The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Children’s Television has been published in the Federal Register, setting the dates for comments on the questions that the FCC asks about changing the rules – particularly those rules dealing with educational and informational programming directed to children. Comments are due September 24, with replies due October 23. See the FCC Public Notice on these comment dates for more information. With the dates now set, it is worth reviewing the questions that the FCC asks about whether changes in the video marketplace require that the rules for educational and informational programming be changed.

The rules currently require that a television station broadcast an average of three hours per week of “core” educational and informational programming directed to children 16 and under to avoid special scrutiny by the FCC at license renewal time. Core programming must run between 7 AM and 10 PM, and must be aired at regularly scheduled times in blocks of at least half an hour. For stations that multicast, each multicast stream has an independent 3 hour per week obligation, though the required children’s programming for one multicast channel can run instead on another multicast channel (or on the station’s main channel) as long as it reaches a comparable MVPD audience. What changes are being considered?
Continue Reading

The FCC yesterday adopted an order moving broadcast EEO enforcement from the FCC’s Media Bureau to its Enforcement Bureau. The change will be effective later, after certain procedural approvals are obtained and after notice is published in the Federal Register. As EEO enforcement is primarily aimed at broadcasters and cable companies, and has been part of the Media Bureau responsibilities since the Bureau existed, why was this change made and what does it mean?

The FCC makes clear in its order that the reason for the move is that the Enforcement Bureau is for better enforcement of the EEO rules. Specifically, the FCC said this about the transfer of authority from the Media Bureau to the Enforcement Bureau:

The Enforcement Bureau’s staff has extensive experience conducting investigations and pursuing enforcement in a wide range of areas. They therefore are well positioned to provide assistance and guidance with EEO review, audit, and enforcement work. Further, the Enforcement Bureau has expertise in, and maintains tools and databases to aid with, the tracking of statutory deadlines, including those relevant to EEO audits and investigations, that the Media Bureau does not.

Thus, broadcasters need to be ready for more rigorous enforcement of the EEO rules.
Continue Reading

There was lots of news out of the FCC yesterday that will give us issues to write about for weeks to come. Here are some highlights. At its open meeting, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on potentially reforming the children’s television rules – including a review as to whether the current requirement that regularly scheduled programs of 30 minutes in length are the only means to meet the obligation to broadcast 3 hours of educational and informational children’s programming each week for each stream of free over-the-air programming broadcast by a station without facing heightened FCC scrutiny. The rulemaking will also look at whether all kid’s programming obligations could be met by broadcasts on a single multicast stream or through other efforts. The FCC Press Release on the action is here, and and the text of the notice is here.

On EAS, the FCC took actions to strengthen the reliability of the EAS system by allowing real EAS tones to be used in PSAs to promote the system, subject to certain safeguards, and to allow for testing of the EAS system using “live codes” with appropriate warnings and disclaimers. The order also requires the reporting of false emergency messages that may be sent out. The FCC Press Release on that item is here, and we will post a link to the full text when it is available.
Continue Reading

Last week, in our calendar of regulatory dates for broadcasters in July, we reminded broadcasters that their Quarterly Issues Programs lists needed to be placed in their public file by today, July 10. This quarterly requirement has been in place for over 30 years, but is still an obligation whose breach has led to

July brings the obligation for each full-power broadcaster to add a new Quarterly Issues Programs List to their online public inspection file. These reports, summarizing the issues facing each station’s community of license in the prior three months and the programs broadcast by the station to address those issues, must be added to the public file by July 10. As we wrote here, these reports are very important – as they are the only documents legally required by the FCC to show how a station served the public interest. With the online file, these reports can be reviewed by anyone with an Internet connection at any time, which could be particularly concerning for any station that does not meet the filing deadline, especially with license renewals beginning again next year.

Also to be filed with the FCC by July 10, by full-power and Class A TV stations, are Quarterly Children’s Television Reports. While the FCC announced last week that it will be considering a rulemaking proposal at its July meeting to potentially change the rules (see its proposed Notice of Proposed Rulemaking here), for now the requirements remain in place obligating each station to broadcast 3 weekly hours of programming designed to meet the educational and informational needs of children for each free program stream transmitted by the station. Also, certifications need to be included in each station’s online public file demonstrating that the station has complied with the rules limiting the amount of commercialization during children’s television programs.
Continue Reading

We are less than one year away from the beginning of the next radio license renewal cycle. By June 1 of 2019, radio broadcasters with stations licensed to communities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia must have their license renewal applications on file. Stations in certain southeastern states follow two months later, with other states to follow every two months until the cycle ends 3 years after it began with the filing of renewals by stations in the northeast. The FCC’s list of state-by-state renewal deadlines is available here. The TV cycle begins the year after the radio cycle and progresses in the same order. We wrote here about how the online public inspection file will heighten scrutiny of the performance of stations in meeting their public service obligations – and the particular importance of timely preparation and uploading of the Quarterly Issues Programs lists – the only officially mandated documents showing how stations addressed issues of importance to their communities in their over-the-air programming. But there are other issues that stations should be considering in this year before renewals are filed.

From time to time in this run-up to the renewal, we will highlight issues that station owners should be considering. In the last week, there have been a few issues that that were highlighted by FCC announcements of fines levied on broadcasters for various rule violations. One obvious issue is making sure that you stay on top of the deadlines, and don’t forget to timely file the renewal application. An FCC decision released yesterday fined a station $1500 for failing to timely file its renewal in the last renewal cycle. This station filed its application about 4 months late, just before the license expired (broadcasters file their renewals 4 months in advance of the expiration of the license to give the FCC time to review and grant the renewal before the current license expires). In the past renewal cycle, other stations were fined even more when they waited even longer to file their late renewals. Obviously, it is important to stay on top of the filing deadlines.
Continue Reading

For radio and television stations with 5 or more full-time employees located in Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia, June 1 brings the requirement that you upload to your online inspection file your Annual EEO Public Inspection File Report detailing your employment outreach efforts for job openings filled in the last year, as well as the supplemental efforts you have made to educate the community about broadcast employment or the training efforts undertaken to advance your employees skills. For TV stations that are part of Employment Units with five or more full-time employees and located in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, you also need to submit your EEO Form 397 Mid-Term Report. See our article here on the Mid-Term Report, and another here on an FCC proposal that could lead to the elimination of the filing of the form.

June 1 should also serve as a reminder to radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia that your license renewal will be filed a year from now, on or before June 1, 2019. So, if you have not done so already, you should be reviewing your online public inspection file to make sure that it is complete, and otherwise review your station operations in anticipation of that filing. We wrote about some of the issues of concern for the upcoming license renewal cycle in our article here. TV stations in those same states will start the TV renewal cycle two years from now.
Continue Reading

Starting June 1, 2019, just over a year from now, the next broadcast license renewal cycle will begin. By that date, radio stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia must file their renewal applications. Every other month for the next 3 years will bring the filing of radio license renewals in another set of states. And television stations will begin their renewal cycle a year later (June 1, 2020). The FCC’s schedule for radio license renewals can be found here and here. For TV stations, the schedule of renewal filings by state is in the same – just one year later than for radio. Every eight years, broadcast stations have to seek the renewal of their licenses by the FCC by demonstrating their continuing qualifications to be a licensee, including showing that they have not had a history of FCC violations and that they have otherwise served the public interest.

We have already written several times about how, with all broadcasters – both radio and TV – now required to have an online public file, it is important for stations to make sure that those files are complete and are kept up to date on a regular basis (see our articles here, here and here). Given that the contents of the online public file can be viewed by anyone, anywhere, just by launching an Internet browser, we would expect more complaints about incomplete files, and more scrutiny by the FCC of the contents of files that rarely were subject to FCC review in the past. FCC staffers can review public file compliance from their offices or homes, and do not have to rely on the rare field inspection to discover a violation. Thus, stations should be reviewing the contents of their files now to be sure that they are ready for the scrutiny that they will receive in the upcoming renewal cycle. But that is not the only issue about which stations need to be concerned, as illustrated by a decision released by the FCC yesterday, deciding to hold an evidentiary hearing as to whether the license renewal of a broadcast station that had been silent much of the last license renewal term should be granted.
Continue Reading

The FCC yesterday issued an order granting 39 radio stations (almost all stations with very small staffs or those affected by recent hurricanes or otherwise non-operational) 60 days to comply with the requirement that all full-power radio stations complete the transition to the online public file by this past March 1. We wrote about

The FCC’s Audio Division yesterday issued “Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture” to five radio stations; all owned by Cumulus Licensing. Each of these notices proposed a fine (called a “forfeiture” in FCC-speak) of either $10,000 (here) or $12,000 (here, here, here and here), all for violations of the FCC public file rules. All of these stations, located in close proximity in eastern South Carolina, were missing numerous sets of Quarterly Issues Programs lists that should have been included in their public files in the last license renewal term. The stations voluntarily reported that the lists were missing in their license renewal applications filed in 2011. In clearing up these long-pending renewals, the FCC proposed to issue these fines – again emphasizing that even this deregulatory FCC does not hesitate to enforce the rules that remain on the books (see our previous warnings here and here).

The release of these proposed fines also sends a warning to broadcasters about to convert to the online public inspection file (as all radio stations will need to have their public file online by March 1 – see our discussion of the online public file here), that these reports will be able to be viewed by anyone, anywhere, to see if they have been prepared and timely placed into the stations online public file. Each document deposited in the public file is date-stamped as to when it was uploaded. So anyone trying to assess a station’s compliance with the public file rule can see whether the Quarterly Issues Programs list was uploaded to the file and whether the upload was timely – within 10 days of the end of each calendar quarter.
Continue Reading