Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

FCC Approves Ownership Rule Changes and Next-Gen TV ATSC 3.0 Standard

Posted in Digital Television, Multiple Ownership Rules, Television

At its meeting yesterday, as expected, the FCC approved significant changes to its broadcast ownership rules and also approved the roll out of ATSC 3.0 – the next generation television transmission standard. While any change in ownership rules is always a contentious issue, and thus the 3-2 strict party-line vote approving the ownership changes might not have been surprising, the television technology change adopted yesterday proved to be controversial as well, also being approved by a 3-2 vote.

As of the writing of this article on Friday morning, the final texts of these decisions have not been released, so the details of these actions are not available. We will write further about the decisions next week when we have had a chance to digest the final orders. But summaries of both decisions, and the texts of the Commissioner’s statements on the issues, were released late yesterday. Continue Reading

FCC Waives December 1 Filing Requirement for TV Stations Ancillary and Supplementary Revenue Report for Stations with No Such Revenue

Posted in Digital Television, FCC Fees, Television

The FCC’s Media Bureau, as a result of an FCC vote at its meeting last month to look at doing away with the requirement that all TV stations file a report by December 1 of each year detailing their revenue from ancillary and supplementary services – i.e. data and other non-broadcast services offered by the TV station through their digital transmissions – issued an Order suspending the December 1 filing requirement this year for all TV stations that have no such revenue. TV stations that have such revenue must file the report and pay to the government 5% of all of the revenue they receive from offering these non-broadcast services. As we wrote here, the FCC voted last month to start a rulemaking proceeding, as part of its proceeding to look at the Modernization of Media Regulation, to limit the filing requirement to only those stations that actually have ancillary and supplementary revenues – approximately 15 TV stations nationwide.

This FCC Form, Form 2100, Schedule G (formerly Form 317), based on this Media Bureau action, will not be required this year by stations with no ancillary and supplementary revenue while the FCC determines whether to abolish the requirement permanently. Of course, today the FCC will be acting on the proposal to adopt ATSC 3.0, a new TV transmission system which, among other benefits, will allow TV stations to increase their data transmission capabilities. So, even though initially stations that take advantage of this waiver will not have to file the report on ancillary and supplementary revenues this year, that obligation may well arise in the future if they recognize the benefits of ATSC 3.0 by offering non-broadcast services using their TV spectrum.

Two Updates – Effective Date of Noncommercial Fundraising and EAS Form 3 Filing

Posted in Emergency Communications, Noncommercial Broadcasting

We wanted to remind you about two recent regulatory dates in case you have overlooked them. A number of trade press articles reminded broadcasters that yesterday was the due date for the filing of Form 3 of the ETRS reporting system, reporting on the results of this year’s Nationwide EAS tests. If you did not file, get that information on file now so that you are no later than necessary, and hope that the FCC cuts you a break on any late-filing. See our article here about that obligation.

Second, the new rules about noncommercial fundraising (about which we wrote here) went into effect yesterday, permitting noncommercial broadcasters who are unaffiliated with NPR and CPB to raise funds for nonprofit third parties for a limited amount of their broadcast time, even if such fundraisers interrupt their programming. If you are a noncommercial broadcaster, you can utilize these new rules to fundraise for charitable groups.

FCC Announces Window for TV Stations to File Minor Change Applications – Between November 28 and December 7

Posted in Low Power Television/Class A TV, Television

The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice announcing the opening of its window for full-power and Class A TV stations not repacked during the incentive auction to improve their facilities – the first opportunity to do so since the FCC froze TV minor change applications in 2013 in anticipation of the incentive auction. We wrote about the coming of this window in our article here. The window will be open from November 28 through December 7.

The idea with the opening of this window is for full-power TV stations to get an opportunity to do upgrades now, to essentially get them out of the system before the window for LPTV stations to file for displacement channels takes place (see our article here on the LPTV displacement window). The fear was that, if this window did not give full-power stations an opportunity to file, LPTV stations displaced by the auction and repacking of the TV spectrum could end up being displaced after their displacement window on any new channels that they obtain by full-power stations seeking new facilities. While, certainly, LPTV stations can be displaced in the future, the hope is that this window will drain some of the demand out of the marketplace to hopefully limit LPTV displacements in the future.

FCC Makes Clear By $1,500,000 Penalty, and Cancellation of Station Licenses, that Sequential Minor Change Applications with Temporary Construction of Facilities to Move LPTV Stations Great Distances Not Allowed

Posted in FCC Fines, General FCC, Low Power Television/Class A TV

Last week, the FCC issued an Order and Consent Decree agreeing to end an investigation of a big operator of LPTV stations that had allegedly applied for new LPTV stations in a 2009 FCC filing window where applications were restricted to rural areas, obtained construction permits for those stations, and, through a series of minor change applications, moved a number of those stations to larger markets. The FCC stated that the licensee would temporarily construct a station and file an application for a license, and, when the license was granted, the station would go off the air. Then applications for minor changes to move these stations up to 30 miles away would be filed, when the process was repeated, allowing some stations to move hundreds of miles from where they were initially granted, to larger more urban communities where applications could not have been filed in the initial application window. The Commission noted that the applicant maintained permanent facilities for only about 50 of over three hundred authorizations received.

In connection with a sale of the licensee company, the FCC required that the licensee pay a penalty of $1,500,000 and forfeit about 30 licenses to settle the case finding that the certifications in license applications that stations were constructed in accordance with their construction permits was not accurate when these stations were not permanently constructed. The successive applications were also found to frustrate the limits on site moves and on the limitations imposed in the 2009 window. This holding is similar to one made in a radio case about which we wrote here where the Commission required permanent construction to meet construction deadlines.  The Commission also has found that multiple or serial hops of an FM translator station to be an abuse of process where the station was never meant to be operated on any permanent basis at any of the intermediate sites (see our articles here and here). So, if you are building a station, build it permanently, and not as a means to moving it to some greener pasture 100 miles away.

FCC Announces Dates for “Long-Form” Applications by AM Stations that Filed for New FM Translators

Posted in AM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM

The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice announcing a filing window from December 1 through December 21 for “long-form” applications for new translators that were filed in this summer’s window for Class C and D AM stations to seek new FM translators to rebroadcast their stations. The Public Notice also sets the procedures for filing in this window. The window is for the filing of complete Form 349 applications by applicants who were deemed to be “singletons,” i.e. their applications would not cause interference to any other translator applicant. The list of singletons is here. The long-form application requires more certifications and technical information than that which was submitted during the initial filing window.

After the long-form application is submitted to the FCC, the application will be published in an FCC public notice of broadcast applications. Interested parties will have 15 days from that publication date to comment or object. If no comments are filed, and no other issues arise, the FCC’s Audio Division is known for its speed in processing translator applications so that grants might be expected for many of the applications late this year or early next. Continue Reading

November Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Including Broadcast Ownership, ATSC, Main Studio, EAS, TV Improvements and FM Translator Settlements

Posted in AM Radio, Broadcast Auctions, Digital Television, Emergency Communications, FM Translators and LPFM, General FCC, Multiple Ownership Rules, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

While November is an odd numbered month in which there are no deadlines for EEO Public File or Mid-term Reports, and it is not the beginning of a new calendar quarter when Quarterly Issues Programs Reports are added to a station’s public file and Quarterly Children’s Television Reports are filed with the FCC, that does not mean that there are no dates of interest to broadcasters this month. In fact, there are numerous policy issues that will be decided this month, and filing dates both for television broadcasters and AM broadcasters seeking FM translators for their stations.

The biggest policy dates will be November 16, when the FCC holds its monthly meeting, with two major broadcast items on the agenda. As we wrote here, the FCC will be considering both the adoption of ATSC 3.0, the new television transmission system promising better mobile reception and more data transmission capabilities for TV stations, and the reconsideration of last year’s decision on the ownership rules, where the FCC is expected to repeal the broadcast-newspaper and radio television cross-ownership rules and loosen the restrictions on TV duopolies in markets where such duopolies cannot now be formed. Continue Reading

FCC Announces Information Session on Revised Biennial Ownership Reports

Posted in AM Radio, FM Radio, General FCC, Noncommercial Broadcasting, Television

The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice announcing that it will be holding an information session on November 28, 2017 at 1 PM Eastern Time to familiarize broadcasters with the new Biennial Ownership Report forms. This information session can be viewed live online and will also be archived for viewing after the session (archive to be available here). As we wrote here, the FCC has extended to March 2, 2018 the due date for filing Biennial Ownership Reports, as it is in the process of developing a new form that will, hopefully, make it easier for broadcasters to complete the Form 323 and 323E Ownership Reports that must be filed by licensees once every two years. This information, which will present an overview of the new form, appears to be its official unveiling.

Note that this will be the first time that noncommercial broadcasters will be filing at the same time as commercial broadcasters (see our article here). Also, while commercial broadcasters will need to obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN) for each person who has an attributable interest in a station, the FCC recently decided that noncommercial licensees need not get an FRN for each member of its governing board (as it would entail getting each member’s social security number). But noncommercial broadcasters still will need to get a Special Use FRN for all officers and directors reported on their ownership reports (see our article here).

Florida Supreme Court Rejects Public Performance Right in Pre-1972 Sound Recordings – What’s Next?

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

In a decision this week, the Florida Supreme Court rejected claims by Flo & Eddie (of the 1960s band the Turtles) that there was a common law public performance right in pre-1972 sound recordings in the state of Florida (the opinion is available here). The Florida court, after examining numerous avenues of argument, concluded that the establishment of such a right was a legislative task. A judicial declaration that the right existed would, in the Court’s words, “have an immediate impact on consumers beyond Florida’s borders and would affect numerous stakeholders who are not parties to this suit.” It would also upset settled expectations, as the determination that there was a right would effectively create a sound recording performance right greater than that which has ever been recognized in the US – far broader than the limited right granted under Federal law to cover digital performances of sound recordings. The Court went on to conclude that other claims raised by Flo & Eddie were similarly unavailing. The Court found that any reproductions made in the transmission process by Sirius XM (the defendant in the case) were not entitled to composition as they were transitory and made only for purposes of the transmission, not for public consumption (and as Florida law specifically permitted limited reproductions by radio broadcasters and the Court considered Sirius to fit that definition). And, as there was no violation of any rights of the plaintiffs, the use of the recordings could not constitute unfair competition or conversion.

This case reached the Florida Supreme Court when it was certified by the United State Court of Appeals which was reviewing a District Court decision reaching the same conclusion as did the Florida Supreme Court – that there was no performance right under state law for pre-1972 sound recordings (see our summary of the District Court decision here). The Supreme Court’s decision in Florida is similar to that reached by the Court of Appeals in New York (the state’s highest court), about which we wrote here, determining that there was no NY state law public performance right in pre-1972 sound recordings. As we’ve written many times, pre-1972 recordings are not governed by Federal law, which was only extended to cover reproduction rights in sound recordings in that year, leaving all pre-1972 rights in sound recordings with the states. Georgia and Illinois have reached similar decisions in slightly different cases (see our article here on the Georgia decision). In California, where a District Court found a public performance right in pre-1972 sound recordings, we are awaiting word from its Supreme Court as to whether such rights exist in that state (see our article here on the certification of this question to the California Supreme Court). Continue Reading

November FCC Meeting to be an Important One for Broadcasters – FCC Releases Draft Orders on ATSC 3.0 and Ownership Rule Revisions

Posted in Digital Television, Multiple Ownership Rules, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

Yesterday, we previewed the FCC’s likely decision to significantly change its ownership rules for television owners – proposing to take actions including allowing TV duopolies in markets with fewer than 8 independent TV voices after the combination, allowing some combination of the Top 4 TV stations in certain markets, repealing the radio-TV cross-ownership rules, and repealing the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership prohibitions. The FCC has now released the draft of the order to be considered at its meeting next month. It is available here.

Also on the tentative agenda (here) for the November meeting is the approval of the new standard for broadcast television – ATSC 3.0. The draft order would allow a voluntary transition to the new standard, with those TV stations that decide to convert being required to find a partner station in most cases so that viewers will be able to see the 3.0 station’s primary programming in the current ATSC 1.0 standard for at least 5 years. LPTV and TV translators would be exempt from this partnering obligation. The draft order is available here. We will provide more details on that draft order in the near future.

These items will be voted on by the Commission on November 16. They are controversial, so expect to see much debate on these items between now and the November meeting, and probably at the meeting itself.