Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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Plaintiffs, two former Liberian officials, allege that Global Witness, an international human rights organization, published a report falsely implying that they had accepted bribes in connection with the sale of an oil license for an offshore plot owned by Liberia. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint for failing to plausibly allege malice. The court concluded that the First Amendment provides broad protections for speech about public figures, and the former officials have failed to allege that Global Witness exceeded the bounds of those protections. In this case, plaintiffs advanced several interlocking theories to support the allegation of malice, but the court agreed with the district court that these theories fail to support a plausible claim that Global Witness acted with actual malice. View "Tah v. Global Witness Publishing, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Kapurs invested $300,000 in KAXT-CD, a Bay Area TV station, for 42% ownership in the Seller. In 2013, over the Kapurs' objections, the Seller proceeded with a $10.1 million sale of assets to First Buyer, which applied for the station’s FCC license. The Kapurs opposed that application, arguing that arbitration concerning the sale was ongoing. The arbitrator found that the sale did not require unanimity. The Kapurs unsuccessfully appealed in California state court and pressed on at the FCC, attacking the First Buyer’s qualifications under the “public interest” standard. The FCC concluded that the Kapurs’ allegations did not warrant a hearing and approved the application. In 2017, First Buyer sold the station to TV-49, Inc. for $2 million. The Kapurs opposed TV-49’s FCC license assignment application, arguing that First Buyer lacked the qualifications to buy the “license in the first place.” They did not challenge TV-49’s qualifications. The FCC approved the application. The D.C. Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of standing. Even if the Kapurs prevailed on their claim of entitlement to a character hearing, they have not shown any likelihood that the FCC would find that First Buyer was of bad character or, even if it did, that it would order the unwinding of both sales and return of the station to the Seller. Nothing would stop the Seller from selling to someone else. View "Kapur v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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A 2017 “tweet” by @realDonaldTrump stated: “The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad.” BuzzFeed requested CIA records about Agency payments to Syrian rebels, citing the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(3)(A). The Agency invoked Exemptions 1 and 3. The district court granted the Agency summary judgment, explaining that the “tweet did not mention the [Agency] or create any inference that such a program would be linked to or run by the [Agency].”BuzzFeed sent another, more broadly stated, request. The Agency asserted that a response would reveal whether it had an intelligence interest in, intelligence sources about, and connection to programs related to Syrian rebels — information exempt from disclosure under Exemptions 1 and 3. Exemption 1 covers “matters”2 that are “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy. Exemption 3 covers matters “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” the National Security Act qualifies as a withholding statute under Exemption 3, 50 U.S.C. 3024(i)(1).The district court granted BuzzFeed summary judgment, holding that the tweet officially acknowledged “the government’s intelligence interest in the broader categories of records that BuzzFeed has requested.” The D.C. Circuit reversed. The tweet was not an official acknowledgment of the existence (or not) of Agency records. View "Leopold v. Central Intelligence Agency" on Justia Law

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The FCC’s Lifeline program offers low-income consumers discounts on telephone and broadband Internet access services. Qualified consumers receive service from eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs), which receive a monthly federal support payment for each Lifeline subscriber. The FCC allows wireless resellers to provide Lifeline services. Many subscribers pay the ETC a recurring, discounted monthly fee. Some reseller ETCs offer prepaid wireless plans for which ETCs receive monthly Lifeline payments. ETCs must initiate the de-enrollment of Lifeline subscribers on prepaid plans who have not used their Lifeline service within the preceding 30 days; such subscribers are notified and enter a 15-day “cure period,” during which, ETCs must continue to provide Lifeline service.A group composed primarily of Lifeline service providers filed a Petition for Declaratory Ruling requesting that the FCC permit Lifeline ETCs to seek reimbursement for all Lifeline subscribers served on the first day of the month, including those receiving free-to-the-end-user Lifeline service who are in the 15-day cure period. The petition cited 47 C.F.R. 54.407(a), which states that ETCs will receive payments for each actual qualifying low-income customer the ETC serves directly as of the first of the month. The FCC denied the petition, citing section 54.407(c)(2), which states that for prepaid Lifeline plans, an ETC “shall only continue to receive [support payments] for . . . subscribers who have used the service within the last 30 days, or who have cured their nonusage.”The D.C. Circuit upheld the FCC’s determination. A statutory argument – that the FCC’s interpretation of its rules violated 47 U.S.C. 214(e) – is foreclosed because it was not raised with the FCC. The FCC position is compelled by the unambiguous terms of the rules. View "National Lifeline Association v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit upheld the FCC's order significantly narrowing a frequency band dedicated to fixed satellite transmissions in order to make room for the emerging fifth generation of mobile cellular technology. At issue in this case is whether this change permissibly modified the existing station licenses of three small satellite operators (SSO) and PSSI, a company that broadcasts live events through satellites. The SSOs and PSSI each filed an appeal for review of the FCC's order under 47 U.S.C. 402(b) and a petition under 47 U.S.C. 402(a).In this case, the SSOs and PSSI principally argue that the order exceeds the FCC's statutory authority to modify existing station licenses. The court concluded that, although the governing statutes by their terms speak only of licenses, the FCC gives market access grants the same protection that it gives to full Commission licenses. The court rejected the SSO's claims that the change to their market access grants was too fundamental to qualify as a modification under section 316(a)(1) of the Communications Act of 1934; that the FCC arbitrarily restricted their future business opportunities and excluded them from receiving compensation from the future 5G providers; and that the FCC impermissibly sanctioned them without prior notice. The court also rejected PSSI's claim that its licenses to transmit within the C-band uplink have been fundamentally changed. Rather, substantial evidence supported the FCC's conclusion that earth stations—including PSSI's mobile ones—will be able to "provide the same services" to their customers after the license modification. Finally, the court concluded that the parties' remaining challenges to the order lack merit. View "PSSI Global Services, LLC v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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After the FCC determined that incumbents no longer dominated the telecommunications market because of the plethora of competitor modes of voice transmission, the FCC exercised its statutory authority to forbear from enforcing the wholesale pricing requirement and one element of the unbundling requirement.The DC Circuit denied petitions for review challenging the propriety of the FCC's forbearance of the wholesale price requirements and challenging the forbearance of the unbundling requirement. The court concluded that the Commission looked reasonably at the whole national market for voice transmission and how the incumbents' share of that market is declining rapidly; the Commission was reasonable to focus on the national market when making national policy; and, while the Commission's order did not explicitly address the availability of broadband in rural areas, it clearly stated that it only granted forbearance as to "price cap" incumbents. The court noted that the Commission justified its forbearance policy by stating that it would induce incumbents and insurgents to develop more advanced networks. In regard to the forbearance of the unbundling requirement, the Commission's reasoning largely coincides with its justification for forbearing from enforcing the wholesale requirement. Given that CPUC effectively conceded that greater consideration of public safety would not change the outcome, the court did not think that a remand on this issue was necessary. Finally, the court rejected the remaining administrative law challenges. View "COMPTEL v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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This appeal involves conditions that the FCC imposed on a merger of three cable companies into a new merged entity, New Charter. Among other things, the conditions (1) prohibit New Charter from charging programming suppliers for access to its broadband subscribers, (2) prohibit New Charter from charging broadband subscribers based on how much data they use, (3) require New Charter to provide steeply discounted broadband service to needy subscribers, and (4) require New Charter to substantially expand its cable infrastructure for broadband service. The appellants include three of New Charter's customers, whose bills for cable broadband Internet service increased shortly after the merger. These appellants contend that the conditions caused this injury, which would likely be redressed by an order setting the conditions aside.The DC Circuit held that these three individual appellants have standing to challenge the interconnection and discounted-services conditions, but not the usage-based pricing and buildout conditions. Furthermore, although the lawfulness of the interconnection and discounted-services conditions are properly before the court, the FCC declined to defend them on the merits. Accordingly, the court vacated the first and third conditions based on the FCC's refusal to defend on the merits. Finally, the court dismissed the remaining aspects of the appeal for lack of an appellant with Article III standing. View "Competitive Enterprise Institute v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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The Communications Act of 1934 restricts the rates that telecommunications carriers may charge for transmitting calls across their networks, 47 U.S.C. 201(b). Iowa-based Aureon is a joint venture through which local carriers connect to long-distance carriers such as AT&T and has “subtending” agreements with participating local carriers. AT&T alleged that Aureon imposed interstate and intrastate access charges that violated the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) transitional pricing rules; improperly engaged in access stimulation (enticing high call volumes to generate increased access charges); committed an unreasonable practice by agreeing with subtending carriers to connect calls involving access stimulation; and billed for service not covered by its 2013 interstate tariff. The FCC found that Aureon violated the transitional rule.The D.C. Circuit reversed in part. The transitional rule applies to all “competitive local exchange carriers,” and Aureon falls into that category but the rule applies to intrastate rates so Aureon’s 2013 increase of its interstate rate was not covered. The court remanded the question of whether Aureon’s subtending agreements qualify as access revenue sharing agreements. The court affirmed the FCC’s determination that Aureon’s interstate tariffs apply to traffic involving any local carriers engaged in access stimulation. The FCC erred in refusing to adjudicate AT&T’s unreasonable-practices claim. View "AT&T Corp. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Following an incident at President Trump's 2019 Social Media Summit involving Appellee Brian Karem, a journalist with a hard pass, and Sebastian Gorka, a Summit attendee, the Press Secretary suspended Karem's pass for thirty days on the ground that his conduct violated "professional journalistic norms."The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction enjoining the enforcement of the suspension of Karem's hard pass credentials based on Fifth Amendment due process grounds. The court held that Karem is likely to succeed on his due process claim because, on this record, he lacked fair notice that the White House might punish his purportedly unprofessional conduct by suspending his hard pass for a month. The court also held that the remaining preliminary injunction factors counsel in favor of affirmance where Karem stands to suffer immediate irreparable harm absent an injunction, and the balance of the equities and the public interest factors also favor an injunction. The court limited the scope of the injunction to run only to the Press Secretary, rather than the Press Secretary and the President. View "Karem v. Trump" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition for review challenging the Commission's order approving the continued use of admittedly outdated accounting rules for an ever-dwindling number of telephone companies whose pricing is governed by those rules.The court held that the individual petitioners lacked Article III standing to challenge the Commission's orders, because they have presented no evidence that the continuing application of the frozen rules has harmed them or is likely to harm them. In this case, the individuals do not purchase telephone service from a provider whose rates are directly affected by the rules and thus they have not shown how the rules distort the market to their disadvantage or otherwise harm them indirectly. View "Irregulators v. FCC" on Justia Law