Category Archives: Legislative Update

Drone Journalism Lab Releases Drone Use Guidebook

According to a report in Editor and Publisher, the Drone Journalism Lab released its operations manual as an open source, Creative Commons-licensed document. The 23-page guidebook (found at dronejournalismlab.org) covers a range of issues including how to conduct a preflight briefing and ethical considerations journalists should review before flying a drone. This information may be useful by our members using the drones for news gathering purposes.

The MAB is working on state legislation that sets up a legislative drone taskforce to develop statewide policy recommendations on the use/operation of drones. The taskforce will include a representative from the broadcast industry to ensure that our industry’s concerns are addressed in any future drone related legislation/rulemaking.

Stage 3 Forward Auction Ends after One Round of Bidding

According to a report in CommLawCenter, the third stage of the forward spectrum auction, which attempted to clear 108 MHz, resulted in a $40.3 billion clearing target for the forward auction, ended after just one round of bidding on December 5. The FCC has announced that it is launching Stage 4 of the auction on Tuesday, December 13. Notably, Stage 1, 2 and 3 of the reverse auction took 28, 30, and 30 days, respectively to complete, which brings up the question of whether the auction can be concluded by the end of 2016.

The published report wrote: “While the forward auction bid totals have dropped in every stage of the auction as the amount of spectrum being sold has dropped ($23.1B in Stage 1, $21.5B in Stage 2, and now $19.7B in Stage 3), the totals have been fairly consistent.” The FCC will, at a minimum, need forward auction payments to cover the reverse auction total, the $1.75B for repacking and the several hundred million in auction expenses incurred.

Drone Legislation Passes House Committee

capitol3SB 992 unanimously passed the Michigan House Committee on Communications and Technology last week. The legislation allows a person authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate unmanned aerial systems (aka: drones) for commercial purposes in a manner consistent with the authorization. The legislation also sets up a legislative drone taskforce to develop statewide policy recommendations on the use/operation of drones. SB 992 mandates that the taskforce must include a member recommended by the MAB to represent the broadcast industry.

The MAB, along with the Michigan State Police, Michigan Telecommunication and Cable Association, Michigan Association of Realtors, supported this legislation. The MAB believes that this legislation is a balanced approach to regulating drone use. The bill recognizes the growing economic and commercial use of the unmanned aerial vehicles across a wide variety of industries including, in our case, broadcasting.

Status: SB 992 has been referred to the full Michigan House of Representatives chamber for a vote. If the bill passes this chamber, it then goes to the Governor’s office for signature.

NAB Files Lawsuit over Ownership Rules

According to a report by TVNewscheck, the National Assocation of Broadcasters (NAB) has filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit challenging the FCC’s media ownership order as “arbitrary and capricious.” The organization challenged the FCC’s ruling in its required every-four-year review of its broadcast ownership rules, saying that “despite the obvious transformative changes in the media landscape in the decade since the commission’s last completed quadrennial review, the commission failed to take a fresh look at the broadcast ownership rules and to repeal or modify them in light of those changes.”

FCC Extends for 18 Months SAP Emergency Information Deadline

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
www.broadcastlawblog.com

The FCC released an order on November 16 giving TV stations an additional 18 months to comply with a requirement that emergency information conveyed to the TV audience during non-news programming in a visual or graphical manner (e.g. on-screen weather maps during entertainment programming) be converted to audio that is broadcast on the TV station’s SAP channel.

We wrote about the FCC’s request for comments on the extension here. If the extension had not been granted, those requirements would have kicked in this week. But, as broadcast groups and those representing the visually impaired agreed that there was no available technology to make this conversion of graphics to speech, an 18 month extension of the obligation was appropriate. Thus, broadcasters have more time to comply with this requirement (though the obligation to convert text carried in non-news programming – like emergency crawls – to speech broadcast on the SAP channel is already in effect for all TV stations (see our articles here and here).

The waiver extension is subject to the condition that NAB and the other petitioners provide a status report to the FCC on efforts to develop a technical solution by November 22, 2017.

David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline.  Access information here. (Members only access).

There are no additional costs for the call; the advice is free as part of your membership.

House GOP Leaders to FCC: No New Votes until New Administration

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler asking the Commission to hold off on votes on the controversial items until the new administration is in place.

The letter states, “The most important challenge for the Commission over the next ten weeks is to ensure a successful broadcast incentive auction. The successful completion of the auction will provide needed spectrum to meet America’s wireless broadband needs and ensure that Americans continue to enjoy the local news and national programming broadcasters provide. As Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) noted during the 2008 Presidential transition, it would be counterproductive for the FCC to consider complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing. We strongly urge you to concentrate the Commission’s attention and resources only on matters that require action under the law and efforts to foster the success of the broadcast incentive auction.”

Court Stops DOL Overtime Regulations from Going Forward

A U.S. District Court in Texas issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Department of Labor from implementing and enforcing its new overtime regulation that was set to go into effect December 1. The regulation would have raised the salary and compensation level needed for white collar workers to be exempt from being paid overtime to $47,476 ($913 a week). The previous salary level was $455 a week or $23,660 annually.

The court concluded that the DOL’s salary level under the rule was “without statutory authority” and that the court has the authority to “enjoin the final rule on a nationwide basis.” For more on the court’s ruling, please click here for a legal advisory from Pillsbury Withrop Shaw Pittman LLP

2016 Post Election Update

The Washington, D.C. law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP created a report on a number of issues that will be faced by the new President and Congress in the upcoming year. The full report, titled Pillsbury 2016 Post Election Update, is available here.

The report is organized by a number of practice sections and discusses what will likely happen across a number of industries, including communications, in the next four years.

On the subject of communication policy and regulation, the report states that a Republican-controlled FCC can be expected to either roll back or choose not to enforce the numerous regulatory mandates that have been adopted by Tom Wheeler. “These could include: repeal of net neutrality, loosening restrictions on ownership of radio and television stations; and increased funding for Universal Service programs.”

Leonard, Singh Named Next Caucus Leaders

caucus
(L-R) Rep. Tom Leonard (R-93); Rep. Sam Singh (D-69)

House Republicans chose Rep. Tom Leonard (R-93) on Thursday as their new House speaker for the 2017-2018 legislative session. The caucus also elected Representative Dan Lauwers (R-81) as the majority floor leader. Other member appointments include State Representative Lee Chatfiled (R-107) as speaker pro-tempore, Representative Robert VerHeulen (R-74) as the caucus whip and Representative Eric Leutheuser (R-58) as caucus chair.

The Democrats voted to elect House Minority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-69) as their caucus leader. State Representative Christine Greig (D-37) will serve as minority floor leader.

Photo chart of 2017-2018 House of Representatives is available here.

Looking at the Election Results and the Future of Washington Policy For Broadcasters

David Oxenford - ColorBy: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
www.broadcastlawblog.com

This post was written on November 9, 2016

Before the November 8 election, in some of the legal journals that circulate in Washington, there was much speculation as to potential appointees to various government positions after the election. For positions such as the chairman of the FCC, many of these publications listed familiar DC names as likely appointees if, as expected by most pundits, Hillary Clinton was elected president. On the Trump side of the leger, speculation was much vaguer, as few had any real insight into how his administration would implement the broad but, in many cases, imprecise policies that Mr. Trump expounded during the election. Given the results of the election, those speculations are sure to ramp up as everyone tries to guess what will happen with broadcast policy in a Trump administration.

At this point, we can only speculate as to what that election will mean for broadcast policy – particularly at the FCC. One would certainly expect a lessening of the regulatory burden on broadcasters – as lessening burdensome regulations on businesses was a clear plank of the Trump agenda. The make-up of the FCC will likely facilitate such changes, as Republicans will no longer be in the minority at the FCC. A third Republican will join Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly on the FCC. These two Republicans dissented on many issues of importance to broadcasters – including the recently concluded Quadrennial Review of the Ownership Rules. Thus, a third Republican vote could have changed the decisions on many issues.

At this point, it would be speculation as to who will be appointed Chairman, essentially controlling the agenda of the FCC. But, at times like these, speculation is what people in Washington do. One name that has central to a Trump FCC is Jeffrey Eisenach, a visiting scholar and Director, Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative “think tank” in Washington, who has been associated with the Trump transition teams planning for the possible transition of power. One of the existing Republican Commissioners will likely become Acting and potentially permanent Chair, and new names for FCC vacancies will likely arise in the near term.

Planning for a Republican administration may well change the thinking about how to proceed on many of the issues now on the table for broadcasters. The fight over the Ownership Rules, for instance, might be subject to reconsideration, asking the new Commission to reverse the decision that was handed down in August. That could replace the current strategy of an appeal to the Courts which, even if successful, would likely result in a remand to the FCC to adopt rules in line with the Court’s order. The appeal that the NAB has announced that it is pursuing could be abandoned if there was an indication that a new FCC would see things differently than the old one. Of course, the President-Elect Trump’s expressed hostility to big media companies is a wild card in this calculation. Other paperwork requirements, from EEO rules to public file obligations, could also be reviewed under a new administration.

FCC reform generally has been a signature issue of the Republican Congress, so such reform could advance under a government where Congress and the Administration are all under Republican control. Signature issues under such reform proposals have included more transparency in decision making, more rapid decision making, and requiring more economic analysis of the effects of any new regulation on those being regulated to make sure that the regulation is justified.

Question marks for broadcasters include antitrust policy, where candidate Trump has indicated some concern with businesses, including those in the media space, from getting bigger. Reform of libel laws (about which we wrote earlier this week) so that public figures have more avenues to pursue defamation actions, have also been advanced by the President-Elect.

Obviously, we are one day into a new reality, so this is still very much a developing story. We’ll be watching, and broadcasters need to be watching too.

David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline.  Access information here. (Members only access).

There are no additional costs for the call; the advice is free as part of your membership.