Here are some of the regulatory and legal actions and developments 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 its Report and Order on annual regulatory fees for fiscal year 2020 and, over objections from the NAB, declined to substantially reduce radio regulatory fees, keeping in place its calculation methodology that results in a net increase from 2019 in fees assessed to radio broadcasters (a computational error led to a minor downward adjustment in radio fees from what the FCC set out earlier in the 2020 fee process). The FCC also declined to change its methodology for calculating television fees, transitioning fully to a population-based methodology. The Commission did acknowledge the hardships stations are facing during the pandemic and has taken steps to provide relief. That relief for stations that can demonstrate financial hardship includes allowing stations to submit one request seeking a fee waiver and deferral of payment for hardship reasons instead of two separate requests as generally required by the Commission rules; allowing stations to submit by email a request to pay their fees in installments over time at a low interest rate; and directing Commission staff to work closely with and help stations finding it difficult to produce supporting documents that prove financial hardship caused by the virus. See our post at the Broadcast Law Blog for a deeper look at the Report and Order and see below for links to Public Notices with details about how to pay your fees and how to seek relief, all due by 11:59 p.m. on September 25. More information and specific fact sheets for the Media Bureau payees will be posted at gov/RegFees.
- In what could be one of the last steps before opening a noncommercial FM filing window, the FCC denied a Petition for Reconsideration asking it to reexamine the criteria it uses to determine which noncommercial FM application should be granted. Under the current system, when more than one application is submitted, points are awarded to applicants based on certain favored criteria and the applicant with the most points wins. In the Order, the FCC refused to consider “secondary” grants after the first one is awarded. For more on how the points system and the “secondary” grants idea would play out and why the FCC declined to change its application evaluation and selection process, read our blog post here. (Order on Reconsideration)
- Over the last few weeks, the FCC’s Media Bureau has proposed consent decrees with a large number of radio licensees over their inability to certify on their license renewal applications that they timely uploaded to their online public file all of their political advertising documents (we wrote about the first six of these consent decrees, that were with large companies, here). This coming week watch for an article on our blog about these new consent decrees, and what it means for stations that have not yet filed their license renewal applications.
- On September 4, the lowest unit charge window opened for the November 3 general election. For more on complying with and calculating lowest unit charges, see our blog post.
- Comments were due this week on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Petition for Rulemaking asking the FCC to review its interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230, which gives online platforms legal protections from liability for content that third-party users post on those platforms, has drawn intense scrutiny from President Trump. Reply comments are due by September 17. You can read more about this in our monthly feature of regulatory dates. (Comments)
Next week, we will be watching for the following to see if any actions affecting broadcasters will be on the agenda at the next FCC meeting:
- On September 8, we expect Chairman Pai to publish a blog post outlining what the FCC will consider at its September 30 open meeting. Drafts of the items to be considered should be posted September 9 on the meeting webpage.