March is one of those unusual months in the broadcast regulatory cycle, where there are no routine EEO public file obligations, and no quarterly filing obligations or other regularly scheduled regulatory deadlines. That means that my tardiness in publishing this article before the start of the month did not miss anything important. But, starting next month, there will be a whole new set of deadlines about which broadcasters need to be concerned, as April 1 is when the first pre-filing announcements for broadcast license renewals will begin, signaling the start of the 3-year long radio renewal cycle. The 3-year TV license renewal cycle will begin at the same time next year.
Radio broadcasters in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia will be the first to file their renewal applications – and they will need to start running their “pre-filing” notices on their radio stations beginning on April 1, in anticipation of a June renewal filing (renewal applications to be filed no later than June 3, as June 1 is a Saturday). The FCC has posted a helpful guide to the times that these notices need to run, and a model for the text of these notices, here (although the model text is now outdated, in that it does not acknowledge that stations now have online public files; the FCC has a pending proceeding to modify these public notices that one would hope would be resolved soon – see our articles here and here for details). Stations in the Carolinas begin their pre-filing announcements two months later, with stations in other states to follow at 2-month intervals after that. The schedule for renewals is on the FCC website here, and the pre-filing announcements begin two months before the renewal-filing deadline.
The upcoming renewal deadlines should also remind broadcasters of the importance of maintaining their public inspection files. As we wrote here, as that file is now online, the FCC will review the contents of the file in connection with the renewal, and likely will penalize stations that have not been timely with their uploads to the online file, or that make certifications in their renewal application that are inconsistent with the information in the public file. Quarterly Issues Programs lists, as we wrote here, are particularly important, as they demonstrate how a station has served the needs and interests of its community. On April 10, the next set of Quarterly Issues Programs lists will be due in the public file, so stations should be spending this month getting ready to upload them in April.
But March is not totally without deadlines and regulatory dates of interest. Comments are due in the FCC proceeding to review the ratings for TV programs to assess whether they provide adequate information to allow parents to assess a program’s suitability for children, and whether the administrator for that ratings system has done an adequate job in responding to suggestions and comments on the ratings system to make sure that they remain up to date. As we wrote here in summarizing this proceeding, comments are due March 12, with reply comments due a week later, on March 19.
Comments are due on March 18 on the joint proposal from the NAB and NCTA to set standard procedures for broadcast stations to give notice to cable systems about their retransmission consent elections. The FCC Public Notice on the request for comments is available here. Reply comments in that proceeding are due on March 26.
As we wrote here, the March FCC meeting, to be held on March 15, also contains two issues of importance to broadcasters. One is an item to simplify the sale of full-power TV stations that are considered to be satellites of other full-power TV stations. The other item, which probably has wider importance, is the FCC’s proposed rules for the reimbursement of LPTV stations, TV translators, and FM stations which were affected by the repacking of the TV band following the incentive auction.
Other deadlines to keep in mind include the expiration of the current interim license between GMR and radio operators while the litigation over whether GMR should be subject to antitrust rules goes on. See our post here for more details. The latest FCC EEO audit also has an April 1 response deadline, for stations caught up in that review. See our article here.
For a month with few routine regulatory deadlines, it turns out that March is pretty busy. As always, consult with your own counsel for other deadlines that we may not have included in these highlights, and or anything that is applicable to your own operations. And consult our Broadcasters’ Calendar for other regulatory dates of importance for 2019.