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

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

The press was abuzz yesterday with the news that Julius Genachowski is apparently the pick of the Obama Administration for the position of FCC Chairman.  Mr. Genachowski was at the FCC during the Reed Hundt Administration, and has since worked in the private sector in the telecommunications industry, including work with Barry Diller and running a DC-based venture capital fund.  From the positive reactions that the appointment has received from all quarters, the choice would seem to be a great one.  But, in looking at some of the reactions, you have to question whether everyone has to be reading what they want to see into the new Commission.  For instance, while the NAB has praised the choice of Genachowski (stating  that he "has a keen intellect, a passion for public service, and a deep understanding of the important role that free and local broadcasting plays in American life"), so too did media-reform organization Free Press ("This moment calls for bold and immediate steps to spur competition, foster innovation and breathe new life into our communications sector. With his unique blend of business and governmental experience, Genachowski promises to provide the strong leadership we need.")  What will this appointment really mean for broadcasters?

In short – who knows?  When Kevin Martin was appointed Chairman of the FCC, few would have imagined that a former communications attorney, a person deeply involved in the Bush campaign, and a former staffer of FCC Commissioner Harold Furtchgott-Roth (perhaps the most free market Commissioner ever) would have supported sustained, wide-reaching inquiries into the underbrush of FCC regulation – e.g. localism, embedded advertising, indecency.  So we can’t really know what a Chairman will do until he does it.  The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal both suggest that the new chairman will be focused on Internet issues, and may be less interested in indecency – but who knows?


Continue Reading Julius Genachowski as New FCC Chair – What Will It Mean to Broadcasting’s Future?

There’s a new top-level domain name ("TLD") on the block, and broadcasters and other media companies will want to protect URLs that include their call signs, unique slogans and positioning statements or other registered marks or names.  The new TLD will be ".tel."  Unlike .com, .net, .org, and other current TLDs that link to websites, the new .tel TLD is designed specifically for access by mobile devices such as the Blackberry and iPhone and will access to the contact information of the holder of the .tel URL without the need for a standard website.  The theory behind the .tel TLD is to allow instant access to contact information without having to access a registrant’s website.  When contact information is accessed via mobile devices, the telephone numbers will appear as "hot links" that will dial those numbers upon touch or selection.  Of course, links to websites may also be provided, but the primary purpose of the TLD is to provide a global contact directory without the need for the user to have Outlook or other address books or for the registrant to have a website.

Beginning December 3, 2008, anyone with a registered trademark or service mark can register a .tel domain name using that mark for a cost estimated to be in the $500 range.  This so-called "sunrise" period will last for two months.  Beginning February 3, 2009, there will be a so-called "landrush" period allowing anyone to register any unregistered .tel domain names, including generic or descriptive marks or names, such as radio.tel or cable.tel, on a first-come, first-served basis.  (Bad faith use of a third party’s trademark will be subject to cancellation under existing domain name dispute procedures.)  The "landrush" period will last until March 23, 2009, after which the .tel TLD will be generally available to anyone at a much reduced fee, currently estimated to be as low as $1.25 per month.


Continue Reading “.tel” Domain Name To Become Available Soon

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by the FCC of the "fleeting expletives" case, where the Second Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the FCC actions fining stations for isolated incidents where a profanity was uttered on the air in a live program.  The cases stem from the Golden Globes and Billboard Music Awards, where over-exuberant winners let slip one of those words that you are not supposed to say on TV.  The Court of Appeals found that the FCC had not justified its departure from prior Commission decisions where such conduct was not sanctioned.  The Court also suggested that the Commission’s decisions did not give broadcasters enough guidance as to when the use of such words was permissible, and when it was prohibited.  We have written previously about this case a number of times, including here and here.  Should the Court determine that the FCC was justified in acting as it did, this may leave the FCC open to taking new actions in the indecency area – such as the suggestion that one Commissioner recently made that indecency enforcement in connection with video delivered to mobile phones should be explored.

 A couple of words about some of the commentary written about this case.  First, while many stories have stated that this is the first indecency case to reach the Supreme Court in 30 years since the famous Seven Dirty Words  ( or the Pacifica) case, in fact there have been several other more recent cases that have dealt with the indecency issue – though not in the broadcast context.  Cable and Internet indecency rules have been adopted by the FCC or by Congress, and usually overturned as not constituting the least restrictive manner of preventing children from being exposed to "indecent" speech – speech which is constitutionally protected (as opposed to obscenity which has no protection as it has no socially redeeming significance) – but from which children can be sheltered.  However, in the cable and Internet cases, the regulations have been overturned because there were other less restrictive means of limiting children’s access to the content, e.g. through filters or restrictions on access to specific channels or websites.


Continue Reading Supreme Court Agrees to Review Fleeting Expletives Case – Could FCC Extend Indeceny to Mobile Media?

As the digital television transition continues, broadcasters have been concerned about the proposals made by a number of the major computer companies seeking the right to operate low power wireless devices in the spectrum used by television stations – in the so-called "white spaces" between channels. Because of the potential for interference, television obviously don’t operate on every channel in every city. The proposal by the tech companies, about which we wrote here, would allow unlicensed wireless devices to operate at low power within this spectrum, provided that such devices were “smart” enough to detect television signals and to avoid the use of channels that would interfere with these signals. Last week, the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology issued a report finding that the prototypes of these devices that had been made available for testing appeared to interfere with television signals. The report did note, however, that this testing should not be viewed as the end of the story on this issue, as further refinements to the devices might be able to eliminate the interference. The FCC has asked for comment on this report. Public comments are due on August 15, with replies on August 30.

The white spaces debate has been a very contentious one. The tech companies who favor it have argued that the efficient use of the television spectrum, and the congestion in other portions of the spectrum used by unlicensed devices, mandate attempts to allow these devices to operate in the television band on the condition that they do not interfere with TV uses. These companies contend that they should be able to create devices that can sense television stations and avoid interference to these stations.


Continue Reading FCC Study Deals Blow to Television White Space Advocates

The Advanced Television Systems Committee, the technical organization that has guided the technical development of Digital Television in the United States, this week requested proposals for the development of handsets and a delivery system that would allow television broadcasters to deliver their content directly to mobile receivers. This proposal would remedy one of the shortcomings of the current television digital transmission system – that fact that it has been designed for in-home reception. Outlines of the proposal are due on June 21, with detailed technical specifications to be submitted on July 6. A copy of the full Request for Proposal can be found on the ATSC web site, here.

In 2000, while the current 8VSB standard was just beginning to be implemented in the United States, a number of television companies, spearheaded by Sinclair Broadcasting, suggested that the proposed system was not sufficiently robust for mobile applications and otherwise suffered from reception issues.  These groups suggested that a COFDM transmission system similar to that used in Europe be substituted for the US system.  At that time, it was concluded that the digital transition was already too far along to try to change systems, and that the principal use of digital television was for in-home viewing so that the mobile reception benefits, if they could in fact be offered by the COFDM system, did not justify the change in transmission systems.


Continue Reading New Handsets Sought for Mobile Delivery of Digital Television

The Copyright Office last week released a wide-ranging Notice of Inquiry, asking many questions about the statutory licenses that allow cable and satellite companies to retransmit broadcast television signals without getting the specific approval of all the copyright holders who provide programming to the television stations. The notice was released so that the Copyright Office can prepare a report to Congress, due June of 2008, in which it will present its views as to whether the various statutory licenses still perform a necessary function, and whether any reforms of the current licenses are necessary. To complete its report, the Notice asks many questions about how these licenses currently work, whether the licenses function efficiently, and whether they should be retained, modified or abolished in favor of marketplace negotiations. The Notice even asks whether the existing statutory licenses should be expanded to take into account the different ways video programming is now delivered to the consumer, including various Internet and mobile delivery systems. Thus, virtually anyone involved in the video programming world may want to be part of this proceeding. Comments are due July 2 and reply comments are due September 13.

The cable and satellite statutory licenses were adopted by Congress to allow these multi-channel video systems to retransmit broadcast  signals. Without these licenses, the individual owners of copyrighted material – including syndicated,  network, sports, and music programming — would have to be consulted to secure necessary copyright approval before the television signal could be retransmitted. As the multi-channel video providers would, in many cases, not even know who held all these rights, they instead pay a statutory license which is collected, pooled, and then distributed to the various rights holders in proportions agreed to by those copyright holders or, in the absence of agreement, set by the Copyright Royalty Board.


Continue Reading Copyright Office Begins Inquiry to Reexamine Cable and Satellite Statutory Licenses – and Asks if Statutory Licenses are Appropriate for Internet Video