Articles Posted in Communications Law

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Under Missouri campaign finance law, chapter 130, a “campaign committee” is formed to receive contributions or make expenditures solely to support or oppose particular ballot measures, "such committee shall be formed no later than thirty days prior to the election for which the committee receives contributions or makes expenditures." Thirteen days before the November 2014 general election, a group formed MFA as a campaign committee, to accept contributions and make expenditures in support of Proposition 10. MFA sued to enjoin enforcement of the formation deadline, citing the First Amendment. The district court granted MFA a temporary restraining order. MFA received contributions and made expenditures before the election. After the election, MFA terminated as a campaign committee. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of MFA. While a formation deadline by itself might not expressly limit speech, the deadline here is more than a disclosure requirement because it prohibits (or significantly burdens) formation of a campaign committee, a requisite for legally engaging in speech, even if the individual or group is willing to comply with organizational and disclosure requirements. Even if the state’s interest in preventing circumvention of chapter 130’s disclosure regime is compelling, the formation deadline is unconstitutional because it is not narrowly tailored, given its burden on speech and its modest effect on preventing circumvention of the disclosure regime. View "Missourians for Fiscal Accountability v. Klahr" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the City and ImOn in an action brought by Mediacom, seeking declarations that certain resolutions were void and that the City could not permit a potential cable provider to construct a "cable system" without acquiring a cable franchise. Mediacom also alleged contract violations, tortious interference, civil conspiracy, and Equal Protection violations, all depending on whether ImOn could lawfully build a fiber-optic network without a franchise. The court held that ImOn's fiber-optic network was not a "cable system," because ImOn has not provided or proposed to provide cable services. Therefore, the agreements at issue authorizing ImOn's construction of a fiber-optic network were not a de facto cable franchise. In regard to Mediacom's equal protection claim, the court also held that the district court properly concluded that ImOn and Mediacom were not similarly situated because only Mediacom was a cable provider in the City, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Mediacom's motion for discovery. View "MCC Iowa v. Iowa City" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought review of the FCC's order governing the rates that utility companies may charge telecommunications providers for attaching their networks to utility-owned poles. The Eighth Circuit denied the petition, holding that the term "cost" in the Pole Attachments Act, 47 U.S.C. 224, was ambiguous and the same "cost" definition need not be used to determine the upper bound for cable rates under section 224(d) and the rate for telecommunications providers under section 224(e). Therefore, the statute permits, but did not require, the Cable Rate and the Telecom Rate to diverge. The court rejected petitioners' argument that the FCC's interpretation of the statute rendered section 224(e) superfluous; concluded that the order constituted a reasonable interpretation of the ambiguity in section 224(e); and denied the petition for review. View "Ameren Corp. v. FCC" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit held that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 preempted the Iowa Utilities Board's authority to compel Sprint to pay intrastate access charges to Windstream. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Board and Windstream and its determination that the Act preserved the Board's authority and that Sprint was not entitled to declaratory or injunctive relief. View "Sprint Communications Co. v. Jacobs" on Justia Law

Posted in: Communications Law

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The district court found third-party plaintiff Qwest failed to prove its claims for intentional interference with a business relationship, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment against third-party defendant FC. The court agreed with the district court that FC did not act with an improper purpose when it contracted with Sancom, a local exchange carrier (LEC), because FC was simply attempting to take advantage of the uncertain regulatory scheme at the time; FC had a legitimate argument that it could be considered an “end user,” and thus Sancom could bill Qwest under its tariff for calls delivered to FC’s call bridges; and thus the district court did not err in finding for FC on Qwest's claim for intentional interference with a business relationship. The court predicted that the South Dakota Supreme Court would not recognize a tort of unfair competition under these circumstances, and found that the district court properly rejected this new tort. The court concluded, however, that the district court incorrectly found FC’s conduct was “neither illegal nor inequitable” because it was simply taking advantage of a loophole until the loophole closed, and the district court improperly considered Sancom’s settlement payments to Qwest when it found FC was not unjustly enriched. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for reconsideration of whether FC was unjustly enriched. View "Qwest v. Free Conferencing Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Charter, alleging that Charter retained his personally identifiable information in violation of a section of the Cable Communications Policy Act, 47 U.S.C. 551(e). The district court granted Charter's motion to dismiss. The court concluded that plaintiff's notice of appeal was timely where plaintiff filed his notice of appeal thirty-seven days after the district court’s judgment dismissing the case was entered in the docket, well before the district court’s judgment was deemed “entered” and the time for filing a notice of appeal began to run. With the benefit of Spokeo v. Robin's guidance, the court concluded that plaintiff has not alleged an injury in fact as required by Article III. In Spokeo, the Supreme Court explained that Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation. In this case, plaintiff failed to allege a concrete harm and failed to allege an economic injury. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Braitberg v. Charter Communications" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sell technology that permits computers to identify license-plate numbers in digital photographs taken by cameras mounted on vehicles. The cameras automatically photograph everything the vehicles encounter, with GPS coordinates; software provides notice if a photographed vehicle is subject to repossession. The information is sold to clients, including automobile finance and insurance companies and law enforcement. Arkansas’s Automatic License Plate Reader System Act prohibits use of automatic license plate reader systems and permits any person claiming harm from a violation to seek damages from the violator. Vigilant and its affiliates sued, arguing that “use of [automatic license plate reader] systems to collect and create information” and dissemination of the information constitutes speech and that the Act impermissibly restricts this speech based on content—license-plate data—and on the identity of the speaker, because it exempts some entities, such as law enforcement agencies. The district court dismissed, ruling that state officials were immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed on the ground that the plaintiffs lack standing, so there is no Article III case or controversy. State officials do not have authority to enforce the Act, so they do not cause injury; the Act provides for enforcement only through private actions for damages. View "Digital Recognition Network, Inc. v. Hutchinson" on Justia Law

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To obtain a driver’s license or motor vehicle registration from a state motor vehicle department (DMV), individuals must disclose personal information. The 1994 Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. 2721-2725, prohibits disclosure of personal information, “that identifies an individual, including an individual’s photograph, social security number, driver identification number, name, address (but not the 5-digit zip code), telephone number, and medical or disability information,” except for use by a government agency, in carrying out its functions; by a private person acting on behalf of a government agency in carrying out its functions; in connection with any civil, criminal, administrative, or arbitral proceeding; or for investigation in anticipation of litigation. DPPA establishes penalties for improper use. Drivers alleged that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety databases were accessible to law enforcement officers, government agents, and other individuals through an internet portal, and that the information was being accessed for improper purposes. Drivers requested audits detailing past accesses of their motor vehicle records. Audits showed that each Driver’s’ personal information had been accessed hundreds of times, primarily through police departments, sheriff’s offices, or other agencies. District courts dismissed Drivers’ suits. The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, noting that several claims were untimely, but reversed in part, finding that certain claims alleged patterns of access sufficient to establish improper purpose. View "McDonough v. Anoka Cnty." on Justia Law

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Powell contends that his Christian beliefs compel him to publicly share his faith with others. Powell went to the Iowa State Fairgrounds and positioned himself on a sidewalk outside the paid admission area, close to a heavily-traveled intersection near the fair’s main gate. Uniformed Iowa State Fair Patrol Officers told him to leave the fairgrounds. The next day, Powell returned to the fairgrounds and stood in front of public restrooms outside the paid admission area. Fair Patrol Officers told him to leave. Powell brought a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1988 and sought a preliminary injunction, which the district court granted in part, prohibiting defendants from “arresting or threatening to arrest [Powell] solely for engaging in protected speech on the Fairgrounds in locations where [appellees] have already conceded that he is not impeding or would not be likely to impede the flow of traffic.” The Eighth Circuit affirmed denial of Powell’s motion based on his First Amendment claim and remanded the case for consideration of Powell’s request for preliminary injunctive relief based on his due process claim. View "Powell v. Noble" on Justia Law

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Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, local exchange carriers such as Windstream must connect calls made to their customers by the customers of national telecommunications companies such as Sprint. Until 2009, Sprint paid Windstream state access charges for connecting non-nomadic intrastate long-distance VoIP calls-- made by cable telephone customers over the Internet in Iowa, delivered to Sprint for format conversion, and transferred to Windstream for delivery to its Iowa telephone customers. Beginning in 2009, Sprint withheld state access charges for these calls, claiming that VoIP calls were “information services” and that payment should be governed by a reciprocal compensation agreement, not by state access charges. In 2011, the Iowa Utilities Board found that the calls were telecommunications services subject to state regulation, not information services. Sprint sought state court review and filed a federal action, seeking to enjoin the Board’s decision. The district court abstained because of the parallel state proceedings. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, but the Supreme Court reversed. By the time the case returned to the district court, the state court had upheld the Board’s decision. The district court dismissed Sprint’s complaint, holding that issue preclusion barred Sprint from raising the same arguments in federal court. The Eighth Circuit reversed, reasoning that Congress did not intend that issue-preclusion principles bar federal-court review of the issue of whether the non-nomadic intrastate long-distance VoIP calls at issue are information services, payment for which should be governed by a reciprocal compensation agreement, or telecommunications services subject to state access charges. View "Sprint Commc'ns Co. v. Jacobs" on Justia Law