Category: FCC Roundup

1
Rep. Virginia Foxx Seeks to Prohibit Political Robocalls to Numbers on Do-Not-Call Registry
2
FCC Hits Companies in Latest Wi-Fi Blocking Inquiries, Proposing $718,000 Penalty, Fueling Further Controversy
3
Company Agrees to $750,000 Penalty to Resolve FCC Inquiry into Wi-Fi Network Management Practices at Convention Center Venues
4
FCC Denies $3.3 Billion in Bidding Credits to AWS-3 Auction Winners, Requires Full Payment in 30 Days
5
FCC Adopts Broadcast Incentive Auction Items, Clarifies Rules for Unlicensed and Microphone Operations in TV Bands
6
New TCPA Order Holds Few Bright Spots For Businesses
7
FCC Empowers TCPA Plaintiffs At Peril Of Businesses
8
FCC Requires Audio Alerts on Mobile Devices for TV Emergency Information
9
Last Week to File for Retroactive Waiver of FCC Rule Requiring Opt-Out Notice on All Fax Advertisements
10
FCC Adopts Innovative Spectrum Sharing Scheme, Making 150 MHz of Spectrum Available for Wireless Broadband  

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.

Last Week to File for Retroactive Waiver of FCC Rule Requiring Opt-Out Notice on All Fax Advertisements

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

Companies that communicate by fax have until April 30, 2015 to request a retroactive waiver from a Federal Communications Commission rule requiring that opt-out notice be included on all fax ads, including those sent to consumers who have provided prior express invitation or permission.

In 2006, the FCC adopted a new rule which requires opt-out notices in facsimile advertisements sent with the recipients’ prior express permission.  The FCC was then faced with an application for review of a Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau order and 24 petitions which collectively challenged the opt-in requirement adopted in 2006.  The petitioners argued that the TCPA applies only to unsolicited advertisements and therefore could not provide a statutory basis for the rule.  The petitioners also argued that the FCC provided conflicting statements with regard to the applicability of the rule to solicited facsimile advertisements.

As we previously discussed, on October 30, 2014, the FCC released an Order confirming that opt-out notices complying with rules and regulations adopted by the FCC are required on all advertisements transmitted by facsimile, including advertisements transmitted with the prior express permission of the recipient.  The FCC, recognizing the uncertainty over whether the opt-out requirements applied to senders with express permission of the recipients, granted retroactive waivers to the parties that had made the requests with respect to faxes sent with consent but without opt-out notices, and allowed those parties until April 30, 2015 to come into compliance with opt-out requirements.  The FCC invited “similarly situated parties” to seek waivers prior to April 30, 2015, but noted that it expected parties making similar waiver requests to “make every effort to file within six months of the release of this Order.”

At least 64 petitions for waivers have been filed, and while the FCC has invited comment on many of these petitions, it has not issued any rulings.

FCC Adopts Innovative Spectrum Sharing Scheme, Making 150 MHz of Spectrum Available for Wireless Broadband  

By Stephen J. Matzura and Marty Stern

Earlier this week, the FCC released a Report and Order (R&O), adopting new innovative sharing rules for a 150 MHz swath of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band, including 100 MHz of federal government spectrum.  Under the regime adopted by the FCC, dubbed the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), much of the spectrum will be available for the provision of broadband services on an unlicensed “General Authorized Access” basis, though some of the spectrum will be set aside for short-term Priority Access Licenses (PALs) awarded via auction for individual census tracts.

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