Assignments and Transfers

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

The FCC last week released its tentative agenda for its March open meeting. On it was a single item dealing with broadcast issues, a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to ease the paperwork involved in the sale of a satellite TV station. This item is another action as part of its Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative seeking to lessen the paperwork and regulatory burdens of broadcasters. Similar to other actions taken as part of this initiative (see our article here), this proposal is a small step to reduce burdens on a small class of broadcasters – but at least it is another step that is being taken in this initiative. The draft proposal will be considered at the FCC’s meeting scheduled for March 22.

Under current FCC rules, the FCC will authorize an owner to acquire a second full-power television station in a market, a station which will not count against FCC ownership limits, if the applicant can meet a three part test – (1) the station will not have city-grade overlap with the “parent” station, (2) the satellite station will serve an underserved area, and (3) a showing is made that there is no other owner ready to acquire an existing station or activate an unused channel and operate it as a stand-alone station. Satellite television stations were traditionally used in geographically-expansive rural markets to expand the coverage of a parent station to reach outlying areas. In more recent years, as the Commission abolished the requirement that the satellite primarily duplicate the programming of the parent station, these stations have sometimes been used to provide alternate programming in smaller markets unable to economically support an independent operation. The draft NPRM released by the FCC seeks to address the issue of what happens when such stations are sold.
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At its next open meeting to be held on January 30, the FCC will consider two more proposals in its Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative.  As with many of the other proposals that have been advanced by the FCC as part of this initiative thus far, these proposals address relatively minor matters concerning paperwork obligations rather than substantive FCC rules.  Draft proposals were released yesterday by the FCC dealing with two matters.  The first is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking suggesting the elimination of requirements that broadcast licensees file paper copies of certain contracts with the FCC.  The second is an Order deleting certain rule sections that explicitly deal with the operations of full-power analog television stations – stations which no longer exist.

It is certainly difficult to argue with the FCC’s decision to delete rules that apply to a service that no long exists, so it is obvious that the more substantive of the two proposals advanced yesterday is the one dealing with the filing of contracts with the FCC by broadcast licensees.  But even this proposal was not particularly substantive, proposing only the elimination of the rules requiring the filing of physical copies of the required contracts, not the obligations that these contracts be available for public inspection and review.  The NPRM suggests that instead of filing the required contracts with the FCC, the inclusion in a broadcaster’s online public file of information about these agreements is sufficient to eliminate the need for the filing with the FCC of physical copies of these documents.  The agreements that are now required to be filed are also required to either be included in the public file or the licensee may opt to include in the public file a list of the contracts with a commitment to produce them within 7 days upon request.  The NPRM also proposes to formalize the practice specifically adopted in connection with some but not all of the required documents – allowing broadcasters to redact financially sensitive business information from any document that it provides upon request.  The NPRM as currently drafted does not ask whether the FCC should examine whether the filing of some or all of these contracts, or even their inclusion in a station’s public file, should be required at all.
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