Public Interest Obligations/Localism

While summer has started and minds wander to vacation time, there are still many regulatory obligations to which a broadcaster must pay attention in July.  To help stay focused, we have written below about some of the important dates and deadlines applicable to broadcasters in July – and a reminder of what to be ready for when the calendar rolls over to August.

The one regular deadline applicable to all full-power and Class A TV broadcasters in July is the July 10 deadline for stations to upload to their online public file their Quarterly Issues Programs lists identifying the issues of importance to their community and the programs that they broadcast in the second quarter of the year that addressed those issues.  Prepare these lists carefully and accurately, as they are your only official records of how your station is serving the public and addressing the needs and interests of your community.  You need to first list the significant issues facing the station’s community in the second quarter.  Then, for each issue identified, you should list several programs that addressed the issue in some serious way.  For each program, the description should include the issue that the program addressed, the name of the program or segment that covered the issue, the date and time the program or segment aired, the duration of the coverage of the issue, and a narrative describing how the issue was treated.  Timely uploading of these lists to the station’s online public file is especially important during the ongoing license renewal cycle when FCC staff are looking closely at public file contents.  See our article here for more on this obligation.
Continue Reading July Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, The End of Analog TV, EAS Test Registration Requirement, Radio and TV Rulemakings, and More

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

  • Because of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year upholding the Commission’s 2017 relaxation of certain media ownership rules, the

As the calendar flips to June, pandemic restrictions across the country continue to loosen, and we inch closer to summer.  Broadcasters could be forgiven for not having regulatory dates and deadlines on the top of their minds.  There are, however, many important dates and deadlines to keep track of during June – we provide details of some of them below.  As always, be sure to stay in touch with your FCC counsel for the dates and deadlines applicable to your operations.

Radio stations in ArizonaIdahoNevadaNew MexicoUtah, and Wyoming and television stations in Michigan and Ohio should be putting the final touches on their license renewal applications, which are due by June 1.  See our article, here, about preparing for license renewal.  These 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 on their station website a link to their Annual EEO Public Inspection File report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities for the twelve months from June 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021.
Continue Reading June Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: License Renewal and EEO Filings, Comments and Replies, Auction Upfront Payments, Streaming Rates Announcement, and More

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from 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 asked for public comment on a proposal to increase from 100 to 250 watts the maximum power allowed

There can be no doubt that local newspapers have been significantly impacted over the last two decades by the ascent of the Internet.  And, as we have written before (see, for instance, our article here), digital media has also had a significant impact on the local revenues of broadcasters, who also have traditionally specialized in covering local events.  To study the effect of the decline in local news sources, legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to create a government committee to look at various aspects of this issue. The “Future of Local News Committee” would include individuals appointed by the majority and minority in the House and Senate, as well as individuals selected by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and the US Agency for Global Media.  Each appointee is to be someone experienced in some aspect of local media.  The committee would have one year to deliver a report to Congress.

What would they study?  The legislation suggests that the committee would have broad investigatory powers to review how the change in local media has affected local communities.  The bill’s preface includes language stating that over 2000 newspapers have gone out of business since 2004, and that of the 6,700 remaining, 1000 could be classified as “ghost newspapers” whose staffs have been so reduced that they cannot effectively cover local events.  The bill also cites a Pew Research study that shows that local newsroom employees at newspapers, broadcast outlets and digital sources dropped 25% from 2008-2018.  Perhaps most startling is the statement that newspapers alone lost more than $35,000,000,000 in revenue between 2004 and 2018.  All these factors, and many others cited in the bill, are alleged to show that local media can no longer effectively cover local events.
Continue Reading Does Local News Need Government Assistance to Survive – Legislation Proposed to Set Up Commission to Study the Impact of Changes in Local Media on Local Communities  

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

  • In a speech to the Media Institute, FCC Commissioner Starks spoke of the importance of diversity in media ownership and

Here are some of the regulatory developments from 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 National Association of Broadcasters this week announced that its CEO, Gordon Smith, will be stepping down at the end

The broadcast trade press is full today with the news that NAB CEO Gordon Smith will be stepping back from that position at the end of the year, to be replaced by current COO (and former head of Government Relations) Curtis LeGeyt.  As many will remember, Smith took over the organization over a decade ago during a turbulent time for the industry.  At the time, TV stations faced increasing calls for other uses of the broadcast spectrum, and radio stations faced a possible performance royalty on their over-the-air broadcasts of sound recordings.  Since then, through all sorts of issues, there has been a general consensus in the industry that its leadership was in capable hands and meeting the issues as they arose.

But many issues remain for broadcasters – some of them ones that have never gone away completely.  The sound recording performance royalty for over-the-air broadcasting remains an issue, as do other music licensing issues calling for changes to the way that songwriters and composers are compensated, generally calling for higher payments or different compensation systems (see our articles here on the GMR controversy and here on the review of music industry antitrust consent decrees).  TV stations, while having gone through the incentive auction giving up significant parts of the TV broadcast spectrum, still face demands by wireless operators and others hungry for more spectrum to provide the many in-demand services necessary to meet the need for faster mobile services (see our articles here on C-Band redeployment and here on requests for a set aside of TV spectrum for unlicensed wireless users).  But competition from digital services may well be the biggest current issue facing broadcasters.
Continue Reading With a Change at the Top at the NAB as CEO Gordon Smith Plans His Departure – What are the Regulatory Issues That are Facing Broadcasters?

The United States Supreme Court yesterday released its decision upholding the FCC’s 2017 changes to its ownership rules in the FCC v Prometheus Radio Project case (see our summary here).  Those rules had been put on hold in 2019 by a decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals which held that the FCC had to develop a more detailed record on the impact of rule changes on minority ownership before making any such changes (see our summary of that decision here).  The Supreme Court did not issue a sweeping decision evaluating the competitive landscape for the broadcast industry, nor was it expected to.  Instead, the Court decision was a narrow legal one, looking at whether the decision of the FCC was entitled to traditional judicial deference to expert administrative agencies.

The Supreme Court was reviewing the legal question of whether the FCC’s 2017 review of diversity was adequately justified.  In 2017, the FCC determined that that no substantial impact on diversity was proven by any party who filed comments in the media ownership proceeding and, to the extent that there was an impact, the benefits of making broadcast companies stronger competitors in today’s media marketplace outweighed that impact.  The Third Circuit would have had the FCC conduct a sweeping historical analysis of the impact of past instances where the ownership rules were relaxed to see the impact on minority ownership so that the FCC could judge the likely impact of new changes to the rules.  The Supreme Court found that the FCC had no obligation to conduct its own studies into that issue and, based on the evidence before the FCC, its decision to relax the rules was not an arbitrary one.  Thus, it was entitled to the deference given to decisions of expert regulatory agencies (see our article here on the deference given to administrative agency decisions).  In essence, this was a narrow decision based on principles of administrative law to which all nine Justices, liberal and conservative, could agree.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Reinstates 2017 FCC Changes to Broadcast Ownership Rules Including the End to Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership Ban – But Radio Changes Yet to Come

Noncommercial radio stations ignoring their FCC public file obligations should be expecting to enter into consent decrees at license renewal time obligating them to take formal steps to monitor compliance and submit information to the FCC on any issues that arise.  In the last few weeks, we have seen at least four such decrees announced by the FCC (e.g. here, here, and here) imposing such obligations in exchange for the grant of pending renewal applications.  In each consent decree, the FCC notes the hardships imposed by the pandemic, presumably suggesting that, had these been more ordinary times, the licensees would have faced steeper penalties.

The consent decrees themselves resemble the consent decrees entered into between the FCC and commercial broadcasters who have not adequately maintained the documents required to be in the political file that is part of each commercial station’s public inspection file (see our articles here and here).  The four recent consent decrees with the noncommercial broadcasters require that they take the following actions:

  • They must appoint a Compliance Officer – a senior manager who will report to the “Chief Executive Officer” or equivalent of the licensee. The Compliance Officer is responsible for making sure that the licensee observes all public file obligations and all terms of the consent decree.
  • Within 30 days, the licensee must adopt a Compliance Plan that includes:
    • A written Compliance Manual explaining all requirements of the public file rules and is distributed to all employees who deal with any aspect of the rules.
    • A training program must be conducted for all employees on their obligations under the public file rules.
  • A year after the effective date of the Consent Decree, the licensee must submit a Compliance Report to the FCC certifying its compliance with the rules and how it complied.
  • If in any instance, the licensee does not comply with the rules, it must report any instance of noncompliance to the FCC within 10 days of its discovery.

As we noted here in the case of a commercial broadcaster who did not comply with the terms of a consent decree, noncompliance can bring big penalties.
Continue Reading Noncommercial Stations – Don’t Forget Your Public File Obligations – The FCC is Watching!