May is one of those months where there are no routine, recurring FCC regulatory filing deadlines – no EEO reports or Quarterly Issues Programs lists, no Children’s Television Programming Reports or noncommercial station ownership report deadlines. But, as with any month, that does not mean that there are no dates of concern for broadcasters – as there are certain compliance deadlines and other important dates of which broadcasters need to be aware in the upcoming month. Here is our summary of some of the dates that broadcasters should be watching in the upcoming month.
The only thing approaching a routine regulatory date of note is the obligation of TV stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania to air the third and fourth of their required six post-filing announcements of the filing of their renewal applications – the last of the renewal applications for either radio or TV that were filed in this renewal cycle. The next routine license renewal filing window will be when radio renewals being again in June of 2019 – with the filing of radio license renewals by stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and DC. However, as we have written before, EEO Mid-Term reports are due from larger radio station groups in these 3 states and in DC on June 1 of this year. So radio station employment units (commonly controlled station groups serving the same area and having at least one common employee) with 11 or more full-time (30 hours per week) employees should be preparing to file those reports on FCC Form 397 by June 1.Another compliance deadline on the calendar is the requirement that, by May 26, TV stations be ready to use their secondary audio channels (often referred to as SAP channels) to aurally convey emergency information that is conveyed visually on the TV screen outside of a newscast. This would require that TV stations be able to convert crawls and other textual information about emergency conditions that run during entertainment programming into speech, and to broadcast that speech on a SAP channel (thus requiring that all TV stations have SAP channels). As we wrote here, the NAB (as well as the cable industry, which is also subject to this obligation) has filed an extension request – the NAB asking that the compliance deadline be extended to the end of this year, as the technology to do the text-to-speech conversion is only just becoming available. That extension request has not yet been granted – so TV stations should be watching the FCC for information as to whether that deadline will hold.
There are other May deadlines of note. For radio, short-form applications for parties interested in participating in the next auction of new FM channels are due by May 28. Broadcasters interested in a new radio station in any of the approximately 130 communities listed in the auction notice can find more about the auction, and links to the FCC rules on participation and the list of available channels, in our article here.
TV incentive auction preparation marches on, with a number of announced regional information sessions hosted by the FCC for TV broadcasters – where broadcasters can attend the session, learn about the considerations that they should be weighing about their participation, and even have one-on-one sessions with the FCC to talk about specifics of their own stations. Information about the May sessions scheduled so far can be found in our article here.
Another aspect of the incentive auction is the upcoming deadline for the digital conversion by Class A TV stations. To be protected in the repacking of the TV spectrum after the incentive auction, or to be eligible to participate in the auction, any TV station must have any authorized facilities built by May 29. Few full-power TV stations have unbuilt facilities that are eligible for protection, because there has been a freeze on the filing of TV construction permit applications. However, Class A TV stations that are not operating digitally will not be protected in the repacking, nor will they be eligible to participate in the incentive auction, unless they convert to digital and file a license application by May 29. See our article here for more information.
The FCC is also seeking comments from TV broadcasters on modifications of the rules that govern TV market modifications for purposes of must-carry and related program carriage rules. The modification proceeding is part of the STELAR Act passed by Congress earlier this year (see our article here). The proposals would extend the market modification process to satellite, and for both cable and satellite, would look at issues of “orphan counties” – counties that are part of a DMA that has no TV stations from the state in which the county is located. The notice asks whether the rules should be changed to make it easier for these counties to be included for cable and satellite carriage purposes in the markets of in-state stations. The FCC proposals, as published in the Federal Register, are here. Comments are due May 13, and replies on May 28.
June brings a return to a number of regular monthly filing deadlines, as well as an obligation for stations, by June 4, to be in compliance with the newest generation of CALM Act compliance equipment. So the regulatory obligations and opportunities never stop – stay on top of them!
Updated – 4/30/2015, 6:40 PM to add paragraph about Class A digital conversions.