We are already a full month into the New Year, and the regulatory issues for broadcasters keep on coming. February brings the usual requirements for Annual EEO Public File Reports, which should be placed into the public inspection files (those public files being online for TV stations, big clusters of radio stations in Top 50 markets, and for those other radio stations that have converted to the online public file in anticipation of next month’s deadline) of stations in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees. Radio stations with 11 or more full-time employees in New Jersey and New York also must file with the FCC a Mid-Term EEO Report on Form 397 by the end of the day today. TV stations with 5 or more full-time employees in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma also must file the Mid-Term Report.
As noted above, March 1 brings the deadline for all radio stations to convert to the online public file hosted by the FCC (see our article here for more details about this requirement). For those radio stations that have not yet completed their conversion, February is the month to be uploading those documents. As the FCC automatically uploads most of the applications and other FCC filings that need to be in the public file, the documents that will likely take the most time for the broadcaster to upload are Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and Annual EEO Public File Reports, documents not filed with the FCC on a regular basis. We have already heard reports that the FCC’s public file system is running slow at certain times of the day, probably because of the strain of so many people uploading documents. We expect that these issues will only get worse as the March 1 deadline approaches. So, if you are a procrastinator, get on this now, as time is getting short.
March 2 is also the deadline for the filing of Biennial Ownership Reports for all radio and TV operators, commercial and noncommercial. As we wrote here, this is a deadline that was delayed from December 1, as the FCC has introduced a new Ownership Report form in the new LMS electronic filing database. While this database provides more functionality than the FCC’s old CDBS, it does take some getting used to. So stations need to be using February to complete these reports before the March 2 deadline.
February will may also signal some big changes in broadcast ownership, as the FCC’s revised ownership rules, which, among other things, allow newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership and allow TV duopolies in markets where there are fewer than 8 independent operators, go into effect on February 7 (see our article here), unless their effect is put on hold by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, as requested by some public interest groups (see our article here). Also, initial comments on the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to determine if the FCC can and should change the 39% national cap on television station ownership are due on February 26 (see our article here).
February also brings comment deadlines on the rules for two translator auctions scheduled to be held later this year. First, as we wrote here, the FCC is planning an auction to determine which mutually exclusive translator applicants will receive construction permits for new translators – selecting among mutually exclusive applications filed in 2003. Comments on the auction procedures for this auction are due on February 6. Yesterday, the FCC also released proposed auction procedures for auctions among mutually exclusive applications filed this past summer for FM translators to rebroadcast AM stations. This auction is among those applicants that did not reach a settlement in November’s settlement window (see our article here). Comments on these procedures are due by February 13.
Comments on unresolved issues in the conversion of television stations to the new ATSC 3.0 standard are also due this month – on February 20 (see our article here). Many of the unresolved issues deal with questions about how the conversion will be handled by stations that cannot find a suitable partner to act as a “lighthouse” station, continuing to operate in the current broadcast standard and rebroadcasting the converted station’s signal to those viewers not yet equipped to receive the new transmission standard.
So, while February is a short month, these highlights indicate just how many issues are on the table to be dealt with immediately. As in any month, there are no doubt many other issues that we have not mentioned, and many issues that may affect only individual stations. So consult with your attorneys and advisors to stay on top of whatever regulatory obligation that you may have this month.