Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

Contest Rule Revisions Published in the Federal Register for Paperwork Reduction Act Review – Effective Date Not Until at Least December

Posted in Advertising Issues, AM Radio, FCC Fines, FM Radio, General FCC, Programming Regulations, Television

Today, the FCC published notice in the Federal Register of the adoption of the new simplified rules for publicizing the material rules for contests conducted by broadcasters. This publication was for purposes of review by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act, a review necessary before any new rules requiring any recordkeeping or other paperwork become effective. While it is not expected that these new rules (which we summarized here) will be at all controversial at the OMB as most parties believes that the new rules will greatly simplify their operations, an opportunity for parties to file comments on the paperwork burden is still required. As comments can be filed through December 7, the rules can’t go into effect before then. So, until the new rules are adopted, remember to keep disclosing the material terms of contests on the air. And let’s all hope that OMB approves these rules quickly, so that broadcasters (and the public) can take advantage of the new online disclosure opportunities.

Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP Moves to New Offices – Update Your Address Book

Posted in About this Blog

As most readers of this blog know, I practice law with Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP in Washington DC. This past weekend, the firm moved its offices a few blocks down the road, and is now operating in a great new space at the following address: 1800 M Street NW, Suite 800N, Washington, DC, 20036. So if you send us any physical deliveries, or stop in to say hello, make sure that you use the new address. Phone and email addresses remain the same. Now, to unpack the boxes…..

Moving FM Translators 250 Miles to Rebroadcast an AM Station – What the FCC is Considering as Part of Its AM Revitalization Proceeding

Posted in AM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM

A proposal to allow AM station licensees to buy FM translators located as far as 250 miles away from the AM station and move them to an area where they can rebroadcast the AM station was the talk of the NAB Radio Show last week.   With battling news releases from FCC Commissioners (one from Commissioner Pai supporting an immediate translator window during which AM licensees would have an exclusive right to file for new FM translators, and a subsequent one from Commissioner Clyburn where she indicates her belief that the 250 mile proposal was the quickest way to bring translators to AM licensees), this proposal seems to have replaced the proposed translator window restricted to AM owners that had been proposed in the AM revitalization order introduced by the FCC about 2 years ago (see our summary of the initial proposal for an AM window here, and a discussion of the controversy over that window here and here). What does this proposal entail?

While the precise rules that are being considered by the Commission are unclear as they have not been released for public comment, from comments made in the public statements released by FCC Commissioners last week, other comments made by FCC staffers at the Radio Show, and stories reported by the trade press, it appears that the FCC is considering allowing any AM licensee to buy a translator located within 250 miles of their AM station and, as a one-step minor change application, to move the translator onto any channel that fits in the AM station’s market.  An AM licensee buys the translator authorization – and it basically gives that licensee the right to file for a vacant frequency in its market on a first-come, first-served basis.  Continue Reading

Dates Set for Comments on Good Faith Negotiation of Retransmission Consent Agreements – What is the FCC Asking?

Posted in Broadcast Auctions, Cable Carriage, Digital Television, On Line Media, Television

A month ago, the FCC released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to reassess the requirement that broadcasters and MVPDs (cable and satellite television) engage in “good faith” negotiations over the retransmission consent necessary for the MVPD to rebroadcast the signal of a broadcast television station, triggering numerous questions throughout the industry (and among financial analysts who follow the television industry) as to what that release meant. On Friday, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published in the Federal Register, setting the dates for the filing of comments on the questions raised by the Commission. Comments are due on December 1, and Reply Comments on December 31. Given that this may well be the same period of time in which TV stations are preparing their initial applications for the incentive auction, and given that the reply falls in the middle of the holidays, don’t be surprised if requests for an extension of these comment dates are filed.

But no matter the dates on which comments are filed, this proceeding obviously raises a number of important issues. While many industry analysts wondered if, by the very fact that the Notice was released, it signaled the FCC’s intent to “go after” broadcasters in their retransmission consent dealings – perhaps as a way to encourage them to participate in the incentive auction by threatening the revenue from the retransmission consent fees that they now receive. But what most of these observers fail to note is that the release of the NPRM by September 1 was actually not the initiated by the FCC Commissioners. Instead, the action was mandated by Congress when it adopted STELAR, the law that extended the right of satellite television companies to retransmit the signals of local television stations. That legislations included many required actions and studies (see our summary here), including the requirement that this NPRM be started by September 1. Thus, the Commission actually waited as long as it could in releasing this rulemaking order. Continue Reading

Understanding Music Royalties – Congressional Research Service Releases Summary of the Law, While DOJ Asks for More Comments on ASCAP and BMI Consent Decree Reform

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

The legal issues surrounding the use of music in broadcast and digital media is one of those topics that is usually enough to make eyes glaze over.  The importance of understanding these issues is illustrated by this week’s request from the Department of Justice for more information about the rights of songwriters to authorize ASCAP and BMI (often referred to as Performing Rights Organizations or PROs) to license their works to services like radio stations and webcasters when there are multiple songwriters who may not all be members of the same rights organization.  While we try to provide some explanations of some of those issues on this Blog, I wanted to point to a couple of other resources available to address some of these issues and to, hopefully, help make some of those issues understandable.

First, I wanted to note that I’ll be moderating a panel on current music issues at the NAB Radio Show in Atlanta on Thursday afternoon (the panel is described here) featuring representatives of the NAB, RIAA, BMI, Pandora and the Copyright Office.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to unpack some of the motivations and directions of the music royalty debates that are going on in Washington DC.  For those of you not able to make that panel, and even those of you who are planning to attend, a new source of information that provides a very good summary of the many music licensing issues now being considered by Congress and the courts is a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service released last week, available here.  The report explains in relatively simple terms how music licensing works in the United States, and describes many of the current legislative and judicial issues that currently could affect that licensing.  While obviously not addressing all of the subtleties of the arguments of all of the parties to these proceedings, the report does at least give a relatively neutral summary of the arguments of the parties. Continue Reading

October Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Many Routine Filings for All Broadcasters, Incentive Auction Actions, and More

Posted in AM Radio, Cable Carriage, Children's Programming and Advertising, Digital Television, EEO Compliance/Diversity, FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM, General FCC, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, License Renewal, Low Power Television/Class A TV, Noncommercial Broadcasting, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

October is one of those months where the regulatory stars align, when not only do broadcasters in many states have EEO Public File report obligations, but also Quarterly Issues Programs Lists need to be placed in the public files of all commercial and noncommercial stations, and Quarterly Children’s Television Reports need to be filed at the FCC and placed in the public files of television stations.  On top of these routine obligations, there are a number of actions likely to be taken by the FCC that may affect many segments of the broadcast industry.  So let’s look at some of the specifics.

First, by October 1, EEO public file reports should be placed in the public file of stations with 5 or more full-time employees, if those stations are located in the following states and territories: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.  In addition to those obligations, radio stations that are part of employment units with 11 or more full-time employees and are located in the states of Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands must prepare and file with the FCC EEO Mid-Term Reports on FCC Form 397, submitting specifics of their employment practices in the last two years (through the submission of their Public File reports) as well as some additional information.  The Mid-Term report for those stations are due by October 1.  More information about these EEO obligations can be found in our article here. Continue Reading

FCC Media Bureau Repeats Warning About the Use of Temporary FM Facilities to Meet Construction Deadlines

Posted in FM Radio, General FCC

The FCC’s Media Bureau this week released a decision denying the license applications of five new FM stations, and cancelling the construction permits for those stations. While the principal reasons for the denial of the license applications was the failure of the applicant to complete the applications correctly after the several deadlines imposed by the FCC, the decision also issued another reminder to broadcasters that they cannot construct temporary facilities to meet a construction deadline, and then dismantle those facilities soon after filing the license application. As in the case earlier this year that we wrote about here, the Bureau is expecting that stations will turn on their stations for the purposes of operating and serving the people within their service area when they seek their licenses. They cannot turn on the station simply for the purposes of filing for the license, and then dismantle the facilities and turn the station back off the air.

The decision also makes clear that license applications (on Form 302, and on Form 350 for translators) cannot be filed only partially complete on a deadline date. The Bureau states that the permittee must construct the station and file a license application demonstrating proper construction in a timely fashion. The applicant cannot file a bare bones application, and then file supplemental information demonstrating post-construction meeting of permit conditions (like demonstrating compliance with RF radiation limits, or compliance with the main studio rules). So, if you are facing a construction deadline, be sure to plan early so that you can meet the deadline, have the station operating properly in compliance with all conditions by the deadline date, and then file a complete application by the deadlines specified in the construction permit and in the FCC’s rules.

FCC Upholds $50,000 Penalty for Noncommercial LMA Where Licensee Paid More than its Operational Expenses

Posted in Assignments and Transfers, FCC Fines, Noncommercial Broadcasting

A decision that noncommercial broadcasters should note was released by the Commission last week. The decision was one that upheld a 2012 consent decree where, to resolve objections against the sale of a noncommercial radio station owned by the University of San Francisco, the Media Bureau imposed a fine of $50,000 for a pre-sale LMA which paid the licensee more than the costs of the operation of the station (we wrote about that case and a similar case resolved earlier this year, here). While last week’s decision did not tread any new ground, the fact that the full Commission upheld a determination that a $50,000 fine was an appropriate sanction for a noncommercial station that entered into an LMA that paid it more than its out-of-pocket expenses reinforces the importance of assessing the consideration paid to any noncommercial broadcaster for the sale of programming time on their stations. A noncommercial station can accept funds sufficient to reimburse it for the costs of its operations during the time that the program aired, but it cannot receive more than that reimbursement in the way of compensation for programming time.

As we wrote in January following the release by the FCC of a similar decision, with a similar fine, in another case where a noncommercial licensee was paid more than its expenses by an LMA programmer, the FCC does not want noncommercial stations to be looked at as revenue generating operations for their licensees. If the station is paid for programming, any payments should simply cover station expenses. Last week’s decision looked at other issues too. Continue Reading

FCC Revises Broadcast Contest Rules – Allows Disclosure of Material Rules on the Internet

Posted in Advertising Issues, AM Radio, FCC Fines, FM Radio, Television, Website Issues

The FCC yesterday agreed to modernize its contest rules, allowing broadcasters to publicize the material terms of a contest that is conducted by a station through posting those rules on an Internet website, rather than requiring that the material rules be read on the air often enough so that a listener is likely to have heard them. The FCC’s order does impose obligations that the website location be announced on the air and that the site be accessible to everyone, but the changes, once they go into effect, will be a relief to many broadcasters who have had so much trouble in recent years with the current rules requiring on-air disclosure of a contest’s material terms (see, for instance, the many fines that have been issued to broadcasters for violations of these rules, about which we wrote here, here and here).

When these new rules go into effect (after approval by the Office and Management and Budget after a Paperwork Reduction Act review – an exercise that the FCC must go through for all new rules with any paperwork requirements even though it would seem to be a formality here where the rules clearly work to reduce the burden on broadcasters), a broadcaster will be able to satisfy the requirement to disclose the material rules of a contest either by continuing the old practice of reading the material rules on the air, or by posting those rules to an accessible website, and publicizing the Internet location of those rules on the air. The website hosting the rules can either be the station website or some other site, but the rules state that the site must be available to everyone who visits it without having to register to use the site or to pay any sort of fee to access the site. The on-air announcement about the website does not need to give the exact URL of the page on which the rules can be found, as long as the announcement is specific enough so that a listener will be able to find the rules (e.g. by saying something like “go to the K-100 website,, and click on the ‘contest’ tab”). The FCC also makes clear that, if a station is sending its audience to the station’s homepage to find the contest rules, that there should be a tab, link or other clearly identified location on the homepage to make clear where listeners should go to find the contest rules. Continue Reading