The FCC has released its Report and Order showing the annual regulatory fees due for the 2012 fiscal year. Although the due date has not yet been announced, it will likely be in September. The fees are intended to recover the Commission’s cost of operations, reported to be nearly $340 million. 

Fees must be paid by all commercial FCC licensees and permittees as of October 1, 2011 (the first day of the 2012 fiscal year).  In the event of an assignment or transfer of control after that date, fees are to be paid by the current permittees and licensees as of the payment due date in September.  Noncommercial stations and all nonprofit entities are exempt from paying regulatory fees.

Although a summary of fees is shown below, each licensee or permittee will have to check the FCC website to determine the exact amount of fees owed, since the FCC will not be mailing out any notices of fees due.  Fees paid even one day late will be subject to a 25% penalty plus administrative processing charges, so timely payment is critical.  Unlike the IRS which uses the mailing date to determine timeliness, the FCC requires regulatory fees to be received by the due date to avoid late payment penalties.  Licensees or permittees that fail to pay their regulatory fees in full will not be able to get FCC action on any subsequently filed applications pursuant to the Commission’s "red light" policy until all fees and penalties are paid.

Licensees and permittees will be able to pay by wire, credit card, check, money order or debit card, although all payers will need a an FCC Registration Number (FRN) and completed "Fee Filer Form" 159-E prior to filing.


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The FCC has released 16 Show Cause Orders threatening to deprive a number of low power television (LPTV) stations of their Class A status for failure to file Children’s Television Programming Reports.  These orders appear to be implementing a long-rumored get-tough policy on Class A TV stations, as the FCC prepares to clear portions of the TV spectrum to auction it for use by wireless broadband providers, in accordance with the authorizing legislation we wrote about last week. Class A stations are protected from interference like full power TV stations, while other LPTV licensees can be displaced from their current channels by new primary users – potentially including future wireless broadband auction winners. Therefore, if these Class A stations are downgraded to LPTV status, the FCC could displace them as needed for spectrum auctions.  If they retain their Class A status, they are protected like full-power TV stations, and the FCC must attempt to replicate their coverage in any repacking of the spectrum that may occur.

These 16 Show Cause Orders all have essentially the same set of facts as this one.  Specifically, all of the stations failed to file multiple Children’s Television Programming Reports and failed to respond to FCC letters cautioning the stations that failure to file these reports could result in loss of Class A status.  As the FCC notes in all of the Show Cause Orders, Class A licensees are required to comply with many full power TV requirements, including the need to maintain a main studio and a public inspection file, to comply with children’s programming requirements, political programming requirements, station identification requirements and Emergency Alert System rules. Failure to comply with any of these requirements could result in loss of Class A status.


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The Commission’s recent Order establishing the rules and time line for low power television stations to convert to DTV has now been published in the Federal Register, meaning that most of the new rules regarding the conversion of low power television stations to digital television are now in effect.  As we wrote about extensively here,on July

The Commission’s recent Notice of Proposed Rule Making proposing a framework and time line for the transition of Low Power Television stations to digital operations — which we wrote about last month here — was published in the Federal Register today setting December 17, 2010 as the deadline for Comments and January 18, 2011 as

On Friday, the Commission released a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making (FNPRM) seeking input on completing the transition of all low power television stations (LPTV) and TV translator stations to digital operations.  Driven by the transition of all full power TV stations last year and the guidance from the National Broadband Plan, which recommended setting a deadline of 2015 for the transition of LPTVs to digital in order to increase efficiency in the TV bands and assist in the reallocation of those bands, the Commission’s rulemaking turns to the remaining analog television operations in the spectrum, i.e. LPTV and TV translator stations.  The Commission, having noted a significant increase in the past year of LPTV stations obtaining authority for, and actually switching to, DTV operations, concludes that "low power television stations should now begin to focus their time and resources on developing and implementing a digital conversion plan." 

In response to the main question of "when?", the Commission suggests a date in 2012 as the hard date by which all LPTVs and TV translators would have to complete the construction of digital facilities and cease analog operations.  While a specific date in 2012 is not offered, the Commission believes that three years after the June 12, 2009 full power transition should be a sufficient time period for completing the transition.  And of course, given that it is now September 2010, that really means that LPTV stations would have between 15 and 27 months from today to complete the transition.  The FNPRM does seek comment on alternative time frames or transition mechanisms, but notes that an adoption of an earlier transition date in 2012 might adversely impact some LPTV stations, which could "transition to digital only to find that their digital channel is no longer available as a result of the spectrum reallocation that is one of the recommendations in the Broadband Plan."  Such stations would then be forced to transition a second time.  Given that the Commission has not yet actually commenced a proceeding to implement the spectrum reallocation recommended in the Broadband Plan, this comment is a bit troubling.  Clearly, if the Commission is actually going to reallocate the spectrum as suggested in the National Broadband Plan, it should do so first before it mandates a DTV transition for LPTVs.  Or at the very least, it shouldn’t mandate such a transition until it can ensure that LPTV stations are transitioning to digital on a channel that won’t subsequently be reclaimed and re-purposed for a competing wireless broadband operation.  In acknowledgment of this, the FNPRM seeks comment on whether the analog termination date should be by the end of 2015 or after the "recommended reallocation of spectrum from the broadcast TV bands". 


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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.


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As we anticipated, the FCC has suspended indefinitely the opportunity to apply for new, digital low power television (LPTV) stations in non-rural areas, which had been slated to begin on July 26, 2010.  Given the FCC’s new focus on repacking and reallocating the television spectrum for use by broadband competitors, the Commission’s postponement of the

The FCC today issued a Public Notice  instructing applicants for new analog low power TV (LPTV) stations to amend their pending short-form applications by May 24th in order to specify digital operations. If the short-form application is not amended by May 24th it will be dismissed.  As some of you may recall, way back in 2000 the FCC opened a window for the filing of new LPTV stations. Rather than full applications, at the time applicants were simply required to file a "short form" tech-box application specifying the basic parameters of the proposal.  And of course, at the time the proposals were all for new analog LPTV facilities. Over the years, many of these proposals were found to be non-mutually exclusive, and the applicant applied for and received construction permits for new LPTV stations.  Other proposals were conflicted and were included in an FCC Auction to resolve the conflict, which also resulted in the grant of new construction permits. Many others, however, remained mutually exclusive and deadlocked. The FCC has now decided that, as it will no longer grant any new analog LPTV stations, any remaining proposals that are still pending must be amended to specify digital operations. 

Today’s action is consistent with the Commission’s pronouncement made last Summer when it announced the opportunity to commence filings for new LPTV stations in rural areas (which we wrote about here).  At that time, the FCC stated that going forward it would grant only digital LPTV stations and not any new analog LPTVs.  It’s unclear why today’s Public Notice was not released last year once that decision was made, but in any event today’s action would appear to be one more step towards the ultimate transition of all LPTV stations to digital operations, which was mentioned as part of last week’s National Broadband Plan (which we discussed here).  While the Commission has not yet set a date for the transition of existing analog LPTV stations to digital, the Broadband Plan suggested accelerating that process to migrate all broadcast television to digital operations.  However, the Plan also suggested potentially repacking the television spectrum, encouraging the consolidation of television operations, and changing interference protections for teleivsion stations, so whether the Commission would move forward with requiring analog LPTV stations to convert to DTV without clarifying some of these new proposals and their impact on low power television stations is unclear.  One other observation:  with the potential conversion to digital operations looming, the days of analog LPTV stations operating on TV Channel 6 and broadcasting audio intended to be received by FM radios would appear to be numbered. 


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This afternoon the FCC announced that it would postpone the opportunity to apply for new digital low power television stations until July 26, 2010. The Commission had begun accepting applications for new digital LPTV stations in so-called rural areas beginning in late August, and had previously announced that it intended to expand the first-come, first-served

This week, the FCC announced that it will begin accepting applications for new digital-only LPTV and translator stations in rural areas as of August 25, 2009. Beginning on that date, the FCC will also begin to accept applications for major changes to existing analog and digital LPTV and TV translators in rural areas, and applications for digital companion channels (DCCs) for existing analog stations in rural areas. By "rural areas", the FCC means stations that specify a transmitter site that is located more than 75 miles away from the reference coordinates of the 100 U.S. cities listed in the FCC’s Public Notice. Applications for new analog facilities will not be accepted. This filing opportunity will be on a first-come, first-served processing basis, and mutually exclusive proposals will be resolved by auction.  A copy of the FCC’s Public Notice is available here.

While this window is for new stations, major changes, and DCCs in rural areas, prior to that date all existing LPTV, TV translator, and Class A television stations may wish to review their present options for converting to DTV. The Commission’s Public Notice reminds existing stations that they may file an application for on-channel digital conversion (i.e. flash-cut) at any time. In order to retain processing priority, existing stations are encouraged to file flash-cut applications prior to August 25th, and certainly by January 25, 2010, at which point the FCC will open the door for new digital licensing opportunities on a nationwide first-come, first-served, as discussed below. 


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