In a Public Notice, the FCC has reminded all analog LPTV stations and TV translators that they need to convert to digital by July 13, 2021 or cease operations.  The Notice reminds operators of these stations that, if they cannot meet the July 13 deadline, they can request an extension by March 15.  Upon a showing setting out that their inability to meet the deadline was for reasons beyond their control, the Commission may grant an extension of up to 6 months to construct the digital facilities (though, even if their conversion deadline is extended, the analog operations must cease by July 13).

One issue left unresolved by the FCC is the status of “Franken FMs,” those analog LPTV stations on Channel 6 whose audio is used to provide an FM radio service on 87.7 on the FM band.  As we wrote here, the FCC asked for comments on a request to allow these stations to continue to provide an analog audio signal even after the digital conversion deadline to allow these audio services to continue.  Though the deadline is getting close, there thus far has been no response by the FCC on that request.
Continue Reading FCC Reminds Analog LPTV/TV Translators of July 13 Digital Transition Deadline – Extensions Due by March 15

Global Music Rights, one of the newest performing rights organization licensing the public performance of musical compositions, has agreed to extend its interim license with commercial radio broadcasters.  That license is set to expire at the end of March (see our article here).  This interim license has been offered and extended for the last several years to allow stations to perform GMR music while GMR litigates with the Radio Music Licensing Committee over whether GMR is subject to any sort of antitrust regulation of the rates that it sets (and GMR’s countersuit over whether the RMLC itself violates the antitrust rules as a buyer’s cartel, by allegedly organizing all the buyers of GMR’s music to hold out for a specific price).  We wrote about that litigation here.  With the pandemic, the lawsuit which should have already gone to trial is likely not going to be heard until possibly next year, as discovery in the case has been postponed until later this year.

Today, the RMLC notified radio broadcasters that GMR will again extend its interim license while the litigation plays out – but GMR wants a 20% increase in the royalties that it receives.  RMLC made clear that this is not a negotiated rate – it is one that GMR has imposed with no input from RMLC.  Stations should expect to hear from GMR about the extension by March 15.  If they do not, stations interested in the extended license should reach out to GMR.  Many stations are confused by this royalty, so we thought that we would provide some background.
Continue Reading GMR Offers to Extend Its Interim License With Commercial Radio Stations – But It Wants a 20% Increase in Royalty Payments

Yesterday the FCC  released another of its regular EEO audit notices (available here), asking over 200 radio and TV stations, and the station employment units with which they are associated (i.e., commonly owned stations serving the same area) , provide to the FCC (by posting the information in their online public inspection file) their  EEO Annual Public File reports for the last two years, as well as backup data showing  that the station in fact did everything that was required under the FCC rules.

To lighten the burden on stations due to the pandemic, certain requirements usually associated with these audits have been adopted.  Audited stations must provide representative copies of notices sent to employment outreach sources about each full-time vacancy as well as some documentation of the supplemental efforts that all station employment units with 5 or more full-time employees are required to perform (whether or not they had job openings in any year). These non-vacancy specific outreach efforts are designed to educate the community about broadcast employment positions and to train employees for more senior roles in broadcasting. Stations must also provide information about how they self-assessed the performance of their EEO program. Answers to certain other questions are also required.  Stations that are listed in the audit notice have until April 26, 2021 to upload this information into their online public file.
Continue Reading FCC Issues First Broadcast EEO Audit of 2021– Reviewing the Basics of the FCC’s EEO Rules

March brings springtime and, with it, a likely reprieve from the cold and extreme weather much of the country has been suffering through.  As noted below, though, March brings no reprieve from the routine regulatory dates and deadlines that fill a broadcaster’s calendar.

TV operators have until March 8 to file comments in the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry looking to assess the impact of the abolition of the statutory copyright license that allowed satellite television operators to import distant network signals into TV markets where there were households arguably not being served by a local network affiliate (see our article here).
Continue Reading March Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: Copyright, White Spaces, and Zonecasting Comments; LPTV and Translator Analog-to-Digital Extension; Emergency Alerting for Streaming Companies, and More.

At the end of last week, the FCC’s Audio Division released a letter decision denying a Class A FM station licensee (limited in power to 6 KW) a waiver that would have allowed it to upgrade its facilities to those that would be equivalent to what would be permitted if the Commission was to establish a Class C4 FM.  The Division found that granting such a waiver would prejudge the FCC’s pending proceeding looking at whether the FCC should approve Class C4 stations.  Where does that proceeding stand?

The pending proposal to create a Class C4 FM station, i.e., one operating with maximum effective radiated power of 12 kw (essentially midway between the power limits of the current Class A stations and Class C3 FMs that are limited to 25 kw), has been advocated at the FCC for several years.  Sponsors contend that it would allow Class A stations to not only solidify and expand their coverage, but also to overcome some of the building penetration issues that are alleged to occur when reception is limited inside buildings constructed of certain materials.  The proposal for this new class of FM station has not been unanimously supported by other broadcasters.
Continue Reading No Class C4 FM To Be Permitted By Waiver – Where Things Stand on Proposal for New Class of FM Stations

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

  • The FCC has started planning for its next AM/FM radio auction (Auction 109) scheduled to begin on July 27.  Four

This week, the FCC designated for hearing the license renewal applications for a number of Alabama radio stations because of their owner’s conviction on felony ethics violations, stemming from misconduct while he served in the Alabama legislature.  The hearing is to determine the effect of those felony convictions on the character of the licensee to hold a broadcast license.  The Communications Act requires that a broadcast licensee (and its owners) must have the requisite character to operate the station.  Character is reviewed whenever a party seeks to acquire a broadcast license, including when they file for the renewal of that license.  In egregious circumstances, the FCC can even move to revoke the licenses held by a licensee outside of the license renewal process.  Even the sale of a license by a party without the required character qualifications may be prohibited by the FCC, as the Commission does not want to see a wrongdoer profit from the disposition of what is seen as a government asset – the FCC license.

Character has been defined by the FCC through numerous policy statements issued periodically over the last 50 years, and has been further refined by precedents established in individual cases.  This week’s case gives us the opportunity to look at what conduct the FCC considers in assessing the character of any broadcast application, and the factors that are reviewed in determining the impact of bad conduct on the ability of the applicant to hold an FCC license.
Continue Reading FCC to Hold Hearing to Determine What Felony Conviction of Station Owner Means for License Renewal – What Does the FCC Character Policy Require of Broadcast Applicants?  

It seems like whenever Democrats are elected to serve as President and take control of Congress, there is talk about the revival of the Fairness Doctrine as some panacea for restoring balance and civility to political debate.  In recent weeks, we have seen many articles blaming conservative talk radio for the current divisions in the country and for the widespread belief in discredited claims about political and social topics.  This same debate arose almost exactly 12 years ago following the election of President Obama (see our articles here and here about that debate).   In coming days, we will write about a new round of legislative proposals looking to impose content moderation rules on digital media (including a Florida proposal to essentially block social media platforms from de-platforming one candidate, while allowing another candidate access, and a recent Congressional proposal removing Section 230 immunity from digital platforms for certain kinds of speech).  But, given the discussion of reviving the old Fairness Doctrine, we thought it worth taking a look back at just what that Doctrine required, the reasons for its demise, and some of the issues that would surround any attempt to bring it back.

First, it is important to understand what the Doctrine covered and what it did not.  It was a broadcast doctrine adopted in 1949, in an era that pre-dated the political talk that we now see dominating so many cable networks.  It also was different from the Equal Time Rule which is still in effect for candidate appearances on broadcast stations.  The Fairness Doctrine required that stations provide balanced coverage of all controversial issues of public importance.  The Fairness Doctrine never required “equal time” in the sense of strict equality for each side of an issue on a minute-for-minute basis.  In talk programs and news coverage, a station just had to make sure that both points of view were presented in such a way that the listener would get exposure to them.  How that was done was left to the station’s discretion, and the FCC intervened in only the most egregious cases.
Continue Reading The Return of the Fairness Doctrine – What it Was and Why it Won’t Return

The FCC yesterday announced plans to hold an auction to award construction permits allowing the winners to build new radio stations. The auction notice includes 136 FM channels and, in a new wrinkle, 4 AM opportunities, for which bids will be able to be placed once the auction commences.  The list of channels to be auctioned is here – with many channels being in the state of Texas, with an assortment of others around the country. These channels are mostly those that had been included in an auction scheduled for last July which was cancelled because of COVID-19 (see our articles here and here).  In addition, a few newly available FM channels have been added to the list, as well as 4 AMs in the St. Louis area that are available because a licensee surrendered those licenses after a license renewal challenge.

The notice released yesterday asks for comments on the auction procedures to be used in awarding these channels, proposing procedures that are generally familiar to those who have participated in FM auctions in the past.  The auction is tentatively scheduled to begin on July 27. Working backward, that would mean that the initial “short-form” applications required for parties who want to participate in the auction would likely be due sometime in May.  Upfront payments equal to or greater than the minimum payments for the channels that an applicant ultimately wins in the auction will probably be due in June. 
Continue Reading Want a New Radio Station? FCC Proposes Procedures for a July 2021 Auction, Lists Channels to be Sold, and Imposes a Freeze on Certain Applications

With the federal government and the FCC under new management, Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel may well take the Commission in a direction that aligns with the policies she supported during her time as a Commissioner.  It is notable that, no matter what policies she advances, the routine regulatory dates that fill up a broadcaster’s calendar are generally unchanged.  Some of the dates and deadlines which broadcasters should remember in February are discussed below.  Given the transition period that we have just been through, the number of February dates are somewhat lighter than in most months – but that is sure to pick up as everyone settles into their new roles at the FCC.

On or before February 1, radio stations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma and television stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi must file their license renewal applications through the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS).  Those stations must also file with the FCC a Broadcast EEO Program Report (Form 2100, Schedule 396) and, if they are part of a station employment unit (a station or a group of commonly owned stations in the same market that share at least one employee) with 5 or more full-time employees, upload to their public file and post a link on their station website to their Annual EEO Public Inspection File report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities for the twelve months from February 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021.  TV and radio stations licensed to communities in New Jersey and New York which are part of an employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees also must upload to their public inspection file their Annual EEO Public Inspection File report by February 1.
Continue Reading February Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: License Renewals, EEO Reporting, KidVid Reports, Zonecasting Comments, FCC Open Meeting, and More