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

The FCC earlier this week released its agenda for its August 6 open meeting.  That agenda includes two items of relevance to broadcasters.  First, it proposes to eliminate the rule that prohibits two commonly-owned AM stations (including stations that are under common control or covered by a Time Brokerage or Local Marketing Agreement) that

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

The FCC’s proposal to expand the use of Distributed Transmission Systems by television stations operating with the new ATSC 3.0 transmission system was published in the Federal Register today (here). That publication announces that the comment deadlines on the FCC’s DTS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking are due by Friday, June 12, 2020, and reply comments will be due by Monday, July 13, 2020.  While we mentioned this proposal in passing when discussing a proposal to allow FM stations to use boosters to provide an FM version of a distributed transmission system, we have not written in detail about this proposal.  With the comment deadline now set, let’s look at some of the questions asked in the rulemaking proposal.

First, it is worth explaining the concept of a distributed transmission system (sometimes referred to as a “single frequency network” as it uses multiple stations on the same frequency to reach its audience).  Traditionally, television stations have operated with a single high-power transmitter from a location central to their coverage area.  Thus, viewers close to the transmitter get the strongest signal, and that signal dissipates the further that a viewer gets from that central transmitter site.  Station signals are protected from interference to a certain contour where it is assumed that the majority of viewers will be able to receive over-the-air an acceptable signal most of the time.  But even at the edge of these protected contours, the FCC’s projections assume that many viewers will not be able to receive an acceptable signal at all times.  Distributed transmission systems are already in use by television stations in certain markets to fill in holes in station coverage – and have been particularly useful in markets with irregular terrain where mountains or other obstructions preclude one centrally located transmitter from reaching audiences far from the transmitter site.  Locating a second transmitter on the same frequency behind the terrain obstruction allows better reception for viewers who might otherwise not receive an acceptable over-the-air signal. However, currently, the DTS transmitters cannot extend the noise-limited protected contour of a station “more than a minimal amount” beyond that which the TV station would be predicted to have from a single centrally-located transmitter site.  The NPRM in this proceeding, based on a petition filed by the NAB and America’s Public Television Stations (see our article here on the Petition for Rulemaking filed by these groups), looks to allow for wider use of DTS.
Continue Reading Comments Due June 12 on Proposal to Expand the Use of Distributed Transmission Systems by TV Stations Operating with ATSC 3.0 Transmission Systems – What is Being Asked?

Taking a station off the air is often the last resort of a broadcast company in desperate financial times.  While Payroll Protection Act loans have helped many small broadcasters avoid that action even in light of the dramatic decrease in broadcast advertising revenue in the last two months, and some relief may come in areas of the country looking at some reopening of business in the coming weeks, we have still heard of some stations that just can’t manage continued operations in this period of turmoil – either for financial or operational reasons caused by the current health crisis.  If this action is in the cards for your station because of the pandemic or for any other reason including technical failures, do not forget about the FCC requirements for taking a station silent.

When a broadcast station goes silent, it must notify the FCC of that status within 10 days of going off the air.  If the situation will continue for a longer period, a request for Special Temporary Authority providing the reasons for going off the air must be filed within 30 days of going silent.  These STAs are granted for no more than 6 months at a time, so that date should be noted for the filing of any extension that may be needed.  But be careful, as if a station is silent for a full year, Section 312(g) of the Communications Act provides that the license will be cancelled unless the FCC makes an affirmative finding that there are special public interest reasons for not taking that action (a finding made in very rare cases).  When stations resume operations, they must notify the FCC that they are back on the air.  But to be considered back on the air, there must be programming – running a test pattern is insufficient (see the case we wrote about here).  Even with authority to remain silent, there are risks.
Continue Reading Broadcast Stations Going Silent – What You Need to Do

Earlier this week, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau released an Order approving a consent decree with Scripps Broadcasting where Scripps agreed to pay a penalty of $1,130,000 for perceived violations of the FCC’s rules requiring tower light monitoring for towers used by a number of TV stations that it had recently purchased.  The company also agreed to adopt numerous procedures to insure continuing compliance, including notification to the FCC of future issues.  The FCC began the investigation when a plane crashed into one station’s tower.  While the FCC specifically states that it did not find any evidence that any of the “irregularities” in the tower monitoring process contributed to the plane crash, the crash opened the door to the FCC’s investigation of the company’s tower light monitoring process at all of its stations, leading to this fine.  Are you ready for such an investigation?

In the consent decree, the Commission cites various tower-related FCC rules that must be observed by tower owners.  The rules include Section 17.47(a), which requires antenna structure owners to monitor the status of a structure’s lighting system by either (1) making “an observation of the antenna structure’s lights at least once each 24 hours either visually or by observing an automatic properly maintained indicator designed to register any failure of such lights” or (2) by “provid[ing] and properly maintain[ing] an automatic alarm system designed to detect any failure of such lights and to provide indication of such failure to the owner.”  That rule also requires that the tower owner inspect any automatic monitoring system at least once every 3 months to make sure that it is working correctly, unless the owner is using a system certified as reliable and not requiring such inspection by the Wireless Bureau of the FCC (see our articles here and here where FCC fines were issued when monitoring systems did not alert the tower owner of tower lighting issues). 
Continue Reading FCC Consent Decree Requires $1,130,000 Payment to Settle Issues About Monitoring Tower Lights – Are You Doing What’s Required?

Last week, the FCC adopted an order making numerous changes to its processes for selecting winning applicants among mutually-exclusive applicants for new noncommercial broadcast stations, including noncommercial, reserved band full power FM stations and LPFMs. Applicants are “mutually exclusive” when their technical proposals are in conflict – meaning that if one is granted it would create interference to the other so that the other cannot also be allowed to operate. The changes adopted by the FCC, which we wrote about when first proposed here, affect not only the process of applying for new noncommercial stations and the system for resolving conflicts, but also address the holding period for new stations once construction permits are granted, and the length of permits for LPFM stations.

In cases involving mutually exclusive applications for new noncommercial stations, the FCC uses a “points system” to determine which of the mutually-exclusive applicants should have its application granted. The point system relies on paper hearings to determine which applicant has the most points, awarding preferences on factors such as whether they have fewer interests in other broadcast facilities, whether they are local organizations, and whether they are part of state-wide networks.
Continue Reading FCC Adopts Changes to Rules for New Noncommercial FM and LPFM Stations – Changing Application Processing Procedures and Holding Periods

At its October open meeting, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to abolish its rule that bars a broadcast licensee from prohibiting a competitor from using a “unique” transmitter site that it controls. The rule was adopted decades ago and never used. It provides that a license renewal would not be granted

On Friday, the FCC issued a reminder to all operators “of fixed-satellite service (FSS) earth stations in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band that were constructed and operational as of April 19, 2018 that the filing window to license or register such earth stations closes on October 17, 2018.” This frequency band is commonly referred to as