Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

What Does an FCC Designation for Hearing Mean?

Posted in Assignments and Transfers, Multiple Ownership Rules, Public Interest Obligations/Localism

In light of yesterday’s announcement that the FCC Chairman has proposed that portions of the acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group of the television stations owned by Tribune Media would be designated for hearing, one question that many have asked is, “What does designation for hearing mean?”  Several decades ago, the process of designating an application for hearing was a common occurrence – used by the FCC to decide between competing applicants for new broadcast (and in some cases non-broadcast) licenses, in connection with determinations of whether or not to grant the license renewal of broadcast stations where substantive petitions or competing applications were filed against such applications, or to deal with enforcement issues when there were questions about the facts of a particular situation.  The FCC had a large staff of Administrative Law Judges who heard these cases, and they were usually quite busy.  But as the staff of ALJs at the FCC has dwindled to one, and as cases referred to that Judge are increasingly infrequent, it might be worth discussing a bit about the hearing process at the FCC.

Congress established, in Sections 309 and 310(d) of the Communications Act, the manner in which the FCC is to process applications filed with it.  In cases involving applications for new stations or for the purchase and sale of stations, applications are filed providing information required by the FCC and such supplemental information as the FCC may request.  Interested parties routinely have 30 days in which to file objections to applications, in which the petitioner needs to submit detailed allegations supported by facts either in the public record or otherwise supported by statements from those with personal knowledge of the facts, arguing why an application should not be granted.  Applicants have the opportunity to respond.  In most cases, the FCC will attempt to resolve any disputes, or any questions that it has on its own, on the basis of the written materials presented in the application, the petitions, and in response to any FCC supplemental request for information.  But Section 309(e) makes clear that, if there is a “substantial and material question of fact” or if the Commission is otherwise not able to determine that an application meets the requirements of the rules, it needs to formally designate the application for hearing. Continue Reading

A Big Day at the FCC – Kids TV, EAS and C Band Proposals, Incubator and LPTV/FM Repacking Reimbursement Drafts, FM Translator Reconsideration, and NJ TV License Renewal Decision

Posted in Children's Programming and Advertising, Emergency Communications, FM Translators and LPFM, General FCC, License Renewal, Multiple Ownership Rules, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism

There was lots of news out of the FCC yesterday that will give us issues to write about for weeks to come. Here are some highlights. At its open meeting, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on potentially reforming the children’s television rules – including a review as to whether the current requirement that regularly scheduled programs of 30 minutes in length are the only means to meet the obligation to broadcast 3 hours of educational and informational children’s programming each week for each stream of free over-the-air programming broadcast by a station without facing heightened FCC scrutiny. The rulemaking will also look at whether all kid’s programming obligations could be met by broadcasts on a single multicast stream or through other efforts. The FCC Press Release on the action is here, and and the text of the notice is here.

On EAS, the FCC took actions to strengthen the reliability of the EAS system by allowing real EAS tones to be used in PSAs to promote the system, subject to certain safeguards, and to allow for testing of the EAS system using “live codes” with appropriate warnings and disclaimers. The order also requires the reporting of false emergency messages that may be sent out. The FCC Press Release on that item is here, and we will post a link to the full text when it is available. Continue Reading

Comments Due August 13 on Inquiry on Class C4 FM Stations and FM Short-Spaced Stations

Posted in FM Radio

Comment dates have now been set on the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry seeking comments on the creation of a new Class of FM stations – C4 (proposed to operate at maximum power of 12 kw, midway between 6 kw Class A stations and 25 kw Class C3 stations) – and on proposals to change the rules on Section 73.215 FM short-spaced stations (those located at less than the full required mileage separations from co- and adjacent channel stations – proposing to require protection of other stations only to their actual, not potential maximum, facilities). We wrote more about the questions raised in that proceeding here. The FCC Notice of Inquiry was published in the Federal Register today. Comments are due by August 13, with reply comments due by September 10. The FCC will take the comments that are filed, consider them, and decide whether or not to move forward to propose specific rules on either of these issues. If you are interested in these issues, file your comments by the deadline set in today’s notice, and watch for further actions in this proceeding.

FCC Application Fees Going Up

Posted in FCC Fees

The FCC yesterday released an Order announcing its adjustments to its application fees for commercial broadcasters and other FCC licensees. The fee schedule reflects a 3.7% cost of living increase in the processing fees that are paid when broadcasters file an application with the FCC. Fees for broadcast applications can be found starting at page 27 of the PDF containing the Order. The increases are modest – for example, the fees for a minor change, an assignment, or a transfer application increase from $1070 for to $1110 per station. These new fees will be effective 30 days after this Order is published in the Federal Register. So, if you are planning an FCC application that will be filed a few months from now, pay attention to the effective date of the new fee schedule to avoid having your application bounced for paying an incorrect fee.

FCC Requires Updating By Broadcasters of EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) Form One By August 27

Posted in AM Radio, Emergency Communications, FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM, Low Power Television/Class A TV, Television

The FCC recently released a Public Notice reminding all EAS participants that they need to file ETRS Form One by August 27, 2018. This form needs to be filed by all radio and TV stations, including LPFM and LPTV stations (unless those LPTV stations simply act as a translator for another station). While the FCC has not announced another nationwide EAS test for this year, the FCC still requires that the form be updated on a yearly basis – with a separate Form One being filed for each encoder, decoder, or combined unit used by any station or cluster.

The Public Notice provides information about where to file the form, and also links to this help page on the FCC website that provides information about completing the form. These Frequently Asked Questions are also helpful. They note the information that needs to be submitted in the ETRS form, including the geographic coordinates of the station (with latitude and longitude in NAD83), and various information about the station’s “designation”, monitoring assignments and “geographic zone” – all information that should be set out in the state EAS plan for the state in which the station is located. As it may take some time to locate all of the required information to make sure that any station’s Form One is current and accurate, stations should not delay in beginning to work on this form.

Reminder – Quarterly Issues Programs Lists Must Be Placed In Public File Today

Posted in FCC Fines, License Renewal, Public Interest Obligations/Localism

Last week, in our calendar of regulatory dates for broadcasters in July, we reminded broadcasters that their Quarterly Issues Programs lists needed to be placed in their public file by today, July 10. This quarterly requirement has been in place for over 30 years, but is still an obligation whose breach has led to more fines in connection with license renewals and FCC inspections than perhaps any other. As the license renewal cycle beings for radio again next June with the filing of renewals by radio stations in 3 states and the District of Columbia, and the renewal cycle begins for TV in 2020, these lists will again be subject to scrutiny by the FCC and other interested parties. With all of these lists now required to be in each full-power station’s online public inspection file, they will also be far easier to check than ever before. We wrote about the importance of these lists here, and urge every broadcaster to make sure that the lists for the past quarter are posted to your online public file by the end of the day today – and that you take seriously your obligation to report in these lists how your stations have addressed in your programming the issues of importance to the communities that you serve.

FCC Lifts Freeze on LPTV and TV Translator Minor Change Applications

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

Last week, the FCC issued a Public Notice announcing that it was lifting the freeze on minor changes for LPTV and TV translator stations – a freeze that had been in place while the displacement window for stations displaced by the TV incentive auction was taking place (see our articles here and here on that displacement window for LPTV and TV translator stations). Now, with the lifting of the freeze, minor change applications for these stations can be filed. This would allow for applications for changes in these stations, like transmitter site modifications, as long as the proposed facilities protect existing full-power, LPTV and TV translator stations, and applications filed during the displacement window.

July Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and Children’s Television Reports, EAS Reform, LPFM and FM Translators, C Band Earth Stations and More

Posted in Children's Programming and Advertising, Emergency Communications, FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM, General FCC, License Renewal, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

July brings the obligation for each full-power broadcaster to add a new Quarterly Issues Programs List to their online public inspection file. These reports, summarizing the issues facing each station’s community of license in the prior three months and the programs broadcast by the station to address those issues, must be added to the public file by July 10. As we wrote here, these reports are very important – as they are the only documents legally required by the FCC to show how a station served the public interest. With the online file, these reports can be reviewed by anyone with an Internet connection at any time, which could be particularly concerning for any station that does not meet the filing deadline, especially with license renewals beginning again next year.

Also to be filed with the FCC by July 10, by full-power and Class A TV stations, are Quarterly Children’s Television Reports. While the FCC announced last week that it will be considering a rulemaking proposal at its July meeting to potentially change the rules (see its proposed Notice of Proposed Rulemaking here), for now the requirements remain in place obligating each station to broadcast 3 weekly hours of programming designed to meet the educational and informational needs of children for each free program stream transmitted by the station. Also, certifications need to be included in each station’s online public file demonstrating that the station has complied with the rules limiting the amount of commercialization during children’s television programs. Continue Reading

69 Radio Stations Receive FCC EEO Audit Letter

Posted in EEO Compliance/Diversity

The FCC this week announced its next EEO audit – one limited to only 69 radio stations. No television stations or cable systems were included in the audit notice. The Notice is available here, and list of stations involved is here. Responses to the audit are due August 6. Unlike the last audit (about which we wrote here), the responses will be sent to the FCC’s EEO division, not posted solely on the station’s online public file. Stations, of course, still have the obligation to post their response on the online public file, but they also have to submit the audit to the FCC.

If any station in your cluster is on the list of audited stations, all stations in that “station employment unit” (a group of commonly owned stations serving the same area with at least one common employee) must respond. If that cluster has 5 or more full-time employees, it must observe the FCC’s EEO requirements and respond to this audit, providing significant information about its hiring in the last two years.  Stations with fewer than 5 employees need provide only limited information about the positions of its employees and whether the station has been subject to any federal or state EEO complaints or legal actions. If a station that is being audited is involved in an LMA or time brokerage agreement with another broadcaster, the audit may require that the broker provide employment information as well as the licensee.  There are some exceptions where stations can be excused from the audit if they were recently renewed or audited. Continue Reading

NAB Asks For Changes in FCC Local Radio Ownership Rules – What’s Next?

Posted in AM Radio, FM Radio, Multiple Ownership Rules

The National Association of Broadcasters radio board last week voted on a proposal to revise the FCC rules limiting the number of stations that one company can own in a radio market. This proposal was forwarded to the FCC for consideration in the next Quadrennial Review of the FCC’s ownership rules, scheduled to commence at some point later this year, in a letter delivered to the FCC’s Chief of the Media Division. The NAB suggests that one party should be able to own up to 8 FM stations in any of the Top 75 Nielsen radio markets. It proposes that there should be no FCC ownership limits in markets smaller than the Top 75, and that AMs do not need to be counted against the ownership limits. Owners who incubate the ownership of stations by new entrants into broadcasting would be allowed to own up to two additional FM stations in a market. Why would the NAB take this position?

The letter sets forth many of the same issues that we cited in our article on radio ownership here. Competition is significantly different than it was in 1996, when the current rules setting limits at 8 stations in a market (only 5 of which can be AM or FM) in the largest markets, and in the smallest markets, only two stations (one AM and one FM). As we wrote in our April article, competition for listening like Pandora, Spotify or even YouTube did not exist in 1996 (not arriving on the scene for another decade). Changes in competition for local advertising has been even more dramatic, with some sources showing that over 50% of local advertising revenue (the bread and butter of local radio) is now going to digital competitors – with Facebook, Google, and even the digital music services selling advertising to local advertisers throughout the country, even in the smaller markets. Continue Reading