Earlier this week, we highlighted a letter sent last week from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo asking the FCC to review CALM Act complianceThe letter noted that the FCC has received thousands of complaints about loud commercials in the decade that the law has been in effect without having taken any enforcement action.  The FCC wasted no time in reacting, with Media Bureau issuing a request late Monday for comments on the current rules which implement the law and whether changes to those rules are needed.  Comments are due June 3, 2021, with reply comments due by July 9.

The CALM Act (the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act) was passed in 2011 due to the perception of many in Congress that the volume of commercials on broadcast, cable and satellite television was far higher than that in the programming that surrounded the commercials.  After the legislation was passed, the FCC adopted rules to implement the Act (which we described here).  Those rules were principally based on compliance with a set of ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) recommended practices, to be enforced through a complaint-driven system. The FCC has updated those rules once (when ATSC updated its recommended practices – see our article here).  The FCC now asks if those rules should be revisited to make them more effective in combatting the perceived problem of loud commercials. Continue Reading FCC Being Anything but CALM About Congressional Letter – Asks for Public Comments on CALM Act Enforcement

While the pandemic has focused much attention on streaming television services, at least some companies believe that over-the-air television still has a future, as evidenced by recent proposals to allocate new TV channels which, if adopted, could result in brand new TV stations.  As we wrote here, last year the FCC  lifted the freeze on applications for new TV allotments and for changes in existing stations, as the repacking of the TV band following the incentive auction has finally ended.  The lifting of the freeze, which had existed in some form for about 17 years, resulted in many requests for changes in the facilities of existing TV stations. As we wrote here in one of our weekly updates on regulatory matters, most were proposals for changes in the channels of existing stations from VHF to UHF channels.  Almost weekly since we first noted those requests, we have seen the FCC ask for comments on other proposals for channel swaps by existing stations.  UHF channels are, of course, seen to have better reception in a digital environment and are especially suitable for the transmission of the new ATSC 3.0 Next Gen television signals, so stations with VHF operations are looking to move.  But, recently, we have also seen requests for allocations for new TV stations being put out for public comment.

The two proposals that we have seen thus far (here and here), both filed by the same company that owns many TV stations across the country (including many in smaller markets), are for stations outside of major markets.  Given the compacting of the television band over the last two decades, first by the conversion to digital and then as part of the incentive auction process, there simply is not much spectrum for TV operations in most major markets.  But the number of proposals for stations to change from VHF to UHF operations shows that in some smaller markets there are still UHF channels available for application, and there are likely VHF opportunities in many other markets (one of the two recent proposals for new channels being for a VHF channel).  These proposals for new TV allocations show that there is still interest in over-the-air TV even in more rural areas.  Certainly, as ATSC 3.0 is built out offering a variety of non-television services (from data transmission to audio services), there will be a desire to make these services available nationwide, perhaps giving some glimpses of the future use of these new channels.  Watch as more proposals are filed at the Commission and, if you are interested in a new TV station, perhaps your opportunity is coming.  If these proposals are adopted, the channels will be auctioned by the FCC at some point in the future.

As we highlighted yesterday in our weekly summary of regulatory issues for broadcasters, last week saw a letter from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo to the FCC asking for the FCC to review the enforcement of the rules established by the CALM Act, which prohibits loud commercials on TV stations.  The letter cites news reports of thousands of complaints annually to the FCC since the rule’s adoption in 2012 without there ever having been an enforcement action against a station for any violation.  When the CALM Act was passed by Congress, there were many industry questions about how that law could be enforced, as there are many subjective judgments in assessing whether a commercial is louder than the program into which it is inserted (see our article here).  But, ultimately, the FCC adopted rules that were based on industry standards and most parties seemed to believe that they were workable (see our article here about the adoption of those rules).  Like many FCC rules, the CALM Act rules are complaint-driven, and even the article cited by Congresswoman Eshoo recognized the difficulty in assessing the merits of any complaint.

Nevertheless, with this letter and the publicity that it has received in the broadcast trade press, TV stations should carefully review their compliance with the CALM Act rules, as this publicity could signal that the FCC will turn its attention to this issue in the coming months.  In fact, with a Commission that is currently evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans until the vacant seat on the Commission is filled, enforcement of existing FCC rules may well be one place where the current Commission will turn its attention while more controversial (and potentially partisan) rule changes await FCC action. Continue Reading Congressional Letter to FCC on CALM Act Violations Puts Focus on FCC Enforcement Issues

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.

  • According to press reports, broadcasters should pencil in August 11, 2021 on their calendars for the next national test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Following the test, broadcasters will need to report to the FCC how their EAS equipment functioned and what, if any, problems were encountered relaying the test message.  This information will be used by the FCC in a report on the readiness of EAS in the event of an activation.
  • The FCC posted an online tutorial for parties interested in participating in Auction 109, the upcoming auction of 136 FM construction permits and 4 AM construction permits which will allow winning bidders to construct new radio stations. The tutorial is available for on-demand viewing on the “Education” tab of the Auction 109 website at http://www.fcc.gov/auction/109.  The window to apply for a construction permit is from 12:00 p.m. Eastern on April 28 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern on May 11.  We wrote about the auction, here.
  • Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) wrote to Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel requesting that the agency look at the reported increase in complaints tied to the loudness of TV commercials and, if necessary, take enforcement action under the CALM Act. The letter cites press reports of thousands of consumer complaints to the FCC which never resulted in any enforcement action.  Eshoo sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FCC, so stations should review CALM Act compliance as this may be an area of FCC review in coming months.  (Eshoo Letter)
  • We reminded broadcasters that, even outside of political windows, they must upload appropriate information to the political files folder in their FCC-hosted online public inspection file reporting on ads that run on their stations addressing controversial issues of public importance. (Broadcast Law Blog article).

Looking ahead to next week, earth stations operating in the C-Band that have been reported as no longer operational or that have not responded to communications from the C-Band Relocation Coordinator must act by April 19 and file with the FCC confirming their continuing operational status or their authorizations will be deleted from the FCC’s database and no longer protected.  While this deadline has been the subject of many trade press reports and some widely distributed memos from law firms, it actually affects only a handful of broadcasters.  Earth station operators that have filed for lump sum reimbursement or have otherwise been in contact with the Relocation Coordinator should not appear on the lists and have no April 19 filing obligation.  We posted the lists and wrote more, here, about the deadline.

Also next week, the FCC will hold its required monthly Open Meeting.  Broadcasters will be watching two agenda items in particular: the vote to adopt new rules for identification of programming that is sponsored by a foreign governmental entity and the vote to adopt a ten-application limit in the upcoming noncommercial, reserved band FM construction permit filing window.  We wrote briefly about these items, here.

Back in January, we reminded broadcasters that state and local elections, even those held in “off-years” like 2021, still fall within the FCC’s political broadcasting rules.  Virtually all FCC rules, with the exception of reasonable access, apply to candidates for the local school board or town council just as they do for candidates for President – i.e., once you decide to accept an ad for a local candidate, then equal opportunities, lowest unit rates and online public file obligations all apply (see our article here for more information).  But in that article, we did not focus on political issue ads, which also raise their own FCC obligations, particularly with respect to the public file and sponsorship identification.

Unlike candidate ads, or ads dealing with federal issues, ads from non-candidate groups dealing with state and local elections and issues generally do not require price and schedule information to be uploaded to the online political file (unless those ads also mention a federal issue).  However, those ads do require that the public file contain an identification of the sponsor of the ad (address, phone number and contact person should be provided), plus a list of the ad sponsor’s executive officers or the members of its Board of Directors or similar governing board.  Under the FCC’s guidance from 2019 (see our article here), the FCC thinks that most of these organizations will have more than one governing board member, so if you are provided with the name of only one officer or board member, you are required to reach out to the sponsor or their representative and ask if there are others who should be listed. Continue Reading Reminder: Issue Ads Require Public File Disclosures Even Outside Political Windows

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 of the year to be replaced by COO, and former head of Government Relations at the NAB, Curtis LeGeyt. We wrote here about some of the many legal and policy issues likely to be facing the NAB in the coming years.
  • The FCC continues to scrutinize public file compliance in connection with the filing of a license renewal application. After several noncommercial stations entered into consent decrees over non-compliance, commercial stations have started to receive consent decrees, as well.  In the latest example, a Tennessee station had not filed an ownership report since 2012 and had not uploaded any quarterly issues/programs lists to its public file.  The consent decree comes with the requirements to name a compliance officer, adopt a written plan that includes a compliance manual and mandatory training for employees, quickly report future public file violations to the FCC when they are discovered, and file periodic compliance reports with the Commission. (Consent Decree)  As all full-power stations, commercial and noncommercial, should have uploaded Quarterly Issues Programs Lists to their online public file by April 10, this reminder that the FCC is watching stations’ public files is very timely.
  • The FCC reminded full-power TV stations, Class A TV stations, LPTV and TV translator stations, FM radio stations, and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) that filing deadlines begin in six months for the submission of all remaining invoices for reimbursement for the costs they incurred from the repacking of the TV band following the Incentive Auction. Full-power TV and Class A TV stations that were assigned to repack phases 1-5 have a final invoice submission deadline of October 8, 2021.  Full-power TV and Class A stations assigned to repack phases 6-10 have a deadline of March 22, 2022.  Low power TV stations, TV translators, FM radio stations, and MVPDs have a filing deadline of September 5, 2022.  See the Public Notice for more details on the close-out procedures.  We wrote more about this, here.
  • The FCC issued a Public Notice asking interested parties for comment on whether updates are necessary for the rules that are required to implement the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA). The CVAA is responsible for such agency rules as audio description, accessible emergency information, and closed captioning of video delivered over Internet Protocol.  Comments are due by May 24 and reply comments are due by June 21.  (Public Notice)

Looking ahead to next week, the FCC by Wednesday, April 14 will post an online tutorial to help parties interested in participating in Auction 109, the upcoming auction of 136 FM construction permits and 4 AM construction permits that we wrote about here.  The tutorial will provide information about all aspects of the upcoming auction for the opportunity to construct new radio stations. There will also be a way to ask FCC staff questions about the auction.  Once posted, the tutorial will be accessible on the “Education” tab of the Auction 109 website at http://www.fcc.gov/auction/109 for on-demand viewing.

The Commission’s staff this week issued a Public Notice reminding broadcasters that  the reimbursement program for those broadcasters displaced by the repacking of the television band after the incentive auction is coming to an end.  The FCC reminded broadcasters eligible for reimbursement (including certain FM stations and LPTV licensees – see our article here ) that deadlines to submit invoices for reimbursement will start in six months.  By those deadlines, all remaining invoices for reimbursement from the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund must be submitted to qualify for reimbursement.

While different deadlines apply to different categories of broadcasters eligible for reimbursement, the Commission “strongly encouraged” all broadcasters to submit all remaining invoices and initiate close-out procedures as early as possible.  The FCC notes in the Public Notice that payments up to the total amount of each entity’s allocation are available upon processing of documents reflecting reasonably incurred costs.  However, the FCC will not be able to make a final allocation up to the full amount of costs incurred until all or virtually all invoices for incurred costs are submitted, or at such time as the FCC can reasonably extrapolate that the total amounts available in the Relocation Fund will be sufficient to meet all of the costs that have to be covered under that program. Continue Reading Closing Out the Incentive Auction and TV Repack – FCC Reminds Broadcasters of End Dates for Submitting Invoices for Repacking Expenses

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?

At the end of last week, the FCC released several orders clarifying the rules for upcoming windows where construction permits for new FM channels will be made available to parties interested in starting new radio stations, and a few AM construction permits will also be auctioned off.  The Public Notice released on Thursday for commercial operators set the important filing dates and procedural rules for the July auction of 136 FM permits, as well as 4 AM permits in the St. Louis area that are available after an AM licensee whose license was challenged at renewal time surrendered the licenses for these AM stations (see the list of available channels here).  The FCC also issued a Public Notice setting a freeze on changes to other FM stations during the initial filing window, to stabilize the FCC’s database for parties interested in these new FM channels.  Also on Thursday, the FCC issued a draft order on the number of applications for which applicants will be able to apply in an upcoming reserved-band FM (channels below 92 on the FM band) filing window for noncommercial educational stations (NCE stations).

First, let’s look at the noncommercial draft order that is expected to be adopted at the FCC’s regular monthly Open Meeting on April 22 unless changes are made between now and then.  That order, about which we wrote here, asked whether the FCC should adopt a limit of 10 applications in the upcoming window for new noncommercial FMs or for major changes in existing stations.  While there were parties that requested that the limit be higher (particularly in rural areas where the likely demand will not be as great), and other parties expressed a belief that the limit should be lower (particularly as there will be few open channels in larger markets), the draft order suggests that the FCC will stick with the limit of 10 applications.  The FCC’s intent in adopting an application cap is to reduce processing backlogs and limit the number of situations where applicants will file applications that are mutually exclusive (i.e. where both cannot be granted without creating prohibited interference), while still allowing applicants to provide new noncommercial services throughout the country.  According to the draft order, the 10-application limit used in previous NCE windows still makes sense as a happy medium between the competing desires for expanded or narrower limits. Continue Reading FCC Clarifies Upcoming Windows for Construction Permits for New Commercial and Noncommercial FM Stations (and a Few AMs Too)

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 Supreme Court this week announced its decision in Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project, the broadcast ownership case that was argued before the Court in January. In a unanimous opinion, the Court sided with the FCC and with broadcasters and upheld the FCC’s 2017 ownership rule changes which eliminated the newspaper-broadcast cross ownership rule, the radio-television cross ownership rule, and the television “8-voices test” allowing combinations of two TV stations in any market where at least one of the stations is not one of the top-4 ranked stations.  Also gone is the blanket prohibition on combinations involving two top-4 TV stations in a market, which is replaced with a case-by-case analysis by the FCC.  Our discussion of the opinion is here and the full opinion is available here.
  • Comment and reply comment deadlines were set for the FCC’s proposal to update its Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts system (WEA) rules, including enhancing the reporting requirements for false EAS alerts, and its inquiry into whether emergency alerts can be delivered through the internet, including through streaming services. Comments on the EAS/WEA proposal are due by April 20, 2021, and reply comments are due by May 4, 2021.  Comments on the delivery of alerts by internet are due by May 14, 2021, and reply comments are due by June 14, 2021.  We wrote about the proposal and inquiry, here.  (Federal Register)
  • The FCC released more details for its upcoming Auction 109, which will auction the rights to 136 FM construction permits and 4 AM construction permits, allowing winning bidders to start new radio stations in the listed communities. The auction itself is scheduled to begin on July 27, 2021 (a list of the permits to be auction is here, with opening bid amounts).  Interested applicants must submit “short-form” applications to participate in the auction during a window that runs between 12:00 p.m. Eastern on April 28 through 6:00 p.m. Eastern on May 11.  For more details, review the Public Notice and our article here.  A freeze on FM minor change applications will be in place during the filing window.
  • The Copyright Royalty Board was given another two months to complete its work setting the royalty rates to be paid in 2021-2025 to SoundExchangefor the public performance of sound recordings by webcasters, including broadcasters who simulcast their programming on the internet.  Instead of a decision in the next two weeks (which we anticipated in our summary of April regulatory dates for broadcasters), the CRB decision can now be expected by June 14.  We wrote about the extension and the ongoing proceeding, here.  (News Release)
  • There are two items of interest to broadcasters on the agenda announced this week for the FCC’s April 22 required monthly Open Meeting. Scheduled to be voted on are:
    • New rules for standardizing and formalizing sponsorship identification requirements for broadcast stations that accept foreign government-provided programming. (Draft Report and Order)
    • Adoption of a ten-application limit per applicant in the upcoming 2021 noncommercial educational radio filing window where nonprofit educational broadcasters will be able to file for construction permits to build new noncommercial stations in the reserved band (below 92 FM). (Public Notice)
  • Two items we covered on the blog this week are also worth noting, one of which is regulatory and one of which is legislative. We wrote about the recent spate of noncommercial educational stations entering into consent decrees with the FCC over public file noncompliance tied to their license renewal applications.  On the legislative side, we wrote about a congressional effort to provide an antitrust exemption for creators of news content to get together to negotiate collectively with tech companies for payments for the use of that content on social media and other digital platforms.