Assignments and Transfers

While many of us were trying to enjoy the holidays, the world of regulation kept right on moving, seemingly never taking time off.  So we thought that we ought to highlight some of the actions taken by the FCC in the last couple weeks and to also remind you of some of the upcoming January regulatory deadlines.

Before Christmas, we highlighted some of the regulatory dates for January – including the Quarterly Issues Programs Lists due to be placed in the online public file of all full-power stations by January 10.  Also on the list of dates in our post on January deadlines are the minimum SoundExchange fees due in January for most radio stations and other webcasters streaming programming on the Internet.  January also brings the deadline for Biennial Ownership Reports (postponed from their normal November 1 filing deadline).

In that summary of January regulatory dates, we had mentioned that the initial filing of the new Annual Children’s Television Programming Report would be due this month.  But, over the holiday week, the FCC extended that filing deadline for that report until March 30 to give broadcasters time to familiarize themselves with the new forms.  The FCC will be doing a webinar on the new form on January 23.  In addition, the FCC announced that many of the other changes in the children’s television rules that were awaiting review under the Paperwork Reduction Act had been approved and are now effective.  See our article here for more details.
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Late Friday, the FCC issued an Order reinstating the FCC’s 2016 ownership rules, recognizing that the changes made in those rules in 2017 (see our post here) were no longer effective because the Third Circuit Court of Appeals had thrown out the 2017 decision. See our post here on the Third Circuit decision and our article here on the court’s denial of rehearing en banc.  While the FCC may still try to appeal the Third Circuit decision to the Supreme Court, the Third Circuit’s mandate has issued, meaning that its order is effective even if a Supreme Court appeal is filed.

Among the rule changes that have been rendered a nullity are the abolition of the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rule (once again reinforcing what we have written several times, that the rule may well outlive the daily newspaper) and the radio-television cross-ownership rule, the local TV ownership rule that had allowed combinations of two TV stations in the same market even if there were not 8 independent voices in the market after the combination, and changes to the FCC’s processing policy with respect to radio embedded markets.  These changes required the FCC to also issue two Public Notices dealing with these changes.
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November is not one of those months with due dates for renewal filings, EEO public file reports or quarterly issues programs reports. Some of those obligations wait until December, when renewal filings for radio stations in Georgia and Alabama are due by December 2 (as December 1 falls on a weekend). Due for uploading on or before December 1 are EEO public file reports for station employment units with 5 or more full-time employees for radio or television stations in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont.

November 1 does signal the first day on which radio and TV stations can file their Biennial Ownership Reports. As we wrote here, the FCC has extended the deadline date for those filings until January 31, 2020 as the FCC is making refinements in its forms in the LMS filing system. Reports are to reflect the licensee’s ownership as of October 1, 2019 so stations have the information that they need and can start filing their reports later this week.
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At its open meeting this week, the FCC adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to change the requirement for local public notice of certain broadcast applications.  Such notices are required currently for applications, including license renewals and station sales.  The current rules contain different requirements for different types of applications that

Earlier this week, the FCC released an order adopting new rules governing the sale of TV stations serving as “satellites” of other stations in their markets – either rebroadcasting the primary station or otherwise operating in conjunction with that parent station, usually serving rural areas where an independent full-service station cannot economically operate. The new

Do you have a deal to buy a new station or a planned technical modification that needs FCC approval? Well, it looks like those plans may have to wait as the budget controversy in Washington has shut down the FCC. But what does the shut-down really mean for broadcasters? The FCC clarified some of the questions broadcasters have in a Public Notice released Wednesday.

Most applications will not be processed, though the FCC has made clear that it will have FCC staff members available to deal with issues related to the TV spectrum repacking that was caused by the incentive auction. So for those stations needing FCC approvals for actions relating to the repacking of the TV band, the FCC will be functioning. Unlike in past shutdowns (see, for instance, our article here), the FCC website will remain up and generally will be operating, and the CDBS and LMS databases used for most broadcast applications will continue to function (though without any sort of tech support if an applicant has problems). Certain other databases relevant to some aspects of broadcast operations (like the public complaint filing system, the International Bureau’s database used for filing earth station applications, and the tower registration database) will not be available. Perhaps most surprisingly, as the FCC does not specifically mention it in the Public Notice, the FCC has shuttered its Online Public Inspection File database for broadcasters. With that database not working, public file updates (including the Quarterly Issues Programs lists that are due to be added to the files by January 10, cannot be uploaded unless the government reopens. Note that, in the FCC’s orders adopting the online public inspection file obligations, stations are supposed to be able to provide access to their political files when the FCC system is offline (see our article here). While no access to the rest of the file is required, stations are supposed to be able to provide access to back-ups of the political file. Luckily, with few elections taking place at the moment, this should not generally be a widespread issue, but it could obviously become an issue should the shutdown persist.
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The FCC yesterday issued a Declaratory Ruling approving the acquisition of an FM radio station in upstate New York by a company that is 100% controlled by two individuals, neither of whom is a US citizen. One is a UK citizen, the second a citizen of Poland. These individuals have lived in the US

Last week, the FCC released a Consent Decree where a broadcast company admitted to certain unauthorized transfers of several stations, even though actual control of the stations, for the most part, did not change. Stock of the company was transferred into a trust by the company’s shareholder without FCC approval, even though the shareholder

In light of yesterday’s announcement that the FCC Chairman has proposed that portions of the acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group of the television stations owned by Tribune Media would be designated for hearing, one question that many have asked is, “What does designation for hearing mean?”  Several decades ago, the process of designating an application for hearing was a common occurrence – used by the FCC to decide between competing applicants for new broadcast (and in some cases non-broadcast) licenses, in connection with determinations of whether or not to grant the license renewal of broadcast stations where substantive petitions or competing applications were filed against such applications, or to deal with enforcement issues when there were questions about the facts of a particular situation.  The FCC had a large staff of Administrative Law Judges who heard these cases, and they were usually quite busy.  But as the staff of ALJs at the FCC has dwindled to one, and as cases referred to that Judge are increasingly infrequent, it might be worth discussing a bit about the hearing process at the FCC.

Congress established, in Sections 309 and 310(d) of the Communications Act, the manner in which the FCC is to process applications filed with it.  In cases involving applications for new stations or for the purchase and sale of stations, applications are filed providing information required by the FCC and such supplemental information as the FCC may request.  Interested parties routinely have 30 days in which to file objections to applications, in which the petitioner needs to submit detailed allegations supported by facts either in the public record or otherwise supported by statements from those with personal knowledge of the facts, arguing why an application should not be granted.  Applicants have the opportunity to respond.  In most cases, the FCC will attempt to resolve any disputes, or any questions that it has on its own, on the basis of the written materials presented in the application, the petitions, and in response to any FCC supplemental request for information.  But Section 309(e) makes clear that, if there is a “substantial and material question of fact” or if the Commission is otherwise not able to determine that an application meets the requirements of the rules, it needs to formally designate the application for hearing.
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At its open meeting yesterday, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to ease the paperwork involved in the sale of a satellite television station – i.e. a station, usually in a smaller market that is associated (and often rebroadcasts) another station in that market. As we wrote here when we summarized the