Emergency Communications

On paper, this October appears to be a busy month for regulatory deadlines.  But the lack of congressional action to fund the federal government for the coming year (or “continuing resolutions” adopted to allow government agencies to function at their current levels) is making a federal government shutdown appear inevitable.  If a government shutdown does occur, the FCC, the FTC, and the Copyright Office may also shutdown – which, as with previous shutdowns, may result in many of the regulatory deadlines discussed below being delayed. 

According to the August 2023 FCC Shutdown Plan, if a potential lapse in appropriations is imminent, the FCC will determine whether and for how long prior year funds will be made available to continue all agency operations during a lapse.  To date, however, the FCC has not stated whether it plans to remain open – and if so, for how long – if a government shutdown does occur.  Details from the FCC and other agencies should be released shortly given the shutdown that may well occur this weekend. 

Until we receive such guidance, the tentative October regulatory deadlines for broadcasters are provided below.  Even if the government does shut down, these dates will likely be rescheduled for soon after the funding issue is resolved.  So, let’s look at the upcoming deadlines. 

Continue Reading October Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Nationwide EAS Test, Annual EEO Public File Reports, Retransmission Consent Elections, Biennial Ownership Reports, and More (If the Government is Open)

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC’s Media Bureau released a Public Notice reminding commercial and noncommercial broadcasters of their upcoming obligation to file biennial

On the anniversary of September 11, it seems appropriate to highlight the upcoming October 4 Nationwide Test of the EAS system.  While EAS was not activated during the September 11 emergency, the events of that date have provided much impetus for federal emergency authorities to strengthen the EAS system.  Part of that effort has been the regular testing of the Nationwide EAS alert system.  As we wrote in August, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has scheduled a nationwide EAS test for October 4, 2023, at approximately 2:20 pm EDT, using the Internet-based Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) (with a back-up date of October 11 if necessary).  In a Public Notice released in August, the FCC set out steps that broadcasters should take to prepare for that test.

Just last week, the FCC’s  Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau released a further Public Notice to remind Emergency Alert System participants of their obligation to ensure that EAS alerts are accessible to persons with disabilities.  For TV stations, to be visually accessible, the EAS text must be displayed as follows:

  • At the top of the television screen or where it will not interfere with other visual messages (e.g., closed captioning),
  • In a manner (i.e., font size, color, contrast, location, and speed) that is readily readable and understandable (see below),
  • Without overlapping lines or extending beyond the viewable display (except for video crawls that intentionally scroll on and off the screen),
  • In full at least once during any EAS message. Text should scroll at a speed that allows viewers to read the crawl as if they were going to read it aloud, and
  • The background and text colors should sufficiently contrast to allow for readability. For example, a bright green background with white text may not provide sufficient contrast. Green and red should also be avoided as viewers who are color blind have difficulty seeing these colors.

In addition, the audio portion of an EAS message must be played in full at least once to ensure it is accessible to viewers who are blind or have low vision and should be spoken at a pace that allows for a listener to understand the content. 

Continue Reading Reminder: September 15 Deadline for Updating ETRS Form One in Preparation for Nationwide EAS Test, and an FCC Notice on the Accessibility of EAS Messages

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past two weeks (including events that occurred during our hiatus for the Labor Day holiday), with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The Senate approved Anna Gomez to be

The Senate this week approved Anna Gomez for the open Democratic FCC seat that has been vacant since the start of the Biden Administration.  As we wrote in May when the President first nominated her, Gomez is experienced in government circles, having worked at NTIA (a Department of Commerce agency dealing with federal spectrum use and other communications matters) and recently at the State Department preparing for international meetings about communications issues.  She also has a history in private law firm practice. 

Together with her nomination, the President renominated Commissioners Starks and Carr for new terms as Commissioners, but those nominations remain pending – not having been approved this week with the Gomez nomination.  Democratic Commissioner Starks’s term has already expired but he continues to serve under the allowable one-year carry-over which ends at the beginning of January 2024.  Republican Commissioner Carr’s term will expire at the end of this year, but he would be able to serve through the end of 2024 if his renomination is not confirmed.  There is some speculation that these nominations will be packaged with other pending nominations for positions at other government agencies to avoid having the FCC return to a partisan stalemate again in January if the Starks’ renomination is not approved by then. 

Continue Reading And Then There Were Five – Senate Approves Anna Gomez as Fifth FCC Commissioner – What Broadcast Issues Could a Full FCC Consider? 

On the surface, September appears to have few scheduled regulatory filing dates and deadlines.  But it is period in which many broadcasters will be busy with deadlines that occur in early October and into the rest of the Fall.  TV stations should be finishing their decision-making on must-carry/retransmission consent elections, which need to be in their public files by October 2 (as the 1st is a holiday).  In preparation for the early November filing window for new LPFM stations (see our article here), potential applicants should be determining if a station can technically “fit” in their area without prohibited shortspacings to other stations; if one can be located in their area, they need to locate a transmitter site; and they need to take all the steps other steps needed to be ready to file their application in the early November window.  One of the first regulatory dates of note in September is the freeze on FM translator modification applications that goes into effect on September 1 in anticipation of the LPFM window.  The freeze will be in effect at least through the end of the LPFM filing window on November 8. 

September will also bring the date for the filing of annual regulatory fees by commercial stations.  We recently noted that the FCC earlier this month released its Report and Order setting the amount of the annual regulatory fees that broadcasters must pay, but the Commission has not yet followed up on that Order by issuing a Public Notice setting the dates for payment.  As these payments must be made before the federal government’s October 1 start of the new fiscal year, we expect that Public Notice any day.  We also expect that, as in the past, the FCC’s Media Bureau will release a fee filing guide for the broadcast services.  Licensees should continue to monitor this item closely so that they are ready to pay those fees in a window that will open in September, as the failure to timely pay regulatory fees will result in substantial penalties.

Continue Reading September Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Regulatory Fees, HD Radio Power Increase Comments, EAS Filings, and Preparation for Many October Deadlines  

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • FEMA and the FCC announced that this year’s Nationwide EAS Test is scheduled for October 4, 2023 (with a back-up

FEMA and the FCC announced that this year’s Nationwide EAS Test is scheduled for October 4, 2023 (with a back-up date of October 11 in case there is a real or threatened event that occurs around October 4).  FEMA will transmit the nationwide test of the EAS at 2:20 pm EDT on October 4, 2023 using the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), the Internet-delivered warning system that has been required for broadcasters for about a dozen years. The test will be disseminated in English and Spanish as a Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) message using the Nationwide Test of the Emergency Alert System (NPT) code.  FEMA issued a Release announcing the test.  The FCC issued a much more extensive Public Notice which includes a list of recommended steps that broadcasters should take to prepare for the alert, and a reminder for broadcasters to be sure that their information in the EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) is accurate and up-to-date. 

While the steps recommended by the FCC to prepare for the test are all somewhat obvious, they should still be reviewed by broadcasters to make sure that they have not overlooked anything that can enhance their preparation for the test.  Among the recommendations from the FCC are that the broadcaster review their role in their state’s EAS plan, and make sure that their equipment and software has been updated to the most current versions. The FCC also suggests making sure the EAS clock on station EAS equipment is synchronized with the official time used by the National Institute of Standards and Technology which is used by the IPAWS system.  Having an accessible EAS Official Handbook and reviewing the handbook for instructions on the operation of the EAS system is also on the FCC’s list.

Continue Reading Nationwide EAS Test Set for October 4 – Start Your Preparations Now

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • On July 28, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion rejecting appeals

The FCC last week released a Public Notice reminding TV stations and other video programming providers, including cable and satellite television providers, of their obligation to make emergency information accessible for all viewers.  With a few tweaks, the reminder is very similar to what the FCC has issued in past years.  This year, the reminder added smoke from Canadian wildfires as a possible emergency about which stations might be distributing important safety information, joining a list that was only two years ago updated to include pandemics.  The FCC notice is to remind video providers of their obligations to make emergency information accessible to all of their audience, even those with visual or auditory disabilities. 

The FCC notice, in addition to wildfires and pandemics, provides examples of the kinds of emergencies that the rules are intended to cover – including “tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tidal waves, earthquakes, icing conditions, heavy snows, widespread fires, discharge of toxic gases, widespread power failures, industrial explosions, civil disorders, school closings and changes in school bus schedules resulting from such conditions, and warnings and watches of impending changes in weather.”  The Commission considers the “critical details” about such emergencies to include “specific details regarding the areas that will be affected by the emergency, evacuation orders, detailed descriptions of areas to be evacuated, specific evacuation routes, approved shelters or the way to take shelter in one’s home, instructions on how to secure personal property, road closures, and how to obtain relief assistance.”

Continue Reading FCC Reminder About Conveying Emergency Information in an Accessible Manner to All TV Audience Members