When a broadcaster files certain types of applications with the FCC, the public must be informed. Last week, the FCC issued an Order which will change the rules regarding the public notice that must be given – consolidating what was a confusing process with different language and timing for notice about different types of applications into one providing standardized disclosures and scheduling for all public notices. The decision (once it becomes effective) will eliminate obligations for the newspaper publication that was required for some public notices and also ended the obligation of broadcasters to give a “pre-filing public notice” before the submission of a license renewal application. It will also require the inclusion of an “FCC Applications” link on the homepage of each commercial station’s website, whether or not they have any applications pending. Let’s look at some of the changes adopted in last week’s Order.
First, the FCC did not change the requirements as to what applications require notice to the public. Public notice is required for applications for new stations and major technical changes, for assignments (sales) or transfers of station licenses (except for pro forma changes where there is no real change in control over the station), for license renewal applications, minor change technical applications that involve a city-of-license change, and certain applications involving international broadcast stations or the export of programming to foreign stations to be rebroadcast back into the US. Notice of designation for hearing of any application is also required. We will concentrate here on the more common applications for changes to US stations, sale and license renewals.
For commercial broadcasters, the FCC abolished all requirements for the publication of public notices in a local newspaper. Instead, broadcasters are required to place a link to “FCC Applications” on the homepage of their website or, if the station does not have a website, on the website of a parent or affiliated company, or if they do not have such a site, on some publicly accessible site (like a community bulletin board, local newspaper site, or that of a state broadcast association). That link must connect another webpage on which the specific text that the FCC has now provided is displayed – stating when an application was filed, the name of the applicant, the type of application, and providing a link to the application itself in the FCC’s database. That link on the homepage for FCC Applications needs to be on the site of all commercial stations whether or not they have applications pending. If at any time the station has no applications pending, they need to note that fact on the page to which the link takes a website viewer, with a date as to when that notice was last updated.
The written public notice needs to be on the site within 5 days of the FCC’s acceptance for filing of an application. An application is “accepted for filing” when the FCC itself issues a public notice which starts the clock running for petitions to deny an application. The notice must be maintained on the website for 30 days. Broadcasters are encouraged to maintain a screenshot or other proof of this publication in case someone ever challenges whether proper notice was given.
Operating noncommercial stations are not required to provide this written public notice. Instead, they can instead rely simply on broadcast public notice.
All operating stations, commercial and noncommercial, must also broadcast notice about the filing of applications. Here, too, the FCC standardized the language of the required public notice. It also standardized the timing for these notices – requiring that they be run 6 times, on 6 different days, at least one each week in the 30-day period following the acceptance for filing of the application. The public notice can be run anytime between 7 AM and 11 PM local time. TV stations must give the public notice both by reading the required text and by providing it visually on the screen (not in a crawl). Once completed, specifics as to the dates and times of the required public notice must be placed in the station’s online public file. If a station is multicasting, the notice must be provided only on the primary channel of the station.
The FCC also eliminated the pre-filing announcements that had been required for the two months preceding the filing of a license renewal application. In a separate Order, the FCC made this change effective immediately, even though the rest of the order will be effective at a later date. As the FCC already waived pre-filing announcements in connection with accommodations made during the current pandemic (see our post here), the FCC deemed it unnecessary to restart those announcements when they will just end again when the new order becomes effective. Post-filing announcements are still required, though once the new rules are effective, they will be given on the new schedule adopted for all applications in the order.
Special rules were adopted for silent stations, for new stations, and for some less common applications and events (like the designation for hearing of an application). Broadcasters should carefully review the details of all the changes that we have merely highlighted here before they become effective (upon publication of an effective date in the Federal Register) to see how they will affect any notices that you must give – and to make sure that, once the rules are effective, your website has the new FCC Applications link on your station’s homepage, whether or not you have any applications pending.