BLOGS: Communications, Tech & Media Review

Friday, April 6, 2018, 4:07 PM

Jeff Tarkenton in Radio World: How iHeart Media Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Will Work

Questions abound surrounding iHeartMedia’s voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Womble Bond Dickinson attorney Jeff Tarkenton provided some possible answers in a recent interview with Radio World.

Tarkenton’s thoughts on the filing include:

  • iHeartMedia can continue to operate as normal during its reorganization. “The purpose of iHeartMedia’s reorganization is to convert much of its debt to equity and fix the balance sheet,” Tarkenton tells Radio World. “The broadcaster says the deal will reduce its debt by about $10 billion. That’s substantial.”
  • The company faces three possible outcomes: 1. It successfully reorganizes, exits bankruptcy and resumes business as usual. 2. The company cannot continue and is forced to liquidate its assets in Chapter 11. 3. The case is converted to a Chapter 7 case, “in which a trustee is appointed to liquidate the assets, and the debtor company ceases operations.”
  • Financial and/or legal complications may arise during the bankruptcy proceedings.
  • To emerge from Chapter 11, iHeartMedia must file a plan that is approved by the court and, in all likelihood, by each class of creditors whose claims have been impaired.

Monday, March 19, 2018, 9:15 AM

Unclear Billing Charges Violate FCC Truth-in-Billing Rules and the Act

By Marjorie Spivak

The FCC has issued a Declaratory Ruling in response to a petition filed by parties involved in litigation over a billing dispute, declaring that unclear billing information violates the FCC’s Truth-in-Billing rules and the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the Act).

The petitioners posed questions as directed by a court that determined the FCC never ruled on whether a violation of the Truth-in-Billing rules is also a violation of Section 201(b) of the Act, which prohibits unjust and unreasonable practices by telecommunications carriers. In response, the FCC states that unclear billing information under Rule Section 64.2401(b) also violates Section 201(b) of the Act.

The FCC also clarifies that charges with no description also violate the rules and the Act, except where context and name of the charge make it obvious. For instance, the FCC states that a charge labeled “recurring fee” or “other fees” without a description violates the rules and the Act because both terms are so unclear that the customer cannot understand the reason for the charge. However, the FCC states that a charge labeled “late fee” without description does not violate the rules or the Act because the term itself is sufficiently clear. Finally, because the Truth-in-Billing rules focus on format and clarity of a bill, and not the actual charges, a carrier that wrongly collects a late fee or incorrectly calculates charges, does not violate the Truth-in-Billing rules because a customer has enough information to seek clarification. The FCC notes, however, that it was not asked, and it has not determined, whether such practices violate any other FCC rule or provision of the Act.

Final determination in the law suit requires the court to apply the FCC’s finding to the facts.

Friday, March 9, 2018, 12:15 PM

FCC Initiates Proceeding to Speed Launch of Innovative Technologies and Services

By Marjorie Spivak, Gregg Skall & Marty Stern

The introduction of new and innovative communications and consumer electronics technologies typically requires years-long FCC proceedings to change service rules and technical requirements applicable to the use of radio spectrum, the products authorized to operate on these frequencies, and requirements surrounding the operation and use of new wired communications technologies. Section 7 of the Communications Act, a barely noticed and little used provision enacted in 1983, was intended to speed the deployment of these technologies, by allowing innovators to petition to the FCC to authorize new technologies and services, placing the burden on opponents of a new service or technology to show that it should not be authorized.

Now the Commission, as part of its effort to improve the process for enabling the introduction of new technologies and services, has kicked off a proceeding,1 some 35 years after enactment of Section 7, to adopt rules and guidelines that would allow technology innovators to ask the Commission to authorize new and innovative technologies, and would put in place a process by which these petitions would be acted upon on an expedited basis. The FCC’s new rules would cover petitions for rulemaking, waiver requests, and applications for authorization of any type of technology or service, radio-based or wired, with set procedures and timetables for action on Section 7 requests. Those involved in the technology space should pay close attention to the proceeding and the development of the ensuing rules, which may allow for the expedited launch of new products or services that might have otherwise taken years to clear regulatory hurdles.

Read the full article here.

1. See in the Matter of Encouraging the Provision of New Technologies and Services to the Public, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), GN Docket No. 18-22 (February 23, 2018).

Wednesday, February 7, 2018, 9:55 AM

Net Neutrality Order Deep-Dive: Open Internet Rules Repealed, Transparency Requirements Remain, FTC Role over Broadband Privacy Restored...For Now

By Carri Bennet, Michael Bennet, Rebecca Jacobs Goldman, Howard Shapiro and Marty Stern

In this Client Alert, we provide a deep dive on the FCC’s recent Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, and Order,1 that largely repeals the so-called “Open Internet” regulatory framework implemented by the prior FCC Chairman in 2015.2 Few other proceedings have drawn the amount of public interest as the adoption, subsequent revision and now repeal of the FCC’s Open Internet rules. We also provide important background on the road to where we are today, including the status of the Federal Trade Commission’s jurisdiction over broadband consumer practices involving privacy and data security, which while restored by the recent reclassification order, remains at issue in a pending en banc review in the 9th Circuit.

Click here to read the full article.

1. In the Matter of Restoring Internet Freedom, WC Docket Nos. 17-108, Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, and Order, FCC 17-166 (released January 4, 2018) (Internet Reclassification Order).
2. Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet, WC Docket No. 14-28, Report and Order on Remand, Declaratory Ruling, and Order, 30 FCC Rcd 5601 (2015) (Title II Order).

Thursday, January 11, 2018, 9:58 AM

FCC to Consider CAFII Auction Public Notice, CAFII Auction Slated to Begin July 24

By Carri Bennet and Erin P. Fitzgerald, Rural Wireless Association Regulatory Counsel

On January 9, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) has released a fact sheet and draft Connect America Fund Phase II (CAFII) Auction Public Notice (Draft PN) an item the Commission will consider at its January Open Meeting.

The Draft PN, released on January 9, is scheduled for consideration at the Commission’s Open Meeting scheduled for January 30. The item would:

  • Timeline: Schedule the auction to commence on July 24, 2018, and establish a short-form application deadline of March 30, 2018.
  • Minimum geographic area for bidding: Adopt census block groups as the minimum geographic area in which areas eligible for support can be grouped for bidding in the auction. 
  • Bidding procedures. Adopt a multi-round, descending clock auction structure. As the clock descends, bidders will indicate whether they will bid to provide service to an area at a given performance tier and latency. Support will be assigned to no more than one bidder per area. The auction will end after the aggregate support amount of all bids is less than or equal to the total budget and there is no longer competition for support in any area.

The Draft PN also discusses short- and long-form application requirements and reserve price calculation methodology.

In late December 2017, the Commission released a Public Notice identifying the locations of nearly one million homes and small businesses in 48 states that are eligible for up to $2 billion in support for broadband deployment over the next decade. That Public Notice included a final list of census blocks eligible for the CAFII Auction, a list of the census block groups and associated reserve prices, and a map showing the eligible blocks within the census block groups. RWA members should review the map and eligible area lists carefully as they weigh whether or not to participate in Auction 903.

We will follow up with a detailed briefing upon formal adoption and release of the Draft PN after January 30, 2018.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017, 10:15 AM

John Garziglia Examines Fractional Music Licensing Issue & its Impact on Broadcasters in Radio Ink Article

On December 19, BMI, one of the nation’s two major performance rights organizations, won a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding BMI’s right to offer fractional licensing of music. Fractional licensing involves songs with multiple songwriters in which BMI owns a portion of the rights, rather than having full ownership.

Broadcasters warn that such an arrangement would create problems for the radio industry, which long has relied on a blanket licensing model to allow stations to broadcast music.

Womble Bond Dickinson telecom lawyer John Garziglia discussed the latest developments with Radio Ink, saying fractional licensing “would put the onus on radio stations to ascertain whether a work licensed by BMI has the additional possibly multiple consents and licenses in order to be played on the air, rather than putting the onus on itself (BMI) to only hold out as theirs those works that radio stations can safely play without incurring significant copyright infringement liability.”

However, Garziglia warns that BMI’s stance on fractional licensing may backfire on the organization, particularly if the new arrangement proves unworkable for radio broadcasters.

“If BMI is saying it cannot be relied upon to license the songs it purports to license, then why should there be a statutory blanket license at all?” he tells Radio Ink.

Rebecca Jacobs Goldman Discusses FCC's Blue Alert with Radio Ink

Broadcasters and radio listeners have become familiar with Amber Alerts, which warn the public that a child is missing and presumed to be in danger, and Silver Alerts, which raise alarms about missing, endangered senior citizens. Now, the FCC’s Emergency Alert System is adding a new color to its spectrum—the Blue Alert.

As Womble Bond Dickinson’s Rebecca Jacobs Goldman explains in Radio Ink, the Blue Alert “will alert radio listeners and others to an imminent and credible threat involving the death or serious injury of a law enforcement officer, threats to cause death or serious injury to a law enforcement officer, or missing law enforcement officers, over the EAS and Wireless Emergency Alert system.” A Blue Alert alarm only is issued when a threat to a police officer is both credible and imminent, and the suspect remains at large.

Goldman explains that the Blue Alert plan was created by the 2015 federal Blue Alert Act, in which Congress directed the creation of such an alert in order to better protect law enforcement officers and the general public. Broadcasters must update and test their equipment and software to implement the new Blue Alert code within the next 12 months.

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