July is usually a month of family vacations and patriotic celebrations. While the pandemic has seen to it that those activities, if they happen at all, will look different than they have in years past, there are plenty of regulatory obligations to fill a broadcaster’s long, summer days. Here are a few of the dates and deadlines to watch for in July, and a quick reminder of some of the significant filings due right at the beginning of August.
On or before July 10, all TV and radio stations must upload to their public file their Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists for the 2nd quarter (April, May and June). Stations that took advantage of the FCC’s extension of time to file their 1st quarter (January, February and March) list must also by July 10 upload that list to their public file. As a reminder, the Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists are a station’s evidence of how it operated in the public interest, demonstrating its treatment of its community’s most significant issues. The FCC has shown (see here and here) that it takes this requirement seriously and will fine stations, hold up license renewals, or both if it finds problems with a station’s compliance. For a short video on complying with the Quarterly Issues/Programs List requirement, see here.
Also, on or before July 10, television stations must file their first annual Children’s Television Programming (also known as KidVid) Report. The report was initially due in January, but the due date was pushed back to March 30 to allow licensees to become familiar with the new forms and then the Commission announced a blanket extension to July 10 due to coronavirus. The report to be filed in July covers September 16, 2019 through December 31, 2019. The next report, likely due in January 2021, will cover all of 2020. For a deeper look at how to comply with the new programming and reporting changes, see our posts here, here, here, and here.
By July 3, TV stations assigned to Phase 10 of the incentive auction repack must have completed their transition to their post-auction facilities. This group includes stations originally assigned to Phase 10 and Phase 9 stations that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated delays with tower and construction crews and station personnel compliance with stay-at-home orders, were granted a waiver to move to Phase 10 (we wrote about the waiver process here). The FCC recently granted one station an extension until September to complete its channel change due to delays from the pandemic and directed the Media Bureau to review requests from any other stations that may need a little more time. See the FCC’s Order here for more details. The July 3 transition deadline marks the end of a ten-year process to reallocate TV band spectrum that began in 2010 with the release of the National Broadband Plan.
There is another important date in July dealing with cable and satellite carriage elections for all television stations. Broadcast TV stations and multichannel video programming distributors (e.g., cable and satellite providers) have until July 31 to upload to their public file or the Cable Operations and Licensing System a phone number and email address to be used for receiving signal carriage notices and questions. This information must be kept current and will be used in the must-carry and retransmission consent carriage election statements that must be uploaded by stations to their online public files by October 1 of this year for the 2021-2023 cycle. Under new FCC rules adopted last year, stations now upload their elections to their public file every three years on the normal election cycle and notify MVPDs of their must carry/retransmission consent election only if that election changed from the prior cycle (see our article here).
By July 24, the 35 stations randomly selected by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau to be audited for their compliance with the EEO rules must upload their responses to their public file. Among the items requested as part of the audit are copies of EEO annual reports, copies of advertisements, bulletins, emails, and other documents used to disseminate information about open positions, data supporting interviewee referral sources, and documentation about the station’s recruitment efforts. See our article here about the audit and EEO compliance.
Applicants for new LPTV and TV translator stations filed back in 2009 who filed earlier this year to move their operations because of the TV spectrum repacking, and ended up mutually exclusive with another applicant filing to move because of the repack in the same window, have until July 31 to reach a settlement with any mutually exclusive applicant or to make technical changes in their facilities to resolve the conflict. Also, LPTV and TV translator stations on channels 38, 44, 45 or 46 must vacate their channels by July 13 to allow for new wireless uses. For more about these deadlines, see our article here.
The FCC will hold its next Open Meeting on July 16 though, in contrast to recent months, no broadcast-specific items made it on the agenda. The FCC will, however, review its rules on cable leased access obligations. The agenda and draft items can be viewed here.
Parties in opposition to the federal government’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari in Federal Communications Commission, et al. v. Prometheus Radio Project, et al. have until July 21 to submit an opposition brief. The original due date of May 20 was pushed back to allow new counsel for Prometheus and its co-parties to get up to speed and in acknowledgement of the difficulty of organizing a response during COVID-19. This is the appeal by broadcasters of the Third Circuit decision throwing out the FCC’s 2017 order changing many broadcast ownership rules – including the abolition of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule. You can catch up on this issues in this appeal here.
Finally, there are lots of comments in rulemaking proceedings. Reply comments in the FCC’s video description proceeding are due by July 6. Video description refers to the insertion in TV programming of spoken narration of what is happening on the screen to aid blind or visually impaired persons. As we wrote here, the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on expanding the video description rules to require more stations— beginning with ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox stations in markets 61-100 and later expanding by an additional 10 TV markets each year for the next four years—to provide described programming. In the first round of commenting, the National Association of Broadcasters urged the Commission to delay by 9 months (from January 1, 2021 to October 1, 2021) the imposition of this new obligation. NAB cites the difficulty for stations that are already deep into budgeting for 2021 to accommodate this new financial outlay, especially as many stations are trying to recover from the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic.
By July 13, reply comments are due in the FCC’s proposal to expand the use of Distributed Transmission Systems (DTS) by television stations operating with the new ATSC 3.0 transmission system. In short, use of a distributed transmission system by a TV station allows the station to extend—within its noise-limited service contour—the strength of its signal, to serve viewers who were unable to receive a clear signal. Parties interested in submitting reply comments can read the first round of comments that were submitted here and read our post from May with more detail about DTS and about the questions being asked in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
On or before July 23, interested parties can share with the FCC their comments on a proposal to allow broadcast licensees to originate programming on FM translators. A group of broadcast licensees has asked the FCC think bigger than the proposals put forth in the recent FM boosters zonecasting proceeding and to allow translators to originate up to 40 hours of original programming per week. The proposal also suggests allowing translators to locate within the primary station’s 45 dbu contour, rather than within the 60 dbu contour of an FM primary station as now required. See our post here for more details about the proposal and expected next steps.
As a preview of what is to come in early August, full-power TV, Class A TV, TV Translator and LPTV stations in North Carolina and South Carolina and full-power AM, FM, noncommercial educational FM, FM Translator, and LPFM radio stations in Illinois and Wisconsin must file an application for license renewal by August 3 (the actual filing deadline date is August 1, a Saturday, so the deadline shifts to the next business day). Stations are no longer required to air pre-filing announcements but should already be working on their renewal applications with an eye toward the August 3 deadline.
Full-power TV, Class A TV, LPTV, full-power AM, FM, and noncommercial educational FM stations with August 1 (and, as noted above, August 3) license renewal dates in any year are also required to post to their public file and on their website an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Report, detailing the station’s compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules over the preceding year. Those August 3 renewal stations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, and Wisconsin must also file a Broadcast Equal Employment Opportunity Program Report (FCC Form 396). The license renewal application requires the Form 396 file number, so that form must be filed before you can finalize your renewal application.
As you can see, we have highlighted many important dates upcoming in July, so be sure you are in touch with your station’s attorney and staying on top of not only these dates, but also any other dates and deadlines that apply to your operation.