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BE YOUR OWN FCC LEGAL COUNSEL TO SAVE FRUSTRATION AND MONEY

With all the recent regulatory changes from the Federal Communications Commission, mobile service providers now, more than ever, need to keep abreast of new rules and regulations affecting their services.

Most private carriers and specialized mobile radio operators do just fine without consulting attorneys and engineers; this may prove more difficult for commercial mobile radio service operators. With a little guidance, however, operators may be able to save time and money on some “routine matters” an attorney might otherwise handle. This article offers tips to help commercial private mobile service licensees make a smooth transition to being CMRS operators.

As you probably know by now, the traditional distinctions between “private radio services” and “radio common carrier services” have been forever altered. Under the new definitions, pursuant to the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, all mobile services now are classified either as CMRS or private mobile radio services. PCP licensees and SMR operators licensed as of Aug. 10, 1993, are “grandfathered in” and do not need to begin complying with most of these rules until Aug. 10, 1996. But before you know it, the deadline will be here. You could save yourself a lot of aggravation and legal fees by preparing for these changes now.

Besides having a new name, CMRS licensees will be subject to many more regulations than were SMRs and PCPs. Basically, CMRS providers will be regulated as common carriers, which means, with a few exceptions, they must comply with Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended. Some of the Title II provisions CMRS operators will have to comply with include:

Offering interconnection upon reasonable request;

Not “unreasonably” charging customers different rates for “like” services;

And responding to formal complaints relating to allegations of “unjust, unreasonable or discriminatory” practices.

The FCC has exempted CMRS operators from complying with some of the more time consuming Title II regulations-such as filing federal interstate tariffs-to relieve them of unnecessary economic hardships and regulatory burdens.

The following tips may make this transition a bit easier and give you enough guidance to represent yourself before the FCC on nonlegal matters:

1. Get a current FCC directory. Within the past year, the FCC created the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, replacing the Private Radio Bureau, and including radio common carrier paging and PCS under its regulatory authority; reassigned existing services to different branches; and made major staff changes within the agency.

Also, the FCC changed almost all of its telephone numbers to use the “418” exchange. Therefore, if you have an FCC telephone directory older than December 1994, it is probably outdated. Contact the FCC for a new directory to make sure you have the latest version; then keep it handy, and feel free to call the FCC directly whenever you have questions about your licensed operations. Your tax dollars, regulatory fees, and soon, auction fees pay salaries; you might as well take advantage of your investment.

2. Know the toll-free number to the Consumer Assistance Branch. The FCC has a consumer assistance branch in Gettysburg, Pa., for Private Mobile Services of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. The FCC-established toll-free number is 1-800-322-1117. Use this number to call the branch for general information such as questions regarding renewal notices or the FCC’s fee information.

3. Hold consumer complaints for two years. CMRS licensees are subject to the complaints process contained in Sections 207 and 208 of the Communications Act.

Briefly, the act allows any person claiming to be damaged by the actions of a carrier to file a complaint with the FCC, or to file suit in a U.S. district court. The FCC allows customers to file complaints up to two years after the incident occurs. Therefore, you should make it a habit to hold any records concerning customer complaints for two years from the date of the incident.

4. Get a list of FCC vendors. An easy way to keep up with FCC events is through public notices. The FCC releases daily public notices in its Daily Digest, listing current events, Notices of Proposed Rule Makings, application information and other pertinent facts and events.

Beginning Aug. 10, 1996, grandfathered CMRS operators’ new and major modification applications are required to be published in the FCC’s public notices. These applications will be subject to petitions to deny filed by interested parties opposing a grant of the application. You can hire an attorney to keep track of these filings for you or you can contact an FCC vendor to receive copies of the FCC’s Daily Digest, public notices and other relevant FCC matters.

5. Get on the Internet. It is amazing what is available by tapping into the Internet. For instance, you can access the FCC directory, e-mail FCC personnel and retrieve FCC Public Notices, news releases, Orders (Notices of Proposed Rule Makings), speeches, the Daily Digest and FCC Forms. If you have access to the Internet, you also can contact other CMRS operators around the world.

6. Get a copy of the new FCC Form 600. The FCC invented a unified application, FCC Form 600, to be used by all wireless services. Form 600 replaces Forms 574 and 401.

You probably already have heard less than flattering opinions concerning the new Form 600. To put it delicately, Form 600 requires more information than Form 574. The form consists of a main form and eight schedules. Depending on the type of application being filed, an applicant might need to file three to five separate schedules.

Private mobile service operators generally will use Schedules D, E, F and G. Take a look at Form 600 early to see what additional information is needed. For instance, a new question on Schedule F requests the antenna tower owner’s name and telephone number.

7. Go metric. The FCC has gone metric. Now, all CMRS applications must incorporate metric units (meters), instead of English units (feet), into their license applications.

This applies to Form 600, and any other application, including Special Temporary Authority Requests, submitted to the Private Radio Division of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. To make this conversion, multiply the number of feet by (.3048). The FCC also requires metric units to be rounded to the nearest whole number.

8. Get a copy of the FCC’s EEO rules. Beginning Aug. 10, 1996, CMRS providers will be subject to the FCC’s equal employment opportunity regulations.

Get a copy of these rules now, to determine how to comply with the FCC’s EEO requirements. Grandfathered CMRS operators will have to file their first EEO program and Annual Employment Report by May 31, 1997.

9. Participate in Rule Making Proceedings. The FCC routinely issues Notices of Proposed Rule Makings outlining proposed new rules. Interested parties are then given the opportunity to file comments supporting or opposing the FCC’s proposals.

This is your opportunity to get your views across to the FCC. You don’t need to have communications counsel to file comments in Rule Making Proceedings; and believe it or not, the FCC’s staffers read these comments and incorporate these comments into FCC rule changes.

10. Review newly issued FCC licenses. You will notice some changes on newly issued CMRS licenses. First, CMRS licenses are issued for a 10-year term, instead of the five-year term for SMRs and PCPs.

Grandfathered CMRS operators still are being issued five-year licenses; but that soon should change to 10 years. On April 3, the FCC began issuing licenses with metric units; it also added a regulatory status code, stating either CMRS or PMRS. If you are grandfathered, then your status should state PMRS. If you believe the status on your license is incorrect, contact the Consumer Assistance Branch, to have it corrected.

11. Attend industry events/read trade publications
. This is a good way to see what other people are doing and to learn about changes taking place in the industry. Contact your industry associations to find out the schedule of conventions.

Frederick M. Joyce is a partner, and Amy Brett is an associate with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Joyce & Jacobs. Joyce & Jacobs provides legal counsel on communications, corporate and litigation matters.

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