Noncommercial Broadcasting

Note, for all of you who are trying to complete your Biennial Ownership Reports that are due for commercial and noncommercial stations on March 2 (see our post here about the March 2 filing date), the FCC yesterday posted a notice on the log-in screen for its LMS electronic database, in which the ownership

On a day when the rest of the country is thinking about chocolate and Champagne, many radio stations need to be considering the FCC requirement that their public inspection file be made available online in a system hosted by the FCC. From the calls I have received in the last few days, it appears

On Friday, the Radio Music License Committee issued a press release that states that Global Music Rights (“GMR”), the new performing rights organization that collects royalties for the public performance of songs written by a number of popular songwriters (including Bruce Springsteen, members of the Eagles, Pharrell Williams and others) has agreed to extend their

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.
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Noncommercial broadcast stations are licensed to be just that – noncommercial. These stations can run “underwriting announcements” acknowledging commercial businesses that provide financial support to the stations, but such announcements must meet strict guidelines – including restrictions on “calls to action,” prohibitions on statements about prices or discounts, and requirements that no qualitative claim about the sponsor’s products or services can be made. From time to time, the FCC will fine or admonish noncommercial stations that run underwriting announcements that are too commercial. Yesterday, the FCC announced that its Enforcement Bureau had reached a Consent Decree (available here) with a noncommercial broadcaster who acknowledged having run underwriting announcements that had exceeded the bounds set by the rule. To settle the complaints about its announcements at stations in California and Arizona, the licensee agreed to pay the FCC a penalty of $115,000. According to the FCC Press Release on the matter, this was the highest penalty ever imposed on a noncommercial broadcaster for violations of the underwriting rules.

In addition to the fine, the licensee had to agree to a one-year moratorium on underwriting announcements from commercial entities. In addition, the licensee had to institute a compliance plan to educate its employees about the requirements of the FCC rules on underwriting, including a requirement that it create a training manual for use by its staff, and that it appoint a compliance officer to oversee compliance with the underwriting restrictions. For four years, the licensee needs to report to the FCC any instance where they violate the rules, and file a yearly report detailing their efforts to maintain compliance and certifying either that there have not been any violations of the rules or, if such a certification cannot be made, the details of any violations.
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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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The Copyright Royalty Board on Friday published in the Federal Register its decision setting the royalty rates that noncommercial broadcasters will pay to the performing rights organizations for the public performance of musical compositions in over-the-air broadcasting during the period 2018-2022.  The rates reflect settlements between ASCAP, BMI and SESAC and various organizations representing

When the FCC adopted its Report and Order authorizing the “next generation TV” standard ATSC 3.0, it did not resolve all issues, instead leaving a few for further public comment. Notice of the issues raised in the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published in the Federal Register just before Christmas, setting February 20 as the deadline for initial comments on the outstanding issues, and March 20 as the deadline for reply comments. What issues are left to be resolved?

In allowing the voluntary transition to ATSC 3.0, the FCC required that stations choosing to transition to the new standard must enter into agreements with another station in their market to remain in the current ATSC 1.0 transmission standard and host a “lighthouse” signal rebroadcasting the primary video signal of the converting station on one of the multicast streams of the host station. The FCC recognized that not all stations would be able to find a partner with a signal covering the converting station’s city of license that could host the lighthouse signal in the old standard, and agreed to consider waivers of that requirement. The Further Notice raises questions as to whether the FCC should issue further guidance on the standards that it will apply to such waiver requests.
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The Copyright Royalty Board yesterday announced in the Federal Register, here, that the sound recording royalty rates paid to SoundExchange will be increasing next year.  In December 2015, when the CRB set the current royalty rates that apply from January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2020 (see our articles here and here),

The FCC on Thursday issued a Public Notice announcing that, at the end of the day on November 27, 2017, the current versions of FCC Forms 323 and 323E will be retired. These forms will be replaced in the near future by a new version of the ownership report in the FCC’s LMS database. If