Last week, the FCC’s Media Bureau granted waivers of the requirement that television tuners be capable of receiving both analog and digital television transmissions, but only with respect to tuners meant for mobile use.  The FCC justified the waivers of the All Channel Receiver Act given the technological constraints that an analog reception chip would put on mobile receivers meant for the reception of the Mobile/Handheld Digital Television Standard (A/153) signals.  This signal is being tested now to allow television broadcasters to provide mobile programming in addition to their current over-the-air broadcast signals – a service planned for commercial roll out at the end of the year.  These waivers, granted in response to requests by Dell and LG Electronics, not only signal the seriousness with which this new service is being regarded, but also provide evidence of the coming end of analog television, now used solely by LPTV stations.   

In considering the waiver, the Commission recognized that the only television stations that would be affected by the lack of an analog tuner were LPTV stations, and no such stations opposed the waiver request.  As one of the waiver proponents noted, analog television signals were not meant for mobile reception, and thus the lack of such a receiver in a mobile device was no big loss.  Moreover, the FCC noted that the digital conversion of LPTV stations has already begun, in that it no longer accepts applications for new analog LPTV stations.  The Commission reiterated that it will soon set a date for the final conversion of the last analog LPTV stations to digital.  Thus, the failure to receive analog would be, at most, a temporary issue.


Continue Reading FCC Authorizes Mobile DTV Receivers Without Analog Tuners – Further Signals of the End of Analog LPTV, and Raises Questions of Recapture of TV Spectrum for Broadband

The FCC today released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking for public comment on its proposed Regulatory Fees for 2010. These fees are paid annually by most commercial entities that are regulated by the FCC for the privilege of being regulated. Noncommercial broadcasters are exempt from the annual regulatory fees. Collectively, the FCC is proposing to collect over $335 million in fees this year from licensees across the various regulated services. The fees are normally paid in September, and the specific deadline for the payment of this year’s fees will be set by a future Order after the FCC has received comments on, and formally adopted, this proposed fee schedule. The FCC has set a short time for comments, with initial Comments on the proposed fees due by May 4, 2010, and Reply Comments due on May 11, 2010.

As in the past, the Regulatory Fees for broadcast stations are generally based on the Class of Service and the population covered by a station. For the most part, the fees proposed for 2010 for broadcast stations are not much different from the 2009 rates, with the fees for a few categories of television stations actually going down slightly. Additionally, there is no change in the fee proposed for LPTV, Class A, and television translator stations.  The full list of proposed fees across the various categories of broadcast stations is provided below.  A few things to note with respect to the fees with respect to digital television stations. The NPRM proposes to collect annual regulatory fees from all digital full-service television stations, including any that may have been operating pursuant to Special Temporary Authority (rather than a license) on October 1, 2009.  With respect to low power and Class A television stations, the FCC has proposed that if a station is operating both an analog and a paired digital signal, then only a single regulatory fee will be assessed for the analog facility and no fee would be required for the digital companion channel.

Not surprisingly, the Commission has proposed to make the use of its electronic Fee Filer database  for the submission of the annual regulatory feesmandatory again, as it was in 2009.  It has also proposed that 2010 will be the last year that it will send out reminder letters to broadcast stations about the fees. Starting in 2011, the FCC is proposing to discontinue sending out media notification letters. As the payment deadline will be sometime in September, watch for an Order this Summer adopting the proposed fees, after folks have had a chance to comment. 


Continue Reading FCC Proposes 2010 Annual Regulatory Fees

Last year’s Court of Appeals decision on Internet radio royalties for 2006-2010 remanded one issue to the Copyright Royalty Board for further consideration – the issue of the minimum annual fee to be paid by each webcaster. The Copyright Royalty Judges (“CRJs”) had decided on a $500 per channel minimum fee – a fee that created much concern in the Internet radio community as there was no clear delineation of what a channel was. For services, like Pandora, where there is a unique stream created for each listener, by some definitions there could be an almost infinite number of channels all subject to the $500 minimum fee. Following the CRB’s initial decision, a number of the larger webcasters and SoundExchange entered into a settlement capping the minimum fee obligation at $50,000 per webcaster per year. Thus, services with more than 100 channels would only pay a minimum fee of $50,000 at the beginning of each year. However, this settlement was never extended to all webcasters – it applied only to those webcasters who signed the deal.  Following the Court remand, SoundExchange and DiMA (the Digital Media Association which represents many webcasters), submitted the 2007 settlement to the CRB to be codified into the rules that govern webcasters generally. Just before Christmas, the CRJs asked for comments on that settlement. Comments are due by January 22. 

In many cases, this settlement has been superseded by subsequent events – namely the settlements with webcasters that were entered into in February and then later in the summer under the provisions of the Webcaster Settlement Acts. Settlements with broadcasters, pureplay webcasters, small commercial webcasters and various noncommercial groups all set their own minimum fees (and, for the most part, cover the periods through 2015), and thus this proceeding is largely irrelevant to these webcasters. If this settlement is approved, the only remaining question before the CRJs on the remand of the 2006-2010 proceeding will be the minimum fee for some noncommercial groups that did not enter into any settlement, as this agreement on minimum fees applies only to commercial webcasters.


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Sets Comment Date on Internet Radio Minimum Fee Settlement

The FCC has wasted no time in pressing ahead with the discussion of whether the spectrum currently used by local broadcast television stations is being put to the greatest use and whether it should be "re-purposed" for the so-called broadband effort.  This afternoon, the FCC issued a Public Notice soliciting comments by December 21st

By December 1, 2009, all commercial and noncommercial digital television (DTV) stations must electronically file a FCC Form 317 with the Commission reporting on whether the station has provided any ancillary and supplementary services over their digital spectrum during the twelve-month period ending on September 30, 2009.

Under the Commission’s Rules, in addition to providing free over-the-air broadcast television, DTV stations are permitted to offer services of any nature, consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity, on an ancillary or supplementary basis.  Some examples of the kinds of services that may be provided include computer software distribution, data transmissions, teletext, interactive materials, aural messages, paging services, audio signals, and subscription video.

All DTV stations — regardless of whether the station holds a DTV license or is operating pursuant to Special Temporary Authority (STA), program test authority (PTA), or some other authority — must file a Form 317 reporting whether or not it provided such services and whether it generated any income from such services. If the station did provide such ancillary services, then the FCC wants to know about it. More importantly, if the station generated revenue from the provision of those services, then the FCC wants its 5% cut of the gross revenues derived from such service.  The Form 317 is very brief, soliciting information about the license and the types of services provided, if any, and must be filed electronically through the CDBS filing system.


Continue Reading DTV Station Reminder: FCC Form 317 Reporting of Ancillary Services Due Dec. 1st

Even though the National Association of Broadcasters has been successful in getting about 240 Congressional Representatives (far more than a majority of the House of Representatives) to sign onto a resolution opposing the adoption of a performance royalty for the use of sound recordings by broadcasters in their over-the-air programming, the efforts to enact that legislation have not died.  In fact, if anything, these efforts by the recording industry and related associations have intensified – and will be reflected in a hearing to be held by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon.   While I’ve seen some commentary suggesting that this is a futile effort because of the signatures on the NAB resolution, there are many reasons that broadcasters must continue to  be wary of the imposition of the royalty, and why they must keep up efforts to stop it from being enacted if they fear its potential impact.

How can this legislation be enacted if a majority of the House of Representatives have signed the resolution stating their opposition?  First, it is important to recognize that the NAB resolution, The Local Radio Freedom Act, is nonbinding.  Congressional representatives who have signed on to the resolution can take credit with their local broadcasters for having done so.  When the time comes for a vote on proposed legislation, it’s possible that these same Representatives could change their mind, or be pressured by artists and labels in their districts to vote differently from their previously expressed sentiments.  With a long way to go in this session of Congress, facing a vote on the royalty and seeing how committed these Representatives are to the positions that they have taken on the resolution is still a real possibility.  The legislation imposing the royalty (or the "performance tax" in the words of the NAB) has passed the House Judiciary Committee, and the Speaker of the House has not yet specifically stated that the bill will not come to a full House vote, even though she has been pressed to do so by broadcast interests.


Continue Reading The Broadcast Performance Royalty – Not Dead Yet, as Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearing on Tuesday

The FCC has released its Order setting the amounts of the annual regulatory fees for broadcasters – though the window for making those payments has not yet been set.  Look for that window to be set in the near future, as payments will probably be due in September.  Broadcast fees are based on the class of facility and the population covered by the station.  All fees are based on the status of the station as of October 1 of 2008.  Click on "continue reading" below to see the amount of the fees to be paid by broadcasters. 

In its order, the FCC declined a request to broaden the categories of broadcast stations that were suffering from financial hardship justifying a waiver of the rules.  Stations seeking a financial hardship waiver must provide the FCC with sufficient financial information, including profit and loss statements and a showing of how much the station’s owners were receiving as compensation, for the Commission to make a determination that the payment of the fees would pose an undue hardship on the station.  The FCC did say that bankruptcy or receivership, or the fact that a station was silent or dark, would be viewed as evidence of financial hardship. 


Continue Reading FCC Announces Annual Regulatory Fees – Payment Deadlines Not Yet Set

Each day, there seems to be a report about broadcast stations going off the air because of the current economic downturn – some permanently (witness several Montana full-power television stations formerly owned by Equity Broadcasting whose licenses were surrendered two weeks ago), some temporary, and some being given away to charity (like Clear Channel’s announcement of its donation of 4 AM stations to the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council).  Several months ago, we wrote here about the steps a broadcaster should take when taking a station off the air – notification to the FCC within 10 days of the station going silent, seeking permission to remain silent after 30 days, and making sure that tower lights are maintained even if the station is off the air.  But, as this situation becomes more common, there are a couple of other issues that have recently come up that are worth mentioning – one having to do with the one year period that a station can stay off the air without forfeiting its license, and the other dealing with music royalties. 

First, in the last few months, there have been cases which have clarified, at least to a degree, the law that states that a license will be forfeit if a station is off the air for more than a year.  In one decision, the Commission’s Video Division of its Media Bureau canceled the license of a television station that had come back on the air shortly before the year of silence was to end, but only broadcast a test pattern.  Finding that the station had not broadcast any programming, and that transmission of a test pattern did not constitute "broadcasting", the Division determined that the obligation to return to the air had not been met, and canceled the license.  The licensee is appealing this decision, arguing that the law (Section 312g of the Communications Act) does not require that a station broadcast programming, just that it "transmit broadcast signals" within a year of the time that it went off the air.  But, for now, licensees who take their stations silent should plan for returning to the air with some programming within a year, or risk the cancellation of the station license.


Continue Reading Broadcast Stations Going Dark – Issues to Think About

The FCC today adopted an Order revising its rules to permit the rebroadcast of AM radio stations on FM translator stations.  A copy of the Order is available here.  By this Order, the FCC formally adopted the interim policy that it has experimented with in the past year and a half since the release of the Notice of Proposed Rule Making in this proceeding.  The Commission acknowledged that the interim rule has worked well and that allowing AM stations the same flexibility to use FM translators to enhance their service is in the public interest. 

Per today’s Order:  "Specifically, AM broadcast stations will be allowed to use currently authorized FM translator stations (i.e., those now licensed or authorized in construction permits that have not expired) to rebroadcast their AM signals, provided that no portion of the 60 dBu contour of any such FM translator station extends beyond the smaller of: (a) a 25-mile radius from the AM transmitter site; or (b) the 2 mV/m daytime contour of the AM station. In addition, AM broadcast licensees with Class D facilities will be allowed to originate programming on such FM translators during periods when their AM station is not operating."

Several things to note:

First, "currently authorized FM translators" means translator stations with licenses or permits in effect as of May 1st, 2009.  As expected, there is no opportunity to seek authorization for new FM translators, and by extension, there was no need for the FCC to address the issue of priorities between LPFM stations and FM translators (which the FCC says it will address in the pending LPFM rule making).  So this rule change simply allows existing FM translator stations to rebroadcast AM stations.


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Rules Permitting AM Rebroadcasts on FM Translators

When the Low Power FM service was first authorized, it was as a "secondary service," though a recent court decision shows how that secondary status is becoming less and less a reality.  A secondary service is traditionally one that can be allotted where there are no other uses for a particular frequency, and which is subject to being bumped off the spectrum should there be another demand for that spectrum by a "primary" user.  LPFM stations were originally supposed to provide service to areas between full-power FM radio stations, and to be bumped off the air if there was a new FM station authorized or a change in the frequency or power of an existing station.  A decision of the Court of Appeals released earlier this month , upholding an FCC order giving more protections to LPFM stations, puts this secondary service into question.

The Court decision upheld the Commission’s decision, about which we wrote here, determining that waivers of second adjacent channel interference limitations between LPFM and full power stations should be permitted to help preserve LPFM service.  In addition, the Court upheld the FCC’s process in adopting a new "interim" policy which provides that, where an LPFM is providing 8 hours a day of local programming and would be knocked off the air by an upgrade or city of license change of a full-power station, the LPFM station could apply for a waiver of its secondary status, and there would be a rebuttable presumption in favor of such a waiver.  If the waiver is granted, the LPFM station would be preserved, and the application of the full-power station dismissed.  Thus, effectively, LPFM would no longer be secondary, but instead will have assumed a primary, protected status.


Continue Reading LPFM – When a Secondary Service Becomes Primary