IPR's Communications and Technology Section Wraps Up Productive Semester

Students in IPR’s Communications and Technology Law section recently finished an impressive semester in which they advocated for clients on a range of important issues such media ownership, community radio, and children’s online privacy.

Six third-year law students participated in the Communications and Technology Law section this fall, working on a number of projects for IPR’s clients. Below are a few highlights of the students’ work this semester as well as quotes from the students on their experiences at IPR.

Representing local voices and those demanding diversity in license renewal challenge of WWOR-TV in Secaucus, NJ

IPR students Patricia Kim and Greg DiBella helped draft and file two separate administrative appeals (linked here and here) with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking to overturn an earlier decision that renewed the license of WWOR-TV, which is owned by 21st Century Fox.

IPR’s clients, the Office of Communication, Inc. of the United Church of Christ (UCC) and Voice for New Jersey (VNJ), had each challenged the license renewal on separate grounds back in 2007. UCC’s challenge focused on Fox’s violation of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule, as the company owns WWOR and another television station in the New York market. VNJ’s challenge argued that WWOR had failed to provide New Jersey residents with important local news and information as required by the Communications Act.

After the FCC’s Media Bureau denied both challenges, the students drafted the appeals, known as Applications for Review, asking that the full Commission reverse the earlier decision. The students also helped draft replies filed in response to Fox’s opposition and attended meetings with Commissioners’ staff reviewing the appeal.

Both Greg and Patricia said that they found working for their clients to be rewarding. Patricia, who represented UCC, said she identified with her clients concerns about a lack of diversity in the New York media market. Patricia said:

Diversity in the news is at the heart of the Commission’s policy goals.  I cannot think of a more important issue, as it is critical to our democracy for American citizens to receive our news from as many diverse and antagonistic sources as possible.

For Greg, who is a New Jersey native, his work with VNJ was about helping his neighbors obtain better news from local broadcasters. He said:

I am grateful to IPR for the opportunity to help citizens from my home state of New Jersey seek the media coverage that their local and state developments deserve. My work helped VNJ petition the FCC to enforce its public interest standard requiring that broadcasters transmit programming responsive to issues of local concern.

Holding companies accountable for violating children’s privacy law

IPR student Camille Fischer drafted and filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the agency to investigate candy maker Topps for an apparent violation of the federal law protecting children’s online privacy.

The complaint, described more fully in a recent blog post, focused on a marketing campaign in which the candy manufacturer asked children to take photos of themselves wearing its iconic lollipop Ring Pop and post them to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #RockThatRock. The children were encouraged to post their pictures in the hopes that the images would be included in a future music video by tween band R5.

The complaint argued that Topps’ campaign violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by, among other things, collecting and disseminating the personal information of children under 13 without prior consent from their parents.

Camille said she learned more than simply how to draft a complaint, as her experiences at IPR included working with a coalition of consumer groups to build a strong case that would push the FTC to investigate. She said:

This semester at IPR has been the greatest opportunity to learn how to actually practice law. I came in with an interest in privacy and communications law, and ended the semester feeling like I had accomplished something for my client and for the public.

Continuing to help individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing obtain full access to television programming

IPR student Emily Bezhadi spent part of her semester drafting oppositions to petitions filed by several television programmers trying to avoid their closed-captioning obligations.

IPR has represented Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. for several years as it seeks to increase access to television programming through closed captioning. The work has often taken the form of opposing television programmers that seek waivers from the FCC to not caption their programming.

Emily helped investigate four petitions that the FCC recently sought comment on and then drafted one of the oppositions IPR filed in December. The work was rewarding because it gave her an opportunity to advocate for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. She said:

It is important that all Americans are equally able to access the myriad of different video programs through closed captioning. I am glad this site my work with IPR furthered the goal of my clients, TDI, in ensuring that only those petitioners who would be truly burdened by closed captioning should be exempt from the FCC’s requirements.

Increasing disclosure of political ads on television, radio

IPR student Keir Lamont worked with several clients that have been working on increasing the transparency around campaign ads broadcast on television and radio.

The work took several forms. For example, Keir investigated and filed complaints against broadcasters for failing to identify the true sponsor of political ads run on broadcast stations, a follow on to previous efforts to increase transparency of campaign finance.

Keir also worked with clients to further recent efforts that facilitate greater transparency surrounding the entities purchasing political ads. After the FCC’s rules were updated this summer to require that all broadcasters place this information into a file available online, IPR filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC seeking to expand the requirements to cable and satellite providers.

Keir worked with clients as the FCC sought comments on the proposal, an effort that paid off when the agency announced a proposed rulemaking last week to expand the requirements to cable and satellite providers as well as radio stations.

Helping local community groups create low-power FM broadcast stations

Finally, IPR student Dan Syed worked with a number of community groups that are trying to obtain licenses from the FCC to create hundreds of new local radio stations across the country.

Dan’s work focused on advising applicants who had applied for low-power FM (LPFM) licenses with the FCC in the fall of 2013. After thousands of groups applied, the FCC began sorting through them and determining which groups would receive licenses based on a process that involved groups earning points for, among other things, being locally based.

The goal of the LPFM service is to create a number of community-driven stations in markets across the country that reflect local culture, music, and ideas. Because multiple organizations in communities had applied to broadcast on the same frequency, the groups that were tied had to negotiate among themselves whether they would work together and share a license.

In addition to helping answer questions about the timeshare agreements, Dan also drafted an opposition filed on behalf of several groups seeking a radio license in Philadelphia.

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