Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

May Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Incentive Auction, ATSC 3.0 and Broadcast Deregulation

Posted in Broadcast Auctions, Digital Television, General FCC, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

May is one of the few months without the normal list of quarterly filings and EEO public file reports.  But, just because there are none of these regular filings due, that does not mean that the month will be a quiet one for broadcasters on the regulatory front.  In fact, far from it.  There are obligations for television broadcasters in connection with the incentive auction and the subsequent repacking of the TV spectrum, an FCC meeting that will start two proceedings that could dramatically reduce the regulatory burdens of broadcasters, and comments due on the FCC’s proposal for the next generation of television broadcasting.

In connection with the incentive auction, on May 11, stations that are relinquishing their channels in exchange for compensation from the FCC must file an FCC Form 1875 detailing where payments for that relinquishment will go.  After that information is received and processed, the FCC will send an email to the payee asking for bank account information that must be entered into the “CORES Incentive Auction Financial Module.”  Stations looking for their auction payouts need to observe these details so the FCC knows where to send their money. Continue Reading

Making Good on Deregulation – FCC Proposes to Eliminate Main Studio Rules and Review All Other Broadcast Regulatory Requirements

Posted in AM Radio, FCC Fines, FM Radio, General FCC, Low Power Television/Class A TV, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

In his speech at the NAB Convention (available here), Chairman Pai promised to pursue a broadcast regulatory regime that made sense in today’s competitive media environment. He promised to move quickly to eliminate a number of the unnecessary broadcast rules, and specifically to repeal the main studio rule (see our articles here and here about the current requirements for the operation and staffing of the main studio).  Yesterday, the FCC took its first steps to quickly fulfill those promises, releasing two draft orders to be considered at its May 18 meeting, one to repeal the main studio rule and the second announcing the opening of a proceeding to review all of the other rules that govern broadcasters except the ownership rules that are already under consideration in other proceedings (see our posts here and here about some of the ownership rules already under review).

The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking to eliminate the main studio rules asks a number of questions seeking support for the FCC’s tentative conclusion that the elimination of the main studio rule is in the public interest.  The NPRM asks questions and seeks information including:

  • how much money the elimination of the main studio rule would save stations,
  • the public interest benefits that would result from any monetary savings (e.g. better programming),
  • information about how often the main studio is currently visited by community members and why they visit,
  • information about how community members communicate with broadcasters with complaints or suggestions about broadcast operations,
  • whether stations can still serve the issues faced by their communities without having a physical presence,
  • whether abolition of the main studio rules in any way abrogates the station’s obligation to serve its local community that would undermine the FCC’s obligations under Section 307(b) of the Communications Act to allocate stations to communities that need service,
  • how the elimination of the rule would work in connection with the requirement that radio stations move their public file online (e.g. should an online public file be a precondition of abolishing the studio or can the paper file be maintained somewhere else if the studio rule is abolished before next March when the online public file is mandatory for all stations),
  • whether to continue to require that stations have a local phone number accessible to residents of their community of license, and
  • specific inquiries as to how Class A TV stations would meet their obligations to air local programs if they have no main studio.

Assuming the FCC adopts the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking at the May 18 meeting, public comments on the proposal and the questions asked by the FCC will be 30 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register.  That would likely put comments in late June or early July, with reply comments 15 days later. Continue Reading

Update: Bill to Make Register of Copyrights a Presidential Appointee Approved by House of Representatives

Posted in Intellectual Property, Internet Radio, Music Rights

We wrote here about the Congressional proposal to make the Register of Copyrights a Presidential appointee subject to Congressional approval, rather than a selection of the Librarian of Congress. That bill, HR-1695 (an updated version of which is available here), despite some expressed concerns from certain advocacy groups about the potentially making that position more partisan and political, was approved this week by the House of Representatives on a 378 to 48 vote. The next stop for this reform effort will be the Senate, where thus far legislation to accomplish that end has not been approved. Watch for further action there in coming months.

FTC Puts “Influencers” on Notice:  Disclose Marketing Relationships in Social Media Posts

Posted in On Line Media, Payola and Sponsorship Identification, Website Issues

Broadcasters and advertisers should take note of the more than 90 warning letters that the FTC sent out this week as a reminder of the need to disclose material sponsorship connections in social media promotions and endorsements.  The FTC has since 2009 announced a policy that any online content for which anything of value has been received must disclose that consideration – even social media posts (see our article here about that policy).  This is in the nature of the FCC’s sponsorship identification rules for broadcast content.   That same policy statement addressed the need for those making personal endorsements to make these sponsorship disclosures.  The recent warning letters are notable not only for their sheer number, but also because the warning letters were addressed to marketers and social media “influencers” – the individuals whose social media followings make their endorsements valuable.  To date, the FTC has only named marketers (Warner Brothers Home Entertainment and Lord & Taylor) in its social media endorsement cases.  Although the FTC did not say who received warning letters, its press release noted that the letters were “informed by petitions filed by Public Citizen and affiliated organizations” in September 2016.

By directing warning letters to marketers and influencers, the FTC is sending a firm reminder that both sides of a sponsorship arrangement need to disclose their connection, “unless the connection is already clear from the context of the communication containing the endorsement.”  Specifically, the FTC advises influencers that they must “clearly and conspicuously” disclose any material connection with a marketer; and marketers, in turn, should ensure that the influencers they sponsor disclose their material connections. Continue Reading

FCC Finds Online Sources Satisfy EEO Requirements for Wide Dissemination of Job Openings by Broadcasters and MVPDs

Posted in EEO Compliance/Diversity

The FCC on Friday released a declaratory ruling making it significantly easier for broadcasters and MVPDs to meet their EEO obligations imposed by FCC rules.  These rules for broadcasters and MVPDs (cable and satellite TV providers) requires that these businesses, when filling job openings, widely disseminate information about the openings in a manner that is expected to reach members of all community groups in the area from which employees are likely to be found.  In the past, under the rules adopted in 2002, the Commission has not allowed recruitment to be conducted solely through online sources.  Instead, the 2002 order suggested that the daily newspaper would, in many communities, be an outlet that would reach the diverse groups within a community – though most broadcasters supplemented newspaper publication with notifications to numerous schools, community organizations, educational institutions and others who might possibly refer employee candidates.  Stations that relied solely on online sources faced substantial fines from the FCC (see the cases we summarized here and here).

The decision on Friday recognized that we are in a different world than when these rules were adopted almost 15 years ago.  Now, most recruiting is done online.  Thus, in response to a petition I filed on behalf of clients (summarized here), the FCC determined that a broadcaster or MVPD can rely solely on online sources in its recruiting.  It no longer needs to use the newspaper, reach out to community groups community groups or even use its own airwaves to give notice of job openings to satisfy the wide dissemination obligation.  The FCC encouraged stations to continue to use some of these outreach methods, but it is no longer required.  The broadcaster or MVPD needs to be reasonable in picking online sources that are likely to reach the members of various groups within its community – though the decision as to exactly which online employment sources to use will be left to the good-faith discretion of the broadcaster or MVPD.  The Commission went so far as to say that, depending on the circumstances, a single online source could reasonably be found to be sufficient. Continue Reading

FCC Appoints Regional Coordinators for TV Post-Auction Repacking Process

Posted in Digital Television, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, Low Power Television/Class A TV, Television

With the FCC last week announcing the results of the reverse auction portion of the incentive auction and setting the timetable for the repacking of the TV spectrum, the next question on everyone’s mind will be how successful the television industry will be in adhering to the schedule established by the FCC for clearing the TV spectrum above Channel 37. The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice showing how it will be doing its part to monitor and assist in that repacking. The FCC announced that it is appointing 10 Commission employees to serve as “Regional Coordinators” to help ensure a “smooth and efficient post-auction transition.” These coordinators will each have a geographic region to which they are assigned. They will keep in touch with the television stations affected by the repacking in their area to assess them stations progress in complying with the required channel moves and to assist where possible in smoothing issues that may arise in that process.

The Public Notice provides the names and contact information for each of these coordinators and a list of the stations to which they are assigned. The coordinators will be reaching out to stations to introduce themselves in the near future. The notice also provides the names of FCC contacts for LPTV stations that will be affected by the repacking. As we all know that applications can at times get bogged down at the FCC, and unexpected regulatory issues can from time to time arise in connection with any broadcast construction project, it would seem like a good idea for station personnel to get to know their coordinators so that stations can feel comfortable in seeking the coordinators aid should such issues pop up during the transition process.

FCC Changes in Rules on Computation of Foreign Ownership of Broadcast Stations Now Effective

Posted in AM Radio, FM Radio, General FCC, Multiple Ownership Rules, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

Last year, the FCC made some modifications in its assessment of foreign ownership of companies with broadcast interests, relaxing some of their compliance rules to take account of the realities of the current public stock trading marketplace – realities that, using the FCC’s old policies, made determinations of the level of foreign ownership in any company difficult. We wrote about the changes made by the FCC here. Those rules became effective yesterday, when the approval of the changes by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act was published in the Federal Register.

As we wrote here, the FCC has already referred to these new rules in assessing and approving broadcast ownership in excess of 25% of several broadcast companies. In fact, as we wrote here, the FCC has even allowed 100% ownership of a privately-held company with broadcast interests – where a husband and wife team from Australia purchased a number of primarily radio stations in Alaska and Texas. With the new rules now effective, the opportunity for more foreign investment in US broadcast stations is highlighted once again.

FCC to Eliminate Need for Social Security Numbers from Board Members of Noncommercial Licensees for Biennial Ownership Report

Posted in EEO Compliance/Diversity, Noncommercial Broadcasting

Last week, we wrote about two of the three broadcast items to be considered at the FCC meeting on April 20. We wrote here about the draft order to restore the UHF discount, and here about the relaxation of the restrictions on fund-raising for third parties by noncommercial stations. The third item, also related to noncommercial licensees, is the resolution of the long-simmering dispute about whether or not to require that those individuals with attributable interests in noncommercial broadcast stations – officers and board members – to provide their Social Security Numbers or other personal information to the FCC to obtain an FCC Registration Number – an FRN. The draft order released last week indicates that the FCC will eliminate that requirement at its April 20 meeting.

The obligation to obtain an FRN was adopted so that the FCC could comprehensively track the ownership of broadcast stations, and determine the interests of individual parties across the broadcast media nationwide. This was principally done for purposes of assessing the diversity of ownership of the media – including by minorities and women. By making each attributable owner get their own FRN, interests across the broadcast media landscape could be tracked with greater precision. However, objections were raised when the FCC proposed to apply this obligation to noncommercial broadcasters, requiring that officers and board members provide their Social Security Number or other personal information to obtain an FRN. Despite these objections, the previous Commission ordered noncommercial broadcasters to provide this information, going so far as to suggest that attributable interest holders who did not provide the information necessary to obtain an FRN could be sanctioned. See our articles here and here. The current FCC under Chairman Pai rescinded the decision of the Media Bureau upholding the obligation (see our post here) – leading to the draft order to be considered at the April 20 meeting. Continue Reading

New Congressional Attempts to Impose a Performance Royalty for Sound Recordings on Broadcast Radio, Including the PROMOTE Act – What Do They Provide?

Posted in Broadcast Performance Royalty, Intellectual Property, Internet Radio, Music Rights, On Line Media

In the last month, there have been two bills introduced in the US House of Representatives seeking to impose a performance royalty for sound recordings on broadcast radio stations in the US. The bill introduced yesterday, The PROMOTE Act (standing for the Performance Royalty Owners of Music Opportunity to Earn Act – whatever that may mean, can be found here), seems to have garnered more attention, perhaps as it was promoted by its principal sponsor, California Congressman Darrell Issa, as giving performing artists the right to decide whether or not their music is played by radio stations. In fact, it does not do that, instead merely setting up a royalty system similar to that in place for Internet radio operators, allowing broadcasters to play music only if they pay royalties on “identical” rates and terms as do webcasters.

The PROMOTE Act proposes to add to the Copyright Act’s Section 106 enumeration of the “exclusive rights” given to copyright holders a provision stating that sound recording copyright holders (for most popular releases, that is usually the record company) have the exclusive right to authorize the performance of recorded songs by broadcast radio stations. That is in addition to the existing right to authorize the playing of these songs by digital audio transmissions (e.g. webcasters, satellite radio and digital cable services). But, like with the right to play music by digital services, that right to prohibit the playing of recorded songs is not absolute. Instead, like for the digital services, through a proposed amendment to Section 114 of the Copyright Act, broadcasters will have the right to play the songs if they pay a royalty set by the proposed legislation at “rates and terms” “identical” to those paid by webcasters. Let’s look at these issues more closely. Continue Reading

Request Filed with the FCC to Stay Effective Date of New Liberalized Rules on the Location of FM Translators for AM Stations

Posted in AM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM

Prometheus Radio Project, an advocacy group which has been active in lobbying for the interests of LPFM applicants and licensees, has asked that the FCC stay the April 10 effective date of the new rules liberalizing the location in which FM translators serving AM stations can locate (see its petition here). We wrote about those new rules here and here. Prometheus alleges that the liberalization in the rules will restrict the areas in which LPFM stations can locate their transmitter sites if the sites from which they currently operate become unusable. Their allegation is that the moves by these translators will “box in” LPFM stations at their current site. Based on this alleged harm, Prometheus asks for a stay of the effective date of the new rule while they appeal its adoption.

The petition does not say how this phenomena of “boxing in” LPFM stations will occur simply because translators can be located at distances greater than currently authorized. The new rules do not authorize new FM translators, and (contrary to some broadcast trade press reports published today) they do not give broadcasters another opportunity to move translators great distances from their current locations. All they do is change the rules so that, instead of limiting FM translators to the areas where their 1 mv/m contour does not extend beyond the lesser of the AM station’s 2 mv/m contour or a circle 25 miles from the AM station, the translator can operate in any area where its contour does not extend the 1 mv/m beyond the greater of the 2 mv/m contour or 25 mile circle. The new rules do not increase the permitted power of translators or in any other way significantly change their preclusive effect. In short, who is to say whether a translator will impose greater restrictions on LPFMs from their current locations or from locations authorized under the new rules? Continue Reading