Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.
- July 18, 2022 was the reply comment deadline for the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the its proposed regulatory fees for fiscal year 2022. The NAB Reply argued that broadcasters are proposed to pay too much, and contends that certain FCC operational costs have been misallocated to broadcasters for regulatory activities that do not involve them (the reg fees are allocated to reimburse the FCC for the costs of regulating each industry that the FCC oversees). The NAB recognized that, as the fees need to be set soon so that they can be paid before the October 1 start of the next fiscal year, the FCC may not be able to broaden the base of payors to include currently unlicensed entities that benefit from FCC regulation, fees on broadcasters should be limited to an increase of no more than 5% rather than the 13% increase proposed for radio. The FCC budget, which the fees are to reimburse, only increased by 2.1%. As might be expected, representatives of other segments of the communications industry argued that their portion of the fees should not be increased. Expect an FCC decision setting the final amounts for the fees in late August or very early September.
- The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to an FM station in Georgia for operating an FM booster without FCC authorization – and without even applying for one. The NOV directs the station to file within 20 days a written explanation of its violations and what it has done to cure the problem. The NOV cautions that the Enforcement Bureau could take further action against the station in the future, including assessment of a fine. The Bureau also issued a similar NOV to an FM station in Florida for operating from a location not authorized by its Special Temporary Authority (STA), using an antenna not authorized by the STA. Remember, if you plan to change the transmission facilities with which your station operates, in the vast majority of cases, you will need the FCC’s prior approval to do so.
- The FCC’s Audio Division issued a short-term renewal of one year (as opposed to a full term of eight years) to a group of Texas FM stations, each of which was alleged to have been silent for 25% of its license term and over 40% of the period covered by the renewal application plus the time that the renewal was under consideration. This again reminds broadcasters of the seriousness with which the Audio Division is treating stations that have been silent for extended periods. See the July 19 entry on our Broadcast Law Blog for further discussion of the FCC’s developing practices in dealing with stations that are not continuously operating.
- The FCC continues to aggressively police pirate radio stations, issuing five notices of illegal operation on July 18. In each case, the FCC warned the alleged violator that it could be subject to a fine of up to $2.1 million if such illegal operations continued. These notices were again directed at the owners of the properties from which the pirates were operating. See a sample notice here.
- The FCC’s Audio Division rejected a request for the grant of an application from last year’s window for new Noncommercial Educational (NCE) reserved-band FM stations. The applicant requesting the grant was not preferred in a May decision awarding a construction permit to another mutually exclusive (MX) applicant based on its proposed superior technical coverage. After that decision, the applicant in this case amended its application and contended that, as the amendment removed any conflict with the winning applicant, its application should also be granted. The FCC rejected that contention, as its rules only allow grant of one application out of any group of MX NCE applicants. In its rulemaking setting the rules for deciding between MX NCE applications, it specifically rejected a proposal to allow “secondary grants” from within any MX group, fearing that allowing such grants would be administratively difficult and might result in the grant of technically inferior applications. Without compelling reasons, which the Division did not see in this case, this policy will not be waived.
- A new Chief Judge was appointed to the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB). The CRB sets certain music royalties and allocates certain fees collected by the Copyright Office. For instance, the CRB sets the fees radio broadcasters pay to SoundExchange for streaming their signals on the Internet. It also decides on the distribution of the distant signal royalties paid by cable and satellite for importing non-local television stations and the fees paid to ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR by noncommercial broadcasters. We wrote on our blog about the many other proceedings relevant to media companies in which the CRB is involved.