The beginning of a calendar quarter always brings numerous regulatory obligations, and October is one of those months with a particularly full set of obligations. All full-power broadcasters, commercial and noncommercial, must complete their Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and place these reports into their public inspection files by October 10. These reports are the FCC’s only official record of how a station served its community. They document the broadcaster’s assessment of the most important issues facing their communities, and the programming that they have broadcast to address those issues. Failing to complete these reports was the biggest source of fines during the last license renewal cycle – with fines of $10,000 or more common for stations missing numerous reports during the license renewal term (see, for example, our articles here, here and here). With the public inspection file for all TV stations now being online and the public file of large radio groups in major markets also already converted to being online, the timeliness of the completion of these reports and their inclusion in the public file can now be assessed by the FCC and anyone else who wants to complain about a station’s regulatory compliance (as documents added to the public file are date stamped as to their inclusion, and the FCC has used this stamp to assess station’s compliance in other areas, see our post here). All other radio stations will be converting to the online file by March 1, 2018 and will need to upload this quarter’s reports into the file by that date (along with all others back to your last license renewal, see our post here), meaning the reports they complete this quarter too can be scrutinized from afar. Thus, be sure that you complete this important requirement.
TV stations have the additional quarterly obligation of filing with the FCC by October 10 their Quarterly Children’s Television Reports, Form 398. These reports detail the educational and informational programming directed to children that the station broadcast in the prior quarter. These reports are used to assess the station’s compliance with the current obligation to broadcast at least 3 hours per channel of programming addressing the educational and informational needs of children aged 16 or younger. Late-filed Children’s Television Reports, too, were the source of many fines for TV broadcasters in the last renewal cycle (see, for instance, our articles here and here), so don’t forget this obligation and don’t be late in making the required filings. At the same time, TV stations should also include in their public file documentation showing that they have complied with the limitations on commercialization during children’s programming directed to children 12 and under.
EEO obligations also arise for stations in a number of states. On October 1, radio and TV station employment groups which have stations located in certain states and have 5 or more full-time employees (at least 30 hours per week) need to place in their public inspection file their Annual EEO Public Inspection File Report. This report documents the employment group’s hiring in the prior year, the recruitment sources they used to attract applicants, and the supplemental efforts they took (whether or not they had any employment vacancies) to educate the community about broadcast employment opportunities and qualifications and the other efforts they undertook to train existing employees about EEO requirements and to qualify them for better positions within the broadcast industry. Even though the FCC outreach efforts for job openings have recently been lessened to allow for recruiting to be done solely through online sources (see our post here), the other EEO obligations remain in place (see our post here). Thus, stations in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees should have placed in their public file their Annual EEO Public Inspection File Report by October 1. For those stations with an online public file, that means that the report has been uploaded to the online public file where it can be reviewed by anyone, anywhere (and all other stations will eventually need to include this EEO Public file reports in their online public file by March 1, as all EEO Public File Reports back to the last license renewal must be uploaded to the file). Stations with websites must also include a link to the latest EEO Public File Report on the homepage of their website.
For certain TV stations with 5 or more full-time employees, and certain radio stations with 11 or more full-time employees, October 2 brings the deadline to file their EEO Mid-Term Report, FCC Form 397 (about which we wrote here). That reports provides the FCC with the last two EEO Public File Reports, and certain information about who administers the EEO plan for the station and EEO complaints filed against the station. Radio Station Employment Units with 11 or more full-time employees in Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington and Television Employment Units with five or more full-time employees in Iowa and Missouri must file these reports by October 2.
Full-power and Class A TV Stations repacked by the incentive auction have a new obligation that is coming up –the obligation to file by October 10 a Repacking Transition Progress Report, informing the FCC of steps that they have taken to implement the requirement to change in channels ordered by the FCC. We wrote about that obligation here. That filing obligation comes while the window is open for many of these same TV stations to file construction permits for improved facilities on the channels to which they have been assigned, or to seek alternative channels. The filing window ends on November 2. We wrote about that window here.
As in any other month, there are numerous other regulatory obligations that are ongoing, or particular to an individual station. As we wrote here, AM radio operators who filed for new FM translators in the recent window and found that their applications were in conflict with another applicant have an opportunity to resolve their mutual exclusivity through technical changes or settlements. Broadcasters will also be watching the FCC for the release of other decisions dealing with pending matters including reconsideration petitions on the FCC’s ownership rules (see our posts here, here and here), the elimination of the main studio rule (see our posts here and here), the adoption of ATSC 3.0 (see our post here), and potentially other areas for “modernization” under the FCC’s Modernization of Media Regulation initiative. So make sure that you are keeping your eyes open for regulatory developments that affect your operations.