Category: FCC Roundup

1
FCC Begins Rulemaking Process to Allow Blocking of “Spoofed” Number Calls
2
FCC Solicits Comments on Petitions Seeking Clarification of “Prior Express Consent”
3
Rep. Virginia Foxx Seeks to Prohibit Political Robocalls to Numbers on Do-Not-Call Registry
4
FCC Hits Companies in Latest Wi-Fi Blocking Inquiries, Proposing $718,000 Penalty, Fueling Further Controversy
5
Company Agrees to $750,000 Penalty to Resolve FCC Inquiry into Wi-Fi Network Management Practices at Convention Center Venues
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FCC Denies $3.3 Billion in Bidding Credits to AWS-3 Auction Winners, Requires Full Payment in 30 Days
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FCC Adopts Broadcast Incentive Auction Items, Clarifies Rules for Unlicensed and Microphone Operations in TV Bands
8
New TCPA Order Holds Few Bright Spots For Businesses
9
FCC Empowers TCPA Plaintiffs At Peril Of Businesses
10
FCC Requires Audio Alerts on Mobile Devices for TV Emergency Information

FCC Begins Rulemaking Process to Allow Blocking of “Spoofed” Number Calls

By Pamela J. Garvie, Andrew C. Glass, Joseph Wylie II, Gregory N. Blase, and Matthew T. Houston

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted at its March 23, 2017, “open meeting” to begin the process for adopting rules allowing carriers to block “spoofed” number calls.  These are calls that use a reputable or commonly-known telephone number to mask the actual originating number.  The proposed rules would allow carriers to block calls purporting to originate from telephone numbers that (1) are not assigned to a subscriber, (2) are invalid, or (3) are assigned to a subscriber expressly requesting that its number not be spoofed.  In his remarks, Chairman Ajit Pai indicated that the proposed rules are needed to target scammers impersonating federal agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service, and to protect consumers from unwanted solicitations.  Commissioner Michael O’Rielly indicated that the proposed rules aim to address illegal “robocalls” in a manner that does not affect legitimate businesses, as opposed to prior efforts to regulate such calls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227.  The proposed rules and accompanying comments suggest an effort by the now Republican-controlled FCC to issue rules specifically intended to block unwanted robocalls, often from overseas, intended to defraud consumers.

The FCC approved both a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and a Notice of Inquiry to solicit feedback from consumers and other parties with an interest in the proposed rules. Comments on the proposed rules will be due within forty-five (45) days after publication in the Federal Register. Final rules are unlikely to take effect earlier than late 2017.

FCC Solicits Comments on Petitions Seeking Clarification of “Prior Express Consent”

By Joseph C. Wylie II, Molly K. McGinley, Nicole C. Mueller

The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission (the “FCC”) recently issued public notices for comments on two petitions that seek clarification or reversal of the FCC’s interpretation of the “prior express consent” of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (the “TCPA”). Taken together, the petitions request a reversal of the FCC’s long-standing guidance that a consumer provides “prior express consent” to be contacted on a wireless number by providing that number to a business in connection with a voluntary transaction, thus allowing the business to use autodialed or prerecorded voice calls to the consumer to communicate with the consumer regarding the parties’ relationship.  A change to the FCC’s interpretation of “prior express consent” could have significant impact on businesses’ communications with its existing customers.

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Rep. Virginia Foxx Seeks to Prohibit Political Robocalls to Numbers on Do-Not-Call Registry

By Pamela J. Garvie, Andrew C. Glass, Joseph C. Wylie II, Gregory N. Blase, and Molly K. McGinley

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has introduced a bill, H.R. 740 (the “Robo Calls Off Phones Act” or “Robo COP Act”), to “stop the intrusion of political robocalls in homes across America.” Rep. Foxx stated that “politicians made sure to exempt political robo-calls from the power of the ‘Do Not Call’ registry. If these calls weren’t such a nuisance, their blatant exclusion would be laughable.” Claiming that eligible voters receive more than 20 political prerecorded voice calls per day, Rep. Foxx seeks through the bill to end the “robocall loophole” for politicians.

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FCC Hits Companies in Latest Wi-Fi Blocking Inquiries, Proposing $718,000 Penalty, Fueling Further Controversy

By Stephen J. Matzura and  Marty Stern

On the heels of a consent decree with a services provider imposing a $750,000 penalty for its Wi-Fi management practices at convention center venues, the FCC slammed another services provider earlier this week for allegedly blocking Wi-Fi access at the Baltimore Convention Center.  In a Commission-level Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”), the FCC proposed a $718,000 penalty against M.C. Dean, Inc. for allegedly blocking access to third-party Wi-Fi hotspots during at least 26 days in November and December 2014 at the venue, “apparently” in violation of Section 333 of the Communications Act.

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Company Agrees to $750,000 Penalty to Resolve FCC Inquiry into Wi-Fi Network Management Practices at Convention Center Venues

By Stephen J. Matzura and Marty Stern

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau entered into a consent decree with a company (Smart City Holdings, LLC and two of its subsidiaries) to end an investigation into whether the company’s use of enabling technologies for managing and protecting Wi-Fi networks unlawfully blocked personal Wi-Fi access at several convention center venues in Ohio, Indiana, Florida, and Arizona, where the company  provides managed network services.

According to the Bureau, the investigation focused on whether the company’s use of certain network management equipment which automatically deauthenticated personal mobile “hotspots,” used to access the Internet via users’ wireless data plans, complies with Section 333 of the Communications Act, which prohibits willful or malicious interference with the radio communications of any licensed or authorized station.

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FCC Denies $3.3 Billion in Bidding Credits to AWS-3 Auction Winners, Requires Full Payment in 30 Days

By Stephen J. Matzura and Marty Stern

The FCC unanimously adopted an order released earlier this week denying approximately $3.3 billion in small business bidding credits to SNR Wireless LicenseCo, LLC and Northstar Wireless, LLC, two entities financed by DISH Network Corporation that had won licenses in the AWS-3 auction which concluded in January (Auction 97).  The auction, which had net winning bids of over $41 billion, significantly exceeded expectations and has been termed a “whopping success” from a revenue standpoint. In a statement issued prior to the order’s release, Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler stated that the entities “are not eligible for bidding credits” based on the Commission’s “fact-based analysis,” which “ensures that bidding credits only go to the small businesses our rules aim to serve.”  The Commission’s order, released the following day, details the Commission’s analysis of whether DISH revenues should be attributed to SNR and Northstar based on its degree of control over the entities.

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FCC Adopts Broadcast Incentive Auction Items, Clarifies Rules for Unlicensed and Microphone Operations in TV Bands

By Stephen J. Matzura and Marty Stern

The FCC, at its open meeting last week, adopted a number of key items on the broadcast incentive auction, which it hopes to kick off by March 2016.  If successful, the incentive auction will allow participating broadcasters to receive payment for relinquishing their spectrum and will make spectrum available in the 600 MHz band for auction to wireless providers.

Among a raft of complexities, the process will require that remaining broadcasters be “repacked” in the band from their existing channels.  At the same time, it will provide for unlicensed use (think Wi-Fi and TV “white space” devices) of guard bands between wireless and broadcast frequencies, and what is known as the “duplex gap” — vacant space between the uplink and downlink operations of the new wireless providers in the band.  In one contentious move, the Commission agreed to provide flexibility in the repacking process by authorizing as necessary the relocation of broadcasters to the duplex gap in particular markets, which would render that spectrum unusable for unlicensed operations in those markets.  In a compromise brokered by Commissioner Rosenworcel, the Commission agreed to seek comment on whether it should preserve a vacant channel in such markets for unlicensed and licensed microphone use.

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New TCPA Order Holds Few Bright Spots For Businesses

As originally published in Law360

By Martin L. Stern, Andrew C. Glass, Gregory N. BlaseJoseph C. Wylie and Samuel Castic

On Friday, July 10, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission issued its much-anticipated Declaratory Ruling and Order clarifying numerous aspects of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The commission had adopted the order at a particularly contentious June 18, 2015 open meeting (see earlier post), which one commissioner called “a farce” and another described as “a new low … never seen in politics or policymaking.”

In an unusual move, the commission made the order effective on its July 10 release date, rather than following publication in the Federal Register as is typical, providing companies with no opportunity to digest the order and adjust business practices accordingly.

As expected, the order largely brushes aside legitimate business concerns and a sensible approach to TCPA regulation in favor of findings that potentially increase risk for businesses in a variety of circumstances, including the possibility of increased class action litigation. In addition, beyond clarifying that carriers may offer call-blocking technologies to consumers, the order offers little to actually protect consumers from scam telemarketing schemes, including offshore “tele-spammers” that use robocalling or phone-number spoofing technologies.
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FCC Empowers TCPA Plaintiffs At Peril Of Businesses

As originally published in Law360

By Martin L. Stern, Andrew C. Glass, Gregory N. Blase and Joseph C. Wylie 

At its June 18, 2015, open meeting, a sharply divided Federal Communications Commission made good on Chairman Tom Wheeler’s recent promise to bolster the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s already strict rules and to bring about “one of the most significant FCC consumer protection actions since it established the Do-Not-Call Registry with the FTC in 2003.” While plaintiffs’ class action lawyers are likely to applaud the new measures, businesses are concerned that the new rules could unfairly restrict legitimate communications with customers.

Congress enacted the TCPA in 1991 to address what it perceived as the growing problem of unsolicited telemarketing with technologies such as fax machines, pre-recorded voice messages and automatic dialing systems. The TCPA requires anyone making a call to a wireless line using autodialer or pre-recorded voice-call technologies to obtain the “called party’s” “prior express consent,” and, following a 2012 FCC decision, “prior express written consent” for calls that introduce advertising or constitute telemarketing. Similarly, under that ruling, calls to residential lines using an artificial/pre-recorded voice that introduce advertising or constitute telemarketing require the called party’s prior express written consent. Read More

FCC Requires Audio Alerts on Mobile Devices for TV Emergency Information

By Stephen J. Matzura and Marty Stern

The FCC has adopted new rules governing accessibility of emergency information in TV programming for blind or visually impaired individuals.  The rules require emergency information on TV to be available in audio format on mobile devices when subscription television providers permit consumers to access televised programming using mobile apps.

Under the FCC’s current rules adopted in a 2013 Report and Order pursuant to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, emergency information that interrupts regular TV programming must be accompanied by an aural tone and be available on a secondary audio stream.  The new rules require these secondary audio streams to be available “on tablets, smartphones, laptops, and similar devices when subscription television providers, such as cable and satellite operators, permit consumers to access programming over their networks using an app on these devices.”  According to the FCC, this will allow blind or visually impaired individuals who hear the aural tones on TV to switch to a secondary audio stream on such devices.

The new rules also require TV equipment that receives or plays back programming (e.g., set-top boxes) to have an activation mechanism that allows blind or visually impaired users to easily switch to a secondary audio stream to hear the emergency information.  In partial dissents, Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly disagree that the FCC has authority under the CVAA to require mechanisms on set top boxes and similar devices to activate the secondary audio stream.

The FCC also adopted a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit comments on a number of issues, including coordination of multiple on-screen announcements, whether school-related information should be made available on the audio streams, and potential requirements for multichannel video programming distributors.

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