Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

FCC Announces That It Will Lift Filing Freeze on TV Station Modification Applications before LPTV/TV Translator Displacement Window

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

For well over four years, television stations have not been able to file applications to upgrade their technical facilities as the FCC froze such applications as it wanted to preserve a stable database of TV facilities while it conducted the Incentive Auction and implemented the repacking of the TV band. For TV stations affected by the repacking, the FCC has opened two windows allowing repacked stations to change and maximize their technical facilities on their new channels, the second of which will end on November 2 (see our article here). It was generally expected that the next window to open would be one for the filing by LPTV and TV translator stations displaced by the repacking of full-power stations to find new channels on which they could operate. However, the FCC was approached by LPTV and translator advocates who worried that these stations would file their displacement applications, get construction permits and start to construct new facilities on new channels, only to again be displaced when the FCC lifted its freeze on the filing of applications for new facilities by full-power stations not affected by the repacking. They feared that the four years of pent up demand would cause a flood of applications by full-power stations, some of which might displace LPTVs and TV translators on their new displacement channels. To relieve some of that pent up demand by full-power and Class A stations not affected by the repacking, before the LPTV/translator displacement window, the FCC’s Media Bureau yesterday issued a Public Notice announcing that it will temporarily lift the freeze to allow applications by full-power and Class A TV stations that were not affected by the repacking.

The Public Notice does not specify the date for this lifting of the freeze. Instead, that date will be announced in another public notice specifying the limited period during which the freeze will be lifted.  Applications filed after the lifting of the freeze will apparently be processed in the same way as normal minor change applications, on a first-come, first-serve basis. The lifting of the freeze will also allow the FCC to process construction permit applications filed by TV stations before the imposition of the freeze in April 2013 – applications that have been sitting at the FCC since that time. Continue Reading

FCC Political Broadcasting Rules for Write-In Candidates

Posted in Advertising Issues, Political Broadcasting

In these last few weeks before the many municipal elections that will be occurring in November in states across the country, I have recently received several questions about a broadcaster’s legal obligations toward write-in candidates who want to run advertising on a radio or television station. Under FCC precedent, all legally qualified candidates (including those running for state and local offices, see our article here) must be provided lowest unit rates, equal opportunities to purchase advertising time matching purchases by their opponents and, when they do buy time, the no censorship rules apply to their ads. For Federal candidates, they also have a right of reasonable access. But is a write-in candidate a “legally qualified candidate?” 

In most cases, the question as to whether a candidate is legally qualified is relatively easy.  The station looks at whether the person has the requisite qualifications for the office that they are seeking (age, residency, citizenship, not a felon, etc.), and then looks to see whether they have qualified for a place on the ballot for the upcoming election or primary.  In most cases, qualifying for a place on the ballot is a function of filing certain papers with a state or local election authority, in some places after having received a certain number of signatures on a petition supporting the candidacy.  Once the local election authority receives the papers (and does whatever evaluation may be required to determine if the filer is qualified for a place on the ballot), a person is legally qualified and entitled to all the FCC political broadcasting rights of a candidate: equal opportunities, no censorship, reasonable access if they are Federal candidates, and lowest unit rates during the limited LUC windows (45 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election).  But, for write-in candidates, there are different rules that are applied, as there is no election authority to certify that the requisite papers have been filed for a place on the ballot.  Instead, in these situations, a person claiming to be a candidate must make a “substantial showing” that he or she is a bona fide candidate – that he has been doing all the things that a candidate for election would do. What does that mean? Continue Reading

Court Rejects Appeal of FCC Decision Not to Mandate Multilingual EAS Alerts – Highlighting Requirement that Broadcasters Report To Their SECC in Early November About Emergency Information to Non-English Speakers

Posted in AM Radio, Emergency Communications, FM Radio, Television

The United States Court of Appeals yesterday issued an order denying the appeal of an FCC order that rejected a requirement that multilingual EAS alerts be provided in every market.  We wrote about the FCC’s proceeding here and here. The Court upheld the FCC’s decision as reasonable, finding that the Commission did not have enough evidence to determine how such alerts should be implemented on a nationwide basis, and noting that the FCC was still reviewing whether to adopt requirements that broadcasters provide alerts in languages other than English in the future. That decision should serve as a reminder that in the FCC order rejecting the call to mandate multilingual EAS alerts in all markets, the Commission did call for broadcasters to supply more information – information that is due in early November.

In 2016, when the FCC rejected the imposition of multilingual EAS alerts, they imposed an obligation on broadcast stations to report to their State Emergency Coordinating Committees (“SECC”) information about what the stations are doing to implement multilingual EAS – including a description of any plans they have to implement such alerts in the future, and whether or not there are significant populations of non-English speaking groups in their communities that would need such alerts. We wrote about that obligation here. The one year deadline would seem to be November 3, one year after the FCC’s order was published in the Federal Register (though an FCC small-business compliance guide summarizing the obligations, released in August, available here, states on the top of page 3 that the deadline is November 6).  In any event, given the Court’s decision relying on the FCC gathering information about the provision of emergency alerts to non-English speaking communities, it is important that stations provide their SECCs by early November.  The FCC’s Small Business Compliance Guide is a good summary of what is required. Continue Reading

Update: New Advertising Disclaimers on E-Cig and Cigar Advertising Still on for 2018

Posted in Advertising Issues

Last year, the FDA adopted requirements to tag advertisements for vaping and e-cig advertising with a warning that e-cigs contain nicotine and that nicotine is an addictive chemical. These requirements were to go into effect in 2018. In the last week, I have received several questions about these rules and their effective date. According to this FDA document (see the table on Page 5), released in August, the new disclosure obligations are still set to become effective on August 10, 2018. We wrote about that effective date here, and about the adoption of the requirements, including additional health warning disclosures required for cigar advertising, here. We don’t claim to be FDA experts, so companies offering these products should consult with lawyers who are knowledgeable about the status of additional obligations imposed on manufacturers and retailers adopted by the FDA last year.

Update: Comment Dates Set on FCC Proposal to Abolish Requirement for Paper Copies of FCC Rules

Posted in FM Translators and LPFM, General FCC

The comment dates have now been set on the FCC’s proposal to abolish the requirement that licensees of certain classes of broadcast stations (including translators and auxiliary stations) maintain a paper copy of the FCC rules. We wrote about that proposal, one of the first actions of Chairman Pai under the Modernization of Media Regulation initiative, here and here. The proposal was published in the Federal Register today, setting November 13 as the deadline for comments in this proceeding, and November 27 as the deadline for reply comments. If you are interested in making your views known on this issue, file your comments before the deadlines next month.

Are You Streaming Your Radio Station? Reminder that Broadcasters Need to Pay Royalties to SoundExchange as well as ASCAP, BMI and SESAC

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

The alphabet soup of organizations that collect royalties for playing music has never been easy to keep straight, and today royalty issues sometimes seem even more daunting with new players like GMR (see our articles here, here and here) and arguments over issues like fractional licensing that only a music lawyer could love (see our articles here and here). But there are certain basics that broadcasters and other companies that are streaming need to know. Based on several questions that I received in the last few weeks, I’ve been surprised that one of the issues that still seems to be a source of confusion is the need to pay SoundExchange when streaming music online or through mobile apps. For the last 20 years, since the adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, anyone digitally transmitting noninteractive music programming must pay SoundExchange in addition to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (and more recently GMR) for the rights to play recorded music – unless the service doing the digital transmission has directly secured the rights to play those songs from the copyright holders of the recordings – usually the record labels.  Why is there this additional payment on top of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC?

SoundExchange represents the recording artists and record labels for the royalties for the performance of the recording of a song (a “sound recording” or a “master recording”).  ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR by contrast represent the songwriters who wrote the song (not the performers) and their publishing companies.  When you play music on your over-the-air radio signal, you only pay for the public performance rights to the underlying musical composition or “musical work” as it is often referred to in the music licensing world – the words and music of the song.  This money goes to the songwriters and their publishing companies (the publishing companies usually holding the copyright to the musical composition). But, in the digital world, for the last 20 years, anyone who streams music, in addition to paying the songwriters, must pay the performers who recorded the songs and the copyright holders in the sound recordings (usually the labels).  That is the royalty that SoundExchange collects. Continue Reading

Two More Paperwork Burdens Proposed for Relaxation Under FCC’s Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative – TV Ancillary and Supplementary Revenue Reports and Public Notice Requirements

Posted in AM Radio, Assignments and Transfers, Digital Television, FM Radio, General FCC, License Renewal, Television

In addition to the elimination of the main studio rule (about which we wrote here), another media item is proposed for consideration at the FCC’s October 24 meeting. A draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was released earlier this week proposing two changes in FCC requirements – neither change, in and of itself, offering any fundamental modifications of significant regulation, but both showing that this Commission is looking to eliminate bothersome burdens on broadcasters where those burdens are unnecessary in today’s media world or where they do not serve any real regulatory purpose. One change proposes to limit the requirement for TV stations to file Ancillary and Supplementary Revenue Reports to those stations that actually have such revenue, and the other proposing to eliminate the obligation of broadcasters to publish local public notice of significant application filings in a local newspaper.

The first deals with the filing by TV stations of FCC Form 2100, Schedule G (formerly Form 317), which reports on the ancillary and supplementary services revenue received by the TV station. This revenue is received by data transmission and other non-broadcast uses of the station’s spectrum. The report is necessary as, by law, each station offering such services must pay a fee of 5% of that revenue to the Federal government. So, by December 1 of each year, under current rules, each TV station must file the form stating how much revenue they received from these non-broadcast services. As most TV stations have not monetized their excess digital capacity by making it available for non-broadcast “ancillary and supplementary” services, most stations dutifully submit a report each December saying that they have not received any such revenue. To minimize paperwork burdens, the FCC draft NPRM proposes to amend the rule so that the majority of stations need not file this report simply to say that they have no revenue – the obligation to file the report would apply only to those stations that actually have some revenue to report. Continue Reading

FCC Releases Draft Order to Abolish Main Studio Rule – To Be Considered at its October 24 Meeting

Posted in AM Radio, FM Radio, Political Broadcasting, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

The FCC yesterday released the agenda for its October 24th Open Meeting, as well as draft orders of the matters to be considered at that meeting. For broadcasters, the single most significant proposal was a draft order (available here) to abolish the requirement that a broadcast station maintain a main studio in close proximity to its city of license that is open to the public and staffed during normal business hours. The FCC’s draft order determines that, in today’s modern world, where much communication with broadcasters is done by phone or electronically, and as stations either have or soon will have their public files available online, there was no longer any need to maintain the rule mandating the main studio. So, if the Commission adopts the draft order at its October 24th meeting, the requirement which has been on the books since 1939 will be eliminated.

Together with the main studio rule, the FCC order would also eliminate the requirement that the station have staff members available at that studio. Instead, the licensee, to maintain contact with their community, must maintain a toll-free number accessible to residents of the station’s city of license. That number must be answered during normal business hours of the station – but the person answering the phone line need not be in the city of license. The FCC urged, but did not require, that the phone line be monitored during other hours as well. The phone line can be shared with multiple stations – so an “800” number available nationwide would seem to meet the requirement. Continue Reading

FCC Reminder to Video Programming Distributors – Including Broadcasters – on Accessibility Obligations

Posted in Emergency Communications, FCC Fines, Television

With the recent hurricanes and last night’s tragedy in Las Vegas, the FCC Public Notice issued last week reminding all video programmers of the importance of making emergency information accessible to all viewers seems very timely. The public notice serves as a good refresher on all of the obligations of video programmers designed to make emergency information available to members of the viewing audience who may have auditory or visual impairments that may make this information harder to receive. As the FCC also reminds readers of its notice of the ways in which to file complaints against video programming distributors who do not follow the rules, TV broadcasters need to be extremely sensitive to all of these requirements.

What are these obligations? These are some of the obligations highlighted by the FCC’s reminder:

  • For persons who are visually impaired, rules require that emergency information that is visually provided in a newscast also be aurally described in the main audio channel of the station.
  • When emergency information is provided outside of a newscast (e.g. in a crawl during entertainment programming), that information must be accompanied by an aural tone and then an audio version of the emergency information must be broadcast on a secondary audio channel (SAP channel) of a TV station at least twice. See our articles here, here and here about this obligation.
  • For persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, the Commission requires that emergency information provided in the audio portion of a broadcast also be presented visually, through methods including captioning, crawls or scrolls that do not block any emergency information provided through other visual means (like other captions or crawls).
  • For stations that are permitted to use electronic newsroom technique (ENT) captions, where ENT does not provide captions for breaking news and emergency alerts, stations must make emergency information available through some other visual means. See our post here on this obligation.
  • The FCC suggests, but does not require, that stations make emergency information available through multiple means (maps, charts, and other visual information) and in plain language, so that all viewers can understand the nature of any emergency.

Continue Reading

October Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Quarterly Issues Programs and Children’s Television Reports, EEO Obligations, Repacking Reports and More

Posted in AM Radio, Children's Programming and Advertising, EEO Compliance/Diversity, FCC Fines, FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM, General FCC, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, License Renewal, Multiple Ownership Rules, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

The beginning of a calendar quarter always brings numerous regulatory obligations, and October is one of those months with a particularly full set of obligations. All full-power broadcasters, commercial and noncommercial, must complete their Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and place these reports into their public inspection files by October 10. These reports are the FCC’s only official record of how a station served its community. They document the broadcaster’s assessment of the most important issues facing their communities, and the programming that they have broadcast to address those issues. Failing to complete these reports was the biggest source of fines during the last license renewal cycle – with fines of $10,000 or more common for stations missing numerous reports during the license renewal term (see, for example, our articles here, here and here). With the public inspection file for all TV stations now being online and the public file of large radio groups in major markets also already converted to being online, the timeliness of the completion of these reports and their inclusion in the public file can now be assessed by the FCC and anyone else who wants to complain about a station’s regulatory compliance (as documents added to the public file are date stamped as to their inclusion, and the FCC has used this stamp to assess station’s compliance in other areas, see our post here). All other radio stations will be converting to the online file by March 1, 2018 and will need to upload this quarter’s reports into the file by that date (along with all others back to your last license renewal, see our post here), meaning the reports they complete this quarter too can be scrutinized from afar. Thus, be sure that you complete this important requirement.

TV stations have the additional quarterly obligation of filing with the FCC by October 10 their Quarterly Children’s Television Reports, Form 398. These reports detail the educational and informational programming directed to children that the station broadcast in the prior quarter. These reports are used to assess the station’s compliance with the current obligation to broadcast at least 3 hours per channel of programming addressing the educational and informational needs of children aged 16 or younger. Late-filed Children’s Television Reports, too, were the source of many fines for TV broadcasters in the last renewal cycle (see, for instance, our articles here and here), so don’t forget this obligation and don’t be late in making the required filings. At the same time, TV stations should also include in their public file documentation showing that they have complied with the limitations on commercialization during children’s programming directed to children 12 and under. Continue Reading