Licenses too precious to treat lightly
We’re living in an increasingly distracted society. Cellphone usage while driving, DVD displays in vehicles and computers at Starbucks are but a small sample of things that we didn’t have 10 years ago but can’t live without now.
Three recent incidents in our little industry brought that home for me. The first occurred when I attended a public-safety radio conference. The conference room was set up with a Wi-Fi connection, and just about everyone in the room (except for me) had their laptop. Certainly some people were taking notes, but you’d be amazed at how many people were: (1) checking e-mail; (2) surfing Yahoo; and (3) doing the L.A. Times crossword puzzle.
The second incident involved a meeting concerning the Consensus Plan. I was there with two industry engineers, a couple of folks from Nextel and a significant opponent of the Consensus Plan. One of the participants during the meeting actually fell asleep. I’m not sure whether that is a commentary on my persuasion techniques or an indication that something distracted him the previous evening, when he should have been sleeping.
The third incident is more problematic. In preparing for the Primedia 800 MHz Road Show seminars, I sent an invitation to the seminars to every 800 MHz licensee that had to move to different frequencies and every 900 MHz licensee. That totaled about 4000 letters — about 400 of which were returned because of bad addresses. We took addresses directly from the FCC’s database so that means 400 licensees won’t get their renewal reminders from the FCC, won’t receive their notices from the 800 MHz Transition Administrator and won’t be aware of Nextel’s consolidation activities at 900 MHz. Think about that — 10% of 800 MHz and 900 MHz licensees have wrong addresses in the commission’s system. Of course, some of those licensees are probably out of business, but some are municipalities (including major urban areas). For others, we found updated addresses on the Web.
These same licensees will be future filers of license-reinstatement requests, sometimes years after the license expired. There will be a host of reasons and people blamed and claims that public safety will be compromised. Compared with all the time, expense and effort associated with reinstatement, simply logging onto ULS and updating the address seems like a no-brainer.
Does the failure to update happen because people don’t care, they don’t know, they don’t think or they’re too distracted by other things? Whatever the reason, these licenses are too important, too valuable and too precious to treat in such a thoughtless manner.
How do we get this message across to licensees? The FCC has refused to reinstate these licenses for the past few years — except in the case of some significant public-safety interest — so that clearly hasn’t had any kind of real impact. Public notices are of little value, as these people don’t pay attention to the commission’s proceedings anyway. I don’t have a good answer, but I can say that it is getting very difficult to feel sorry for folks who are so cavalier about the handling of their licenses. In some cases, our clients have entrusted our office with keeping the licenses current, but most don’t feel the importance of taking this kind of step.
As the Transition Administrator process takes hold in the 800 MHz re-banding, it will be interesting to see how these bad address licensees are handled by the commission. Oh, and you’ll be amused that the letters have also generated some calls from some licensees that obtained their licenses about 10 years ago during the go-go days of the license mills. Of course, they were calling me to find someone to buy their licenses for big bucks. When I asked if the stations were constructed, I felt like Yogi Berra, experiencing déja vu all over again!
Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio, Internet and entertainment industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker, and can be reached at [email protected].