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.
- In the last two license renewal cycles, more fines have been issued for full-power stations violating the requirement that they quarterly add to their public inspection files a list of the most important issues facing their communities and the programming that they aired in that quarter to address these issues. This week, the Media Bureau proposed another such fine, proposing to fine a Florida full power television station $9,000 for allegedly failing to timely upload 10 quarterly issues/programs lists to its online public inspection file during the last renewal cycle. The station offered no explanation for that failure. See our Broadcast Law Blog article here for more on the importance of the Quarterly Issues/Programs list obligation.
- For TV translators and LPTV stations, another frequent source of fines has been the late filing of renewal applications. This week, the Bureau proposed to fine a licensee of four television translator stations in Oklahoma $6,000 for failing to timely file renewal applications for those stations.
- In the last few years, it has become more common to see broadcasters surrendering licenses for stations that they no longer feel that they can operate. In some cases, other broadcasters have noted the surrenders and expressed interest in acquiring the surrendered license. In a decision released this week, the Media Bureau made clear that any such request needs to come quickly and include the licensee who surrendered the license. In this week’s decision, the Bureau dismissed an “emergency petition” filed by Albuquerque Board of Education (ABE), requesting that the FCC reinstate the cancelled licenses of an AM station and an FM translator licensed to Los Alamos, New Mexico, and permit ABE to operate those stations. As the request was filed more than 30 days after the FCC’s public notice of the cancellation of the license, the Bureau determined that it was untimely (as requests to reconsider an FCC action must occur within 30 days of public notice), also noting that ABE had no apparent relationship to the prior licensee (even though it had submitted a statement from the former licensee that she did not reimpose the reinstatement, the licensee did not itself request reinstatement or file any sort of application to transfer the station to ABE).
- For the second week in a row, the Media Bureau asked for comment on a proposal for a broadcast licensee to be owned by foreign citizens. This week, the Bureau issued an amended declaratory ruling from Hemisphere Media Group, Inc. (HMTV), the controlling parent of the proposed transferee of various television licensees, to exceed the 25% foreign ownership benchmarks in section 310(b)(4) of the Communications Act of 1934. The ruling approved foreign ownership up to 100% of HMTV’s equity and voting interests in the aggregate, and ownership interests by certain identified foreign owners. As we noted in our Broadcast Law Blog articles here and here, the FCC will approve foreign ownership of up to 100% of broadcast licensee after reviewing the individuals or companies involved to ensure that the proposed owners do not pose any threat to national security or otherwise threaten the public interest.
- The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is seeking to compel the FCC, through a petition for a “writ of mandamus” filed with the US Court of Appeals, to conclude the agency’s still pending 2018 Quadrennial Regulatory Review of its broadcast ownership rules; a review that, among other things, is looking at whether the local radio ownership rules and the rule prohibiting common control of two of the Top 4 TV networks are still in the public interest. This week, the NAB filed its Reply to the FCC’s Opposition to the NAB’s petition. The FCC argued that, while Congress requires the FCC to begin a Quadrennial Review every four years, it does not require that the review be completed within any set time. The NAB’s reply contend that such a position would mean that the statutory mandate for a review of the ownership rules every four years would be meaningless if the review never had to be finished. The NAB also submitted the FCC cannot claim that further delay is justified by the complexities of the 2018 review or political “contentiousness” among the FCC’s Commissioners concerning the scope of the 2018 review. We expect the Court to rule on NAB’s Petition in the coming weeks.
- The FCC’s Office of Communications Business Opportunities issued a Public Notice announcing its upcoming review of rules the FCC adopted in calendar years 2007–2012 that have or will have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. Section 610 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), 5 U.S.C. § 610, requires the FCC to determine whether such rules should be continued without change, amended, or rescinded to minimize any significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The Appendix lists the rules the Commission will review during the next 12 months. The Appendix includes a brief description of each rule, and its policy and legal basis (those that specifically apply to broadcasters begin on page 32 of the Appendix). Comments on the Public Notice will be due 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. This is an ongoing process that rarely results in changes in the rules, but it does allow the public to bring rules that need change to the FCC’s attention.
- The FCC’s Media Bureau issued an Order to Pay or to Show Cause against an Alabama FM station, initiating a proceeding to revoke the station’s license unless, within 60 days, it pays delinquent regulatory fees and associated interest, administrative costs, and penalties. owed to the Federal Communications Commission (Commission). According to the Order, the FCC’s records indicate that the station currently has unpaid regulatory fee debt of $1,372.94 for FY 2021 and $1,478.34 for FY 2022.
- The Media Bureau requested comment on proposals to allocate new noncommercial TV channels to three communities, proposing to allot (1) reserved noncommercial educational (NCE) channel *3 to Tulare, California as the community’s first local television service; (2) reserved NCE channel *4 to Alamogordo, New Mexico as the community’s first local television service; and (3) reserved noncommercial educational (NCE) channel *2 to Colusa, California as the community’s first local television service. In all three cases (available here, here and here) comments and reply comments are due 30 and 45 days, respectively, after the proposal is published in the Federal Register.
- On our Broadcast Law Blog this week, we published articles on the FEC request for comments on the use of Artificial Intelligence in political advertising (here) and on the RMLC’s request to consolidate the ASCAP and BMI rate setting proceedings and whether this could be a first step to consolidated all rate-setting for music royalties (here).