SoundExchange has posted on its website this afternoon four press releases announcing new settlements of amounts due for Internet radio music royalties.  These settlements were negotiated under the provisions of the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009.  The announcement lists settlements with two noncommercial groups representing College Broadcasters and noncommercial religious broadcasters, as well as a deal with Sirius XM for their streaming of music.  The fourth deal is with a group to be named later – a little mystery that sounds like something out of a trade of baseball players done right at the trading deadline.  In effect, that is the case here, as yesterday was the final date for deals to be done under the terms of the WSA.  These deals join the Pureplay Webcasters settlement announced earlier this month, as well as the deals with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for NPR affiliates, the NAB for commercial broadcasters, and with microcasters done in February under the terms of the Webcasters Settlement Act of 2008 (links to our description of these deals can be found here).

The press releases do not release detailed terms. For Sirius, the release states that the parties agreed to a per performance rate which is not specified, covering webcasting royalties through 2015.  These rates do not apply to Sirius performances that are done by satellite, which are covered by the Copyright Royalty Board rates recently upheld by the US Court of Appeals.  Instead, these rates only cover the streaming of Sirius programming done over the Internet or to mobile devices using Internet technology.  The Collegiate Broadcasters agreed to a rate that provided the flat $500 fee for the first 159,140 aggregate tuning hours a month set by the CRB decision, and then per performance fees at the NAB rates for all streaming above that amount.  The religious broadcasters deal is less defined, discussing a per performance rate, but not providing any more details of the agreement.  For both noncommercial groups, there are references to reduced recordkeeping requirements for some webcasters, but again, those have not yet been detailed.


Continue Reading SoundExchange Announces 4 More Settlements Under Webcaster Settlement Act – Sirius, College and Religious Noncommercial Broadcasters and a Group to be Named Later

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 Pureplay Webcasters settlement agreement, which we summarized here, was published in the Federal Register on Friday, starting the 30 day clock running for the election of the deal by existing webcasters.  While this deal offers better per performance rates to large webcasters than offered by the rates established by the Copyright Royalty Board, and higher permissible listening levels to Small Commercial Pureplay webcasters than allowed under the Microcaster deal, this option still is not for everyone.  For larger webcasters, there is a minimum fee of 25% of total revenue, so companies with multiple lines of business will not want to opt into the deal.  For smaller webcasters, the fees are higher than under the Microcaster deal, including a $25,000 minimum yearly fee, and there are per performance rates that are charged when the webcaster offers services that are "syndicated," i.e. played through a website other than that of the webcaster itself.  So electing this deal is right only for larger "small pureplay" webcasters who have revenues over $250,000 (where they will be paying royalties in excess of the $25,000 minimum fee under any deal) and those entities nearing the audience caps of the Microcaster deal.  Nevertheless, for those webcasters who fit within the constraints of the deal, it offers benefits over the other existing options.  The opt-in date set by the deal is August 17, 2009.  The forms to opt into the the Small Pureplay webcasters agreement are here.  The forms for larger Pureplay webcasters are here

Note that this is just one of many options available to webcasters, each tailored to webcasters of specific types.  Noncommercial webcasters associated with NPR or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have their own deal, where essentially CPB pays the royalties.  See our description of this deal, hereStreaming done by broadcasters, who would not want to take the "pureplay" deal as their broadcast revenues would be subject to the royalties, have their own settlement agreement, which we described here and here, setting out per performance rates different than those arrived at by the CRB.  Small commercial webcasters can elect the "Microcaster" deal, which we described here.  And for those entities that don’t fit under any of these categories, they will have to pay the CRB rates, which we described here and here.  The Radio and Internet Newsletter recently ran a good, basic summary of these alternatives, here.  Note that there still is another two week period where, under the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009, agreements can be reached with SoundExchange by other webcaster groups to potentially pay rates that are different from any of those agreed to so far.


Continue Reading Pureplay Webcasters Settlement Agreement Published In Federal Register – 30 Days for Webcasters to Make a Choice

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. 


Continue Reading Filing Opportunity for LPTV and Translator Stations in Rural Areas Commences August 25th; Nationwide Window Opens Jan. 25, 2010

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

The US Senate yesterday passed the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009, following House passage 10 days ago.  Once the Act receives the signature of President Obama, the law will go into effect, and give webcasting groups and the recording industry 30 days to reach a settlement (or settlements) on Internet radio music royalties for the

Rural communities – do their radio stations need government protection? The FCC seems to think so, proposing a series of new rules and policies that restrict the ability of the owners of rural radio stations to move their stations into Urban areas. These rules would make it harder for entrepreneurs to do “move in” applications – taking stations from less populated areas and moving them to communities where they can serve larger populations in nearby cities. The Commission states that it is making these proposals to attempt to live up to its obligations under Section 307(b) of the Communications Act to ensure a “fair, efficient and equitable” distribution of radio services to the various states and communities in the country. While this may be a noble goal, one wonders if it is a solution in search of a problem. Are there really rural communities that have an unmet demand for missing radio services – and which can economically support such services? And do these proposals conflict with other goals of the new Commission, by effectively decreasing the opportunities for minorities and other new entrants from acquiring stations in major markets – by taking away move-in stations that are often the only stations that these broadcast station owners can afford in urban markets?  These are questions that the FCC will need to resolve as part of this proceeding. 

A Section 307(b) analysis is done by the FCC when it faces conflicting proposals, specifying different communities of license, for new AM stations or requests for new FM allotments. It is also required when an applicant proposes to move a station from one community to another, as the applicant must demonstrate that the move to the new community would better serve the objectives of Section 307(b) than would the current location of the station. In the past, the 307(b)  analysis looks at several factors, or “Priorities.” These include:

 

  1. Service to white areas – when a proposed station will serve “white area,” an area where residents currently receive no predicted radio service (no “reception service” in FCC parlance). 
  2. Service to gray areas – when a proposed station will serve areas that currently receive only a single reception service
  3. Provision of a first local “transmission” service – where the proposed station will be the first station licensed to a particular community, and thus the first station that has the primary responsibility to serve the needs of that community
  4. Other public interest factors – usually meaning which proposal will provide the service to the most people (with service to “underserved areas,” i.e. those that receive 5 or fewer “reception services,” getting somewhat more weight).


Continue Reading FCC Proposes to Encourage Rural Radio By Making it More Difficult to Move Radio Stations to Urban Areas

At its meeting today, the FCC decided to revamp its Ownership Report filing process – requiring all stations to file Biennial Ownership Reports on FCC Form 323 on November 1 of this year – even stations that have just filed those reports in the normal course in the last few months.  All stations will have to file every two years thereafter – on November 1 of every other year.  Reports will also be required from Low Power TV stations and Class A TV stations, which have not in the past had to file reports.  Reports will also be required from stations that are owned by an individual, and by general partnerships in which all of the partners are individuals (or, in the FCC’s legalese, "natural persons").  In the past, such stations did not have to file reports as any change in ownership would have required, at a minimum, the filing of a Form 316 short-form assignment or transfer application.  Finally, the Commission will require the reporting of the interests of currently non-attributable owners who are not attributable simply because there is a single majority shareholder in the licensee.

The FCC is not asking for this information because it wants to track improper transfers, but instead so that it can gather information about the racial and gender make-up of the broadcast ownership universe.  This information has been required on ownership reports for the last ten years, but the FCC did not believe that the system was extensive enough to capture all information about the ownership of broadcast properties, as so many stations were not covered by the requirements.  Why does the FCC want racial and gender information about the owners of stations?  To potentially take more aggressive actions to encourage minority ownership.  The FCC has considered such actions in the past, but has not felt that it take actions specifically targeted to minority and female applicants, as there was no record of past discrimination in the broadcast industry.  The government can constitutionally only make racial or gender-based decisions if these decisions are to remedy the effects of past discrimination.  To justify such acts, the government agency must demonstrate the past discrimination – and these new filing requirements are meant to gather that information through what is called an Adarand study.  In the recent past, when it adopted certain diversity initiatives for designated entities (like the ability of a designated entity to buy an expiring construction permit and get an extension, which we recently wrote about here), the Commission had to define a designated entity as a "small business" defined by SBA standards.  Chairman Copps today said that this definition did not truly benefit diversity as favoring small businesses "generally benefit white males."


Continue Reading FCC to Require New Ownership Reports from all Commerical Broadcasters on November 1

The FCC today issued a long-awaited public notice, clarifying the relationship between FM educational stations and the analog Channel 6 TV stations that have or will be disappearing after the digital transition.  As we’ve written before, the question of whether noncommercial FM stations could seek improvements in their facilities based on the imminent disappearance