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David Oxenford represents broadcasting and digital media companies in connection with regulatory, transactional and intellectual property issues. He has represented broadcasters and webcasters before the Federal Communications Commission, the Copyright Royalty Board, courts and other government agencies for over 30 years.

While there are a number of regulatory deadlines scheduled for broadcasters in the month of March, there is also the potential for some of those to shift if we have a federal government shutdown.  As of the date of the publication of this article, we do not know if a federal government shutdown will occur this month, with the FCC and FTC currently being funded only through March 8.  As we recently discussed here, the FCC and other government agencies may have to cease all but critical functions if they do not have any residual funds to continue operations during a shutdown.  Therefore, if Congress fails to extend funding of the FCC and other government agencies past March 8, many of the regulatory deadlines discussed below will likely be postponed. If there is a shutdown, and any of the deadlines below apply to you, be sure to research how the shutdown affects your operations.

There are certain technical deadlines likely not affected by any shutdown.  Those include the requirement that, by March 11, broadcasters using Sage EAS equipment implement the requirement that, when a station receives an over-the-air EAS alert, it must wait at least 10 seconds to determine if a CAP alert has been sent through the IPAWS system and, if it has, the station should rebroadcast that internet-delivered CAP alert rather than the one received over the air.  We wrote more about that requirement on our Broadcast Law Blog, here. For stations using other EAS equipment, the deadline was December 12, 2023 to implement this requirement but as Sage was delayed in pushing out its equipment update, users of that equipment were given until March 11 to comply with this requirement. Continue Reading March Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Sage EAS Compliance Deadline, Effective Dates of New FCC Rules, Comment Deadlines, Daylight Savings Time, Political Windows, and More

When you have been representing broadcasters in Washington for as long as I have, you see cycles in regulation of the industry.  I was reminded of how long the FCC has been on a deregulatory cycle in reading today’s Washington Post obituary of former Democratic FCC Chair Charlie Ferris, who headed the FCC many decades ago when I interned there and when I later started to work in private practice representing broadcasters.  One line in the Post article in particular stood out – where Ferris was said to have “argued that unless regulations were ‘improving the market,’ they ‘were nothing but a nuisance.’”  Since the administration of Chairman Ferris, the FCC has generally moved forward to implement that philosophy of eliminating unnecessary regulation, with only occasional consideration given to the reinstatement of certain regulations (efforts that were often unsuccessful).  With the spate of recent rulings from the FCC, one questions whether the direction that Chairman Ferris pointed the FCC is now being slowed or reversed at a time when the market may well be crying out for an increase in the speed of that deregulation.

The obituary itself quoted one media observer as suggesting that the deregulatory direction in which Ferris took the FCC might not have been entirely successful, based on a persistent lack of minority ownership of broadcast properties, and “’a shortage of local, professional, accountable reporting’ in many communities.”  But are those failings ones that are attributable to the deregulatory trends of the FCC, or greater marketplace forces that have strained not just broadcasting but all traditional media?  In reading the media headlines in the last few weeks, one can’t help but conclude that the latter is more likely the cause, and that another quote from Chairman Ferris cited in the article has never been more appropriate, as he warned broadcasters: “If you cannot compete with new technologies, you will be overcome by them.”  As we’ve argued in this blog before (see for instance our article here reflecting on the warnings of another former Chairman, Ajit Pai), given the slew of new technologies available to consumers, imposing new rules on a broadcast industry flooded with new competition for audience and revenues simply does not make sense.Continue Reading Just Because the FCC Can Regulate Broadcasting, Should It? 

On February 22, the FCC released an Order reinstating the requirement for radio and television broadcasters, commercial and noncommercial, to annually file an FCC Form 395-B.  All station employment groups with 5 or more full-time employees would need to classify all station employees, both full-time and part-time, by race or ethnicity and gender, as well as by the type of job they perform at the station (see the most current version of the form here).  The form, which will be amended to allow employees to be classified as “non-binary” as well as male and female, will likely need approval of the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act before broadcasters will be required to comply.  The Form would be filed by September 30 of each year after the effective date, reporting on the employment profile of the station in a pay period in July, August, or September (the same pay period to be used each year).

The Form is not new, though its use has been on hold for over 20 years.  A version of this form had been used by the FCC in the 1980s and 1990s, but its use was put on hold in 1998 as the result of court decisions finding unconstitutional the FCC’s use of this information to impose additional regulatory burdens on broadcasters whose employment profile did not reflect the demographics of its service area.  The court’s concern was that these additional regulatory actions forced broadcasters to make hiring decisions based on race or gender, a form of prohibited discrimination. Continue Reading Reinstating FCC Form 395-B Reporting on the Race and Gender of Broadcast Employees – What the Action Means for Broadcasters

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

  • The FCC adopted an Order that will reinstate FCC Form 395-B, which requires broadcasters to annually report their employees’ race

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

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

Today’s post will be a bit more into the legal weeds than many of our articles, addressing the standards used by courts to review the decisions of administrative agencies like the FCC.  Last month, there was a Supreme Court argument in a case called Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce that the popular press suggested was going to end the regulation of media companies.  Even the media trade press seemed to think that the decision could cut back on regulations that come from the FCC and other agencies.  As with much popular coverage of legal issues, the real-world impact of the case, while certainly significant in legal practice, is probably overstated.

The Relentless case challenges a judicial precedent in place since a 1984 decision in another case, Chevron [U.S.A.] Inc. v. NRDC, Inc.  The policy adopted in that case, referred to as the “Chevron Doctrine,” says that the courts will defer to the decision of an administrative agency interpreting an ambiguous Congressional statute unless the agency’s decision is arbitrary and capricious or contrary to law.  What that basically means is that, if a policy adopted by Congress is capable of many different interpretations, the Courts will defer to the interpretation of the expert agency that is supposed to enforce that statute, unless the interpretation cannot be squared with the language of the statute or the record before the agency.  We’ve written many times on this blog about this doctrine without necessarily identifying it by name, usually in connection with appeals of a Copyright Royalty Board or FCC decision and how difficult it is to convince a court to overturn these actions.Continue Reading What Does the Supreme Court’s Review of the Chevron Doctrine Mean for Media Companies Challenging Decisions of the FCC and Other Government Agencies? 

Last week, when the NFL playoffs and upcoming Super Bowl had everyone thinking football, Congress held a hearing on how streaming media has affected sports and other video programming rights.  We noted that hearing in our weekly update this weekend.  As we said in our update, the hearing touched on all the video media issues of the day – sports rights, retransmission consent, the changing balance between pay TV (cable and satellite) versus streaming, and similar issues (the House staff memo outlining the issues to be discussed at the hearing can be viewed here, and a video of the hearing can be viewed here).  During the discussion, there were even some questions about whether there needed to be some local access mandates for some forms of programming – whether that be sports or, probably more importantly, access to emergency information.  In some sense, that discussion provided some faint echoes of the debate over mandates to preserve AM radio in the car (see our articles here and here).  The discussion, and a review of recent articles on accessing sports events without pay TV that omit any discussion of over-the-air television, makes clear that everyone in the industry needs to do more to emphasize the role that over-the-air television plays in the media landscape before those faint echoes of the AM debate become pronounced.

While the hearing touched how some local television stations have been able to acquire some sports rights from failing regional sports networks and expand the viewership for those games, the role of local television broadcasting was overshadowed by the discussion of the rights issues and streaming video.  Yet the role of local media, including local television, is one that pervades many of the regulatory debates ongoing at the FCC.  The FCC and NAB are cooperating with other industry stakeholders in exploring the role of over-the-air television in connection with the roll out of the new ATSC 3.0 “Next Gen” television transmission standard.  The health of local television, and whether local ownership restrictions should be lessened to ensure that television can better compete from digital media that is directly affecting both the audiences and advertising revenue of every station, was part of the debate over the Quadrennial Review decision released by the FCC in December, and this issue is likely to be debated in any appeal that may follow from that decision.  Local over-the-air television also is under consideration in many other pending FCC proceedings, including possible review of the main studio rules, priority processing of applications proposing local programming, emergency communications issues, and many other topics under consideration at the FCC. Continue Reading Sports Rights, the Super Bowl, and the Perception of Local Over-the-Air TV

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

  • The FCC announced the circulation for Commissioner review and approval of two decisions of interest to broadcasters, signifying that we

This week, Commissioners Carr and Starks issued a joint statement congratulating Chairwoman Rosenworcel for circulating an order to resolve the FCC’s long-pending proceeding about whether to authorize “zonecasting” or “geo-targeting” for FM stations.  Zonecasting would allow FM broadcasters to use FM booster stations operating on the same channel as their main signal, within a station’s existing service area, to originate different programming in different parts of their markets.  Theoretically, this would allow a station to run different commercials in different parts of a station’s service area during the same commercial break. The Commissioners applauded the technical innovation giving broadcasters a choice as to whether they will implement the new system.  While some small broadcasters have supported this proposal, many other broadcasters have vehemently opposed the idea.  Why would so many broadcasters oppose the idea that the Commission seems poised to adopt?

Many of the objections are technical in nature.  Even though the proponents of the system argue that they have minimized any interference that would occur from different FM boosters originating different programming on the same channel as the main station on the same frequency in the same service area, other broadcasters argue that no matter how good the technology, putting more signals on the same channel cannot avoid creating more FM noise.  In today’s electronic world, there are already innumerable sources of potential noise to over-the-air signals, and adding programming on the same channel cannot avoid adding to the problem.Continue Reading FCC Nears Decision on Zonecasting for FM Stations – What’s at Stake?