The FCC’s order on this year’s annual regulatory fees was released by the FCC this week.  The FCC rejected calls to forgive broadcast regulatory fees because of the economic fallout of the pandemic, noting that only Congress could pass such relief, as the FCC is required by law to collect fees sufficient to cover the costs of its operations.  The Commission did, however, offer some terms for the payment over time of the fees by companies that are hard-hit by the economic conditions that resulted from COVID-19, and simplified the waiver process for stations that can demonstrate that they cannot pay the fees without imperiling their service to the public.  The order also rejected the NAB’s request to revisit the fees for radio, though some minor downward adjustments were made in those fees based on the FCC’s finding that it had undercounted the number of radio stations that were to share in the payment of these fees.

The FCC determined that it could not waive all regulatory fees for broadcasters, or broadly excuse them from the 25% late-payment penalty, because these obligations are in the statute and cannot be waived without Congressional authorization.  The FCC is required by law to collect these fees before the October 1 start of the next fiscal year in an amount sufficient to reimburse the US Treasury for the costs of operating the Commission.  While the FCC felt itself powerless to totally waive the rules, it did simplify the process for individual stations to make requests for waiver of the fees if the payment of the fees would imperil their ability to serve the public or to extend the payments out over time – without the need for any upfront payment of a significant portion of the fees.  The FCC noted that the Office of the Managing Director will be issuing a separate Public Notice establishing the process for asking for waiver or deferral, so watch for the notice coming soon as these request will likely need to be filed before the payment deadline, which will also be established in a subsequent public notice.  But the Order does say that the requests for waiver and payment over time can be made in a single email to the FCC, and that the Managing Director’s office is to work with broadcasters to try to help them provide the necessary documentation to support the waiver or deferral of payments.
Continue Reading FCC Releases Order on Regulatory Fees – No Widespread Waivers of Fees But Some Deferred Payments Possible – Payment Dates Coming Soon

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

Many broadcasters who receive satellite-delivered programming do so through satellite dishes picking up transmissions from spectrum referred to as the C-band.  Part of that spectrum is to be auctioned to wireless users for 5G service starting in December.  Because of that auction, those using the band to receive satellite-delivered programs will be compressed into a

Here are some of the regulatory and legal actions and 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.

With the lowest unit charge window for the November elections going into effect on September 4, just two and a half weeks from now, we thought that it was a good idea to review the basic FCC rules and policies affecting those charges. In this election, with the Presidency and control in both houses of Congress at stake as well as many state offices, and with in-person campaigning limited by the pandemic, there may have never been a time when broadcast advertising was more important to political candidates – and likely more in demand by those candidates.  Your station needs to be ready to comply with the FCC’s political advertising rules. Today, we will look at lowest unit rate issues.  Lowest unit charges (or “Lowest Unit Rates”) guarantee that, in the 45 days before a primary and the 60 days before a general election, legally qualified candidates get the lowest rate for a spot that is then running on the station within any class of advertising time running in any particular daypart. Candidates also get the benefit of all volume discounts without having to buy in volume – i.e., the candidate gets the same rate for buying one spot as your most favored advertiser gets for buying hundreds of spots of the same class. But there are many other aspects to the lowest unit rates, and stations need to be sure that they get these rules right.

It is a common misperception that a station has one lowest unit rate, when in fact almost every station will have several – if not dozens of lowest unit rates – one lowest unit rate for each class of time in each daypart. Even at the smallest radio station, there are probably several different classes of advertising spots. For instance, there will be different rates for spots running in morning drive than for those spots that run in the middle of the night. Each time period for which the station charges a differing rate is a class of time that has its own lowest unit rate. On television stations, there are often classes based not only on daypart, but on the individual program. Similarly, if a station sells different rotations, each rotation that offers substantially different benefits to an advertiser will be its own class of time with its own lowest unit rates (e.g. a 6 AM to Noon rotation is a different class than a 6 AM to 6 PM rotation, and both are a different class from a 24-hour rotator – and each can have its own lowest unit rate). So, in the same time period (e.g. morning drive on a radio station), there may be spots running in that period that have multiple lowest unit rates (e.g.  spots may end up running in that period that were sold just for morning drive, as well as cheaper spots that were sold as part of a 6 AM to 6 PM rotation that just happened to fall within that period).  Federal candidates can buy into any of those classes of time, and they take the same chances as does a commercial advertiser as to where their spots will land (e.g. if a candidate buys a 6 AM to 6 PM rotator, and that rotator ends up in morning drive, another candidate may buy that same rotator the next week and end up at 4 PM. That second candidate can only guarantee that they will end up in morning drive by buying a spot guaranteed in that time period).
Continue Reading Lowest Unit Rate Window for the November Election Opens on September 4 – Thoughts on Computing Your Lowest Unit Charges to Political Candidates

The FCC yesterday acted to resolve the proceeding begun a year ago (see our article here) to eliminate the rule that prevented an FM or TV broadcaster from denying space to a competing broadcaster on a broadcast tower that it controls.  As expected, that rule was eliminated by an order to become effective when it is published in the Federal Register (as it adopts no new paperwork requirements, review under the Paperwork Reduction Act which so often delays the effective date of FCC actions is not required).  This rule was initially adopted 75 years ago and, in the past, it had been seen as a way to ensure that a broadcaster could not, by withholding access to a unique tower site that the existing broadcaster controlled, foreclose a new competing station from coming on the air.

The FCC justified its abolition of the rule by finding that there are many more towers now available to broadcasters than were available when this rule was first adopted, and most of these new towers are owned by companies that do not own broadcast stations and have no incentive to stop a new broadcast station from leasing space on their facilities.  Also, the FCC noted that it is not the lack of access to tower space that limits the ability of potential broadcasters to launch new competitive stations in a market, but instead the lack of available spectrum in any community on which to operate a new FM or TV station.
Continue Reading FCC Eliminates Rule Requiring Broadcast Station Tower Owners to Give Access to Competing Stations

Here are some of the FCC regulatory and legal actions of the last week—and congressional action in the coming 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 Media Bureau reminded broadcasters that July 13, 2021—the hard deadline

Broadcast TV stations have until July 31, 2020 to upload to their public file a phone number and email address to be used for receiving signal carriage notices and questions.  This information must be kept current and will be used in the must-carry and retransmission consent carriage election statements that must be uploaded by stations

Tuesday marked the end of the TV repacking following the TV incentive auction – shrinking the TV band by moving all TV stations to channels below what used to be Channel 37 (with a few exceptions for stations given a couple of extra months due to last minute COVID-19 delays, as discussed in the FCC decision here).  The FCC announced the end of the transition in a Press Release, and Chairman Pai delivered remarks on an American Consumer Institute webcast, thanking his staff for making the transition happen.  Remarkably, in the 15-year life of this blog, this is the second time that we have written about the shrinking of the TV band – the first following the transition of television from analog to digital over a decade ago (see, for instance the articles here and here from the 2009 digital transition).

That transition to digital is not complete, as we were reminded by another Public Notice released by the FCC on Monday.  This Public Notice emphasized to LPTV and TV translator operators, some of whom still have not transitioned to digital operations, that they have one more year to do so.  By the end of the day on July 13, 2021, all LPTV and TV translator stations need to be operating in digital or they need to cease operations.  The Public Notice reminds these operators who have construction permits for new digital facilities to extend those permits if they expire without construction completion before next year’s transition deadline – and alerts these operators to file by May 1, 2021 any last-minute modifications of the technical facilities specified in construction permits authorizing their digital transition.  Filing by May 1 gives the FCC sufficient time to process these applications so that any changes can be implemented by the July 13 deadline.
Continue Reading The Evolution of TV – The End of the Repack, a One-Year Reminder to the End of Analog LPTV, and the Start of the ATSC 3.0 Roll-Out

The FCC’s International Bureau released a preliminary list of C-Band earth stations (those that operate in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band) in the contiguous U.S. that the Bureau has reviewed and said appear to qualify as “incumbent earth stations” which will be eligible for reimbursement for reasonable costs of changes to their facilities caused by the upcoming repacking of the C-Band.  The C-Band will be partially reallocated for use by wireless carriers, requiring changes in many existing earth stations.  The FCC’s notice about the preliminary list is available here, the preliminary list of incumbent C-band earth stations with explanatory notes in PDF format is available here, and the preliminary list of incumbent C-band earth stations as an Excel chart is available here.  It is important that all broadcasters who have registered earth stations immediately review this list – as corrections need to be submitted to the FCC in just a week – by July 16, 2020.

The Bureau reviewed the status of all earth stations with active or pending licenses or registrations in the C-band.  The incumbent licensees were those who were operating in 2018 and filed FCC registrations by that year and updated those registrations in 2019 (see our articles here and here).  The list includes earth stations whose timely-filed applications are still pending, though they may ultimately not be eligible for reimbursement if the applications are not granted.  The Bureau did not include earth stations whose applications it has dismissed as not meeting the criteria for incumbent status, even if the dismissal is not yet final under the Commission’s rules.
Continue Reading FCC Gives Notice of C-Band Earth Stations Eligible for Reimbursement Before Repurposing Part of that Spectrum – Broadcasters Need to Review and File Corrections By July 16