As we enter the last quarter of the year, the broadcasters’ October calendar is full of important regulatory dates and deadlines. We share some of those dates below and urge you to stay in close touch with your lawyers, engineers, and consultants for the dates and deadlines applicable to your station’s operations.
On or before October 1, radio stations in Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Marianas Islands, Oregon, and Washington and TV stations in Iowa and Missouri must submit their license renewal applications. Pay close attention to the contents of your online public file and be sure that all required documents are complete and were uploaded on time. Stations filing their renewals (other than LPFMs) are also required to file a Broadcast EEO Program Report (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396), submitting two years of EEO Public File reports for FCC review unless your employment unit employs fewer than 5 full-time employees. As you are putting the final touches on your applications, be sure to read the instructions for the license renewal application (radio, TV) and consult with counsel if you have questions.
Also on or before October 1, for all radio and TV station employment units with five or more full-time employees licensed to communities in Iowa, Missouri, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Marianas Islands, Oregon, and Washington must upload to their online public inspection file an Annual EEO Public Inspection File report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities for October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021. Such broadcasters must not only upload the report to their online public file, but they must also post on the homepage of their station website (if they have one) a link to the most recent report.
It is again time for full-power and Class A broadcasters to upload quarterly issues/programs lists to their station’s public file. These lists, due to be uploaded by October 10, are meant to identify the issues of importance to the station’s community and the programs that the station broadcast in July, August, and September that addressed those issues. Prepare the lists carefully and accurately, as they are the only official records of how a station is serving the public and addressing the needs and interests of its community. Timely uploading of these lists to the station’s online public file is especially important during the ongoing license TV and radio renewal cycle when FCC staff are looking closely at public file contents (admonishments and even fines for late-filed and missing lists have become more commonplace during the license renewal cycle). See our article here for more on this obligation.
The window during which broadcasters must submit their biennial ownership reports opens on October 1. This every-other-year mandatory filing is meant to capture a snapshot of the ownership of broadcast stations as of October 1, 2021. Broadcasters have until December 1 to complete and file these reports. As the LMS filing system is up and operating, broadcasters should not expect the FCC to extend the deadline as it has in the past because of technical problems. A free informational session will be held by the FCC on October 5 for anyone interested in learning more about filling out the form and the procedures for filing the report.
In October, there will be numerous opportunities to file comments on FCC proposals for changes to various rules. As we wrote about here, the FCC has asked parties interested in media ownership issues to refresh the record that was established during the 2018 Quadrennial Review. That review was never finalized, so the FCC wants to know how the media landscape has changed since comments were solicited when the review was launched. Issues include possible changes to the local radio ownership rules and to the rules restricting the common ownership of more than one of the Top 4 TV stations in a television market. Read the comments that have been submitted, here, and get your reply comments in by October 1.
After a busy 2020 election season and in advance of the 2022 elections, the FCC has proposed two minor changes to its political advertising rules. The FCC proposes adding the use of social media and the creation of a campaign website to the list of activities that may be considered in determining whether an individual running as a write-in candidate has made a “substantial showing” of a candidacy and is a “legally qualified” candidate. This “legally qualified” candidate designation is important as it permits the candidate to avail himself or herself of the benefits and protections of the political broadcasting rules, including equal opportunities, lowest unit rates and, for candidates for federal office, reasonable access to buy advertising time on commercial broadcast stations. The second change would harmonize the FCC’s rules with the Communications Act and spell out the requirement that stations upload to their political files any request for advertising time that “communicates a message relating to any political matter of national importance” (i.e., federal issue ads). We wrote more about these proposed rule changes, here. Comments are due by October 1 and reply comments are due by October 18.
The FCC is accepting comments through October 7 on the accessibility of children’s educational programming to children with disabilities. The FCC is looking for, among other things, information on the extent to which short-form programming and regularly scheduled weekly programming aired on multicast streams is closed captioned and/or audio described, with data on the amount of such programming. More broadly, the FCC wants to hear about any changes in the broadcast industry since it adopted revised children’s programming rules that have affected the accessibility of “kidvid” programming. Reply comments are due by November 8.
There are also October dates important to broadcasters who are looking for reimbursement for FCC-mandated technical changes. Full power and Class A TV stations that transitioned during phases 0 through 5 of the post-incentive auction repacking of the TV band have until October 8 to submit all remaining invoices and supporting documentation on Form 399 for reimbursement from the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund. Any station repacked in these phases that fails to meet this deadline will be shut out of the reimbursement program, and its available reimbursement funds will be returned to the fund for use by other entities. More information is available in the Public Notice, here.
The FCC in July released a list of C-band earth station antennas that are reportedly inactive. The owners of these antennas, if they are actually active, have until October 21 to notify the FCC of their operational status or those authorizations will be terminated and removed from the incumbent earth station list. The FCC also directed the antenna owners, if the list is accurate and the antenna is inactive, to file to remove those antennas from the International Bureau Filing System. More details are available in the Public Notice, here. Inactive earth stations will not be eligible for reimbursement for costs incurred in the repurposing of the C Band.
Looking at early November dates, reply comments on the FCC proposal to bring back the FCC Form 395-B are due on November 1 (initial comments are due by September 30). After 20 years, enhanced equal employment opportunity data collection could again be a reality for broadcasters. Form 395-B was an annual report intended to gather information about the race and gender of broadcast employees, thrown out by the courts because of fears of the unconstitutional use of the data to force broadcasters to make hiring decisions based on these factors. We wrote more about the possible resurrection of Form 395-B, here..
Between 12:01 a.m. Eastern on November 2 and 6 p.m. Eastern on November 9, the FCC will accept applications for construction permits for new FM noncommercial educational stations to operate in the reserved band (88.1 through 91.9 on the FM dial). We wrote more about the application process and ten-application limit, here. Entities considering applying for a construction permit should be working now with their engineers and consultants to get all the pieces in place, including technical proposals and a showing under the “points system” that allows the FCC to choose between applications that are mutually exclusive. More filing details will be released closer to the opening of the window on November 2.
October and early November are a busy time for broadcast station owners and operators. Put these dates and deadlines on your calendar and check with your station’s advisors for other dates applicable to your operations.