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.
- The effective date of a recently adopted FCC Report and Order aimed at making emergency alerts delivered over television and radio stations more informative and easier to understand by the public, particularly people with disabilities, was set when the order was published in the Federal Register. Among other changes, the updated rules require broadcasters, cable systems, and other Emergency Alert System participants to transmit the Internet-based version of emergency alerts (i.e., those transmitted through the internet based Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, “IPAWS,” using the Common Alerting Protocol or “CAP”) when the station receives alerts from both IPAWS and from the traditional over-the-air “daisy chain” system. The Report and Order was published in the Federal Register on November 10, 2022, meaning that the rules are effective on December 12, 2022, and broadcasters are required to update their systems to comply with the requirements imposed in the new rules within one year, by December 12, 2023. For more details on these new rules and on other proposed changes in EAS requirements for broadcasters, see the article on our Broadcast Law Blog, here.
- The FCC’s Media Bureau dismissed an application for a new noncommercial educational FM station due to prohibited contour overlap with a second-adjacent channel NCE station. The applicant had requested, and the Bureau denied, a “Raleigh waiver,” which allows an NCE station to receive – not cause – a small amount of interfering contour overlap from second- or third-adjacent stations, provided that the public interest benefit of increased NCE service heavily outweighs the potential for interference that may occur in the overlap area. However, Raleigh waivers are not available to applicants for new NCE stations, being accepted only with applications seeking changes in an existing NCE station. The Bureau therefore found that the applicant was ineligible for a Raleigh waiver and dismissed the application.
- This case is also instructive in that the application was filed for a “share-time” facility. Under a rarely used section of the FCC rules, Section 73.561(b), when an NCE FM station does not regularly operate for at least 12 hours per day, another noncommercial licensee can file an application to use the frequency during the hours that the station is not operating and, if the existing licensee and the new applicant cannot agree on a shared operating schedule, the new applicant can ask the FCC to force the shared-time operation. While, because of the technical defect, the applicant attempting to force the share-time operation was dismissed here, it should serve as a reminder to NCE stations everywhere that, if they do not operate for 12 hours every day, they stand a risk of having to share their frequency with another broadcaster. However, the FCC will only force a share-time operation during the pendency of the existing station’s license renewal so this risk likely will not arise for the vast majority of stations until the next license renewal cycle which begins in 2027.
- The FCC issued three notices proposing significant fines for pirate radio operations. The FCC continues to aggressively police pirate radio stations, issuing notices warning the alleged violator that it could be subject to a fine of up to $2,149,551 if such illegal operations continued. These notices were again directed at the owners of the properties from which the pirates were operating. See the three notices here, here, and here. For more information on the 2020 law that authorized large fines and actions against landowners, see our article here.
- The FCC issued two notices to parties who had been the high bidders in auctions for new commercial FM stations but failed to pay the amounts that they bid. Under the FCC rules for broadcast auctions, if a successful bidder fails to pay the amount that it bid, the bidder will be liable to the federal government for the difference between what it bid in the auction and any lesser amount paid by a winning bidder when the channel is reauctioned in a subsequent auction. In the two cases released this week, here and here, the FCC seeks to collect several hundred thousand dollars from each of the defaulting bidders.