While there are a number of regulatory deadlines scheduled for broadcasters in the month of March, there is also the potential for some of those to shift if we have a federal government shutdown.  As of the date of the publication of this article, we do not know if a federal government shutdown will occur this month, with the FCC and FTC currently being funded only through March 8.  As we recently discussed here, the FCC and other government agencies may have to cease all but critical functions if they do not have any residual funds to continue operations during a shutdown.  Therefore, if Congress fails to extend funding of the FCC and other government agencies past March 8, many of the regulatory deadlines discussed below will likely be postponed. If there is a shutdown, and any of the deadlines below apply to you, be sure to research how the shutdown affects your operations.

There are certain technical deadlines likely not affected by any shutdown.  Those include the requirement that, by March 11, broadcasters using Sage EAS equipment implement the requirement that, when a station receives an over-the-air EAS alert, it must wait at least 10 seconds to determine if a CAP alert has been sent through the IPAWS system and, if it has, the station should rebroadcast that internet-delivered CAP alert rather than the one received over the air.  We wrote more about that requirement on our Broadcast Law Blog, here. For stations using other EAS equipment, the deadline was December 12, 2023 to implement this requirement but as Sage was delayed in pushing out its equipment update, users of that equipment were given until March 11 to comply with this requirement. 

Another deadline likely not affected by government funding applies to AM stations.  Daylight Savings Time resumes on March 10, 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 compliance with the requirements set out in those authorizations.  As all times listed in FCC licenses are Standard Time, don’t be fooled into thinking that your daytime-only station has extra time to keep operating once Daylight Savings time kicks in.

A number of FCC actions become effective this month.  Perhaps the most prominent is the March 18 effective date of the rules adopted in the FCC’s December 2023 Report and Order in which the FCC concluded its 2018 Quadrennial Review of its broadcast ownership rules pursuant to court order (see our discussion here and here).  One of the substantive changes made in that decision was to adopt a clarification of the rules to prohibit any agreement that allows one top 4 station in a market to acquire the programming of another top 4 station and move that programming to a commonly owned LPTV station or a multicast stream.  FCC policy previously prohibited such transactions if the programming is moved to a full-power station owned by the acquiring party.  The new decision makes clear that the programming also cannot be moved to a commonly owned LPTV or multicast stream.  March 18 is also the deadline for filing petitions of reconsideration with the FCC of that decision, while parties have until April 15 to appeal the decision to a U.S. Court of Appeals.  Already, there have been at least three appeals of the decision filed in various courts across the country. 

March 4 is the effective date of the new rules adopted by the FCC in its September 2023 Report and Order, which revised many rules for full power and Class A television stations, particularly those that no longer have any practical effect given the transition from analog to digital-only operations and the post-incentive auction transition.  For the most part, these changes did not make substantive changes in rules governing station operations. 

A number of rulemaking comments are also due in March.  Comments are due March 8 in response to the FCC’s January Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (see our article here), which proposes to require cable operators and DBS providers to issue rebates to subscribers affected by TV station blackouts resulting from failed retransmission consent negotiations.  Reply comments are due April 8. 

In another proceeding involving the failure of retransmission consent negotiations, reply comments are due March 26 to address the comments filed in the FCC’s December 2023 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (see our articles here and here), which proposes to require cable and direct broadcast satellite service providers to report occurrences of TV station blackouts when retransmission consent negotiations fail. 

Comments are due March 11 in response to the FCC’s January Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which proposes to prioritize the review of non-routine license renewal, assignment of license, and transfer of control applications filed by a broadcast station that provides at least three hours per week of locally originated programming.  As we noted in our article here, this proceeding also seeks comments on the FCC’s abolition of the main studio rule, even though the proceeding does not propose any change in that rule.  Reply comments in this proceeding are due April 8. 

March 14 is the date of the FCC’s Open Meeting at which the FCC Commissioners will be considering the following two items of interest to broadcasters:

  • A Report and Order requiring cable and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service providers to state the aggregate cost of video programming as a clear, easy-to-understand, and accurate single line item in promotional materials including pricing information as well as on subscriber bills.  If adopted, cable and DBS providers would have up to nine months to comply with the new rules – unless the OMB approves the rule changes on an earlier date.
    • A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing a new Emergency Alert System (EAS) alert code for missing and endangered persons to be used by EAS participants, including broadcasters.  If adopted, comments and reply comments will be due 30 and 60 days, respectively, after publication of the as-adopted item in the Federal Register.

While we note below political “windows” that open in March for Lowest Unit Rates to be charged to political candidates, let’s first look ahead to some regulatory dates in early April.  April 1 is the deadline for radio and television station employment units with five or more full-time employees licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas to upload their Annual EEO Public File Reports to station online public inspection files.  The FCC’s Mid-Term EEO Reviews also commence on April 1 for all radio station employment units in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee with eleven or more full-time employees. 

April 1 is also the deadline for comments responding to the National Association of Broadcasters and Xperi, Inc.’s petition seeking clarification regarding the maximum allowable operating power of a digital FM signal as proposed in the FCC’s August 2023 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (see our discussion here).

All full-power broadcasters need to note that April 10 is the deadline for the first quarter Quarterly Issues Programs lists to be uploaded to stations’ online public inspection files.  The lists should identify the issues of importance to the station’s community and the programs that the station aired in January, February, and March that addressed those issues.  It is important that these be timely uploaded to your public file, as the untimely uploads of these documents have likely resulted in more fines in the last decade than for any other violation of the FCC’s rules.  As you finalize your lists, do so carefully and accurately, as they are the only official records of how your station is serving the public and addressing the needs and interests of its community.  See our article here for more on the importance of the Quarterly Issues Programs list obligation.

Now, let’s look at the Lowest Unit Charge windows that open in March.  The commencement of political windows this month affecting broadcasters in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico, will be unaffected by a potential federal government shutdown.  Broadcasters in those states and territory should be alert to the opening of the following political windows for primaries, caucuses, and elections scheduled to occur in April and May – meaning that Lowest Unit Rates apply to sales to candidates and their authorized committees (see our article here on the basics of computing LUR): 

LUR DateElection DateState/TerritoryElection Type
March 1, 2024April 30, 2024DelawareMunicipal Elections (Clayton and Smyrna)
March 5, 2024May 4, 2024DelawareMunicipal Election (Townsend)
March 6, 2024*April 2, 2024ArkansasPresidential, Federal (House/ Senate), State, County, and Municipal Primary and Non-Partisan General Election Runoff
April 16, 2024AlabamaFederal (House/ Senate), State, and County Primary Runoff
March 7, 2024April 21, 2024Puerto RicoPresidential Primary (R)
March 8, 2024May 7, 2024MontanaSchool and Special Purpose District Elections
DelawareMunicipal Election (Harrington)
March 9, 2024April 23, 2024North CarolinaState Primary Runoff (If no Federal Primary Runoff)
PennsylvaniaPresidential, Federal (House/ Senate), and State Primary
March 13, 2024*April 2, 2024MississippiPresidential, Federal (House/ Senate) and Local (Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee District Commissioner) Primary Runoff
March 14, 2024April 28, 2024Puerto RicoPresidential Primary (D)
March 15, 2024May 14, 2024DelawareSchool Board Election
North CarolinaFederal (U.S. House) and State Primary Runoff
March 22, 2024May 21, 2024ArizonaNon-Partisan, County, Municipal, and Special Elections
IdahoState Judicial Election

As a refresher, in the 45 days before a primary election, and 60 days before a general or special election, broadcasters must extend to legally qualified candidates their lowest unit rate and continue to follow all other applicable political broadcasting rules.  So, the lowest unit rate period will be in effect at some point next month for stations serving states that have primaries, caucuses, or elections in April and May.  For a deeper dive on how to prepare for the 2024 elections, see our post, here, which also includes a link to our comprehensive Political Broadcasting Guide.  Also take a look at our 2024 Broadcasters’ Calendar to see if your state has an upcoming primary, general, or special election (though confirm these dates locally as some dates have changed since the calendar was prepared). 

As always, check with your attorneys and advisors to see if there are other dates not mentioned here that are of importance to your station.  Always stay on top of all regulatory requirements.