FCC business marches on in this time of social distancing and mandatory lockdowns, though with modifications caused by the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  The FCC released a Public Notice yesterday announcing that its monthly open meeting scheduled for March 31 will be held by teleconference rather than live in the FCC meeting room.  It can be viewed on the FCC’s website and on its YouTube channel.  Most of the action items will have already been voted on by the Commissioners through the “circulation” process.  This means that the votes will be taken on the written orders without any formal presentations by FCC staff members explaining the actions, and without orally-delivered statements by any of the Commissioners – though the Commissioners can certainly make their feelings known in written statements on the items on which they will have voted.  The meeting itself is likely to consist of Commission announcements and statements by the Commissioners on the current state of affairs.

Issues that were to be considered at the meeting of interest to broadcasters include the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Distributed Transmission System technology for TV stations – making it easier for TV stations to fill in their market coverage with multiple transmitters spread throughout the market, rather than a single big transmitter in the center of the market – a technology made easier as stations transition to the new ATSC 3.0 transmission system (see the draft NPRM here).  FCC Notices of Proposed Rulemaking on significantly viewed TV stations (draft NPRM here) and cable carriage disputes (draft Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking here) are also on the agenda.
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The repacking of the TV band following the incentive auction is reaching its end – but perhaps not as quickly as anticipated.  Yesterday, the FCC issued “Guidance” to stations in Phase 9 of the repacking indicating that they can request extensions so that their deadline for implementing any repacking obligation would be the

A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing greater coverage areas for unlicensed “white space” devices operating in the TV bands was adopted at the FCC’s open meeting last week and released earlier this week.   We have written about these white space devices before (see, for instance, our articles here and here).  These devices operate at relatively low powers in unused portions of the TV bands.  They are designed to offer wireless services, including broadband.  Advocates of these operations see them as an inexpensive way to offer broadband services to underserved areas, including parts of rural America.

The concern of course with these devices is that if their use is not managed correctly, their operations could interfere with existing TV operators (including LPTVs, TV translators, broadcast auxiliary services, and wireless microphones).  Thus far, operations have been limited to power levels of 10 watts or less from antenna heights that did not exceed 250 meters height above average terrain.  The advocates for these devices, including Microsoft, have argued that these low power levels make it difficult to serve rural areas given their small coverage area.  NAB, on behalf of broadcasters, and advocates for wireless microphone operators, have urged caution in any increase in the coverage of these operations if they could possibly cause interference to existing users of the spectrum.  After significant discussion and compromise between the NAB and Microsoft, the NPRM adopted last week tries to strike a balance between these positions.
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The audio from analog channel 6 TV stations can be heard on the FM dial at 87.7 – which is below the lowest official point on the standard FM band in the US (which ends at 88.1) but is nevertheless tunable on most FM radios. Over the last decade, many LPTV stations on channel 6, in markets where they had no other viable business model, turned to providing FM service through these stations. The FCC has for years inquired if these operations, often referred to as Franken FMs, should be permitted (see our articles here and here) but has never moved to stop it. Now, with the 2021 deadline for the conversion of LPTV stations to digital operation, LPTV operators have asked the FCC to bless the post-conversion operation of an analog audio signal embedded in the digital Channel 6 LPTV station transmissions so that these FM broadcast can continue, following up on a proceeding begun in 2014 (see our article here). This week, the FCC issued a Public Notice asking for additional comments as to whether these Franken FM operations should be allowed to continue, and if so what rules should govern them.

The release of this Public Notice came as somewhat of a surprise, as a similar question had recently been asked in an FCC proceeding looking primarily at LPFM rule changes, but also addressing issues about the relation of TV channel 6 to FM broadcasters (see our article here on that proceeding). In this week’s Public Notice, the FCC suggests that the LPFM proceeding is asking only whether the elimination of protections between channel 6 TV stations and noncommercial radio stations in the reserved band, as proposed in that proceeding, is compatible with the continued operation of these Franken FMs after the digital conversion deadline. It is the proceeding in which these additional comments are now being requested that will address how these stations will be regulated on a permanent basis in the future. To determine that future, this week’s Public Notice poses many specific questions about the continued operation of these Franken FMs.
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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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The FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on annual regulatory fees was published in the Federal Register this week, setting the comment date in that proceeding as November 22, with reply comments due December 23. As we wrote when the FCC’s fee decision for 2019 fees was released, this Further Notice is

The National Association of Broadcasters and APTS (America’s Public Television Stations – the associations of public television stations) have filed a Petition for Rulemaking seeking to expand the area in which licensees can locate distributed transmission system transmitters (also known as single frequency networks), in connection with ATSC 3.0 operations. With the new

The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on LPFM and Channel 6 TV issues, which we wrote about here, was published in the Federal Register today. This sets the deadline for comments in this proceeding as October 21, 2019, with reply comments due by November 4. This proceeding looks at issues

The FCC on Tuesday released its Report and Order on regulatory fees.  The Order says that the fees will be due by September 24.  The FCC should soon issue additional guidance about the exact filing dates and procedures.

In the Order, the FCC did reduce the fees for radio somewhat from those proposed in their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in May.  However, it was not the decrease sought by many broadcast groups.  The radio fees, even though reduced, still result in an increase from last year’s fees.  The FCC attributed that increase both to a somewhat smaller number of stations and an increase in the operating costs of the FCC that had to be shared among all regulated entities.
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