spectrum Bridge is the first company to be approved to act as a database manager, though there are several other companies who have applied and whose systems are in various stages of development and testing.  The database manager is to keep a list of all of the services that a white spaces device needs to protect from interference, and be able to transmit that information to devices to tell them what channels they can use in a given geographical area.  Protection must be accorded not only to TV stations and TV translators and LPTV stations, but also to the receive sites of Multichannel Video Programing Distributors (cable and satellite TV), certain broadcast auxiliary operations, off-shore telephone services and radio astronomy users, some land mobile operators, and certain wireless microphone users.  Today’s Public Notice specifically addresses how wireless microphone users need to register with the FCC to be protected from interference.

The Spectrum Bridge database was tested a few months ago, and the FCC’s letter outlines a number of concerns expressed about its operations.  These include several problems encountered by the NAB in registering sites that were supposed to be protected by white spaces devices.  While licensed facilities of TV stations and land mobile users are available from the FCC’s own database, receive sites for MVPDs and translators need to be registered, as do the location of certain mobile broadcast auxiliary stations.  The FCC ordered Spectrum Bridge to re-open its database for the registration of additional sites to be protected, and said that this would provide registrants the ability to test the modifications to the system in the coming weeks before the system becomes operational. 


Continue Reading FCC Approves First TV White Spaces Database Manager – Wireless Devices in TV Band to Start Operations in January