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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.

Here are some of the regulatory developments in the last two weeks 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 released an order revising its fees for broadcast applications and other filings. The fees were adjusted to

Just before Christmas, the Federal Trade Commission issued consent decrees with six companies resolving proceedings alleging that their marketing of CBD products was deceptive.  The consent decrees included monetary penalties as high as $80,000 and compliance plans to ensure that the named companies would not engage in future marketing of unproven health benefits of CBD products.  The FTC issued a press release on the consent decrees (links to the decrees and related documents can be found on the same webpage as the press release).

Some of the health claims that the FTC found problematic were very specific, suggesting that CBD could aid in the treatment of specific diseases and medical conditions.  Other claims found to be improper included more general claims that CBD was effective for “pain relief” and that the products are safe for all users.  As noted in the FTC documents, only proven health claims for CBD can be included in marketing material – and so far, the proven health benefits have been limited to those provided by specific FDA-approved anti-seizure medications.  While these decrees were with companies selling CBD products, rather than media companies that ran their ads, as we have noted before, broadcasters and other media companies should be alert to advertising messages that exceed permissible guidelines.  While the FDA has promised further guidance on the sale and marketing of CBD products, action has likely been stalled by the agency’s concentration on pandemic-related issues. 
Continue Reading More FTC Consent Decrees Emphasize Prohibitions on Advertising of Unproven Health Benefits of CBD Products

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

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, at the last of its monthly open meetings of 2020, voted to adopt new rules for Broadcast Internet

Last week, there was much written in the press about the MORE Act passing in the House of Representatives, taking actions to decriminalize marijuana under federal law.  This would include removing marijuana from Schedule I, which is the list of drugs whose use for almost all purposes is prohibited in the United States.  The passage of this bill through the House, though, should not be taken as a sign to start running marijuana advertising on your broadcast station – though there are some signs that the day on which that advertising can be run may be in sight.

First, it is important to remember that this bill passed only in the House of Representatives.  Without also being approved by the Senate and being signed by the President, the House’s action had no legal effect.  Because of the way that Congress works, if the bill does not pass the Senate in the current legislative session, which ends in the first few days of January 2021, the whole process must start over again – bills do not carry over from one Congressional session to another.  So, to become law in the new year, a new Congress would have to start with a new bill, and a new House of Representatives and a new Senate would both have to vote to adopt the legislation.
Continue Reading MORE Act Passes House – But Don’t Rush to Run Marijuana Ads on Your Broadcast Station

One of the last questions about the repacking of the television spectrum following the television incentive auction was whether there would be a UHF television channel set aside in each television market for unlicensed wireless uses.  Microsoft and other tech companies have been pushing for that set aside for years, arguing that more capacity

The Senate this week confirmed Nathan Simington for the seat on the FCC currently held by Michael O’Rielly.  It is expected that Mr. Simington will be sworn in as a new Commissioner later this week, allowing Commissioner O’Rielly to serve through tomorrow’s FCC open meeting where he will likely give his farewell comments to the FCC and communications audience.  Commissioner O’Rielly has generally been a friend to broadcasters, championing many causes for the industry, including changes to the Children’s Television rules and fighting pirate radio.  Broadcasters will certainly miss his voice at the FCC.

Commissioner Simington comes to the FCC with a relatively low-profile background.  He has been a lawyer for less than a decade, and his communications background appears to be limited to serving as an in-house lawyer for a wireless service company and working at the NTIA (the administration within the Commerce Department charged with developing communications policy for the administration and oversight over government spectrum).  At NTIA, he worked to some degree on the administration’s proposals for the FCC to interpret provisions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (see our posts here and here) – proposals currently under review by the Commission.  His outlook as a Republican appointee seems to generally be a deregulatory one, though his specific thoughts about broadcast regulation have not been set out in any detail.
Continue Reading New FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington on the Way

Last week, the FCC announced a Consent Decree with a Florida broadcaster, with the broadcaster admitting violations of several FCC rules and agreeing to pay a $125,000 fine and enter into a consent decree to ensure future compliance.  The violations addressed in the decree include (i) the failure to monitor tower lights and report that they had been out for significant periods of time, (ii) the failure to update the Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) of the tower to reflect that the broadcaster was the owner, (iii) not following the announced rules in conducting certain contests, and (iv) broadcasting seemingly live content that was in fact prerecorded, without labeling the programming as having been prerecorded.  While the details of the violations are provided in only summary fashion, these violations all serve as a reminder to broadcasters to watch their compliance – and also highlight the apparent interest of the FCC in enforcing the rule on seemingly live but prerecorded content, a rule rarely if ever enforced until this year.

Looking at the contest violations first, the Consent Decree gives a general description of the contests in question in a footnote.  One contest was apparently a scavenger hunt.  The station had intended for the contest to run for an extended period, but a listener found the prize soon after the on-air promotion began.  To prolong the on-air suspense, the station agreed with that listener to not reveal that she had won.  The station continued to promote and seemingly conduct the contest on the air for some time, until finally awarding the prize to the original winner.  In another contest, the station gave prizes to people who called in at designated times during the day.  According to the allegations in the Consent Decree, fake call-ins were recorded by the station to be broadcast during times when there were no live DJs.  As we have written before (see our articles here and here), the FCC requires that stations conduct on-air contests substantially in the manner set out in the announced rules for that contest – and the broadcasts about the contest cannot be materially misleading.  The FCC concluded that these contests did not meet that standard, and also found another problem with those prerecorded call-ins to the station.
Continue Reading $125,000 FCC Penalty to Broadcaster for Tower Structure and Contest Rule Violations – Including Violation of Rule Against Broadcasting Seemingly Live Recorded Programming Without Informing Listeners