Effective yesterday, May 28, the FCC is accepting applications for television stations to begin to convert to the next generation TV transmission standardATSC 3.0 or “NexGen TV.” Last week, the Commission issued a Public Notice announcing that the form (FCC Form 2100) necessary for stations to apply to transition to the new standard is now available for both full-power (Schedule B to Form 2100), low power (Schedule D) and Class A TV stations (Schedule F). Only stations currently sharing channels as part of a Commission-approved channel sharing agreement following the FCC’s incentive auction are not able to apply for the transition at this point, as the FCC Form needs further revisions to its forms to accommodate applications for the transition by these stations. Those forms are expected later this year. In the interim, sharing stations can move forward with 3.0 operations by seeking Special Temporary Authority.

ATSC 3.0 promises to allow broadcasters to transmit more information through their 6 MHz channel – allowing for additional subchannels of programming or more data transmission capabilities that could be sold to those needing to transmit digital information to the wide areas served by TV stations. The transmission standard is far more mobile-friendly than the current standard and also allows for transmissions in an IP format compatible with so many other digital devices receiving information from Internet sources. But the standard is not backward compatible – meaning that to receive the new television signals consumers will need new TV sets with ATSC 3.0 receivers, or converters to provide the signal to existing TV sets. Thus, to ensure that consumers will not lose access to the over-the-air television signals they now receive, the FCC requires that stations converting to the new standard must also simulcast their primary video signal on a station in their market that continues to operate in the current ATSC 1.0 standard. Low power TV stations do not have this simulcasting obligation, meaning they can convert to 3.0 operations and leave the 1.0 standard behind.
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While the holidays may be upon us, there is no rest in the broadcast regulatory world. December 1 brings routine EEO public file report obligations for radio and television station employment units with 5 or more full-time employees for stations located in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont. Stations in those states need to upload their EEO Public Inspection file report to their online public file by December 1, reporting on their outreach efforts for employment openings at their stations in the prior year, as well as their non-vacancy specific outreach initiative (i.e. the FCC’s EEO “menu options” where broadcasters report on efforts they have taken to educate the public about broadcast employment opportunities and to train their employees to assume more important employment roles at their stations). See our post here for more on the EEO obligations.

TV stations with 5 or more employees located in any of the New England states have the additional obligation to file their FCC Mid-Term EEO Report – due on December 3 as the 1st is a Saturday. This report, filed on FCC Form 397, provides the FCC with the last two years’ Public File Reports, and a contact person at your stations to be contacted with EEO questions. While the FCC is considering elimination of these reports as most of the required information is already in a station’s online public file (where you should have all EEO public inspection file reports back to the date of the station’s last license renewal filing), the form is still required.
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Yesterday, we wrote about the regulatory dates coming up for broadcasters in September.  Even though that was an extensive list, we realized later that we left a few off.  So here are a few more issues to consider in September.  Plus, the FCC yesterday reminded repacked TV stations of all of the requirements for TV stations involved in the repacking of the TV band following the Incentive Auction which, as we noted in our post yesterday, formally begins this month.

One date that we overlooked was the effective date for a general increase in FCC application fees – those fees that commercial broadcasters pay every time they file an application for a construction permit, approval of a purchase or sale of a station, a license renewal, an STA or many other requests for FCC action.  As we wrote here, the FCC recently announced that the fees were going up to reflect inflation.  Last week, the FCC issued a Public Notice announcing that those new fees are effective on September 4.  So commercial stations filing applications on September 4 or afterward need to remember to pay the new fees, or risk having their applications returned.
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We just wrote about the FCC talk at the NAB Convention about translator interference and pirate radio. On the TV side, there was of course mention of the remaining TV post-incentive auction transition issues with the repacking of displaced full-power stations and the open window for displaced TV translators and LPTV stations to find new

March is one of those months where without the Annual EEO Public File Reports that come up for different states every other month, or without the Quarterly Issues Programs List and Children’s Television Report obligations that arise following the end of every calendar quarter. But this March has two very significant deadlines right at the beginning of the month – Online Public Files for radio and Biennial Ownership Reports – that will impose obligations on most broadcasters.

For radio stations, March 1 is the deadline for activating your online public inspection file. While TV stations and larger radio clusters in the Top 50 markets have already made the conversion to the online public file, for radio stations in smaller markets, the requirement that your file be complete and active is Thursday. As we wrote here, there are a number of documents that each station should be uploading to their file before the deadline (including Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and, if a station is part of an employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees, Annual EEO Public Inspection File Reports). As the FCC-hosted online public file date-stamps every document entered into the file, and as the file can be reviewed by anyone at anytime from anywhere in the world, stations need to be sure that they are timely uploading these documents to the file, as who knows who may be watching your compliance with FCC requirements. And this is not the only big obligation for broadcasters coming up in March.
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The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice indicating that they will be inspecting approximately 60 of the over 900 TV stations changing channels as a result of the incentive auction and the repacking of the TV spectrum that took place after that auction.  The FCC notice says that it is hiring contract employees who will

We are already a full month into the New Year, and the regulatory issues for broadcasters keep on coming. February brings the usual requirements for Annual EEO Public File Reports, which should be placed into the public inspection files (those public files being online for TV stations, big clusters of radio stations in Top 50 markets, and for those other radio stations that have converted to the online public file in anticipation of next month’s deadline) of stations in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees. Radio stations with 11 or more full-time employees in New Jersey and New York also must file with the FCC a Mid-Term EEO Report on Form 397 by the end of the day today. TV stations with 5 or more full-time employees in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma also must file the Mid-Term Report.

As noted above, March 1 brings the deadline for all radio stations to convert to the online public file hosted by the FCC (see our article here for more details about this requirement). For those radio stations that have not yet completed their conversion, February is the month to be uploading those documents. As the FCC automatically uploads most of the applications and other FCC filings that need to be in the public file, the documents that will likely take the most time for the broadcaster to upload are Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and Annual EEO Public File Reports, documents not filed with the FCC on a regular basis. We have already heard reports that the FCC’s public file system is running slow at certain times of the day, probably because of the strain of so many people uploading documents. We expect that these issues will only get worse as the March 1 deadline approaches. So, if you are a procrastinator, get on this now, as time is getting short.
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It’s a new year, and a good time to reflect on where all the Washington issues for TV broadcasters stand at the moment, especially given the rapid pace of change since the new administration took over just about a year ago. While we try on this Blog to write about many of the DC issues