March brings springtime and, with it, a likely reprieve from the cold and extreme weather much of the country has been suffering through. As noted below, though, March brings no reprieve from the routine regulatory dates and deadlines that fill a broadcaster’s calendar.
TV operators have until March 8 to file comments in the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry looking to assess the impact of the abolition of the statutory copyright license that allowed satellite television operators to import distant network signals into TV markets where there were households arguably not being served by a local network affiliate (see our article here).
Reply comments are due by March 12 in the FCC’s FM booster zonecasting proceeding. The proposal would allow FM boosters to originate limited amounts of programming (up to 5%—or 3 minutes—of any program hour) different from their primary stations (see our blog post, here, for more information). Stations could target hyper-local content like local news, advertisements, and weather information to different parts of the station’s coverage area. Several large radio broadcasters, the NAB, and FEMA filed comments opposing the proposal, noting, among other things, that zonecasting could lead to a fragmentation of the already-fragile local radio advertising market, that there are unresolved technical considerations, and that performance of the Emergency Alert System could be harmed in and around booster zones and that additional field testing is needed. Other radio broadcasters filed in support of zonecasting, pointing to a station’s ability to target advertising that is not relevant to its entire market area and the ability to provide second-language programming to discrete areas of the market. Comments submitted in the docket can be read, here.
March 13 is the deadline for low power TV and translator stations that need more time to build their digital facilities to request a final extension of up to 180 days. By July 13, all low power TV and translator stations must stop transmitting in analog and switch to digital. Stations granted an extension must still cease all analog transmissions by July 13 but will have additional time to build their digital facilities and begin digital transmission. Applicants seeking an extension must demonstrate that failure to meet the construction deadline is due to circumstances that are either unforeseeable or beyond the licensee’s control and that the licensee has taken all reasonable steps to resolve the problem quickly. These circumstances include delays in obtaining zoning or other approvals, inability to obtain equipment, or financial hardship. More details are available in the Public Notice, here.
The FCC in early February announced an auction of 136 FM construction permits and four AM construction permits will begin on July 27, 2021. Most of the construction permits to be auction were part of Auction 106 before it was postponed due to COVID. Interested parties can submit comments and reply comments on the proposed bidding procedures by March 15 and March 22, respectively. A Public Notice with the proposed bidding procedures and more information is available, here, and the list of available permits can be found, here. The FCC also announced a freeze on applications and proposals that will affect any of the Auction 109 FM allotments. More information on the freeze is here.
Comments in an FCC proceeding looking to decide whether Longley-Rice or similar terrain-based models of determining signal propagation are appropriate for determining where white-spaces devices can operate in the television band are due on March 29, with reply comments due by April 26. See the Federal Register notice announcing those dates, here. Companies seeking to make use of television white spaces devices believe that terrain-based propagation models will allow for more uses of these devices by more accurately predicting where television stations would receive interference, while broadcasters have been concerned about the accuracy and ease of calculation of coverage using these models. Look for comments detailing these positions by the comment deadline.
The FCC will hold the next of its required monthly open meetings on March 17 with one item on the agenda of interest to TV and radio broadcasters. The Commissioners will vote on an item that seeks to update the rules for emergency alerting through the Emergency Alert System and the Wireless Emergency Alert system. The proposal seeks comment on introducing a new class of alerts called “National Alerts,” formalizing the process by which State Emergency Communications Committees review and develop EAS plans, encouraging government entities to self-report false alerts, and exploring the required repetition of alerts. A companion Notice of Inquiry asks whether it is technically feasible for emergency alerts to be sent through the internet, especially over streaming services. A public draft of the item and more information about the meeting can be found, here. At the end of the month, or in early April, keep an eye on the FCC website for the items to be considered at the FCC’s April 22 Open Meeting.
Looking ahead to early next month, by April 1, radio stations in Texas and television stations in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee 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 2100, Schedule 396) and, if they are part of a station employment unit (a station or a group of commonly owned stations in the same market that share at least one employee) with 5 or more full-time employees, upload to their public file and post a link on their station website to their annual EEO report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities for the twelve months from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.
TV and radio stations licensed to communities in Delaware and Pennsylvania that are part of an employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees also must upload to their public inspection file and post on their website their annual EEO report by April 1.
And April 10 will be the due date for Quarterly Issues Programs lists for the first quarter of 2021. Remember that these documents are the only officially-mandated record of how your station served the public interest in its service area. We wrote about the importance of these lists, here.
These are just some of the dates and deadlines coming up in March and early April. Be sure to watch our blog, the FCC website, trade publications, and to be in contact with your communications counsel throughout the month for more dates applicable to your operations.