As the holiday season comes to an end and 2022 comes into focus, broadcasters have several dates and deadlines to keep up with in January and early February.  We have noted below some of the important dates you should be tracking.  However, as always, stay in touch with your station’s lawyers and other regulatory advisors for the dates applicable to your operations.  We wish you a happy, healthy, and successful New Year – and remembering to track important regulatory dates will help you  achieve those ends.

Let’s start with some of the annual dates that always fall in January.  By January 10, full-power radio, TV, and Class A licensees should have their quarterly issues/programs lists uploaded to their online public file.  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.

Class A licensees must upload to their public file by January 10 documentation of their continuing Class A eligibility for October-December 2021.  For noncommercial educational stations not affiliated with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, if your station conducted on-air fundraising for third parties during the last three months of 2021 that interrupted normal programming, documentation of those efforts must also be uploaded to the public file.  See our article here on that obligation.

An annual obligation for television stations is to prepare and file their annual Children’s Television Programming Report (Form 2100, Schedule H – formerly Form 398).  Also due is a certification of compliance with commercial limits in children’s programming.  Schedule H would normally be due to be filed at the FCC on January 30 but, as that date falls on a Sunday in 2022, the FCC filing deadline this year is January 31, the next business day.  Records documenting compliance with the limits on the number of commercial minutes that stations can allow in children’s programming are also due to be uploaded to each full-power and Class A TV station’s public file by January 31—another January 30 deadline pushed to the next business day.  As a reminder, the quarterly filing requirements were replaced with annual filings as part of the 2019 KidVid rule changes (we summarized those changes, here).

An important deadline also falls this month for LPTV stations and TV translators.  Analog TV translators and digital LPTV construction permit holders whose CPs have expiration dates that have expired that received a one hundred and eighty day extension of the July 13, 2021 digital transition (or construction) deadline must be operating digitally by January 10, 2022 or by an earlier January date specified on the station’s extension authorization.  While in a few cases, the FCC is granting requests to toll that deadline, very specific showings as to why construction was delayed for reasons beyond the control of the broadcaster need to be made or the authorizations of stations not operating digitally by the January 10 deadline will be cancelled.

Also important for some TV stations, specifically those in DMAs 71-80 affiliated with one of the top four TV networks, is the requirement to comply with the FCC’s audio description rules beginning January 1, 2022. The audio description (formerly known as video description) rules make video programming more accessible to blind or visually impaired persons by requiring the use of an audio subchannel to provide descriptions of the visual action in a TV program that is occurring on screen. The affected DMAs are Omaha; Wichita-Hutchinson; Springfield, MO; Charleston-Huntington; Columbia, SC; Rochester, NY; Flint-Saginaw-Bay City; Huntsville-Decatur; Portland-Auburn; and Toledo.  See the FCC’s recent Public Notice for more information on this deadline.

For radio, January 1 brings new higher rates for all digital streaming, including simulcasting, as a cost-of-living increase in the increased SoundExchange royalties as recently announced by the Copyright Royalty Board (though payments are not due for January streaming until 45 days after the end of the month).  But most webcasters do need to pay their minimum annual fees by January 31 (now $1000 per stream for commercial and noncommercial streams not affiliated with a school or CPB).  Noncommercial educational webcasters (affiliated with a school or college), not covered by deals with NPR and CPB, must make elections about recordkeeping requirements that will apply to their stations by January 31.

Another deadline for noncommercial radio operators is for applicants in the recent reserved band FM filing window whose applications were found to be technically deficient.  These applicants have until January 7 to correct those deficiencies and ask for reconsideration of their dismissal. Other applicants whose applications were found to be mutually exclusive (MX) with one or more other applications filed in the window have through January 28 to submit technical amendments or work with others in their MX group to enter into settlement agreements or otherwise resolve conflicts.  Applicants in an MX group that have not submitted a settlement agreement or technical amendment by the January 28 deadline will have their application undergo a comparative analysis to determine which of the mutually exclusive applications should be granted.  See the MX groups, here, and the Public Notice setting out the details of the settlement window and filing procedures, here.

In a rulemaking proceeding of interest to radio broadcasters, comments on the FCC’s proposal to change the rules for proofing of FM directional antennas were pushed back and are now due by January 20 with replies due by February 4.  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, here.

On January 15, the 45-day “political window” is scheduled to open in Texas for the primary election to be held on March 1 (note that there is litigation over redistricting in Texas that could delay the primary date – which could also affect the opening of this window).  During that 45-day period, sales of broadcast time to candidates for “uses” must be made at lowest unit rates – the lowest rate given to any other advertiser for a purchase of the same class of time.  This is the first LUC window that is scheduled to open in what will likely be a very contentious 2022 election season.  For more on this requirement and other political broadcasting issues, see our political broadcasting guide, here.

The Copyright Office held a public roundtable on December 9 to discuss how to change copyright law to offer greater protections to publishers, particularly news publishers (see the transcript of the roundtable discussion, here, and our summary of the proceeding, here).  The Copyright Office is 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 their use of 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 second-round comments through January 5.  Information about the proceeding is available on the Copyright Office website, here.

Finally, the FCC Commissioners will hold their first regular monthly Open Meeting of 2022 on January 27.  Keep an eye on the FCC website during the first week of January to see what makes it to the agenda of that meeting.

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 Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma and radio stations in New York and New Jersey must file their license renewal applications through the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS) on Form 2100, Schedule 303-S.  Stations filing for renewal of their license should spend the next few weeks reviewing the contents of their online public file and making 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 396that 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 working on your applications over the next few weeks, be sure to read the instructions for the license renewal application (radioTV) and EEO Program Report and consult with counsel if you have questions.

Also on or before February 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 Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma 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 February 1, 2021 through January 31, 2022.  These broadcast licensees must also post on the homepage of their station website (if they have one) a link to the most recent report.

Comments are due by February 11 on the FCC’s Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the ATSC 3.0 (Next Gen TV) proceeding.  In that proceeding, the FCC proposes to allow Next Gen TV stations to include within their license certain of their multicast streams that are aired on “host” stations during a transitional period.  Under the FCC’s proposals, such multicast streams will be part of the originating station’s license, not that of the “host” station.  Reply comments will be due by March 14.  See the Federal Register notice, here.

Thanks for your readership throughout the year and be on the lookout for our 2022 Broadcasters’ Calendar that will be published on the blog in early 2022.

Correction 12/28/21 4:36 PM Eastern – The deadline for the LPTV digital conversion was corrected above to reflect that stations were given 180 day extensions to January 10, 2022 to complete construction of digital facilities.