Public Interest Obligations/Localism

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.

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

Where do all the Washington DC legal issues facing TV broadcasters stand in these early days of a new Administration? 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

A Notice of Inquiry from the Copyright Office was published today in the Federal Register, announcing the initiation of an inquiry into the effects of the 2019 changes in the statutory license under Section 119 of the Copyright Act for satellite television providers to retransmit local television stations.  Pursuant to that license, a satellite carrier can retransmit local television stations into their own markets without having to negotiate with each copyright holder in the programming carried by local stations.  Instead, the satellite carrier pays a license fee set by the statute and the proceeds of that license are redistributed through proceedings held by the Copyright Royalty Board to the copyright holders.  As part of that license, satellite carriers can import signals of distant network television stations into a market in certain circumstances – circumstances that were greatly limited by the Satellite Television Community Protection and Promotion Act (the “STCPPA”) in 2019.  As part of that statute, Congress instructed the Copyright Office to conduct this study to review the impact of the 2019 changes.

The 2019 changes eliminated the ability of satellite carriers to import distant network signals to households in a market where:

  • The households could not receive a local over-the-air signal via an antenna;
  • The household received a waiver from a local network affiliate to receive a distant signal;
  • “Grandfathered” households that received distant signals on or before October 31, 1999; and
  • Households eligible for a statutory exemption related to receiving “C-Band” satellite signals.

These exceptions were problematic to broadcasters as they introduced a distant network affiliate into a television market, encouraging viewers to watch that distant station at the expense of the local affiliate.  Congress was concerned that these situations encouraged viewers to watch distant news rather than the local news and information provided by in-market stations.  Many of these provisions were also hard to implement and enforce.  For instance, the question of whether a household could receive an over-the-air signal could often be a contentious question.  Waivers also were problematic, as a local station could feel pressure to give a waiver to a local resident to avoid bad will within the community.  Thus, in 2019, all of these exceptions were abolished.
Continue Reading Copyright Office Begins Review of Changes in Satellite Television Statutory License for Carriage of Local Television Stations

Here we are, in a new and hopefully more “normal” year – wondering what will be ahead.  Each year, at about this time, we put together a look at the regulatory dates ahead for broadcasters – or at least the primary ones that we already know.  This year is no different – and we offer for your review our Broadcaster’s Regulatory Calendar for 2021.  While this calendar should not be viewed as an exhaustive list of every regulatory date that your station will face, it highlights many of the most important dates for broadcasters in the coming year – including dates for license renewalsEEO Public Inspection File ReportsQuarterly Issues Programs listschildren’s television obligations, annual fee obligations and much more.  This year, for LPTV and TV translator operators, there are also dates associated with this summer’s deadline for all such stations to be operating digitally (see our article here).

While this likely will not be a big political advertising year like 2020, there will be some state and local races – so we note the start of the Lowest Unit Charge window for this year’s November election – relevant in states like New Jersey and Virginia where there are races for governor and state legislature, and to the many locations across the country that will have mayor’s races and other state and local political contests.  Look for local information about the dates for any primary elections for these elections – as those primaries have their own LUC windows for the 45 days preceding the primary.  See our article here on how the other political broadcasting rules apply to state and local elections.
Continue Reading A Broadcaster’s 2021 Regulatory Calendar – Looking at Some of the Important Dates for the Year Ahead

The holiday season is nearly behind us and many are looking forward to putting 2020 in the rearview mirror with a hopeful eye on 2021.  The new year will bring big changes to the Washington broadcast regulation scene, with the inauguration of a new President and installation of a new FCC chair who will make an imprint on the agency with his or her own priorities.  And routine regulatory dates and deadlines will continue to fill up a broadcaster’s calendar.  So let’s look at what to expect in the world of Washington regulation in the coming month.

On the routine regulatory front, on or before January 10, all full-power broadcast stations, commercial and noncommercial, must upload to their online public inspection files their Quarterly Issues Programs lists, listing the most important issues facing their communities in the last quarter of 2020 and the programs that they broadcast in October, November and December that addressed those issues.  As we have written before, these lists are the only documents required by the FCC to demonstrate how stations served the needs and interests of their broadcast service area, and they are particularly important as the FCC continues its license renewal process for radio and TV stations.  Make sure that you upload these lists to your public file by the January 10 deadline.  You can find a short video on complying with the Quarterly Issues/Programs List requirements here.
Continue Reading January Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – A New FCC Administration, Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, KidVid, Comment Deadlines and a Supreme Court Oral Argument on Ownership Issues

Last week, Chairman Pai gave a speech to the Media Institute in Washington, talking about his deregulatory accomplishments during his tenure as FCC Chairman.  Central to his speech was the suggestion that the broadcast ownership rules no longer made sense, as they regulate an incredibly small piece of the media landscape, while digital competitors, who are commanding a greater and greater share of the market for audience and advertising dollars, are essentially unregulated.  Not only are they unregulated, but the digital services that compete with broadcasting are owned and financed by companies who are the giants of the US economy.  In his speech, he noted that the company with the most broadcast TV ownership is dwarfed in market capitalization by the companies offering competing video services.

While the Chairman’s speech concentrated on television, mentioning radio only in passing, we note that many of these same issues are even more at play in the audio entertainment marketplace.  When the Chairman two months ago offered remarks on the hundredth anniversary of the first commercial radio station in the US, he recognized that radio has played a fundamental role in the communications world over the last century.  But that role faces more and more challenges, perhaps exaggerated by the pandemic when in many markets listeners are spending less time in cars where so much radio listening takes place.  There are many challenges to over-the-air radio as new sources of audio entertainment that sound and function similarly are more and more accessible to the public and more and more popular with listeners.  Over-the-air radio is already less a distinct industry than a part of the overall audio entertainment marketplace competing with streaming services, podcasts, satellite radio and other audio media.  These changes in listening habits are coupled with a change in the advertising marketplace, as the digital media giants now take over 50% of the local advertising market that was once the province of radio, television and newspapers.
Continue Reading Outgoing FCC Chairman Pai Calls for Modernization of Media Ownership Rules – Audio Competition Issues for the New FCC To Consider  

Here are some of the regulatory developments in the last week of significance to broadcasters -and a few dates to watch in the week ahead – with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC issued an order that locks in its