While Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror and the holiday season is upon us, broadcasters cannot ignore the regulatory world until the new year, as much is going on in December. Below are some of the several important regulatory dates and deadlines in the coming month that you may need to deal with before the celebrations begin.
By December 1, all licensees of commercial and noncommercial full power TV, Class A TV, low power TV, AM radio, and FM radio stations must submit an ownership report that details the licensee’s ownership structure as of October 1, 2021. The FCC has warned that there will be penalties for stations that do not file these reports. Licensees with ownership structures that include parent entities must also file a report for each of those entities. An informational session run by FCC staff is archived, here, and answers to frequently asked questions are available, here. See our blog post covering ownership reporting, here.
On or before December 1, radio stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont and TV stations in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota must file their license renewal applications (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 303-S). 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 renewals (other than LPFMs) are also required to file a Broadcast EEO Program Report (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396) that must include two years of EEO Public File reports for FCC review, unless your employment unit employs fewer than five full-time employees. When you are putting the final touches on your applications over the next few days, 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 December 1, all radio and TV station employment units (a station employment unit is a station or stations that share at least one full-time employee, are in the same geographic area, and are under common control) with five or more full-time employees licensed to communities in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont must upload to their online public inspection file an Annual EEO Public Inspection File report. This report covers their hiring and employment outreach activities for December 1, 2020 through November 30, 2021. These broadcast licensees must also post on the homepage of their station website (if they have one) a link to the most recent report.
By December 1, digital television stations that provided ancillary or supplementary services between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021 must submit FCC Form 2100, Schedule G, and pay in fees 5% of the gross revenue derived from any ancillary or supplementary services they provided. Noncommercial digital TV stations that provided such services on a nonprofit, noncommercial, and educational basis must file the form but are required to pay 2.5% of the gross revenue derived from those services. Ancillary and supplemental services do not include non-subscription video channels delivered directly to the public but do include any other services provided over the station’s spectrum from which the station receives compensation, including “computer software distribution, data transmissions, teletext, interactive materials, aural messages, paging services, or audio signals, [and] subscription video.” Stations that provided no such services are no longer required to file a report.
Many broadcasters with satellite dishes are involved in the transition of part of the C-Band to 5G wireless users. The transition deadline to clear parts of the band for C-Band operators in Phase I markets is December 5, 2021 (Phase I stations are located in Partial Economic Areas (PEA) 1-50, except stations in the Washington, DC area and certain counties in Georgia, Colorado, and Hawaii – see a PEA list here). By that date, C-band earth stations in those markets need to install filters or make other changes to avoid interference from the new wireless users. The transition deadline for the remaining markets (Phase II) is December 5, 2023. See the Public Notice, here.
Another December deadline is for stations that entered into a consent decree with the FCC over political file violations. By December 10, those stations must have submitted to the FCC staff a compliance report required by the decree. The report provides data to the FCC about requests that the station received through November 2 for the purchase of broadcast time by, or on behalf of, legally qualified candidates and for ads that relate to any issue of national importance (i.e., federal issue ads). The compliance report must be accompanied by certifications from the licensee’s compliance officer and chief executive that the report is true and accurate. For more information, read our article on the topic, here, review the terms of your consent decree, and talk with your communications counsel.
TV operators may be interested in the Commission’s plan to auction twenty-seven full-power TV construction permits in mostly smaller communities. These channels will be part of Auction 112, which is scheduled to take place in June of 2022. The Commission is looking for comments on the proposed procedures for the auction. Submit your comments by December 13 with replies due by December 23. Read the procedures Public Notice, here, and see the list of available construction permits, here.
Also for TV, the FCC’s revision of its rules that revise the DTV Table of Allotments to reflect the current, post-auction channels of TV stations will become effective December 22. The rules also delete or revise FCC rules that, following the DTV transition, incentive auction, and repack, no longer have any practical effect. Most of the rules involve references to channels that are no longer part of the TV band or procedures that only applied during the incentive auction and its immediate aftermath.
Comments on the FCC’s proposal to change the rules for proofing of FM directional antennas are due on December 30, 2021 with replies due by January 14. This proceeding seeks comments on proposals to allow the patterns for directional antennas to be verified by computer modeling as opposed to real-world testing. See the Federal Register publication of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, setting the comment dates, here.
During its last Open Meeting of 2021, the FCC will vote on whether to start a rulemaking that looks at making visual EAS messages delivered by TV broadcasters and cable systems clearer and more accessible. The FCC proposes to require that a predetermined script be used for visual display of EAS messages, and to require that stations, whenever they receive an alert (including state and local alerts) from their legacy (over-the-air) EAS alerting system, check their IPAWS Internet-delivered CAP (Common Alerting Protocol) based system to see if additional visual information about an alert has been provided, as that IP-based system allows for alerts containing more visual information. The FCC also asks for suggestions on how the current, legacy EAS can be updated to make those systems more robust in providing visual information. The comment and reply comment periods will be set after the item is approved and published in the Federal Register. Read the draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry, here, and tune in at 10:30 am Eastern on December 14 to watch the meeting.
A change in the leadership of the FCC is also in the works. FCC Commissioner nominee Gigi Sohn will visit the Senate Commerce Committee on December 1 for her confirmation hearing to be the third Democratic Commissioner. During the same hearing, the committee will vote on advancing FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote. Alan Davidson, President Biden’s nominee to lead the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees federal spectrum policy, will also be considered by the committee. Read Gigi Sohn’s Senate questionnaire about her background and qualifications, here, and Alan Davidson’s, here. Tune in to the livestream of the hearing beginning at 10:15 am Eastern at www.commerce.senate.gov.
The FCC will also hold a video programming accessibility forum on December 2 from 1:00-3:45 pm Eastern. The panelists will look at the state of closed captioning availability for online video programming and discuss ways to enhance accessibility, including inquiring as to whether the FCC has authority to adopt new rules that would apply to online video providers. Read the Public Notice, here, for more information.
The Copyright Office will also be holding a public roundtable on December 9 to discuss how to change copyright law to offer greater protections to publishers, particularly news publishers. We summarized the proceeding here. The Copyright Office will be looking at whether there should be “ancillary copyright protections” to protect publishers from having the value of their content undermined by digital platforms. These possible protections include limiting news aggregators in using the title or snippets of the content of publishers without consent, extended rights for publishers to protect “hot news,” and even some government-set royalties on the use of publisher’s content by digital sites. The Copyright Office has already received written comments and will take reply comments through January 5. Information about the proceeding and registration for the roundtable is available on the Copyright Office website, here.
Looking ahead to January, don’t let the quarterly requirement to upload issues/program lists to your online public file get lost in the post-New Year shuffle. Full-power radio, TV, and Class A licensees should have their lists prepared and uploaded by January 10, 2022. The lists are meant to identify the issues of importance to the station’s community and the programs that the station broadcast in October, November, and December that addressed those issues. Prepare the lists carefully and accurately, as they are the only official records of how your station is serving the public and addressing the needs and interests of its community. See our post here for more on this obligation.
Certain analog TV translators that received a six-month extension of the July 13, 2021 digital transition deadline must make that transition by January 13, 2022. LPTV stations that received an extension still had to discontinue analog operations by July 13, 2021 but were given six additional months to build out their digital facilities.
Stay in touch with your station’s advisors, engineers, and legal counsel to be sure you’re staying on top of the dates and deadlines applicable to your operations.