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

  • The Media Bureau this week released the first of what will likely be a series of decisions resolving conflicts between mutually exclusive applications for new noncommercial FM stations filed during last year’s filing window. Mutually exclusive applicants are those that, because of interference considerations, cannot both be granted. These applicants did not enter into settlement agreements when the FCC provided a window for voluntary resolutions of conflicts earlier this year.  Because there was no voluntary resolution offered to the FCC, the applications underwent comparative consideration by the FCC.  The 15 groups of mutually exclusive applicants analyzed this week were all resolved through a “307(b) analysis,” a technical review as to whether one of the applicants will provide substantially more first or second noncommercial radio service than the other applicant (see our article describing the application of the 307(b) analysis here).  As a result of this analysis, fifteen applicants were tentatively selected to be awarded construction permits (Memorandum Opinion and Order).  These were relatively easy conflicts to resolve, as each group had only two mutually exclusive applicants.  The FCC is analyzing other groups of mutually exclusive applicants, some including groups of many conflicting applications where only one will be selected.  Where the 307(b) analysis of the relative coverage areas does not find meaningful differences between mutually exclusive applicants, the FCC will conduct a “point system” analysis of other attributes of the applicants.  See our article here for more information on the FCC selection criteria for mutually exclusive noncommercial applications.
  • A consent decree requiring a company to pay a $250,000 penalty and surrender about 100 LPTV authorizations shows the FCC’s insistence that LPTV applicants filing construction permits for changes in their transmitter site locations have a serious intent to permanently construct the proposed new facilities and to continuously serve the public in the area authorized by the permits. In this decree, the FCC explained that the company had abused FCC processes by filing for and receiving construction permits for changes in at least 30 of its stations and only operating those stations for a matter of days before taking them silent and filing applications to move to yet another transmitter site.  The FCC found that the company tried to use a series of “minor” changes (which can be filed at any time) to accomplish a “major” change in the stations, when major changes are only permissible during rare filing windows.  The company also used the serial minor changes to “hop” signals closer to urban areas, when many of the permits for the stations were awarded as of a result of a filing window designed to authorize new stations to serve rural areas (Order and Consent Decree). This decision mirrors similar decisions from the Media Bureau in connection with FM translators.  We wrote more about this week’s decision on our Broadcast Law Blog, here.
  • The Office of Management and Budget approved the paperwork collection aspects of the FCC’s new rules on enhanced sponsorship identifications required for broadcast programming paid for by foreign governments and their agents. These rules also require that broadcasters, when selling any block of program time, investigate the buyer to make sure that it is not a foreign agent.  These rules will become effective on a date to be announced by the Media Bureau – an announcement that is expected soon.
  • Our law partner Mitch Stabbe wrote a two-part article on the Broadcast Law Blog about legal concerns that stations should keep in mind when designing advertising or promotions using March Madness, the Final Four, and many other trademarks associated with the upcoming NCAA basketball tournaments. (Part 1, Part 2)

Looking ahead to next week, March 14 is the effective date for a new FCC requirement that stations consider a write-in candidate’s social media and online presence when deciding if the candidate is a “legally qualified candidate” entitled to the protections of the FCC’s political broadcasting rules.  See our article on this rule change here.  March 14 is also the deadline to submit reply comments in the ATSC 3.0 licensing rulemaking.  In that proceeding, the FCC proposes to determine that the station originating the programming is responsible for legal and regulatory compliance when their programming is “hosted” on the multicast stream of another station as part of the Next Gen TV transition.  Read the comments submitted in that docket, here.  And with the March 13th start of Daylight Saving Time, operators of AM daytime-only stations and stations with pre-sunrise and/or post-sunset authorizations should confirm that they are operating with the proper sign-on and sign-off times specified on their current FCC authorizations, as these times are usually specified in “standard time.”