The holiday season is nearly behind us and many are looking forward to putting 2020 in the rearview mirror with a hopeful eye on 2021.  The new year will bring big changes to the Washington broadcast regulation scene, with the inauguration of a new President and installation of a new FCC chair who will make an imprint on the agency with his or her own priorities.  And routine regulatory dates and deadlines will continue to fill up a broadcaster’s calendar.  So let’s look at what to expect in the world of Washington regulation in the coming month.

On the routine regulatory front, on or before January 10, all full-power broadcast stations, commercial and noncommercial, must upload to their online public inspection files their Quarterly Issues Programs lists, listing the most important issues facing their communities in the last quarter of 2020 and the programs that they broadcast in October, November and December that addressed those issues.  As we have written before, these lists are the only documents required by the FCC to demonstrate how stations served the needs and interests of their broadcast service area, and they are particularly important as the FCC continues its license renewal process for radio and TV stations.  Make sure that you upload these lists to your public file by the January 10 deadline.  You can find a short video on complying with the Quarterly Issues/Programs List requirements here.

Television stations should also be preparing their annual Children’s Television Programming Report (Form 2100, Schedule H – formerly Form 398) and certification of compliance with commercial limits in their children’s programming.  The Form 398 would normally be due to be filed at the FCC on January 30 but, as that date falls on a Saturday, the FCC filing deadline this year is February 1, the next business day.  This is the first time that stations will file a KidVid report covering an entire year and not just one quarter.  We summarized the 2019 KidVid rule changes, here.  FCC rules also require that stations place in their public files by January 30 of each year records documenting compliance with the limits on the number of commercial minutes that stations can allow in children’s programming.

Reply comments are due in two proceedings that will affect broadcasters.  Interested parties have until January 25 to submit reply comments in the FCC’s foreign entity sponsorship identification proceeding.  This proceeding seeks to enhance and standardize the on-air disclosure that broadcasters must make when programming is supplied or paid for by a foreign entity or its representatives.

Also due that same day are reply comments on the petition by the National Association of Broadcasters to clarify who is legally responsible for the programming on a subchannel of one TV station when that programming is a simulcast of another station’s programming.  This would include when the subchannel is acting as the required ATSC 1.0 “lighthouse” signal for the primary video stream of a station that has converted to ATSC 3.0 (Next Gen TV) operations.  The NAB suggests that the originating station, rather than the host station, should be liable for the public service, political broadcasting, public file and other legal obligations that arise from that programming.  We wrote about the issues posed in this proceeding in more detail, here.

For those interested in potential changes in the FCC’s ownership rules, you will want to listen to the oral argument before the Supreme Court on the appeal of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ rejection of the FCC’s 2017 media ownership rule changes that, among other things, eliminated the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule.  That argument will be held on January 19 and can be heard live on C-SPAN.  An audio recording and transcript of the argument should be posted to the Court’s website by January 22.  A decision in the case is expected later in the year, and the argument may give some preview of the Court’s thinking.  We wrote about this case and media ownership issues more generally, here.

The FCC will hold its first of its required monthly open meetings of 2021 on January 13.  The tentative agenda indicates that Chairman Pai will not tee up any items for a vote and will instead use the meeting to allow bureau and office leaders to highlight their accomplishments over the last four years.  This meeting will be Chairman Pai’s last Open Meeting at the agency and Commissioner Nathan Simington’s first meeting, having joined the Commission on December 14, 2020. A week later, President-Elect Joe Biden will be sworn in on January 20.  With Chairman Pai’s planned January 20 departure from the agency, each party will hold two seats (Rosenworcel (D), Starks (D), Carr (R), and Simington (R)), making action on any partisan items all but impossible until a third Democratic Commissioner is installed.  We will be watching to see the naming of an interim chair of the FCC, and for when a nominee for the open seat will be announced by the new President – and how quickly the Senate will act on that nominee.

And, looking ahead to February, television and radio stations in several states must file applications for license renewal and file and upload EEO reports.  By February 1, TV stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi and radio stations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma must file their license renewal applications through the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS).  Those stations must also file with the FCC a Broadcast EEO Program Report (Form 396) and, if they are part of an employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees, upload to their public file and post a link on their station website to their Annual EEO Public Inspection File report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities that occurred in the period from February 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021.  TV and radio stations licensed to communities in New Jersey and New York also must meet their Annual EEO Public Inspection file report obligations on February 1.

As always, consult with your own attorneys and advisors to make sure that there are no other regulatory obligations for your stations that fall in the coming month.  As 2020 comes to a close, we thank you for your readership and join you in looking forward to a successful 2021 for your stations and the broadcast industry.