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 FCC’s Enforcement Bureau released a Public Notice announcing that EEO Mid-Term Reviews for radio and television stations will start with review of the Annual EEO Public File Reports filed by radio stations in the District of Columbia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. Reports for those stations are due to be uploaded to each station’s online public inspection file by June 1, 2023, the fourth anniversary of the June 1, 2019 filing deadline for those stations’ last license renewal application. On a rolling basis through April 1, 2027, stations licensed in all other states will be subject to the Mid-Term Review on the fourth anniversary of the filing deadline for their most recent license renewal application. In the Mid-Term Review, the FCC will review the two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports. Mid-Term Review is only required for radio employment units with 11 or more full-time employees. Thus, radio stations must now indicate when they upload their annual EEO Public File Report whether their employment unit (a commonly controlled cluster of stations in the same geographic area that have at least one common employee) has 11 or more full-time employees, using a checkbox now included in the EEO folder in the online public file. All TV stations with 5 or more full-time employees will undergo a Mid-Term review. As only station with 5 or more full-time employees need to complete the Annual EEO Public File Report, the question about the number of employees is not necessary for TV. The upload of the public file report by a TV station means that the mid-term review of its EEO performance is required. See our Broadcast Law Blog article here for more on the EEO Mid-Term Review, and the new reporting requirement for radio stations.
- The FCC recently issued a Report and Order updating its Part 74 rules for LPTV and TV translator stations, to reflect their termination of analog operations as of July 13, 2021. These rule changes, which do not materially affect the basic regulatory obligations of LPTV or TV translators now operating with digital facilities, were published in the Federal Register this week, meaning that most will be effective on June 12, 2023. The June 12 effective date does not apply to rules that change paperwork obligations, as these changes must undergo a Paperwork Reduction Act Review and will become effective after the FCC publishes notice of the Office of Management and Budget’s approval of those changes in a subsequent Federal Register notice. In a previous weekly update, we noted some of the changes adopted in this Order.
- The Media Bureau issued a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing a $16,000 fine for a licensee’s alleged unauthorized operation of an LPTV station in Pittsburgh. The fine stemmed from the 2019 displacement of the station from Channel 31 to Channel 10. Between October 2019 and March 2023, the station operated on Channel 31 with reduced power to prevent co-channel interference to a full-power TV station without Special Temporary Authority (STA) to do so. The fine was for three and a half years of unauthorized operations as the licensee failed to request an STA to operate at reduced power on Channel 31 during the pendency of its displacement application. Because of prior rule violations by the licensee, the FCC declined to lower the proposed fine to the base amount – which would have been $13,000 ($3,000 for the failure to file the required STA request and $10,000 for the station’s unauthorized operations).
- The Media Bureau issued a fine in the amount of $750 to the operator of a TV translator station in Washington state for its failure to timely file an application for a “license to cover” after the station was constructed pursuant to its construction permit, and for its subsequent unauthorized operations after the station’s construction permit had expired. As we have noted on our Blog, including in recent weekly summaries, once a station is constructed pursuant to a construction permit, the permittee must file a “license to cover” informing the FCC of the details of the completed construction (see our articles here, here, and here). The Bureau previously proposed a forfeiture in the amount of $5,600 for this permittee’s violations but reduced the fine to $750 after the permittee demonstrated an inability to pay the higher amount.
- The Enforcement Bureau issued a $15,000 fine to an LPFM operator in Colorado for broadcasting promotional announcements for for-profit entities in exchange for consideration. The Bureau concluded that over a period of 3 months in 2018 alone, the permittee aired more than 1,800 commercial announcements on its LPFM station. LPFM stations are licensed as noncommercial broadcasters who, pursuant to Section 399b of the Communications Act and certain Commission rules, cannot run paid promotional announcements for for-profit entities. The Bureau declined to reduce the fine as the licensee did not submit sufficient evidence of an inability to pay the proposed amount. The fine would be about 7% of the station’s annual gross revenue which, under Commission precedent, is not excessive.
- Two Congressmen wrote a letter to the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency asking FEMA to detail the harm to the EAS system that would result if AM radios are not include in automobiles. This is part of the increasing Congressional concern over the plans of certain manufacturers to remove AM radios from new cars. The Washington Post published a multi-page article, starting on the front page of its Sunday paper, on the issue of AM in cars, focusing on the importance of the local service provided for over a century by WTAW(AM) in Bryan-College Station, Texas.
- The FCC’s Items on Circulation list (which lists draft orders circulating among the Commissioners for approval) this week removed a recently added item titled “Review of the Commission’s Assessment and Collection of Regulatory Fees; Amendment and Collection of Regulatory Fees for Fiscal Year 2023, Report and Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.” This likely means that we will see a public release early in the coming week of the Commission’s proposal for the annual regulatory fees to be paid by broadcasters in August or September. The annual fees are paid by all entities that the FCC regulates to reimburse the government for the cost of FCC operations. Whether the amount of the fees allocated to broadcasters is fair has been the subject of significant debate over the last year.