Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination for another five-year term at the agency was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee. The final step in the consideration of her nomination is for the full Senate to vote to confirm that nomination before the end of the year when her current term expires.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee also held a hearing on the nominations of Gigi Sohn for a position as a Democratic FCC Commissioner and of Alan Davidson as NTIA Administrator. Sohn was pressed by senators on her past public interest work and some of her tweets and other public statements made in connection with that work, her time advising FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, and her role as a board member for now-shuttered local TV streaming service Locast. Sohn expressed general support for local broadcasting but suggested that she would favor rolling back some recent relaxations of the media ownership rules. Davidson’s questioning focused on broadband issues and overall federal spectrum policy.  We took a look at some of the issues that would be waiting in Commissioner Sohn’s inbox if she were to be confirmed.
  • Parties interested in the FCC’s rulemaking to consider allowing FM broadcast license applicants to verify directional antenna patterns through computer modeling instead of real-world testing should file their comments by December 30. Reply comments are due by January 14, 2022.  (Public Notice)
  • The FCC finished its review of the applications filed during last month’s noncommercial educational FM radio station filing window. The review found 231 groups of mutually exclusive (MX) applications.  The FCC opened a settlement window through January 28, 2022 for parties 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.  Thirteen applications were deemed defective and dismissed.  (Public Notice) (MX Groups) (Dismissed Applications)
  • The FCC reminded stations in DMAs 71-80 affiliated with one of the top four TV networks that they must 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 Plus, Springfield, MO, Charleston-Huntington, Columbia, SC, Rochester, NY, Flint-Saginaw-Bay City, Huntsville-Decatur, Portland-Auburn, and Toledo.  (Public Notice)
  • FCC fee filers take note. By December 15, the FCC will close its current fee filer payment system and open a new payment system within its CORES platform.  The Red Light Display system, which allowed users to view and clear financial holds on their account, will also be closed.  Past due fee information will be available only through CORES.  (Public Notice)
  • The licensee of two Mississippi Class A TV stations faces a combined $38,000 in fines over the company’s failure to upload quarterly issues/programs lists on time and for failing to disclose to the FCC in the stations’ license renewal applications that the lists were uploaded late. The stations’ renewal applications certified that all documents had been timely uploaded to its public file, as required by FCC rules, when more than three dozen issues/programs lists had not been timely uploaded.  (Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture – W34DV-D) (Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture – W39CA-D). These actions once again emphasize the importance of timely uploads of all documents to the online public file.
  • The FCC proposed a $6,000 fine for a TV station that uploaded issues/programs lists to its online public file late and admonished the same station for displaying during its children’s programming the URL for a website that contained a “shop” button. The FCC’s children’s TV rules prohibit stations from displaying on-screen during programs directed to children the URL for websites that have a commercial purpose, including e-commerce or advertising.  The programming was supplied by a TV network, but the station is ultimately responsible for its programming content. (Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Admonishment)
  • The Copyright Royalty Board announced the that royalties for streaming music on the Internet will increase in 2023 from the $.0021 per performance royalty rate recently sent by the CRB for the period from 2021 to 2025. The rates were subject to cost-of-living increases – and the rise in the cost-of-living index triggered the increase for 2022. The cost-of-living increase will increase the royalties for non-subscription, non-interactive streaming, like simulcasting a radio station on the Internet including through a mobile app, to $.0022 per performance (a performance occurs each time any song is streamed to a single user – so, for example, a station that plays 10 songs in an hour and had 10 listeners throughout the hour must pay for 100 performances in that hour). (CRB Notice) (Summary of new royalties for 2021-2025). Some of the rates set last year are still under review.  Appeals of last year’s CRB decision setting these rates were filed on November 26. We will have more on those appeals in our Broadcast Law Blog soon.
  • With TV’s Dr. Mehmet Oz declaring his candidacy for nomination to run for an open US Senate seat in Pennsylvania, we wrote on our Broadcast Law Blog about what a station should do to avoid issues under the FCC’s political broadcasting rules, including the equal time rule when one of its on-air employees decides to run for public office.

For a look at regulatory dates ahead for the rest of December and early January, see our Broadcast Law Blog article, here.