Last week we wrote about the October 30 effective date of new FCC rule changes on the public notice requirements for certain broadcast applications, including applications for the assignment of license or transfer of control of a station and applications for renewal of license.  On Friday, the FCC’s Media Bureau released a Public Notice

It has been a busy week for regulatory actions affecting broadcasters.  Here are some of the significant developments of the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC held a virtual Open Meeting on Tuesday, voting to approve an

In May, the FCC voted to change its requirements for public notices of broadcast applications (see our post here) – standardizing the messages that must be conveyed to the public and eliminating the need for newspaper publication in those instances where it was still required.  The new rules also require that each commercial station include a link on its website to another webpage where public notice of pending applications is provided, and that link needs to be maintained whether or not a commercial station has any applications requiring public notice pending.  That decision will become effective tomorrow (October 30) based on its publication in the Federal Register today.  So we thought that we would revisit the summary we provided of the changes in the notice rules.

When a broadcaster files certain types of applications with the FCC, the public must be informed.  In May, the FCC issued its Order changing the rules regarding the public notice that must be given – consolidating what was a confusing process with different language and timing for notice about different types of applications into one providing standardized disclosures and scheduling for all public notices.  The decision (which is effective tomorrow) eliminates obligations for the newspaper publication that was required for some public notices.  It also requires the inclusion of a permanent “FCC Applications” link on the homepage of each commercial station’s website, whether or not they have any applications pending (noncommercial stations only need to include a link when they have applications pending and their stations are not operational and cannot broadcast the required notice).  Let’s look at some of the other changes that are now effective.
Continue Reading Changes to FCC Public Notice Requirements Effective October 30 – New Link Required on Commercial Station Websites

November is one of those few months with no routine FCC filing obligations (no renewals, reports, fees or other regularly scheduled deadlines.  While that might seem to suggest that you can take time that you normally devote to regulatory actions to begin your holiday preparations even in this most unusual year, there are still many issues to consider, and you can also use this month to plan for complying with deadlines that fall in December.

While there are no significant comment dates on broadcast matters yet set in November, look for dates to be set in the FCC’s proceeding to determine whether there should be a limit on the number of applications that one party can file in the upcoming window for the filing of applications for new noncommercial, reserved band FM stations.  See our article here on the FCC’s request for comments in this proceeding.
Continue Reading November Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: Rulemaking Comments, Hearings on Diversity and a New Commissioner, an FCC Open Meeting and More

In the last few weeks, we have received several inquiries from broadcasters about the FCC’s enforcement of its requirements that broadcasters conduct non-vacancy specific outreach efforts to educate their communities about broadcast employment opportunities and to train their staff to assume greater responsibility at stations and otherwise assist them in their career development (not to train them for their current positions, but to prepare them to assume a position with more responsibilities as their careers advance).  Stations are required to undertake a variety of activities to educate the public about broadcast employment opportunities (and the experience and skills that will be helpful to obtain these broadcast positions) and to train their employees to advance in their careers beyond their current positions.  These outreach efforts must be undertaken even when stations don’t have job openings.  The FCC has a whole list of “menu options” to meet these obligations (see them listed in the EEO training presentation that I did last year for a state broadcast association, available here).  While these menu options were designed for a “normal” work environment, many can be adapted to today’s world where so much business and education is being done virtually.

When asked if these rules are still in effect, I have been telling broadcasters that the FCC has not said that these obligations are suspended during the pandemic.  In fact, the FCC has been conducting EEO audits throughout the course of the pandemic (see our article here, for instance), so it appears that enforcement of the EEO rules continues unabated.  While I expect that the FCC will be somewhat flexible in assessing compliance in these present circumstances, stations can accomplish many of the activities listed in the menu options even in the pandemic.  In a webinar that I conducted recently for many of the states with upcoming radio license renewal deadlines, and in another webinar for a public broadcasters group in a midwestern state, I discussed some of those opportunities.
Continue Reading Looking at FCC Non-Vacancy Specific EEO Outreach Efforts – the “Menu Options” – in a Pandemic World

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 set the comment dates for its proposal for changing the cost to file various broadcast applications. The new

As the campaign enters its final weeks, the FCC has begun to send out the next round of proposed consent decrees to radio broadcasters unable to certify in their license renewal applications, because of perceived deficiencies in their political file, that that every document was placed into their FCC-hosted online public inspection file on a timely basis (see, for instance, this decree released yesterday).  The certification of public file compliance is required of every applicant for license renewal.  As with any other certification, a licensee must review its records and truthfully answer the application’s question, either certifying that it has complied with all of the public file obligations or disclosing any deficiencies.  As we wrote last year, in cases of substantial noncompliance, the FCC has fined stations that essentially ignored the public file rules.  But, until recently, in cases where a station had made a good faith effort to comply but had some minor deficiencies in the public file (as is natural over an eight-year renewal period), the FCC has generally been granting renewals, acknowledging that minor violations do not signal that a broadcaster is not operating in the public interest.  However, in August, the Commission initiated a new policy for stations that reported deficiencies in the political portion of the public inspection file, sending draft consent decrees to virtually all stations unable to certify full public file compliance because of any political file issue.

These consent decrees were modeled on the ones that were sent in July to six large radio broadcast groups as a result of an earlier FCC review of their political files (see our article here on those consent decrees, which also provides a review of a broadcaster’s political file obligations).  The difference is, of course, that the July decrees went to large radio groups for what the FCC described as hundreds of violations at many radio stations.  The new renewal-driven consent decrees were sent to all stations that did not certify political file compliance, even to stations that had only a handful of political advertising sales if those stations determined that they could not certify that all required documents went into the file in a timely fashion.  While the decrees carry no monetary fine, they do require that the signing station enter into a compliance program – appointing a compliance officer, having a written compliance plan, reporting any violations to the FCC as they occur, and providing a report to the FCC at the end of each calendar year for two years cataloging all political sales and when the required documents went into the political file.
Continue Reading More FCC Consent Decrees for Political File Violations – Issues to Watch in the Last Weeks of the Election

In many parts of the country, the air is turning crisp, the leaves are changing color, and kids are back in school (in some form), making it the perfect time to get caught up with regulatory dates and deadlines coming in October.  This is an unusual month where there are several routine regulatory deadlines – renewals, EEO filings, Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, and the must-carry/retransmission consent deadline, but no significant broadcast rulemaking comment deadlines, perhaps as we are nearing the end of the current administration which might not be around to finish any proceeding started now.

The routine deadlines include those for radio stations in Iowa and Missouri and TV stations in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who should be putting the finishing touches on their license renewal applications, to be filed on or before October 1, along with the accompanying EEO program report.  Stations should also have their post-filing announcements ready and scheduled to begin airing on October 1.  Those announcements continue through December 16.  Stations are no longer required to air pre-filing announcements.  The schedule for post-filing announcements and sample announcement language is here for radio stations and here for TV stations.
Continue Reading October Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: License Renewals, EEO Reports, Carriage Elections, Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists and More

Where do all the Washington DC legal issues facing TV broadcasters stand? While we try on this Blog to write about many of those issues, we can’t always address everything that is happening. Every few months, my partner David O’Connor and I update a list of the legal and regulatory issues facing TV broadcasters.

As broadcasters continue to respond to the coronavirus while sometimes juggling work duties with family responsibilities like at-home virtual schooling, it would be easy to overlook regulatory dates and responsibilities.  This post should help alert you to some important dates in September that all stations should keep in mind – and we will also provide a reminder of some of the dates to remember in early October.  As in any year, as summer ends, regulatory activity picks up – and this year appears to be no different.

Each year, in September, regulatory fees are due, as the FCC is required to collect them before the October 1 start of the new fiscal year.  We expect that the final amount of those fees, and the deadlines and procedures for payment, should be announced any day.  For broadcasters, one of the big issues is whether those fees will be adjusted downward from what was initially proposed by the FCC in their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in this proceeding.  The National Association of Broadcasters has been leading an effort (we wrote about this here and NAB detailed recent meetings between CEO Gordon Smith and members of its legal department with FCC staff here and here) urging the FCC to reduce the amount of fees owed by broadcasters, in part because of the financial toll the pandemic has taken on the industry and in part because the proposed fee structure, which is determined by estimates as to how many FCC staffers are detailed to regulating an industry and the related benefit that industry receives, inaccurately reflects the number of FCC employees who work on radio issues.  Look for that decision very soon.
Continue Reading September Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: Annual Regulatory Fees, Lowest Unit Rate Window Opening, C-Band Reimbursement, Rulemaking Comments and More