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.

  • Around this time of year, the FCC typically issues a Public Notice reminding TV broadcasters, cable operators, satellite television services, and other distributors of video programming of their obligations to make emergency information accessible to persons with disabilities.  This year’s Public Notice was released this week, and it is essentially identical to last year’s Public Notice (which we summarized on our Broadcast Law Blog), although it updates the list of examples of potential emergency information to include Canadian wildfires.  Included in the Public Notice were reminders that video providers have an obligation to run on a secondary audio channel an audio version of any textual alert message broadcast outside of news programming (see our articles hereherehere and here for more on this obligation), and that TV broadcasters who give actionable information aurally (e.g., “take cover now if you are in Anytown”) during the course of a broadcast about an immediate emergency must also provide that information in a visual form (e.g., crawls or even on whiteboards) so that persons with hearing difficulties can see that information (see our article here for more information).  Review the Public Notice for more information about the obligations of TV stations to make accessible the emergency information that they convey. 
  • The Commission’s Media Bureau issued a Public Notice reminding broadcast licensees of the importance of filing their biennial ownership reports on FCC Form 323 or 323-E, as required by the Commission’s rules.  Licensees of commercial and non-commercial full power television, Class A television, low power television, AM radio, and FM radio stations must file biennial ownership reports with the Commission in odd-numbered years.  Reports are due to be filed this year between October 2 and December 1, containing ownership information that is current as of October 1.  The Commission takes this filing seriously, and the Bureau has urged licensees to begin preparing their reports sooner than later.  We recently published a blog article discussing what licensees need to be aware of when preparing these reports, and the amount of work involved.
  • At its regular monthly open meeting on July 20, the Commission adopted a Report and Order permitting a limited group of 14 “TV6” LPTV stations to continue providing analog FM radio service on 87.7 MHz even though they have converted to digital operations for their video programming (the full text of the Report and Order is available here).  These LPTV stations have been able to continue to serve their analog radio audience during the course of this proceeding only through temporary authority granted by the Commission, following the July 2021 LPTV digital transition.  This Order formalized the continuation of the FM6 service.  The Report and Order also refused to adopt a proposal that would have allowed new FM radio stations to be licensed on channel 6 across the United States in locations where the channels are not being used to provide television programming, and postponed for a future proceeding any changes to the rules designed to prevent interference by reserved band educational FM stations to TV 6 operations (rules which some operators of noncommercial radio stations allege are no longer needed to protect digital channel 6 TV stations).
  • The Commission has confirmed via Public Notice that its Third Report and Order and Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in its Next Generation TV (“ATSC 3.0”) docket has been published in the Federal Register.  The Third Report and Order adopted rules clarifying the legal responsibility of simulcast and non-simulcast multicast streams where one licensee hosts the programming of another to make programming available in both the old and new transmission standards.  The order also extended the sunset dates until July 17, 2027 for the Commission’s “substantially similar” requirement (requiring that the primary video stream of a station that has converted to ATSC 3.0 be also broadcast on a multicast stream of a station still operating in the old standard) and the requirement for Next Gen TV stations to comply with the A/322 technical standard (Next Generation proponents wanting the ability to update the standard in the future without FCC approval but, for now, agreeing to this extension as there are no immediate plans for an update). The Fourth Further Notice sought comment on whether rules were needed to assure the availability of ATSC 3.0 Standard Essential Patents. The Federal Register publication sets comments and reply comments deadlines on the Fourth Further Notice as September 15 and October 16, 2023, respectively. Also, the rules adopted in the Third Report and Order go into effect on August 16, 2023, except for rules that adopt new paperwork requirements including changes to application forms, which will go into effect after approval of the Office of Management and Budget following a required Paperwork Reduction Act review required for all changes in any agency-imposed paperwork requirements. 
  • In Congress, the House Judiciary Committee approved the PRESS Act, designed to prevent federal authorities from subpoenaing information or testimony from journalists about documents gathered in preparing their stories and the sources on which they relied, except in cases involving terrorism or imminent violent acts.  This bill next needs to be considered by the full House of Representatives and the Senate (and signed by the President) before it becomes law.
  • On the enforcement front, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued an Order directing the licensee of a New Mexico LPTV station to pay a $1,500 fine for filing its license renewal application six weeks late. The Bureau likewise proposed to fine a Montana LPTV licensee $1,500, again for failing to file a timely license renewal application.  The Bureau also entered into a Consent Decree with a Florida AM licensee for not uploading material to its online public inspection file in a timely manner (the licensee agreed to adopt a compliance plan but suffered no financial penalty).  The Bureau entered into a similar Consent Decree with a North Carolina FM licensee for filing its license renewal application three and a half months late and failing to upload any issues/programs lists to its online public inspection file, and also imposed a $500 fine, a fine lower than usual as the station is a student-run noncommercial station.
  • The Media Bureau issued a Report and Order substituting UHF channel 20 for VHF channel 10 in the Table of TV Allotments at Elko, Nevada, and proposed to substitute channel 21 for channel 7 at Knoxville, Tennessee, both changes designed to provide the improved digital service that is provided by stations operating on UHF channels (channels 14 and above). 
  • The Commission’s Enforcement Bureau announced that it has issued nine warnings to  landowners and property managers in the Miami area for apparently allowing pirate radio operations on their properties. The FCC may issue a fine exceeding $2 million if it determines that a landowner continues to permit any individual or entity to engage in pirate radio broadcasting from any property that they own or manage.  The text of each warning is available here.  These large fines were made possible by the PIRATE Act, which also mandated increased FCC vigilance to police unauthorized radio operations. 
  • With ads already running for the 2024 elections, we published an article on our Broadcast Law Blog on the implications for media companies of political ads generated by artificial intelligence.