Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past two weeks, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.
- The FCC, as required by the Communications Act, released a Public Notice announcing the start of the 2022 Quadrennial Review of the FCC’s ownership rules. The FCC is required, once every four years, to review their local ownership rules to see if they remain in the public interest. The Notice starts the review required for this year even though the 2018 review remains pending with seemingly little likelihood of any action as long as the FCC remains politically divided (currently two Republicans and two Democrats with one open seat). The Public Notice asks for interested parties to update the record gathered in the 2018 review to discuss, among other things, the current state of competition in the media marketplace and whether, given any changes in that marketplace, whether changes in the rules are required. For more on this Notice and its background, see our article on our Broadcast Law Blog.
- The FCC also released its Marketplace Competition Report where, each year, it reports to Congress on the state of competition in all of the markets it regulates – including both the audio and video marketplaces. This report is provided to advise Congress on the state of competition in the communications marketplace so that the facts can be considered in connection with any legislation.
- Congress passed the Low Power Protection Act, which directs the FCC to start a proceeding to give LPTV stations Class A status if they have provided 3 hours of local programming per week in the 90 days prior to the enactment of the legislation. Class A status means that the stations are protected against interference from any new full-power TV station or other spectrum user. To qualify, the LPTV station must be in a DMA with not more than 95,000 households. That is approximately DMA 175 and smaller.
- The Commission released an Order adjusting for inflation the maximum penalties that can be assessed for a violation of FCC rules. For most violations, after the effective date of these increases, the fine shall not exceed $59,316 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation, with a maximum total fine for any continuing violation not to exceed $593,170. For fines involving indecency, the fines can be up to $479,945 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation, with a maximum for a continuing violation of $4,430,255 for any single act. For violations of the rules prohibiting pirate radio operations, the fine can be as much as $115,802 per day not to exceed a total of $2,316,034. These increased fines will be effective upon publication in the Federal Register.
- The Audio Division of the Media Bureau issued a Letter asking an applicant seeking a city of license and transmitter site change for an existing FM station in Texas for more information as to why those changes were in the public interest. In seeking a change in the city of license of a radio station, the FCC looks at the areas and populations covered by the station currently and compares it to the areas and populations that will be served by the station after the proposed changes. Here, where the proposal would serve fewer people and move the city of license to a substantially smaller community, the Division’s letter suggested that the change was not in the public interest. This Letter provides a good example of the considerations weighed by the Division in assessing the public interest considerations in any city of license change.
- The Audio Division also released a Letter decision upholding a prior decision rescinding the license of a FM translator that had been constructed at a site that was not authorized by its construction permit, and was operated from a mobile home park for only three months before being taken silent, violating the FCC’s policy requiring “permanent” construction of any facility used to meet a construction deadline so as to not waste the FCC’s time granting temporary facilities that will not make permanent use of the broadcast spectrum.
- The Enforcement Bureau issued a Citation against a manufacturer of FM transmitters that could operate outside the FM band, did not have the proper connections for antennas to be used with the transmitter, and did not come with appropriate operator’s manuals. As noted in the Citation, all radio frequency devices marketed in the US must have FCC approval, which these transmitters allegedly did not when initially marketed. The Bureau asked for the company’s response and warned that it could impose fines of up to $22,021 for each such violation, and up to $165,159 for any single act or failure to act.
- This past week, we published on our Broadcast Law Blog a summary of some of the most important regulatory dates for broadcasters in January.