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Blog Posts by Bill Lake

The Time Has Come to End Outdated Broadcasting Exclusivity Rules

by Bill Lake, Chief, Media Bureau
September 22, 2015 - 09:54 AM

Last month, Chairman Wheeler circulated an order that would eliminate the Commission’s network non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity rules.  As Chairman Wheeler explained, these 50-year old rules are past their prime in light of the significant statutory and marketplace changes that have occurred since their adoption.  Given these changes, it’s time for the Commission to end its intrusion into this aspect of the commercial marketplace and leave it to TV networks, syndicators, and broadcast stations to implement the exclusive distribution rights that they choose to create.

Some have objected to our proposed action on the ground that the exclusivity rules are inextricably linked to the compulsory copyright licenses enacted by Congress for cable and satellite operators.  These advocates argue that, as a result, the Commission should keep its exclusivity rules unless and until Congress repeals the compulsory copyright licenses.  Otherwise, the argument goes, the cable and satellite operators will be given a free ride to retransmit copyrighted material without paying for it and in disregard of exclusive rights that broadcasters have bargained for.

The asserted inextricable link does not exist -- nor does the imagined free ride.  These advocates ignore major pieces of the intervening history – notably the creation of the retransmission consent regime in the 1992 Cable Act.

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Transaction Reviews and the Public Interest

October 7, 2014 - 02:57 PM

Today, in connection with two significant and simultaneous merger reviews, the Media Bureau issued an Order establishing unique protections for the Merger Applicants’ programming contracts, retransmission agreements, and other related materials.

This new procedure balances three important public-interest obligations: (i) the Commission’s need for access to highly relevant information about the Applicants’ business practices, (ii) other parties’ need to express informed views to the Commission about the transactions, and (iii) the need to ensure that sensitive competitive information is used solely for that purpose.

These obligations are supported by the law, which requires that we decide whether a proposed transaction would further the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” That analysis is informed by the Applicants’ past course of conduct, which is critical to understanding the impact of a future merger.  Equally important is the legal command that the Commission’s decision be based on a public record developed through public notice and an opportunity to comment.

The Commission often obtains sensitive commercial information along the way. And it has a long-established method of handling such information. Through a binding Protective Order, third parties can gain access to Highly Confidential Information only after agreeing to restrictions that are based on years of Commission experience. For example, the only people allowed to see Highly Confidential Information are outside representatives who personally acknowledge and commit to abide by these restrictions.  The information may be used only in connection with the proceeding in which it is produced, and no one involved in competitive decision-making is eligible to see it. Individuals also must destroy or return the information when the Commission’s proceeding is over.

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Working Together on the Post-Incentive-Auction Broadcaster Transition

by Bill Lake, Chief, Media Bureau
March 20, 2014 - 02:30 PM

Making history is exciting, but it’s not easy.  In next year’s first-ever incentive auction, participating broadcasters will voluntarily relinquish spectrum rights in exchange for a share of the proceeds, and the recovered spectrum will be sold for wireless broadband use.  The remaining broadcast spectrum will be “repacked,” which means that some broadcasters who remain on the air will be given new channel assignments. That last step may sound anticlimactic, but getting it right will take the concerted efforts of everyone involved.  Together we’ll need to craft policies and procedures to transition the broadcasters with as little disruption to the industry and consumers as possible.

Today we released for public comment a report that the FCC commissioned from a spectrum consulting firm, Widelity, to help us understand the process and costs associated with the post-auction transition.  In producing the report, Widelity interviewed a broad range of broadcast industry experts, including TV broadcast group engineers, radio frequency and structural engineers, network engineers, suppliers, support companies, equipment manufacturers, and attorneys.  Importantly, Widelity’s report concludes, “With cooperation as well as patience, creative problem solving and guidance from the FCC and industry groups such as the National Association of Broadcasters, Association of Public Television Stations, and state broadcast associations, the transition can be achieved with the desired outcomes.”

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Updated: The Low Power FM Application Window Is Fast Approaching

by Bill Lake, Media Bureau Chief
October 21, 2013 - 03:13 PM

Reposted from the September 19, 2013 post "The Low Power FM Application Window is Fast Approaching" with Updated Information

In August we had our first of two webinars on how communities and non-profit organizations can apply for new low-power FM radio station licenses during the next window, October 15 – November 14, 2013.  The webinar allowed viewers to ask questions directly to Bureau staff.  We were delighted to answer many questions during the session and have continued to respond to your inquiries since then.  The second webinar will be held on Thursday, October 24.  Before this next session, we want to give you these reminders and highlights on a number of important issues:

First and foremost, don’t forget you can start filling out your Form 318 application online now!  You won’t be able to file the application until the October 15 – November 14, window, but we highly recommend you complete the entire application as soon as possible.  This will allow you to avoid any last minute questions or technical issues.

Second, remember that, while you do not need a 501(c)(3) certification, you must be organized as a nonprofit educational institution, corporation, or entity under your State’s laws, as of the date of the application filing, to be eligible to apply for an LPFM license.  In other words, if you have only recently filed your incorporation papers and have not received confirmation as of October 29, you will not be eligible to apply. 

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The Low Power FM Application Window Is Fast Approaching

by Bill Lake, Media Bureau Chief
September 19, 2013 - 03:58 PM

***Due to the Government-wide lapse in funding the webinar date and LPFM Open Filing Window Deadline have changed. Please see "Updated: The Low Power FM Application Window Is Fast Approaching" for the correct dates.***

Second, remember that, while you do not need a 501(c)(3) certification, you must be organized as a nonprofit educational institution, corporation, or entity under your State’s laws, as of the date of the application filing, to be eligible to apply for an LPFM license.  In other words, if you have only recently filed your incorporation papers and have not received confirmation as of October 29, you will not be eligible to apply. 

Third, we will permit organizations in a community to work together to file a single Form 318 application.  Alternatively, organizations in a community could apply separately – for the same or different frequency – knowing that they may decide later to aggregate points so they can negotiate a time-share agreement if the Commission determines that they are tied with the highest point total in the same mutually exclusive group.  (Applications are mutually exclusive if they are filed in the same window and the simultaneous operation of the proposed stations would result in one, or more, stations causing objectionable interference to another.)

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Adding Local Voices to the Radio Airwaves

by Bill Lake, Chief, Media Bureau
August 12, 2013 - 10:58 AM

The FCC recently announced that it will accept LPFM license applications between October 15, 2013 and October 29, 2013.  I am extremely excited about the new opportunities presented by the window, which is the result of the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 and the work of the Commission to implement that legislation. 

As Acting FCC Chairwoman Clyburn recently said: “Local groups across the country will have a unique opportunity in October to apply for a license to provide LPFM radio broadcast services to their communities.”

The LPFM service was initially established in 2000 to create opportunities for new voices to be heard on the radio.  The FCC envisioned LPFM stations would serve very localized communities of underrepresented groups within those communities.  An LPFM station can be authorized to operate with up to 100 watts and will typically have a service radius of approximately three and one-half miles.  LPFM stations are available to local, nonprofit educational entities, Tribes, and public safety organizations, but are not available to individuals or for commercial operations.  LPFM stations are authorized for noncommercial educational broadcasting only, and LPFM licenses generally cannot own or have an interest in any other broadcast stations.

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Media Ownership: Going the Extra Mile for Transparency

by Bill Lake, Chief, Media Bureau
December 3, 2012 - 06:02 PM

For over two years, the Commission has welcomed public input in our pending Quadrennial Review of our broadcast ownership rules.  We began with the first of six public workshops on November 2, 2009 and continued by inviting two rounds of comments on a Notice of Inquiry released on May 25, 2010 and two further rounds of comments on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released on December 22, 2011.  We offered opportunities to comment on eleven economic studies we commissioned in 2010 and released for public review in July 2011, and we have accepted and continue to accept numerous ex parte submissions expressing a range of views throughout the proceeding.  This process stands in contrast to the Commission’s 2006 Quadrennial Review, where the Third Circuit criticized the Commission for failing to offer detailed rule proposals in the NPRM, issuing new proposals via Op-Ed/Press Release, and giving the public insufficient time to provide input on the new proposals.  Indeed, the same court opinion praised our current process even in its early stages, noting that the NOI alone contained a significant amount of specifics.

The Media Bureau released a report on November 14, 2012 about the ownership of commercial broadcast stations. This report provides, for the first time ever, detailed information by race, ethnicity, and gender about ownership of commercial television and radio stations.  The report was made possible by the Commission’s revamping of its Form 323 broadcast ownership report to enable the collection in electronic form of information about all attributable owners of these stations.  Data were first collected via the new form as of November 1, 2009 and again as of October 1, 2011.  Further biennial filings will enable the Commission for the first time to track ownership trends in a systematic way.

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Channel Sharing Workshop: Just the Sort of Input We Need

by Bill Lake, Chief, Media Bureau
May 24, 2012 - 04:30 PM

We held a workshop on channel sharing this week, to explore the practical business and operational challenges facing broadcasters who may want to try this innovative way to use spectrum more efficiently.  Over 200 people participated in person and over the web, making it a successful kickoff to a series of events through which we’ll invite input that will help us to implement our new incentive auction authority.

We proposed channel sharing as a way for broadcasters to contribute much-needed spectrum in connection with an incentive auction, enjoy the financial benefits of sharing in auction proceeds, and at the same time stay on the air to serve their viewers.  Our panel of broadcast professionals discussed the business models that might fit with channel sharing and the practicalities of putting together a channel sharing arrangement.

The panelists, a number of whom have clients actively considering channel sharing, shared with us their insights into wide-ranging issues, including –

  • the types of stations for which channel sharing would be an appropriate business decision;
  • how stations would go about choosing partners;
  • what kinds of provisions channel sharing agreements should contain;
  • how to handle the possible termination of a channel sharing arrangement; and
  • potential collusive behavior that stations negotiating channel sharing agreements might need to avoid.

While it seems accepted that the technology exits to implement channel sharing, the discussion also covered a number of technical issues about how it might be implemented.

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Incentive Auctions: The Concept Ratified, and the Work Begins

by Bill Lake, Chief, Media Bureau
March 27, 2012 - 03:53 PM


Congress ratified a historic policy innovation by authorizing the Commission to conduct incentive auctions of spectrum.  Now the work begins to make that innovation a reality.  The new law codifies the vision of an incentive auction as offering new options to broadcasters.

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