Once upon a time, August was a quiet month in Washington, when everyone went on vacation. Sure, there are plenty of vacations that will happen this coming month, but it seems that regulatory activity no longer takes a break. For example, August 1 is the due date for the filing with the FCC of license renewals for all radio stations (including translators and LPFM stations) in North and South Carolina, and the filing of associated EEO forms for all full power radio stations in those states. With the renewal filing comes the obligation that these stations start airing, on August 1 and August 16, their post-filing announcements informing the public about the submission of the license renewal applications. Radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, who filed their renewals on or before June 2, also need to keep running their post-filing announcements on these same dates. Radio stations in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, who are in the next license renewal group with their renewal applications to be filed by October 1, need to start broadcasting their pre-filing announcements this month, also to run on the 1st and 16th of the month. See our post here on pre-filing announcements.
Commercial and noncommercial full power and Class A Television Stations and AM and FM radio stations in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin that are part of an employment unit with five or more full-time employees must place their annual EEO public inspection file reports in their online public file. Links to those reports should also be placed on the home pages of these station’s websites, if they have a website. The effectiveness of these EEO public file reports, and the EEO programs of which they are a part, are being reviewed by the FCC in a proceeding started by a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking about which we wrote here. Comments on this notice asking for suggestions about how to make the EEO rules more effective are due August 21, with reply comments due by September 5.
August 1 is also the date for the next FCC open meeting, where the FCC will consider a rulemaking on changes to certain LPFM rules. The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking also proposes to phase out protections to Channel 6 TV stations from all FM stations, including LPFMs, that operate on the noncommercial portion of the FM band. The FCC thinks that TV digital operations have lessened the need for the protections to be afforded the Channel 6 TV stations from FM stations operating in the adjacent noncommercial FM band. We will write more about this proceeding assuming the FCC adopts the NPRM later this week as expected.
August 7 brings the next Nationwide Test of the EAS system. This test will concentrate on the “daisy chain” system used by broadcasters to relay alerts from one station to another across the country (see our post here). Thus, broadcasters’ performance will be under close scrutiny. Be sure that your system is working, and that you file the post-test ETRS Form 2 on August 7, reporting on whether or not your station successfully received and relayed the test message.
August 9 is the date for filing comments on the Department of Justice’s inquiry into whether changes should be made in the antitrust consent decrees that govern the operations of ASCAP and BMI. We wrote about that proceeding here. It is important to broadcasters because the consent decrees require these performing rights organizations to treat all broadcasters in the same manner, and to impose rates that are reasonable (and provide for court review if ASCAP or BMI cannot come to an agreement with broadcast groups as to whether their rates are reasonable). This is an important proceeding that could have significant financial ramifications on the broadcast industry.
Parts of the FCC’s new FM translator interference resolution process, including allowing translators to change to any available channel to resolve an interference complaint, will take effect on August 13. Other portions of the new rules (including the requirement that complaints about interference come from inside a full-power station’s 45 dbu contour and setting out the minimum number of complaints needed to sustain an interference complaint, require prior approval from the Office of Management and Budget before they can take effect.
Later in the month, we would also expect that the FCC will release its final decision on annual regulatory fees to be paid by broadcasters and all other FCC-regulated entities. As we wrote last month, the fees that the FCC initially proposed are being challenged by broadcasters as the proposed radio fees would increase significantly this year without evident explanation. This year TV regulatory fees are moving to a population coverage-based fee, instead of one based on the DMA in which the station operates. That has resulted in some stations’ proposed fees – especially some VHF stations in major markets – to significantly increase. We will be looking for this fee decision soon, as the fees need to be paid in September, before the October 1 start of the next government fiscal year.
As always, these are just some highlights of the regulatory issues that broadcasters will be looking at this month. Check with your own counsel or legal adviser to make sure that we have not omitted any dates that could be important to your operations this month.