October is one of those months where the regulatory stars align, when not only do broadcasters in many states have EEO Public File report obligations, but also Quarterly Issues Programs Lists need to be placed in the public files of all commercial and noncommercial stations, and Quarterly Children’s Television Reports need to be filed at the FCC and placed in the public files of television stations. On top of these routine obligations, there are a number of actions likely to be taken by the FCC that may affect many segments of the broadcast industry. So let’s look at some of the specifics.
First, by October 1, EEO public file reports should be placed in the public file of stations with 5 or more full-time employees, if those stations are located in the following states and territories: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. In addition to those obligations, radio stations that are part of employment units with 11 or more full-time employees and are located in the states of Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands must prepare and file with the FCC EEO Mid-Term Reports on FCC Form 397, submitting specifics of their employment practices in the last two years (through the submission of their Public File reports) as well as some additional information. The Mid-Term report for those stations are due by October 1. More information about these EEO obligations can be found in our article here.
In addition to the EEO obligations, by October 10, all stations, commercial and noncommercial (with the limited exception of certain noncommercial stations which solely broadcast instructional programming), radio and TV, need to prepare and place into their public file Quarterly Issues Programs lists setting out the issues of importance to their community in the last calendar quarter and the programming that they broadcast to address those issues. The failure to regularly complete these lists and add them to the public file in a timely fashion was the cause of more fines in the last license renewal cycle than any other single violation. So get these Quarterly Reports done and in the file by October 10 to avoid having issues during the next renewal cycle.
Similarly, commercial TV stations need to place into their public file by October 10 documentation that shows that they have complied with the limits on commercialization during children’s television programs. By October 13 (delayed from October 10 given the Columbus Day Federal Holiday weekend), television stations also need to submit to the their FCC Form 398 Children’s Television Reports, listing the educational and informational programs that they broadcast directed to children to meet the station’s obligation to run 3 weekly hours of “core” educational and informational programming.
In addition to these obligations Noncommercial Television Stations in Iowa and Missouri; and Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands have to complete and file with the FCC their Biennial Ownership Reports on Form 323-E. As noncommercial broadcasters have not yet been incorporated into the otherwise global Biennial Ownership Report filing obligations, the deadline for noncommercial biennial reports for these stations are still determined on a state-by-state basis. All commercial stations, including LPTV stations need to be considering their Biennial Ownership Reports, too, as they are due to be filed by December 2 of this year (see our article here) using ownership information as of October 1. So, once the October 1 snapshot date passes, commercial stations are free to file their Biennial Reports.
In other likely regulatory actions for October, the Incentive Auction again dominates. There are comments due on October 30 on the FCC’s proposal to set aside one commercial television channel in each TV market to be used for wireless communications after the end of the incentive auction and the repacking of TV stations into a smaller TV band. That set-aside channel would be used for communications by unlicensed wireless users (e.g. wi-fi and other low power wireless devices). TV broadcasters, especially LPTV and TV translator advocates, have opposed that proposal as it would give these secondary TV stations one fewer channel on which they could relocate should they be displaced by full-power and Class A TV stations by the repacking following the incentive auction.
Also, the FCC is supposed to be releasing, probably later in October, a Public Notice setting out detailed procedures for the conduct of the incentive auction and the filing of initial applications by each TV station stating their intent as to whether or not they would accept the initial FCC offer to surrender their operating channel in exchange for cash consideration. The announcement of the amounts of those initial offers to stations is also expected this month. See the slides from our recent presentation on the incentive auction, which you can find through the link in our article here.
The FCC commissioners also have a full plate of other broadcast actions circulating before them, including their determinations as to whether or not to abolish the network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity rules (on which there have been many conflicting blogs posts recently released – by the FCC Media Bureau chief saying this abolition is a good idea, here, and by the NAB disputing that claim and noting that the public is not in any way benefitted by this action, here). AM revitalization, looking at fixes that can be implemented to help struggling AM stations, is also on circulation to be voted on by the Commissioners – the big hold up, as we wrote here, being the question of whether or not to open an FM translator window reserved for AM licensees.
Obviously, there is plenty going on this month, and as always, there are bound to be surprise actions about which the broadcaster should take notice. So pay attention to the regulatory winds of Washington in the upcoming month.