Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

FCC Denies “Tell City Waiver” to Move Translator to Distant Non-Adjacent Channel to Rebroadcast AM Station

Posted in AM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM

In a case that has been watched by many AM licensees and debated at a number of broadcast conferences in the last few years, the FCC on Friday denied the “Tell City waiver,” by which the licensee of an AM station in Indiana sought to buy an FM translator in Colorado and move it to Indiana, on a non-adjacent channel, and use it to rebroadcast their AM station.  This sought to expand the “Mattoon waiver” (about which we have written many times including articles here and here) which effectively changed the definition of a “minor change” for an FM translator that could be approved in a single application, without waiting for any sort of translator filing window. 

The current rules define a minor change as one where the translator’s 1 mv/m service contour at both the current and proposed sites overlap.  The Mattoon waiver treated applications as minor changes where the service contours did not overlap – as long as the interfering contour of the translator at one site overlapped with the protected contour of the station at the other site – essentially meaning that a translator could not exist at both the current and proposed sites without prohibited interference.  The Tell City waiver would have eliminated even that connection between the present and proposed sites for the translator – allowing essentially a move of any FM translator from one place to another, and from one frequency to another, regardless of whether the new location had any connection with the original site.  That attempt to stretch the definition of a minor change led the Commission’s Media Bureau to deny the request. Continue Reading

FCC Action on TV Issues Coming Soon – Sports Blackout Rule, White Spaces, Post-Auction Treatment of LPTV and TV Translators, and OET-69 Revisions

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

While many broadcasters have been watching Capitol Hill as Congress debates the issues surrounding the extension of satellite TV’s copyright permission to retransmit over-the-air television signals, and the attempts to add other provisions to the bill that could affect television stations, there are a number of issues teed up at the FCC that could also affect the industry.  In the tentative agenda for the September 30 FCC open meeting, there are two issues being considered that have impact on TV.  One has received much press coverage is the repeal of the sports blackout rule that leads to the blackout of local coverage of NFL games when the game is not sold out.  From a blog post by the Chairman (available here), and statements of other commissioners, it appears that this rule is headed for repeal – though the actual blackouts may continue by contract rather than FCC mandate. 

The other issue on the agenda that has received less press, and about which less is known, is changes to the rules on white-spaces devices, those wireless devices that have been authorized to operate on a non-interference basis in the portions of the TV band that are not being used in particular markets.  We wrote about the adoption of the current rules, here, and we will be watching to see what changes to these rules are adopted later this month.  Also on the agenda, with possible relevance to television and other media companies, is an item to further consider how to regulate the use of wireless microphones. Continue Reading

FCC Announces Tentative Winners for 111 Groups of Mutually Exclusive LPFM Applications – FM Broadcasters Have 30 Days to Raise Interference Objections

Posted in FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM

Another set of mutually exclusive LPFM applications have been reviewed and tentative point system winners (or applicants headed for shared time arrangements where they remained tied after the FCC’s “point system” analysis) have been determined by the FCC.  These determinations involve 111 mutually exclusive groups of LPFM applicants, mostly east of the Mississippi.  We wrote two months ago about a group of Western applications that had already been considered by the FCC.  The issuance of this notice gives broadcasters 30 days to file any objections to these proposed new stations.  In addition, applicants can raise issues against each other.  All objections are due on October 6

The notice also sets a 90 day window for LPFM applicants whose applications were under consideration in this notice to file applications to make changes in their applications – including major changes to new frequencies or different transmitter sites.  So applicants who were not the tentative winners in the FCC’s consideration of the mutually exclusive groups have another shot to get the rights to construct a station, if they can find an open frequency in the next 90 days.  And broadcasters need to watch these amendments, as they could pose interference issues on entirely new channels not previously proposed for use by any LPFM applicant.  Continue Reading

The Political Window Opens Tomorrow – A Refresher on the Basics of Lowest Unit Charge

Posted in Advertising Issues, Political Broadcasting

With the lowest unit charge window for the November elections kicking into effect tomorrow (September 5), we thought that it was a good idea to review the basics FCC rules and policies affecting those charges. With each election seemingly breaking spending records from prior cycles, your station needs to be ready to comply with all of the FCC’s political advertising rules. Essentially, lowest unit charges guarantee that, in the 45 days before a primary and the 60 days before a general election, candidates get the lowest rate for a spot that is then running on the station in any class of advertising time. Candidates get the benefit of all volume discounts without having to buy in volume – i.e. the candidate gets the same rate for buying one spot as your most favored advertiser gets for buying hundreds of spots of the same class. But there are many other aspects to the lowest unit rates, and stations need to be sure that they get these rules right.

It is a common misperception that a station has one lowest unit rate, when in fact almost every station will have several – if not dozens of lowest unit rates – one lowest unit rate for each class of time. Even on the smallest radio station, there are probably several different classes of spots. For instance, there will be different rates for spots that run in morning drive and spots that run in the middle of the night. Each of these time periods with differing rates is a class of time that has its own lowest unit rate. On television stations, there are often classes based not only on daypart, but on the individual program. Similarly, if a station sells different rotations, each rotation on the station is its own class, with its own lowest unit rates (e.g. a 6 AM to Noon rotation is a different class than a 6 AM to 6 PM rotation, and both are a different class from a 24 hour rotator – and each can have its own lowest unit rate). Even in the same time period, there can be preemptible and non-preemptible time, each forming a different class with its own lowest unit rate. Any class of spots that run in a unique time period, with a unique rotation or having different rights attached to it (e.g. different levels of preemptibility, different make-good rights, etc.), will have a different lowest unit rate. Continue Reading

Identification of Sponsors of Non-Candidate Political Ads May Be More Controversial This Election Season as FCC Suggests that Broadcasters May Need to Determine Who is Behind Third Party Ads

Posted in Advertising Issues, Payola and Sponsorship Identification, Political Broadcasting

Get ready for more challenges to issue ads that you may be receiving this election season.  The FCC’s Media Bureau today released a brief decision on the Sunlight Foundation’s complaint petition against two TV stations concerning the proper sponsorship identification for ads by Political Action Committees.  We wrote about those complaints when they were filed back in July, here.  The complaints, arising from elections that took place last year, targeted two PACs that each had single individuals who had donated substantially all of the money that was raised by the PAC.  Sunlight claimed that the stations should have tagged as the true sponsors of the ads the individuals who had provided virtually all of the money for the PACs.  Sunlight alleged that these stations should have known who the true sponsors of the ads were, based on news reports that were run on the stations talking about the individuals who had funded the PACs.  Instead, the stations had run sponsorship identifications identifying only the PACs as the sponsors of the ads. 

In today’s action, the Bureau dismissed the complaints.  However, the Bureau did not find Sunlight’s allegations to be incorrect.  Instead, the complaints were dismissed because Sunlight never went to the stations to ask that they change the sponsorship identification on the PAC spots during the course of the election.  The Bureau stated that it was using its “prosecutorial discretion” not to pursue these complaints, going so far as to say that the ruling might have been different had the request for a proper identification been made to the stations during the course of the election. Continue Reading

NAB Brings Court Challenge to Incentive Auction Rules – As Broadcasters Wait For More Details on the Auction Process

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

The FCC’s planned incentive auction, by which the Commission hopes to pay broadcasters to surrender some of their TV licenses so that these stations’ spectrum can be repurposed for wireless broadband uses, is almost impossible to define in a simple blog post.  The FCC issued its Order on the Incentive Auction process several months ago and, despite that order being over 300 pages long, many issues remain unresolved.  Last month came the announcement that the National Association of Broadcasters had filed a court challenge to that order (on the first business day after the order was published in the Federal Register, meaning that there is still two weeks in which additional challenges may be filed in Court).  While the NAB is seemingly limiting its current challenge to a few issues (according to a Blog post on the NAB website), there still are many other issues to which broadcasters have no final answers as there are further proceedings yet to come that will help to decide exactly how the process will play out for TV stations in the coming years.  What did the NAB challenge, and what other issues for broadcasters are left to be resolved?

So far, the NAB has only needed to file a notice with the court stating that it is challenging the order.  That is a very limited pleading that gives only the most cursory outline of the NAB’s grounds for its objections to the rules.  Details of all of the grounds for the objections to the ruling do not need to be included in the appeal notice.  Instead, the details will be set out in the NAB’s brief in the case, which will likely not be due for several months.  In the interim, there have been some pleadings asking for expedited processing of the appeal, supported by both the NAB and the FCC, so as to not delay the auction (or to avoid having the auction take place before the appeal is resolved).  From these pleadings, and from an NAB press release and the Blog post referenced above, the principal reasons for the NAB’s challenge can be discerned.  Essentially, there appear to be two issues that are raised. Continue Reading

FCC Regulatory Fees Due On or Before September 23 – What’s New for This Year’s Fees?

Posted in AM Radio, FCC Fees, FM Radio, Low Power Television/Class A TV, Television

Right as everyone was preparing to leave town for the long weekend, the FCC issued its Report and Order on the regulatory fees for 2014, and also issued a Public Notice setting the deadline for paying those fees as 11:59 PM on September 23.  For broadcasters, the FCC also issued a Mass Media Fee Filing Guide providing details on the fee filing process, and provided a fee “look-up” tool on the Commission’s website to see what the fees are for a particular station.  The FCC adopted all the fees for broadcast stations as proposed in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (about which we wrote here) with the minor exception of its fees for TV stations, where there were very slight adjustments in the amounts to be paid.  The fees for all categories of broadcasters are provided at the end of this article. 

There are a couple of new wrinkles in the fee filings for broadcasters for this year.  First, there will be no more no more checks or other paper forms of payment.  All payments must be made electronically, through wire transfers, electronic payments, or with a credit card.  If you send a check, it will be returned, and you will be assessed a late fee if the electronic payment is not made by the 23rd. Continue Reading

September Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Regulatory Fees, Lowest Unit Rates, and Comments on Multiple Ownership, Online Public File for Radio and MVPDs, Music Licensing and Class C4 FM Stations

Posted in FCC Fees, FM Radio, Internet Radio, License Renewal, Multiple Ownership Rules, Music Rights, Political Broadcasting

September is one of those few months of the year where there are no regular FCC filing deadlines – no quarterly issues programs lists, no children’s television reports, no annual EEO public file reports, and no ownership reports or renewal deadlines.  For TV stations that recently filed a renewal, or which are about to file one, there are the pre-or post-filing notices.  But for most broadcasters, the one routine regulatory deadline in September (which has, in the past, sometimes fallen in August), is the obligation to pay annual regulatory fees.  But, so far, the FCC has not released the Order officially stating what those fees will be, or the Notice setting the filing deadlines – though we expect these notices any day (perhaps any moment).  As the fees need to be paid before the start of the FCC’s new fiscal year on October 1, expect that those fees will be due at some point before the end of September.

While there are few of these routine filing deadlines in September (though broadcasters should, of course, be preparing for the due date for many of these reports in early October), there are a number of important proceedings with September comment dates, appeal deadlines or other important milestones.  And there is the start of the Lowest Unit Rate window for the November election.  Some of the September deadlines are summarized below. Continue Reading

FCC Extends Dates for Comments on Proposal to Create a Class C4 FM Station – What Does This Proposal Seek?

Posted in FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM

The FCC yesterday issued a public notice extending the time for comments on a Petition for Rulemaking seeking, among other things, to create a Class C4 FM station with maximum power levels at about 12 kW, twice the power of the least powerful class of FM stations – Class A stations that are limited to 6 kW in power.  As we wrote earlier this month when we first addressed this topic, this request for comments is only a preliminary request seeking input as to whether the Commission should even consider this petition further.  Depending on the comments received, the Commission could do nothing at all, or they could adopt a formal notice of proposed rulemaking looking to adopt specific rules for the new service.  Comments on the proposal are now due on September 18, 2014, with reply comments to be filed by October 3.

What does this proposal request?  As stated above, the principal request is that a new FM class of station – a Class C4 – be adopted.  This class would allow Class A stations to approximately double their power to a maximum of 12 kW.  The petitioner points out that the current differences between the classes of FM stations is approximately 3 dB between all classes of FM stations, except for the difference between the current Class A and C3 classes, where the difference in signal intensity is about twice that amount.  Adding the C4 class would make the increases in power between the classes more uniform, and would allow many Class A stations to reach more people and to better penetrate buildings in urban areas.  Why aren’t all broadcasters in favor of this proposal? Continue Reading

New Conditions on Mattoon Waivers for FM Translators Used for AM Stations – Mandatory Rebroadcast of AM on the Translator for 4 Years

Posted in AM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM

It’s come to our attention that the FCC’s Media Bureau has recently been granting applications for changes in the transmitter sites of FM translators to be used for AM stations with conditions on the subsequent use of that translator.  The conditions seem to be added to the construction permits granted to applicants who filed an application for a site change and relied on the Mattoon waiver (see our discussion of that waiver here) to expedite the relocation to the new transmitter site.  The condition requires that the translator be used only with the AM station for a period of 4 years.

A similar condition was proposed in connection with the FCC’s proceeding on AM improvements, where the FCC proposed to open a window for the filing of applications for new translators, but to limit the applicants to AM licensees who want to use those translators to rebroadcast their AM station (see our summary of the proposal for a translator window for AM station owners here).  Obviously, that proposal for an AM-only window for translator applicants has not been adopted, and there has been some objection to the proposal to permanent tie any translator granted as a result of that window to the AM station that initially asks for it.  For instance, some comments suggest that a translator be allowed to change primary stations if the primary station is moved to another AM in the same market owned by the same company, or that it be allowed to be transferred should the AM station cease operations (as there will no doubt be some AMs that may not be able to survive even with an FM translator).  But, in the new condition now being added to translator moves granted pursuant to a Mattoon waiver, any such limitation is not provided. Continue Reading