Here are some of the FCC regulatory and legal actions of the last week of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.
- The FCC released the agenda for its June 9 Open Meeting announcing that it will consider an item of interest to TV broadcasters planning to transition to ATSC 3.0, the next generation television transmission standard. The item deals with what the FCC is calling “Broadcast Internet services,” new IP based services compatible with other Internet devices that will allow TV broadcasters to monetize their ATSC 3.0 spectrum in new ways. If adopted at the June meeting, the item, which we summarized in this article on the Broadcast Law Blog, would do two things:
- It would allow a broadcaster to enter into spectrum lease agreements with other companies who offer Broadcast Internet services on the spectrum of several television stations in the same market without triggering the Commission’s attribution or multiple ownership rules.
- It would seek comment on ideas for changing the FCC’s rules to further promote the deployment of Broadcast Internet services as part of ATSC 3.0. (draft of the Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking)
- The FCC last week announced that comments are due by June 22 in the review of its video description rules. Video description refers to an audio channel provided to accompany TV programming giving a narration of what is happening on the screen to aid blind or visually impaired persons. Currently, ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC stations in the top 60 markets must supply video described programming, but under the FCC’s proposed new rules, those requirements would extend to markets 61 through 100 by January 1, 2021, with ten markets being added in the following four years. For more on the proposed rule changes, see our post at the Broadcast Law Blog. (Public Notice)
- After announcing the settlement terms earlier this month, the FCC released the details of its consent decree with Sinclair Broadcast Group. The consent decree dealt with (i) disclosure issues around Sinclair’s failed takeover of Tribune Media Company; (ii) the accuracy and completeness of certain Sinclair applications; (iii) complaints of Sinclair’s noncompliance with the good-faith rules for retransmission consent negotiations; and (iv) on-air sponsor identification lapses. Though the Commission ultimately found that Sinclair structured the Tribune deal and made disclosures about its plans according to a good faith interpretation of the Commission’s rules, Sinclair nevertheless agreed to a $48 million penalty and four-year compliance plan to resolve all issues about these matters. (Order) See Broadcast Law Blog articles on the sponsorship identification issue when it was first raised in a 2017 Notice of Apparent Liability (here) and a prior Sinclair issue with retransmission consent negotiations (here).
- FCC staff last week clarified, albeit informally as part of a webcast (as part of the NAB Show Express, available on demand here), that stations in states where the primary election date has been pushed back due to public health concerns may be subject to longer lowest unit charge (LUC) periods. In states where the 45-day window opened and then the primary election date was pushed back, a new window begins 45 days before the new date of the primary election. This could potentially result in a nearly 90-day LUC window tied to one election. See our article here from the Broadcast Law Blog where we explained how the postponed primaries would extend LUC windows.
- As part of that same webcast, FCC staff reminded stations running special COVID-related public service announcements that featuring a candidate standing for election this year can trigger equal opportunities and public file obligations. If the candidate appearance is on a paid spot, the equal opportunities rights of opposing candidates would be to buy an equal number of paid spots. If the PSAs were run for free, then the candidate’s opponents are entitled, upon request, to the equivalent amount of free airtime. Look for more on this issue in the Broadcast Law Blog this week.
- The FCC acted last week in two TV market modification proceedings that are good illustrations of the necessary elements of a petition for a change in the television market to which a county or other geographical subdivision is assigned for determining which stations are local for cable of satellite television carriage purposes. In the first, it rejected a petition submitted by Montezuma County, Colorado to modify the county’s DMA, so the county’s DISH Network customers could receive Denver’s KUSA. The Commission found that the county did not submit enough evidence to prove the need for market modification. In the second, the Commission upheld its Media Bureau’s decision to modify the markets of three Georgia counties, so that DISH and DIRECTV customers in those counties could receive four Atlanta TV stations. The Commission denied the appeal of the Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson DMA TV stations carefully analyzing the factors necessary to support the modification of the market and finding no reason to change the Bureau’s ruling. (Montezuma Market Modification) (Atlanta Market Modification)
- The FCC declined to review its decision to cancel the license of KCPM(TV), Fargo, ND. The Media Bureau found that the station failed to transmit a signal for twelve consecutive months, which resulted in an automatic expiration of the license. This is a good reminder for station operators, and especially important for stations that may have gone silent during the current pandemic, to notify the FCC when a station goes silent and to re-commence operations within a year to avoid automatic cancellation of the station’s license. (FCC Letter) See this article from the Broadcast Law Blog about the FCC requirements for notice when a station goes silent, the article here about actions that the FCC can take against stations that fail to operate regularly during a license renewal term, and the article here about the strict interpretation that the FCC gives to Section 312(g) of the Communications Act which provides for the automatic cancellation of a license if a station has been silent for a year unless the FCC finds that preserving the license is necessary for reasons of equity and fairness, a finding rarely made.