Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last two weeks, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.
- The FCC released the results of the August 11 Nationwide EAS Test, finding that, compared to the 2019 test (the 2020 test was cancelled due to the pandemic), this year’s test message reached more EAS participants (89.3% in 2021 vs. 82.5% in 2019) and it was retransmitted successfully more than it was two years ago (87.1% in 2021 vs. 79.8% in 2019). However, the FCC received reports on the test from only 75.3% of participants, down from 78.6% in 2019. 79.9% of radio broadcasters filed their reports, and only 67.9% of TV stations – with LPFM and LPTV stations representing many of the non-reporting stations. The FCC noted that ensuring, for future tests, increased compliance with the mandatory reporting requirement will be a priority. (Nationwide EAS Test Report).
- The date for filing comments on the FCC’s proposal to change the rules for proofing of FM directional antennas was pushed back. Comments are now due by January 20, with reply comments due by February 4. This proceeding seeks comments on proposals to allow the patterns for directional FM antennas to be verified by computer modeling as opposed to real-world testing. (Public Notice)
- Senators Roy Blunt and Ron Wyden introduced the Low Power Protection Act, a bill to open a new window during which LPTV stations that originate at least 3 hours of local programming could qualify for Class A status, meaning that they would be protected from being bumped off their channels by future applications by full-power stations (and these stations would have to be protected if the spectrum allocated to TV was further reduced at some future time, as it was as a result of the Incentive Auction). The bill, as proposed, would only allow new Class A stations in DMAs with 95,000 television households or fewer – approximately DMA 175 and below. (Press Release) The bill has not been introduced in the House of Representatives, and will need substantial Congressional consideration before becoming law.
- The licensee of several Kansas radio stations entered into a consent decree with the Media Bureau because a number of its stations were silent for long periods of time without receiving special temporary authority from the FCC. The FCC requires Commission notification if a station is silent for 10 days, and an STA must be requested when a station is silent for 30 days. The licensee will pay a $7000 fine and the stations will receive a 1-year license renewal term, instead of the typical 8-year term. (Order and Consent Decree).
- In another decision released last week, the FCC proposed to fine another broadcaster $17,500 for not timely requesting an STA when its AM and associated FM translator went silent, plus its failure to amend its pending license renewal application to report that the stations were silent for several months while the renewal was pending – even though the renewal specifically asks if the station whose renewal is sought is silent. The licensee had also failed to complete and timely upload multiple Quarterly Issues Programs lists to its public file (Order and Notice of Apparent Liability)
- The Media Bureau entered into a consent decree with a radio licensee requiring a $5000 fine because of several violations, including the licensee’s failure to maintain station logs, its failure to upload (or timely upload) certain documents to its online public file, and because its FM translator stayed on the air for extensive periods of time when its primary AM station was not operating, a violation of the rules that prohibit translators from operating when their primary stations are not operating during their authorized hours. This is a reminder to pay close attention to your operations and be sure that you are complying with all applicable FCC rules. (Order and Consent Decree)
- The FCC proposed to delete 7 vacant FM channels that were included in the last two FM auctions but received no bids in either auction. The channels proposed for deletion are ones in Snowflake, AZ; Millerton, OK; Powers, OR; Mount Enterprise, TX; Paint Rock, TX; Hardwick, VT; and Meeteetse, WY. Comments on the proposed deletions are due February 14, with reply comments due March 1. If no party expresses an interest in operating a station on these channels, or files a counterproposal to move the channels elsewhere, they will be deleted. (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking)
- The FCC cancelled Auction 111 after the only mutually exclusive applicants entered into a settlement agreement. The auction was to be a closed auction of LPTV and TV translator construction permits for applicants who submitted mutually exclusive applications either during a 2009 filing window for new LPTV stations or in a 2018 window for stations displaced by the Incentive Auction. With no mutually exclusive applications to be resolved by competitive bidding, there is no longer a need for an auction. (Public Notice)
- The FCC announced its annual calculation of the increase to account for inflation in fines whose amounts are set by the Communications Act. The announced increases include fines for broadcast indecency. For 2022, indecency fines can be as high as $445,445 for each violation or for each day of a continuing violation, except that the amount assessed for any continuing violation shall not exceed a total of $4,111,796. (FCC Order)
For a summary of the some of the important regulatory dates in January and early February, review our monthly feature on our Blog that looks at dates and deadlines for month ahead. (Broadcast Law Blog)