Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from this past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC’s Media Bureau asked for comments on a petition for rulemaking proposing the creation of a new class of FM stations – Class A10.  These stations would operate with a power of up to 10,000 watts at no more than 100 meters height above average terrain.  Authorizing this new class of stations would require amending the minimum distance separation requirements for various classes of FM stations.  This petition asks that the Class A10 rulemaking supersede the pending proposal for a new FM Class C4 (see our article here regarding that 2018 proposal).  Unlike the Class C4 proposal, the proposed Class A10 stations would be available nationwide (the Class C4 would have been permitted only in certain parts of the country).  Comments on the petition are due July 22, and reply comments are due August 21.  This is a preliminary step to determine if the FCC should consider this proposal.  If the FCC decides to do so, additional public comment would be required following the issuance of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. 
  • The Bureau granted the assignment of several TV and LPTV stations located in the Cheyenne-Scottsbluff, WY-NE DMA from Gray Television to Marquee Broadcasting West.  One of the stations involved, KGWN, has two top-four broadcast TV network affiliations (CBS and NBC).  The review of this case focused on an application of the FCC’s December decision in the 2018 Quadrennial Review holding that one owner of a TV station affiliated with a Top 4 network cannot acquire the network affiliation of a second station in the market and put it on a digital subchannel (see our article here).  The Commission in this case states that any sale of a station that already has two Top 4 network affiliations also requires FCC approval to ensure that continued dual-network operation is in the public interest.  The FCC found that it was in the public interest for KGWN to maintain both its CBS and NBC network affiliations under Marquee’s ownership due to the market’s small size and large geographic area which make operations of a standalone top-four network affiliated TV station difficult, requiring a broadcaster to have multiple facilities to cover the market’s dispersed population centers.  The FCC also noted that the market’s ABC and Fox affiliated stations are operated as satellites of out-of-market stations, and the declaration of a media broker that said that no independent operator would be interested in starting an affiliated station in this small market.  The FCC concluded that the acquisition of KGWN’s two network affiliations would preserve local news service and network-affiliated programming in the market. 
  • The Bureau also seeks comment on a petition for waiver of the FCC’s audio description rules filed by TBS and TNT.  The cable networks request a three-year waiver of the FCC’s audio description rules which requires the top 5 cable networks to air 87.5 hours of audio described programming per quarter, with no program allowed to be counted more than twice (“the repeat rule”), no matter how often the program is aired in the quarter.  The networks claim that, because of their large amount of live or near live programming (which is not audio described) and many repeat programs, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for these networks to comply with the “repeat rule.”  To justify the waiver, the networks promise extensive description of repeated programming, which would result in TBS offering at least 1,000 hours of described programming per quarter and TNT providing 2,500 hours of described programming per year.  It would also quickly add descriptions to other newly produced, non-live programming aired between 6:00 a.m. and midnight ET during the waiver period and include audio described programming on a commonly owned smaller network not otherwise subject to the requirements.  Comments on the petition are due June 28, and reply comments are due July 5. 
  • The Commission’s staff took the following actions concerning LPFM stations:
    • The Enforcement Bureau denied a Florida LPFM station’s request for reconsideration of a $25,000 fine imposed by the Bureau in 2022 for the station’s unauthorized operations, failure to cooperate with FCC field agents, and failure to maintain Emergency Alert Service equipment.  The station sought cancellation of the fine due to an inability to pay, which it supported by providing a declaration of its president, a list of non-cash assets, and copies of bank statements.  The Bureau rejected the request because the FCC requires financial statements or tax returns to justify a conclusion that the licensee has an inability to pay a proposed fine, and because the station again failed to cooperate with FCC field agents during an April 2024 inspection. 
    • The Media Bureau affirmed its dismissal of a Florida LPFM construction permit application for failure to adequately support a waiver of the second-adjacent channel spacing requirements necessary to protect nearby broadcast stations.  Continuing the hardline approach we have noted in many recent weekly updates, the Bureau rejected the applicant’s claim that its singleton status warranted allowing it to amend to provide the required technical showing, again holding that the initial application filed during any LPFM window must provide all of the technical information needed to justify a waiver or the application will be dismissed with no opportunity to amend. 

On our Broadcast Law Blog, we discussed how the Media Bureau’s admonishment of three TV stations (actions noted in our update last week) for failing to include non-discrimination clauses in their advertising sales agreements serves as a warning to broadcasters.  Over a decade ago, the FCC adopted these rules to stop “no urban, no Spanish” advertising dictates.  These cases noted that, in the future, fines will be imposed for such violations, showing that the FCC still takes the rule seriously. 

As we wrote in Sunday’s weekly summary of broadcast actions, last week was a very active one at the FCC.  The FCC released the texts of rulemaking proposals on annual regulatory fees and on new regulatory proposals for LPTV and TV translator stations.  The Commission also released orders reinstating rules prohibiting FM stations serving the same area from duplicating programming and rules imposing new verification requirements on broadcasters to assure that program time (and issue ads) that they sell are not purchased by representatives of foreign governments without enhanced public disclosures.  We plan to write more about these actions in the coming days.  Today, we will focus on a less publicized set of actions taken last week that remind broadcasters of a decade-old requirement to which not much attention has been paid since its adoption – the requirement that broadcasters not discriminate in the sale of advertising time and include in sales contracts statements informing their ad buyers of their polices against such discrimination.

The Media Bureau’s actions reminding broadcasters of the policy against advertising discrimination came in three orders released last week.  The  Bureau, in acting on pending television license renewal applications, admonished a Louisiana TV station, a South Carolina Class A TV station, and a North Carolina Class A station for their failures to include non-discrimination clauses in their advertising sales agreements.  In their renewal applications, none of the applicants was able to respond to a required certification attesting that “its advertising sales agreements do not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity and that all such agreements held by the licensee contain non-discrimination clauses.”  Either no explanation was given for not being able to certify or an exhibit was provided stating that the station had not routinely included this certification in their sales agreements.  While no monetary fines were imposed in connection with these warning letters, as no evidence of actual discrimination was shown, the Bureau warned that future failures to include non-discrimination clauses in such agreements could result in fines, and in the case of the Class A stations, a downgrade to LPTV status. With three such decisions in one week, it appears that the Bureau was sending a message to the industry to pay attention to this requirement.

This obligation was adopted in 2011 reflecting concerns about “no urban, no Spanish” dictates in advertising orders for general market products and services.  These dictates came from advertisers who did not want their products pitched to minority audiences, making stations serving such audiences harder to operate when portions of major advertising budgets were not available to them.  Prior to the adoption of the requirement, we wrote about a car advertiser who included such a dictate in a request for an advertising buy, an action that caused an uproar in the broadcast advertising world and perhaps led to the FCC’s adoption of the requirement.  When the Enforcement Bureau of the FCC in 2011 issued an Enforcement Advisory, answering questions about the new requirement, then-Chairman Genachowski issued an accompanying News Release, stating that the Commission “will vigorously enforce its rules against discrimination in advertising sales contracts.”  See our article here where we wrote about these actions at the time of these FCC releases.  Yet, until the actions this past week, there has been very little enforcement of the requirement. 

The policy requires that stations have language in their sales contracts requiring that the buyer of advertising time certify that they were not buying the advertising time with a discriminatory intent The 2011 Enforcement Advisory also highlighted that stations that use advertising rep firms or other sales agents must make sure that these agents have nondiscrimination clauses in their own contracts used to sell advertising time on the station. 

This policy initially raised several questions from broadcasters, with many asking what they should do if they have no advertising contracts.  At the time, many broadcasters, especially in dealing with regular customers, booked advertising through emails or phone calls – not formal contracts.  The lack of formal sales contracts has likely increased since that time as more and more programmatic sales platforms have been introduced into the ad buying process, so that there is not the formal advertising contract exchange between real people.  The FCC did not specifically address how stations with no advertising contracts should meet their obligations, but the industry seems to have settled on a practice of including the nondiscrimination clause in the exchanges that form the contract – e.g. the emails confirming the schedule, the rate cards offering the spots for sale, or other communications between the station and the advertiser.  

We have also suggested that written contracts are a good idea when feasible, as these contracts can cover other issues that are important to broadcasters, e.g. indemnifications from advertisers that they have the rights to all the music and other creative content used in their ads, statements that the broadcaster reserves the right to preempt ads if they don’t like the content or if the broadcaster needs to run some programming of greater local importance, that advertising sold to one party should not be re-sold to anyone else, that the broadcaster is not liable for any consequential damages if an ad does not run for technical or other reasons, and similar issues.  These clauses are sometimes included in terms and conditions for advertising purchases or in other documents provided to advertisers or their agents – and any such disclosures should include the non-discrimination certifications.

What should the certification say?  Again, the FCC does not suggest any specific text.  The Commission seems to suggest that the contract certification should cover the fact that the broadcaster is not discriminating in the sale of time – when it probably is more accurate that, to insure that the advertising is not being purchased pursuant to a “no Urban, no Spanish” dictate, it should be the advertiser who is certifying that their motivation in buying time is not a discriminatory one.   We would expect that advertisers will have learned from that experience, and it will now be rare that advertisers will be so blatant about such an intention.  To discover such intent, broadcasters need to get a certification from the advertiser as to their intention.  In articles at the time, we suggested language which expresses the intent of both the advertiser and the station, but each station should carefully consider any language they adopt, and discuss it with their counsel.  As last week’s decisions make clear, it is important that stations routinely use such language in their sales materials.

The Enforcement Bureau Advisory also makes clear that broadcasters, in addition to simply making the required certification and including the required clause in their contracts, must also police advertising to make sure that it is not purchased for discriminatory purposes.  So, if some general market advertiser approaches a station with a request for an advertising schedule that seems to discriminate, the broadcaster needs to investigate if in fact there is a discriminatory intent, and reject such advertising if it in fact discriminates.  Broadcasters cannot turn a blind eye to potential discrimination in the purchase of advertising by their clients. 

The current FCC has placed an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, assessing virtually every rule that it proposes or adopts to determine its impact on these important goals.  With last week’s actions, it appears to be making clear that it is also ready to enforce one of its policies directly addressing these goals.  Since it has been so long since this advertising nondiscrimination requirement was adopted, and as there has been little publicity about this requirement since its adoption (other than the certification in renewal applications), it is important to remember the obligation so that, come your next renewal, you will not be in the situation faced by these three stations cited by the Commission last week.  

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from this past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC released a Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking for comments on the 2024 FCC annual regulatory fees, which will be paid in September by broadcasters and other FCC-regulated entities.  Regulatory fees reimburse the government for the FCC’s operating costs and are allocated based on how many FCC staff employees work on industry-specific matters.  As the result of reallocating employee costs across regulated industries, the FCC proposes reducing TV station fees by approximately 15.4% from last year and also proposes reductions in radio fees.  The FCC seeks comments on the fees and a number of other issues, including whether to end its presumption that silent stations are entitled to fee waivers without providing evidence of financial hardship, proposing that, beginning in 2025, such stations will be required to document their inability to pay.  Comments on the proposed fees are due July 15, and reply comments are due July 29.  Expect a final decision on the fees around Labor Day so that the fees can be paid before the October 1 start of the government’s new fiscal year.
  • The FCC released a Report and Order expanding on the requirement that broadcasters determine whether those who “lease” program time on their stations are foreign government agents and, if so, imposing enhanced sponsorship identification requirements.  The FCC gives broadcasters two options to show that they checked whether a lessee’s programming is sponsored by a “foreign governmental entity”: (1) the station and the lessee must both execute written certifications using standardized language, the lessee certifying that they are not acting on behalf of a foreign government and the licensee certifying that they explained this FCC requirement to the lessee; or (2) the station must ask the lessee to provide screenshots of the search results for the lessee’s name in the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agent Registration Act database and the FCC’s most recent U.S.-based foreign media outlet report.  The FCC also reaffirmed that this requirement does not apply to commercial spots or political candidate advertisements, but the verifications are required for sponsors of issue ads and paid PSAs.  The FCC also determined that there will be no exemptions from these requirements for religious or locally produced programming.  We expect to write more on this Order on our Broadcast Law Blog in the coming week. 
  • The FCC released the full text of its NPRM proposing changes to its Class A, LPTV, and TV translator rules that, as we noted in our update last week, was adopted at the FCC regular monthly open meeting the week before last.  The NPRM proposes extending Online Public Inspection File requirements to top-rated or network affiliated LPTV stations and expanding OPIF requirements to include uploading Local Marketing Agreements, Time Brokerage Agreements, Joint Sales Agreements and, for Class A stations, certifications of continuing Class A eligibility.  At National Association of Broadcasters’ request, the FCC seeks comment on whether the OPIF is serving its intended purpose of informing the public about broadcast station operations.  The NPRM also proposes a limit on site changes for these stations but, at LPTV Broadcasters Association’s request, the FCC seeks comment on alternatives to the proposed 48.3 km limit on such moves. 
  • The FCC released a Reconsideration Order reinstating its radio non-duplication rule for commercial FM stations, granting a reconsideration request from music industry groups and a group associated with LPFM interests.  The rule, which the FCC repealed in August 2020, prohibited commonly owned or operated same service (AM and FM) stations with overlapping service contours from duplicating more than 25% of their programming (see our summary of the 2020 decision here).  The reinstated rule will only prohibit FM stations with overlapping contours from duplicating their programming, effective 30 days after the Order’s publication in the Federal Register.  FM stations currently duplicating programming, however, will have six months from the effective date to comply or to request a waiver to continue duplicating programming (which will be granted only in rare cases).  To prevent stations from taking advantage of the grace period, the FCC encourages stations to file waiver requests within 90 days after the effective date.
  • It was also a busy week for the FCC’s Media Bureau, which took the following enforcement actions:
    • The Bureau proposed a $20,000 fine against a Wyoming TV station because it failed to timely file 23 of its Children’s Commercial Limits Certifications to its OPIF, which were filed between one month and over seven years late.  Due to the extent of the violations, the Bureau upwardly adjusted the proposed fine from the $10,000 established base amount for such a fine.
    • The Bureau admonished a Louisiana TV station, a South Carolina Class A TV station, and a North Carolina Class A station for their failures to include non-discrimination clauses in their advertising sales agreements.  The Bureau warned the stations that future failures to include non-discrimination clauses in such agreements could result in fines, and in the case of the Class A stations, downgrade to LPTV status. For more on the requirement to have this language in sales materials, see our article here.
    • The Bureau entered into a Consent Decree with an AM and a FM station in Louisiana because the stations failed to timely file any quarterly Issues/Programs Lists during their previous license period.  The Consent Decree requires the stations to implement a compliance plan to ensure that future OPIF violations do not occur.
  • The Bureau released two NPRMs proposing changes to the TV Table of Allotments as requested by petitioner TV stations.  The first NPRM proposes the substitution of channel 23 for channel 7 at Boise, Idaho due to the poor reception on VHF channel 7.  The second NPRM proposes to undo the substitution of channel 27 for channel 12 at Augusta, Georgia due to petitioner’s inability to timely construct its channel 27 facilities.
  • The Bureau also acted on several applications for new LPFM stations:
    • It dismissed two Texas LPFM construction permit applications (here and here) for failure to demonstrate reasonable assurance of site availability.  One applicant lacked reasonable assurance of transmitter site availability because it did not communicate with the actual tower site owner and listed the incorrect owner on the application.  The other applicant not only failed to communicate with the actual tower site owner, but a court injunction barred the use of the proposed site.
    • The Bureau affirmed its dismissal of an Alabama LPFM construction permit application for failure to meet the co-channel spacing requirements necessary to protect nearby broadcast stations, rejecting the applicant’s request to amend its application because the LPFM application procedures clearly state that the Tech Box in the initial application must comply with the FCC’s channel spacing requirements, and as it did not, the application was properly dismissed without an opportunity to amend.

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from this past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing extensive revisions to its Class A TV, LPTV, and TV translator rules.  As we discussed here, the draft NPRM released several weeks ago proposed extending Online Public Inspection File requirements to certain top-rated or network affiliated LPTV stations, and expanding Class A station OPIF requirements to include uploading LMAs, Joint Sales Agreements, and Class A certifications (LPTVs would also upload LMAs and JSAs).  The draft NPRM also included other proposals, including limiting station site moves to 48.3 kilometers and requiring stations to specify a community of license within their service contour.  The FCC has not yet released the final version of the NPRM, but its proposals may have changed since the draft was released due to recent lobbying by broadcasters.  Perhaps most interesting was the National Association Broadcasters’ argument that the OPIF requirements should not be applied to LPTV as the FCC-mandated public file does not serve its intended purpose of informing the public about broadcast station operations, as the public rarely accesses that file.  The LPTV Broadcasters Association challenged any strict application of the 48.3 km limit on station moves and the Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance suggested that a designated community of license was unnecessary for LPTV stations. We will report next week if any of these issues was addressed in the final version of the NPRM. 
  • The FCC’s weekly list of the items on circulation (those orders or rulemaking proposals that have been drafted and are currently circulating among the Commissioners for review and a vote) removed an order resolving a petition for reconsideration of the FCC’s 2020 decision eliminating the prohibition on radio stations in the same service (AM or FM) that serve the same area duplicating programming (see our Broadcast Law Blog article here, summarizing the 2020 decision).  Some public interest groups asked for reconsideration of the decision as applied to FM stations in the same area duplicating programming. The removal of the draft order from the list likely means that it has been voted on by the Commissioners and will be released soon – possibly in the next few days. 
  • The NAB filed a petition for reconsideration of the FCC’s February Report and Order reinstating the requirement for broadcasters to annually file the FCC Form 395-B, a form that has been on hiatus for over 20 years.  As we discussed in an article on our Blog, here, the form requires broadcasters to annually report their employees’ race or ethnicity and their gender, while classifying the employees by job categories.  The NAB urged the FCC to reverse its decision to make the Form 395-B data publicly available, arguing that doing so violates the First and Fifth Amendments by pressuring broadcasters to engage in preferential hiring practices.  The NAB also cites concerns recently raised by broadcasters that the expansion of the report’s gender categories could lead to harassment of station employees identifying as non-binary. The NAB’s petition joins that of two groups of Catholic broadcasters who sought reconsideration of the reinstatement of the form, and the appeals filed by the National Religious Broadcasters Association and one of its members and by the Texas Association of Broadcasters seeking Court review of the FCC’s order.   
  • Press Communications, LLC and REC Networks filed petitions for reconsideration of the FCC’s April decision permitting FM stations to “zonecast” or “geo-target” by airing a limited amount of original programming (e.g., commercials or news) on their FM boosters.  Press Communications urged the FCC to prohibit zonecasting in “embedded markets” (such as the Northern New Jersey market, “embedded” in the New York City market) because underfunded, lower-powered Class A FM stations in these suburban markets cannot compete with better-funded, higher-powered Class B FM stations from the larger parent market that will be allowed to us use multiple FM boosters to geo-target advertisers in the embedded markets.  Press Communications also argues that the FCC relied on faulty engineering studies in concluding that the interference risks of zonecasting were minimal.  REC Networks argues that the FCC failed to consider potential co-channel interference to unrelated FM broadcast stations and proposes that all FM booster station applications (whether or not they propose zonecasting) include a showing that no interference will occur.  Comments on the petitions are due June 19.
  • Federal Election Commission Chairman Sean Cooksey sent a letter to FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel arguing that the FCC lacks legal authority to require broadcasters and cable and satellite TV operators to disclose the use of AI-generated content in political ads (as proposed by the Chairwoman last month – see our article here).  The FEC Chairman argues that FCC action could create conflicts with any rules that the FEC might adopt addressing the issue, which would require litigation to resolve, and expressed concerns that imposing the new rules in the limited time before the November election would “create confusion and disarray among political campaigns” and “chill broadcasters from carrying many political ads.”  In the press conference following the FCC’s open meeting this past week, Commissioner Carr reiterated these concerns, while Chairwoman Rosenworcel defended the proposal (which is not yet public) and her belief that it is important to have these rules implemented before the election.
  • In routine actions at the FCC’s Media Bureau, it approved a proposed amendment to the FM Table of Allotments and dismissed two LPFM construction permit applications:
    • The Bureau amended the FM Table of Allotments by downgrading vacant Channel 245B at Mattoon, Illinois to Channel 241B1 to resolve a spacing conflict with a nearby FM station (the vacant allotment arose from the cancellation of a station license).  The Bureau concluded that Channel 241B1 would resolve the spacing issue and comply with the FCC’s minimum distance separation requirements.  The FCC will in the future announce the opening of a filing window for construction permit applications for the new allotment.
    • The Bureau denied applications for new LPFM applications in Arizona and Texas because the applicants failed to show that they were qualified to hold an LPFM license.  LPFM stations must be non-profits or government organizations, and neither applicant provided any evidence that they were organized as non-profits, and the records in their states did not reflect any nonprofit registration for either organization.  Nor could either applicant show it was a public safety radio service provider (which must be a local government or other non-profit that provides emergency services in its service area).

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC’s Media Bureau announced the opening of two filing windows for Class A TV, LPTV, and TV translator stations:
    • The Bureau released a Public Notice announcing that, beginning August 20, Class A TV, LPTV, and TV translator stations may file applications to change their existing channels.  No other “major modification” applications (such as transmitter site location changes of more than 30 miles) and no applications for new stations will be accepted.  Channel change applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, with any applications filed on the same day being deemed “mutual exclusive” if they cannot all granted consistent with the FCC’s interference rules.  Mutually exclusive applicants will have a later opportunity to settle or file a technical amendment to their applications to resolve their conflicts.  More information on the filing and processing of these applications is in the Public Notice.
    • The Bureau also released a Public Notice announcing that eligible LPTV stations may file to convert to Class A status now through May 30, 2025.  In December 2023, following the passage by Congress of the Low Power Protection Act, the FCC released a Report and Order that gave LPTV stations located in small television markets – DMAs ranked 178 (Elmira-Corning, NY) through 210 (Glendive, MT) – a limited opportunity to apply for Class A status.  Class A status protects these stations from interference by new or improved full-power stations, and from changes to the television band (such as those that occurred from the TV incentive auction when parts of the allotted television spectrum was reclaimed by the FCC to be auctioned to wireless operators).  To be eligible for Class A status, LPTV stations must have, between October 7, 2022 and January 5, 2023, been on the air at least 18 hours per day, broadcast an average of at least 3 hours of local programming per week, and otherwise complied with the FCC’s LPTV rules. Additional information about the filing requirements and procedures is in the Public Notice
  • The FCC’s weekly list of the items on circulation (those orders or rulemaking proposals that have been drafted and are currently circulating among the Commissioners for review and a vote) removed an order resolving a pending proceeding that would require that broadcasters receive enhanced certifications from all buyers of programming time on their stations demonstrating that the programmers are not representatives of foreign governments.  The removal of the draft order from the list likely means that it has been voted on by the Commissioners and will be released soon – possibly in the next few days.  For more information about the possible new obligations that would be imposed on broadcasters, see this article on our Broadcast Law Blog.
    • The list also noted the addition of a Report and Order for consideration by the Commissioners to adopt the FCC’s regulatory fees for FY2024.  Orders like this are normally adopted by August so that regulatory fees can be paid before the October 1 start of the federal government’s next fiscal year.  That item also appears to include a Report and Order acting upon the FCC’s March Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which proposed changes to how the FCC calculates its annual regulatory fees for earth stations.
  • The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau announced that it will conduct a voluntary Disaster Information Reporting System exercise from June 10 to 12 for communications providers and broadcasters.  The Bureau’s Public Notice contains information on how to register and participate in the DIRS exercise.  As we discussed in our weekly updates here and here, the FCC proposed in a January Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to require TV and radio stations to report their operating status during disasters in the FCC’s DIRS database.  The exercise will provide broadcasters the opportunity to practice the use of the DIRS database should the FCC adopt the proposed mandatory reporting requirement. 
  • The FCC made two announcements concerning its TVStudy software, which is used by broadcasters to conduct TV station coverage and interference analysis for allotment petitions and modification applications.  The Media Bureau announced that the 2020 U.S. Census Data must be used in applications filed on or after August 1, 2024.  The Office of Engineering and Technology also announced the release of an updated version of the TVStudy software.  A full list of the changes can be found here.
  • The Media Bureau affirmed its grant of a new Iowa noncommercial FM station construction permit, rejecting an objection arguing that the applicant’s antenna location was not available as it was in use by a station owned by the company that filed the objection. The Bureau found that, because the applicant relied in good faith on a statement by the tower owner’s representative that the applicant could install its antenna at the originally proposed height, it had reasonable assurance of site availability when it filed its application, and determined that the applicant would be allowed it to amend its application to specify an antenna height at an available lower location on the tower. 

On our Broadcast Law Blog, we highlighted upcoming regulatory deadlines for broadcasters for June and early July.  We also reminded broadcasters of actions that they should take when they get an objection to the content of a political attack ad to avoid potential liability – a reminder we thought appropriate as we anticipate that, particularly given this past week’s verdict in the Trump trial, we may well see some nasty political ads this election season. 

With the verdict in the first criminal case against former President (and now candidate) Trump having been released, we can envision a whole raft of attack ads likely to be airing before the November elections.  The verdict is likely to also increase political divisions within the country, and potentially fuel many other nasty attack ads to be aired in political races from the top of the ballot to the local races that appear toward its end.  The use of artificial intelligence in such ads raises the prospect of even nastier attack ads, and its use raises a whole host of legal issues beyond defamation worries, though it raises those too (see our article here on defamation concerns about AI generated content, and our recent articles here and here about other potential FCC and state law liability arising from such ads).  Given the potential for a nasty election season getting even nastier, we thought that we would revisit our warning about broadcasters needing to assess the content of attack ads – particularly those from non-candidate groups. 

As we have written before, broadcasters (and local cable companies) are forbidden from editing the message of a candidate or rejecting that ad based on what is says except in extreme circumstances where the ad itself would violate a federal criminal law and possibly if it contains a false EAS alert (see, for instance, our articles herehere and here).  Section 315 of the Communications Act forbids a broadcaster or a local cable operator from censoring a candidate ad.  Because broadcasters cannot censor candidate ads, the Supreme Court has ruled that broadcasters are immune from any liability for the content of those ads.  (Note that this protection applies only to over-the-air broadcasters and local cable companies – the no censorship rule does not apply to cable networks or online distribution – see our articles here and here)  Other protections, such as Section 230, may apply to candidate ads placed on online platforms, but the circumstances in which the ad became part of the program offering need to be considered. 

Continue Reading Trump Verdict Raises Concerns About A Nasty Election Campaign Getting Nastier – Looking at a Broadcaster’s Potential Liability for Attack Ads

Though school is out for many, the FCC does not take a summer recess.  Instead, regulation continues.  In addition to the regular EEO Annual Public Inspection File Report deadline for broadcasters in a number of states, there are several comment deadlines in June on issues that directly impact broadcasters – as well as the FCC’s regular monthly Open Meeting when it will consider a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that, if adopted, would make significant revisions to its rules for Class A, LPTV, and TV translator stations.  And, as this is an election year, there are several political deadlines this June that broadcasters must be aware of. 

June 3 (as the 1st is on a weekend) is the deadline for radio and television station employment units in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming with five or more full-time employees to upload their Annual EEO Public File Report to their stations’ online public inspection files (OPIFs).  A station employment unit is a station or cluster of commonly controlled stations serving the same general geographic area having at least one common employee.  For employment units with five or more full-time employees, the annual report covers hiring and employment outreach activities for the prior year.  A link to the uploaded report must also be included on the home page of each station’s website, if the station has a website.  Be timely getting these reports into your public file, as even a single late report can lead to FCC fines (see our article here about a recent $26,000 fine for a single late EEO report).

The filing of the Annual EEO Public File Reports for radio and television station employment units with eleven or more full-time employees triggers a Mid-Term EEO Review that analyzes the last two Annual Reports for compliance with FCC requirements.  June 1 is the beginning of the Mid-Term EEO Review for radio station employment units in Michigan and Ohio andfor television station employment units in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Additionally, radio stations located in those states that are part of station employment units with five or more full-time employees must indicate in their OPIFs, when they post their Annual Report, whether their employment unit has eleven or more full-time employees, using a checkbox now included in the OPIF’s EEO folder.  This allows the FCC to determine which station groups need a Mid-Term Review.  See our articles here and here on Mid-Term EEO Review reporting requirements for radio stations.

Continue Reading June Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – EEO Public File Reports, Rulemaking Comments, Political Deadlines, and More

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from this past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel announced that she had circulated among the Commissioners for their review and approval a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to require TV and radio stations, as well as cable operators and satellite TV providers, to disclose the use of AI-generated content in political ads.  If approved, the NPRM would request comment on whether to require broadcasters to disclose (both on-air and in their political files) when AI-generated content is used in political advertisements from both candidates and issues advertisers, and on how to define the AI-generated content that would need to be disclosed.  Commissioner Carr issued a statement opposing the NPRM, arguing that the Chairwoman’s proposals “fundamentally alter the rules of the road for political speech just a short time before a national election” (even though, if the NPRM is adopted, given normal rulemaking comment periods and processing timelines, it is unlikely that any proposed rule could be adopted in time for this year’s elections) and questioning whether the FCC has the authority to require the disclosures.  See our Broadcast Law Blog article for a discussion of issues that should be considered if the FCC decides to move forward with this proposal and as Congress also considers regulating AI in political advertising.
  • Congressmen Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) announced the introduction of a new House of Representatives version of a bill dealing with AM radio in cars titled “AM Radio For Every Vehicle Act of 2024.”  A “mark-up” session on the revised bill was held on Thursday, May 23, when the bill was discussed by the House Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce, approved, and sent to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee for approval (see video of the mark-up session here).  As we discussed here, here, and here, the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act requires that automobile manufacturers retain AM radio in the car dashboard.  The new House version of the bill more closely matches that approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in July 2023, and provides for enforcement by the Departments of Justice and Transportation through civil penalties and civil actions – provisions that were not included in an earlier House version of the bill.  Any such bill must be passed by both the full House and Senate and signed by the President to become law. 
  • The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing titled: “Legislative Proposal to Sunset Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.”  At the hearing, the subcommittee discussed the draft bipartisan proposal of Subcommittee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) which, on its face, would sunset Section 230 of the Communications Act, effective as of December 31, 2025.  As we discussed here and here, Section 230 was designed to insulate online platforms from liability for content created by others that is hosted on their sites.  Section 230 immunity has long been considered essential to the success of the Internet, but there have been concerns that the law has had unintended consequences, such as enabling terrorist activity, promoting the exploitation of minors, and allowing discrimination and harassment.  In the Subcommittee’s hearing memo outlining the issues to be discussed, it was made clear that the intent of the “discussion draft” was not to actually repeal Section 230, but to encourage its reform with the input of affected technology companies.  A video of the hearing can be viewed here.
  • Comments were filed this past week on the FCC’s March Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing the creation of a new Emergency Alert Service event code for missing and endangered persons.  Commenters generally supported the new EAS event code.  Several Tribal groups (here, here, here, here, and here) expressed their support, noting the high numbers of missing persons cases among indigenous people.  Public safety and public interest commenters (here, here, and here) state that the new code would streamline the dissemination of alerts now delivered through multiple codes, facilitating their consistency and speeding delivery to the public.  NCTA – The Internet and Television Association supports the new event code but suggests that the FCC permit its use on a voluntary basis because EAS participants will require equipment upgrades to use the new code, and also urged the FCC to encourage state, local, and tribal official officials to establish clear guidelines to prevent the new event code’s overuse in nonemergency situations.
  • The FCC dismissed a Nevada FM translator licensee’s request for review of the Media Bureau’s November 2022 decision which denied the licensee’s request for waiver of the FCC’s FM translator siting rule .  That rule requires that an FM translator rebroadcasting an AM station be located within the greater of the AM station’s primary service area or a 25-mile radius of its AM station’s transmitter site.  The Bureau dismissed the waiver request because neither the irregular size and shape of station’s market nor terrain obstructions justified waiver of the siting rule.  The Commission found that the applicant was trying to extend, not fill-in, its service area, and determined that it was in the public interest to apply the rule in a fair and consistent manner by prohibiting FM translator locations outside of the AM station’s service area absent compelling circumstances, and the desire to serve a greater area was not such a circumstance. 
  • The FCC’s Media Bureau proposed a $3,250 fine against a Texas TV translator station that failed to timely file its license application and operated for over three years from an unauthorized site.  In April 2021, due to the collapse of its authorized tower, the translator was forced to relocate to operate pursuant to Special Temporary Authority at a temporary site. The STA expired in December 2021.  The licensee failed to extend the STA and did not file a license application for permanent operations from the temporary site until April 2024 –long after its modification application to make the temporary site permanent was granted in May 2021.  The base fine of $13,000 for the licensee’s failure to timely file the license application and the $10,000 base fine for unauthorized operations were reduced because the licensee’s documented inability to pay the base fines, its history of compliance, and the secondary nature of TV translators.  

We’ve written several times (see for instance our articles here, here, and here) about all of the action in state legislatures to regulate the use of artificial intelligence in political advertising – with approximately 17 states now having adopted laws or rules, most requiring the labeling of “deep fakes” in such ads, and a few banning deep fakes entirely.  Action on the federal level seems to be picking up, with two significant actions in the last week.  This week, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel issued a Press Release announcing that the FCC would be considering the adoption of rules requiring broadcasters and other media to include disclaimers when AI is used in political advertising. Last week, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration considered three bills addressing similar issues.  These actions, along with a long-pending Federal Election Commission proceeding to consider labeling obligations on federal election ads (see our article here), are the federal government’s attempts to address this issue – though, with the time left before the election, none  of these proposals appear likely to have a significant effect during the current election cycle.

At the FCC, according to the Chairwoman’s Press Release, a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is circulating among the Commissioners for their review.  The proposal is to require broadcasters, local cable companies, and other regulated entities with political broadcasting obligations under FCC rules, to include mandatory disclosures on political ads when AI is used.  The disclosures would be required on the air and in writing in a station’s FCC-hosted online public inspection file.  While the text of the NPRM is not yet public, the Press Release did provide some specifics as to the questions that would be asked in this proceeding.

Continue Reading The FCC and Congress Advance Proposals to Regulate Artificial Intelligence in Political Advertising

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The Justice Department has submitted a proposal to be published in the Federal Register to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, asking for public comment as to whether it should be moved from Schedule I (prohibited drugs with no medical benefits and a high potential for abuse) to Schedule III (drugs with some medical benefit with lower risks)(see DOJ’s Press Release containing links to more DOJ information).  The notice recognizes that, even if the rescheduling occurs, the federal government will still have regulatory authority over marijuana and will need to make determinations as to its proper use by, and distribution to, the public so, as we warned in our recent article on our Broadcast Law Blog, this action does not remove all legal risks from advertising marijuana on broadcast stations where its use has been “legalized” under state law. 
  • The FCC announced its agenda for its regular monthly Open Meeting on June 6 at which it will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing extensive revisions to its Class A TV, LPTV, and TV Translator rules.  Most significantly, the FCC proposes extending Online Public Inspection File (OPIF) recordkeeping requirements to LPTV stations – either those affiliated with a top-four broadcast TV network (ABC, CBS, Fox, or NBC) or, alternatively, to LPTV stations rated among the top-four TV stations in their Designated Market Areas.  OPIF requirements would include LMAs or Joint Sales Agreements and Class A certifications.  The NPRM also proposes to make clear that FCC political broadcasting rules – including political file requirements – apply to LPTV stations.  The NPRM includes several other proposed amendments to technical and operational requirements, including limiting minor changes to moves of no more than 48.3 kilometers from a station’s currently licensed site, requiring stations to specify a community of license within their service contour, requiring LPTVs to operate for a minimum of 14 hours per week, and requiring LPTV stations to file a minor modification application to change their designation to a TV translator (and vice versa – this can currently requires only notice to the FCC).  The FCC also proposes to clarify when a station can request authorization to move to another channel by more clearly defining the circumstances when an LPTV or translator station receives or causes interference justifying such displacement.
  • Comments were due this past week in response to the FCC’s January Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to require TV and radio stations to file reports regarding station operational outages in the FCC’s Network Outage Reporting System (NORS) database and on their operating status during disasters in the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) database.  DIRS reporting is currently voluntary for broadcasters, and NORS reporting is not currently required or available to broadcasters.  The National Association of Broadcasters and several broadcasters (see here, here, here, here, and here) argue that the proposed requirements would be unduly burdensome for broadcasters and would distract from their primary obligation to provide critical safety information to the public during disasters.  Instead, DIRS reporting requirements should remain voluntary for broadcasters, or as REC Networks proposes, only extend to reporting on the status of Emergency Alert Service infrastructure.  REC also notes that the reporting obligation could require broadcasters to report minor, transitory outages not currently required to be reported to the FCC.  Other commenters (see here and here) ask for an exemption for small noncommercial stations that lack the resources of larger commercial broadcast stations.  National Public Radio asks that the FCC defer imposing DIRS and NORS reporting obligations on broadcasters until it clarifies how it will use the reported data.
  • The Senate Committee on Rules Administration held a hearing in which in reviewed three bills addressing the effect of artificial intelligence (AI) on elections.  The first bill, the Protect Elections from Deceptive AI Act, prohibits the distribution of deceptive AI-generated audio or visual media relating to federal elections, with exceptions for use in bona fide newscasts by broadcasters and cable and satellite television providers if a disclaimer is used at the time of broadcast.  The second bill, the AI Transparency in Elections Act of 2024, requires the use of disclaimers in political advertisements including any AI-generated media.  The final bill, the Preparing Election Administrators for AI Act, requires the Election Assistance Commission to develop voluntary guidelines to be used by election administrators regarding the use and risks of AI in the upcoming 2024 elections.  All bills were voted out of committee – the first with two Republicans objecting, claiming that the language of these bills was too vague to determine what was prohibited and could violate free speech rights.  These bills will only become law if approved by the full Senate the House of Representatives.
    • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senators Mike Rounds, Martin Heinrich, and Todd Young also released a bipartisan AI Roadmap which summarizes the areas of political consensus on AI issues and identifies where further work is needed on these policy issues.
  • The FCC’s Media Bureau dismissed three LPFM construction permit applications for failure to comply with the LPFM application rules:
    • The Bureau dismissed a Wisconsin LPFM construction permit application as the applicant failed to show that it was qualified to hold an LPFM license.  An applicant must either be a public safety radio service provider (which must be a local government or other non-profit that provides emergency services in its service area) or a local non-profit with its headquarters or the residence of 75% of its board members within required radius of its proposed station’s transmitter site – and the applicant did not show that it met either of these criteria.
    • The Bureau affirmed its dismissal of Arkansas and Texas LPFM construction permit applications for their failures to meet the co-channel, first-adjacent channel, or second-adjacent channel spacing requirements necessary to protect nearby broadcast stations.  The Bureau rejected each applicant’s request to amend its application because the LPFM application procedures clearly state that the Tech Box in the initial application must show compliance with the FCC’s channel spacing requirements – and as neither of these applications did, they were properly dismissed without an opportunity to amend.  With the Texas application, the Bureau also rejected the applicant’s request to amend its application to include a waiver of the co-channel spacing requirements because the FCC cannot grant waivers of its co-channel distance separation requirements.