March may not have any of the regular FCC filing deadlines, but there are still plenty of regulatory activities going on this month that should grab the attention of any broadcast or media company. Initially, there are several FCC proceedings in which there are dates in March worth noting.

Initially, there are comments in the 2022 Quadrennial Review of the FCC’s ownership rules.  As we wrote in our summary of the issues on which comments are requested when it was released in late December, the proceeding is to look at rules including the local radio ownership rules, the dual network rule (prohibiting the combination of two of the big four TV networks), and other rules not yet resolved.  The FCC is charged with determining every four years whether these rules continue to be in the public interest.  Even though the FCC has never finished the 2018 Quadrennial Review examining these same issues, the FCC nevertheless asks for comments on how these rules affect FCC policies including competition, localism, and diversity.  Comments in this proceeding are due March 3, with reply comments due March 20. 

At its March 16 regular monthly open meeting, the FCC will consider  a draft Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) that, if adopted, would formally propose to extend the FCC’s existing audio description requirements for broadcast television to DMAs below the top 100 (i.e., DMAs 101-210).  Audio description makes video programming more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired by inserting, using a secondary audio stream, narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements during natural pauses in the program’s dialogue. Audio description is already required in DMAs 1 through 90, and these requirements will go into effect in DMAs 91 through 100 on January 1, 2024.  In these markets, “Big Four” stations (ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox) are required to provide 50 hours of audio description per calendar quarter, either during prime time or in 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.  The FCC proposes to extend these requirements to DMAs 101-210 by phasing in 10 DMAs per year starting on January 1, 2025, meaning that the bottom 10 DMAs would not be phased in until January 1, 2035. 

Comments are also due this month on a Media Bureau Public Notice asking whether, in determining if specific closed captioning display settings are readily accessible, the FCC should consider the following factors: proximity, discoverability, previewability, and consistency and persistence.  Comments are due March 3, and reply comments are due March 20.  The request for comments is an offshoot of the FCC’s ongoing rulemaking on requiring manufacturers of video displays, including television sets, to make closed captioning display settings readily accessible to individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. 

Written comments on the FTC’s proposal to ban non-compete agreements are due on March 20.  The proposal is a broad one, proposing to prohibit any agreement that has the same effect as a noncompete agreement, including broad nondisclosure agreements that would preclude a worker from working in their field at a new company, or contract clauses that require an employee to repay a company for training costs if the employee leaves the company.  The proposed rule would apply not just to employees of a company, but also to independent contractors, interns, and others performing work for a company. 

The FCC’s increased application fees will become effective on March 2.  The FCC in December announced the increase of those fees to reflect increases in the cost of living.  See our article here for a list of the new fees for broadcast applications.  If you have an application about to be files, save a few dollars, file, and pay for any applications that you can in the next few days before the new fees take effect.

On March 1 the Federal Election Commission’s new disclaimer requirements for internet-based political advertising (including the identification of the ad sponsor) go into effect.  These rule changes will impact most media companies with websites and mobile apps, as well as the nationwide streaming services now developing ad supported platforms.  More specifically, and as we’ve already reported in greater detail here, the FEC adopted a proposal amending its rules to require a disclaimer on those “communications placed for a fee on another person’s website, digital device, application, or advertising platform.” 

Daylight Savings Time resumes on March 12, and thus AM daytime-only radio stations and stations operating with pre-sunrise and/or post-sunset authority should check their sign-on and sign-off times on their current FCC authorizations to ensure continued compliance with the FCC’s rules.  Note that all times listed in FCC licenses are Standard Time.

Lastly, in the “coming attractions” bucket, broadcasters are reminded that April 3 is the deadline by which television stations, LPTV stations, TV translators and Class A stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania must file license renewal applications (including the associated Equal Employment Opportunity Report (Form 2100, Schedule 396)).  That is also the date by which radio and television stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas must upload their Annual EEO Public File Reports for employment units with five or more full-time employees. 

Also worth noting is that, if you are planning an application to be filed with the FCC’s Audio Division after April 1, the Division in January released a Public Notice informing broadcasters that 2020 census data is now available and should be used for all technical applications filed on April 1 or after when computing areas and populations served by any proposal.  The Notice also points out that the new data that should be used in radio applications includes the Census Bureau’s new list of Urbanized Areas, relevant to FCC applications including those that involve an analysis of the Commission’s Rural Radio policy

As always, this list of dates is not exhaustive, and 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.