The new year brings a series of regulatory deadlines in January and a February 1 license renewal deadline that broadcasters should take note of. As in 2022, the FCC will remain vigilant in making sure that its deadlines are met, so the following items should not be overlooked or left until the last minute.
The one deadline applicable to almost all broadcasters is the January 10 deadline by which full power and Class A television stations and commercial and noncommercial full-power AM and FM radio stations must upload to their online public inspection files their Quarterly Issues Program lists for the fourth quarter of 2022. The lists should identify the issues of importance to the station’s community and the programs that the station aired in October, November and December that addressed those issues. As you finalize your lists, do so carefully and accurately, as they are the only official records of how your station is serving the public and addressing the needs and interests of its community. See our article here for more on the importance of the Quarterly Issues Programs list obligation.
January 10 is also the deadline by which noncommercial educational stations must upload to their public inspection files documentation of their on-air fundraising benefitting third parties from October 1, 2022 through December 31, 2022. More specifically, this obligation applies to noncommercial educational stations not affiliated with NPR or PBS that conducted third-party on-air fundraising that interrupted their normal programming. For more information about this requirement, see our article here. January 10 is also the date by which Class A television stations should upload documentation of their continuing eligibility for Class A status based on their operations from October 1 through December 31, 2022.
Beginning January 1, television stations affiliated with the Top 4 Networks and operating in Nielsen DMAs 81 through 90 will be subject to the FCC’s audio description rules (those DMAs are Madison, WI; Waco-Temple-Bryan, TX; Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen, TX; Paducah, KY-Cape Girardeau-Harrisburg, MO; Colorado Springs-Pueblo, CO; Shreveport, LA; Syracuse, NY; Champaign and Springfield-Decatur, IL; Savannah, GA; and Cedar Springs-Waterloo-Iowa City and Dubuque, IA). Audio description makes video programming more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired through “[t]he insertion of audio narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements into natural pauses between the program’s dialogue.” Top 4 stations are required to provide audio description for 50 hours per calendar quarter, either during prime time or on children’s programming, and 37.5 additional hours of audio description per calendar quarter between 6 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. local time, on each programming stream on which they carry one of the top four commercial television broadcast networks. We previously reported here on the FCC’s reminder that these new markets are now subject to the audio description requirements.
Perhaps the most important obligations this month for all commercial television stations are those dealing with Children’s Television. Each year all commercial full-power and Class A television stations must prepare and file their annual Children’s Television Programming Report (Form 2100, Schedule H – formerly Form 398). This Programming Report shows the programming broadcast by a station to meet its obligations to provide educational and informational programming addressing the needs of children. For more details, see our article here on the FCC’s requirements for this programming (and the articles here and here about the FCC’s amendment to those requirements). Schedule H must be filed at the FCC by January 30. In addition, by January 30, each full-power and Class A TV station should upload to its online public file records documenting compliance in the prior year with the limits on the number of commercial minutes that stations can allow in children’s programming.
January dates to consider also include a number of rulemaking comment deadlines. The FCC has extended the comment and reply comment deadlines for its Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on proposals to enhance the FCC’s requirements that each broadcaster verify that any program time sold to third parties (or any pre-produced programming received for free) does not come from a “foreign government entity,” i.e., a foreign government or one of its agents. As we wrote previously, the Second Notice seeks comment on proposals to adopt an enhanced and standardized certification that all buyers of program time on any broadcast station. Various disclosure obligations apply if the programming does in fact come from a foreign government entity. The Second Notice also proposes that the certifications, whether or not they indicate that the program buyer is a foreign government entity, be included in a station’s online public file, and also proposes to confirm that advertising material two minutes or less in length, is not “program time” subject to the rule. Comments are now due on January 9, and reply comments are now due on January 24.
The reply comment deadline for the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry on how to optimize use of the 12.7-13.25 GHz band (which is already used by broadcasters for auxiliary purposes) and on whether the band is suitable for mobile broadband or other expanded use. Reply comments are now due on January 10.
Reply comments are due by January 23 on the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on proposals for, among other things, strengthening the operational readiness of Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) equipment, and requiring EAS Participants to report compromises of their EAS equipment, communications systems, and services to the FCC. This proceeding would require broadcasters to adopt security programs to insure that EAS systems are not compromised by those who might want to abuse the EAS system, and for broadcasters to yearly certify to the FCC that they have adopted such security programs. For more details about this proceeding, see our article here.
Lastly, broadcasters who are streaming their audio on the Internet or through digital apps need to remember that the recently announced cost of living increases in the statutory royalties to be paid in 2023 to SoundExchange are effective on January 1. For more details about the increases recently announced by the Copyright Royalty Board, see our article here. Although payments are not due for January streaming until 45 days after the end of the month, most webcasters do need to pay their minimum annual fees by January 31 (now $1000 per programming channel) for commercial and noncommercial streams not affiliated with a school or NPR/CPB. Also by January 31, noncommercial educational webcasters affiliated with a school or college but not covered by deals with NPR and CPB may need to make elections about recordkeeping requirements that will apply to their stations.
Looking ahead to February, February 1 is the deadline for license renewal applications for television stations (full power, Class A, LPTV and TV translators) licensed to communities in New York and New Jersey. Renewal applications must be accompanied by FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 Broadcast EEO Program Report (except for LPFMs and TV translators). Stations filing for renewal of their license should make sure that all documents required to be uploaded to the station’s online public file are complete and were uploaded on time. Note that your Broadcast EEO Program Report must include two years of Annual EEO Public File Reports for FCC review, unless your employment unit employs fewer than five full-time employees. Be sure to read the instructions for the license renewal application and consult with your advisors if you have questions, especially if you have noticed any discrepancies in your online public file or political file. Issues with the public file have already led to fines imposed on TV broadcasters during this renewal cycle.
February 1 is also the deadline by which radio and television station employment units with five or more full-time employees licensed to communities in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma must upload Annual EEO Public File Reports to station online public inspection files. This annual report covers hiring and employment outreach activities for the prior year. A link to the uploaded report must also be included on the home page of a station’s website, if it has a website.
As always, this list of dates is not exhaustive and comment/reply comment deadlines can change. Always review these dates with your legal and technical advisors, and note other dates not listed here that may be relevant to your operations.