Last week, the US House of Representatives passed the MORE Act which, if enacted, would take marijuana off the list of Schedule I drugs – those drugs whose possession and distribution is a federal felony, as is the use of the radio waves to promote their use.  As we have warned before (see, for instance, our article here published when an earlier version of this bill passed the House in 2020), because of the laws making the sale of marijuana a federal crime and prohibiting the use of radio waves to promote that sale, broadcast stations should think twice about any marijuana advertising, even in states where it has been legalized.  Thus, the passage of MORE Act through the House should not be taken as a sign to start running marijuana advertising on your broadcast station.

First, it is important to remember that this bill was 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 2023, the whole process must start over again – bills do not carry over from one Congressional session to another.  So, if Senate action is not forthcoming this 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.   The MORE Act passed the House with few Republican votes, so if the composition of the House changes next year, that may not bode well for this legislation if it does not pass the Senate this year. Continue Reading House of Representatives Passes MORE Act to Remove Marijuana from Schedule I – Don’t Rush to Start Airing Pot Ads Yet

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 US House of Representatives, in a bipartisan vote, passed the MORE Act, a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level (HR 3614). For this action to be effective, the Senate would need to also vote on this bill to take the drug off Schedule I, which currently makes its possession and distribution (and the use of radio to promote it), a federal felony. Then the President would have to sign the bill. As federal licensees, because of the federal criminal statute, broadcasters have been advised to avoid marijuana advertising, even as the states in which they operate have relaxed their marijuana laws.  As we wrote on our Broadcast Law Blog in 2020 in connection with the passage of an earlier version of this bill, the House action should not be seen as a signal for broadcasters to start accepting marijuana advertising unless and until the Senate and President also act on this legislation.
  • The FCC’s Video Division notified the permittee of a new Low Power TV station of a violation of the FCC’s rules. The notice said that the permittee, for almost three years after the facilities were constructed (about six months after the permit expired), failed to file the required application for a license to cover its construction permit.  An application for license is filed upon completion of the construction of a new station and informs the FCC of the specific facilities that were built and certifies that these facilities track what was authorized by the construction permit.  Without filing a license application, the station was operating for this period without authority.  The permittee faces a $6,500 fine for these violations. (Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture)
  • Owners of a tower in Virginia were cited by the FCC Enforcement Bureau for tower lighting failures. Acting on a complaint, enforcement agents visited the site and found that the tower, which exceeds 200 feet (the height at which towers generally must be lit), did not have its required lights operating after sunset and that the FAA had not been notified of the lighting outage.  The tower owners also had not kept the FCC appraised of its current ownership through updating the tower’s FCC Antenna Structure Registration.  The Notice made clear that, even though the tower is no longer used for licensed radio operations, the owners are still required to maintain the tower until it is dismantled.  (Notice of Citation)
  • The FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) and financial systems were scheduled to undergo maintenance this weekend that will make both unavailable. ECFS was to be unavailable from 12 am Saturday, April 2 through no later than 7 am Monday, April 4.  As this outage occurred outside normal business hours, filing deadlines will not be routinely extended.  The FCC’s financial systems, including the system used to process application payments, are expected to be unavailable through 5 am on Tuesday, April 4.  (ECFS Public Notice)
  • A radio company’s request to amend the FM Table of Allotments by allotting Channel 284A to Bruce, Mississippi was rejected, showing some of the FCC’s considerations in making FM channel changes. The request was denied as the proposed allotment would not allow the construction of a station that could cover the proposed city of license with the required city-grade signal.  In addition, the company seeking the allotment was planning to use it as a “back-fill,” that would allow it to move another FM channel to which it had rights from Bruce to another community.  The FCC said that its “Rural Radio” policy prohibits the use of a new vacant allotment to justify the removal of a community’s only radio service.  As vacant allotments often go unsold in auctions, the FCC said that they cannot realistically be considered as an alternative service to the community.  (Letter)
  • The House Communications Subcommittee held an oversight hearing with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioners Brendan Carr, Geoffrey Starks, and Nathan Simington. Testimony by the Chairwoman and Commissioners and questions from the committee members were light on broadcast issues.  In response to a question about removing market obstacles for diverse and small independent programmers, Chairwoman Rosenworcel indicated that more independent voices are needed on screen and that a new proceeding may be necessary to review current viewing habits.  Commissioner Starks, in support of modifying FM booster rules, said that geotargeting technology has great potential in improving the local radio experience, and better positions small broadcasters and broadcasters of color to compete for advertising dollars and for listeners.  (Hearing Video and Testimony)

In case you missed it, we published our monthly look at the upcoming regulatory dates and deadlines for broadcasters.  Read our blog post for more information on upcoming important dates in April, including the deadline for the required uploading of Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists to the online public inspection file of all full-power radio and TV stations (including Class A TV stations).  (Broadcast Law Blog)

Though this April is somewhat lighter than other months on regulatory deadlines for broadcasters, there are still dates to which broadcasters should pay attention.  As noted below, all stations need to pay close attention to the quarterly obligation to post issues/programs lists to your online public file.  Here is more on that date and information on some of the other dates and deadlines in April applicable to broadcasters.

After three years, the radio license renewal filing cycle closes on April 1, with renewal applications due from stations licensed to communities in Delaware and Pennsylvania.  Renewal applications for TV stations licensed to communities in Texas are also due by April 1.  The TV renewal cycle continues through 2023.  Renewal applications must be accompanied by FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 Broadcast EEO Program Report (except for LPFMs and TV translators).  Stations filing for renewal of their license should make sure that all documents required to be uploaded to the station’s online public file are complete and were uploaded on time.  Note that your Broadcast EEO Program Report must include two years of annual EEO public file reports for FCC review, unless your employment unit employs fewer than five full-time employees.  Be sure to read the instructions for the license renewal application (radioTV) and consult with your advisors if you have questions, especially if you have noticed any discrepancies in your online public file or political file. Continue Reading April Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: TV and Radio Renewals, Quarterly Issues, New Foreign Government Sponsorship ID Rules, Revised Radio Technical Rules, EEO Audits and Filings, and More

As life slowly returns to something approaching normal after the last two years, radio stations may be inclined to go big on some April Fool’s Day stunt.  But remember that not everyone may be in on the joke and a prank that may seem funny to some could trigger concerns with others.  As we do every year about this time, we need to play our role as attorneys and ruin the fun by repeating our reminder that broadcasters need to be careful with any on-air pranks, jokes or other on-air bits prepared especially for the day.  While a little fun is OK, remember that the FCC does have a rule against on-air hoaxes.  Issues under this rule can arise at any time, but a broadcaster’s temptation to go over the line is probably highest on April 1.

The FCC’s rule against broadcast hoaxes, Section 73.1217, prevents stations from running any information about a “crime or catastrophe” on the air, if the broadcaster (1) knows the information to be false, (2) it is foreseeable that the broadcast of the material will cause substantial public harm and (3) substantial public harm is in fact caused.  Public harm is defined as “direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties.”  If you air a program that fits within this definition and causes a public harm, you should expect to be fined by the FCC. Continue Reading April Fool’s Day and the FCC’s Hoax Rule – Be Careful Out There

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, and two important deadlines 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 Enforcement Bureau this week announced its latest round of random EEO audits. More than 250 radio and TV stations were randomly selected for an audit of their EEO performance.  These stations have until May 5, 2022 to prepare and upload their responses to their online public files.  The response from stations with five or more full-time employees in their station employment unit (commonly owned stations serving the same area) must include copies of their last two annual EEO Public File Reports, documentation of their recruitment efforts to fill full-time positions, and documentation to back up their non-vacancy specific recruitment initiatives.  Station employment units with fewer than five full-time employees are generally exempt from EEO recordkeeping and can respond to the audit with an upload that confirms their status by listing the unit’s full-time employees by job title and number of hours worked per week.  See our post on the Broadcast Law Blog for more information, and read the audit letter setting out all the requirements for the audit response and the list of audited stations, here.
  • The FCC announced that one of its Administrative Law Judges will hold a hearing to determine if a Tennessee AM station’s license should be revoked after the sole principal of the licensee, a former state senator, was convicted in 2016 of fraud for making false statements in his federal tax return. The FCC’s Character Qualifications Policy Statement sets out criteria to determine if non-broadcast misconduct is serious enough to warrant a penalty including the possible loss of the broadcast license.  A felony conviction involving lying to another government agency will normally trigger such a review.  The FCC suggested that the criminal violation for not being truthful to another government agency might be more serious in this instance as that conviction was not reported timely (a broadcast licensee must report to the FCC a felony conviction of any of its principals by the next anniversary date of the filing of the station’s license renewal application – the licensee’s notice here came a few weeks late) and because other required station documents were not timely uploaded to the station’s public file.  (Hearing Designation Order)
  • The FCC denied an appeal of a Media Bureau decision rejecting an objection to a proposed assignment of a broadcast station. The objector argued that they had a contractual right to acquire the station, and that the sale of the station would not be in the public interest because the petitioner would be a better licensee as it was controlled by minorities not well represented in station ownership in the market where the station operated.  The FCC denied the objection as there was no local court adjudication of the claims of the third-party to its rights to acquire the station (in fact, allegedly, no claim had even been filed in local courts).  The FCC itself will not routinely assess contract claims, leaving those determinations to state courts.  The FCC also denied claims that the petitioner would be a better licensee than the actual buyer, as the Communications Act forbids the FCC rejecting a proposed sale where the buyer is otherwise qualified to own a station just because there might be some allegedly better buyer.  The FCC also did not find any evidence of actual discrimination in the sale to the proposed buyer. (Order)
  • The FCC released its second order resolving conflicts between groups of mutually exclusive applications filed during last year’s filing window for new noncommercial FM stations in the reserved band. 19 groups of mutually exclusive applications were resolved, again based on a determination that the winning applicant was preferred because of its greater service to areas where there were few other noncommercial stations (Order). Read more about the mutually exclusive noncommercial applications resolved in the first group and the standards used by the FCC in making these determinations in our post on the Broadcast Law Blog.
  • In response to a recent NPR article that suggested that advertisers could lie in political advertisements, we posted on the Broadcast Law Blog an article that looks at the restrictions on a broadcast licensee censoring the political message of a candidate. However, those same restrictions do not apply to ads from a non-candidate group – meaning that stations must assess the truth of ads from PACs, political parties and similar organizations, particularly when the truth of those ads is challenged, as station can have liability if the ads are found to be defamatory. (Broadcast Law Blog)

Looking ahead to next week, March 31 is the deadline for commercial radio stations that have not already signed a music licensing agreement with Global Music Rights (GMR) to either sign the agreement offered as part of GMR’s settlement of its litigation with the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC), negotiate a different deal with GMR, or to make sure that they are not playing any music in the company’s catalog.  Continuing to play GMR music without a license risks a copyright infringement action and significant liability.  Read more about the GMR license agreement, here.

For television operators, 6 pm Eastern on March 30 is the deadline for filing short-form applications to participate in Auction 112, an upcoming auction of 27 construction permits for new full-power TV stations.  Read the auction procedures and see the list of available construction permits, here.

Last week, NPR ran a story with the provocative headline – “The Truth In Political Advertising – You’re Allowed to Lie.”  The story talked about how the FCC does not regulate candidate advertising to decide the truth of political ads, and then quoted a former FCC Chair to say that candidates can “lie” in their ads and the FCC will do nothing about it.  The Chairman was then quoted to say that the FCC had been considering proposals to require greater sponsorship identification in political advertising during the last Democratic administration so that the individuals and groups backing various political advertisers would be better identified as to who is actually behind efforts to convince the public of the positions advocated in such ads.  While the basic premise of the NPR story—that the FCC cannot censor candidate ads—is true, the story conflates the law with respect to candidate ads and the rules governing non-candidate groups that buy political time.  As a short radio story, it also misses some important caveats on the premises it advances.  So let’s take a deeper look at those issues.

First, on candidate ads, we’ve written many times before that Section 315 of the Communications Act prohibits broadcasters from censoring the content of candidate ads.  That has been interpreted to mean that an ad sponsored by a legally qualified candidate for public office must be run by a station as presented to the station, absent the ad itself violating some federal criminal statute (e.g., a station might be able to reject an ad if it was legally obscene – a caveat that was widely discussed when Larry Flynt, the publisher of the notorious Hustler magazine, threatened to run for President so he could run obscene political ads without censorship).  Just because a candidate ad may give rise to some civil liability (e.g., for defamation) does not allow a broadcaster to block the ad. But because a broadcaster must run the candidate ad as presented, the station cannot be held liable for the ad’s contents, as the Supreme Court held in a 1959 decision, Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union of America, North Dakota Division v. WDAY, Inc..

As we wrote here, that protection applies only to broadcast and local cable ad sales, so online platforms are not shielded from liability by Section 315.  Whether there are protections for platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms from liability for material provided by third parties, is a question for another article.

But this prohibition on censoring candidate ads applies only to ads purchased by legally qualified political candidates.  It does not apply to ads from non-candidate groups like PACs, political parties (except when their spending is “coordinated” with a candidate), corporations and other interest groups.  Those are the groups to which the enhanced sponsorship identification referenced in the NPR article would apply.  Ever since the Citizens United v. FEC decision in 2010 (see our articles here and here), these third-party ad buyers have formed a bigger and bigger percentage of the buyers of political ads – and they are often the ones who buy the most aggressive attack ads.  But these groups, contrary to the implication of the NPR article, are not shielded by Section 315.  As the NPR article acknowledges, stations can reject ads from non-candidate groups.  Because broadcast and cable outlets can reject these ads, they can be held responsible for the content of these ads.  Thus, to avoid potential liability, broadcasters and local cable operators must review these ads, particularly when there are claims by candidates being attacked alleging that the content of the ads is false and defamatory.  Thus, the implication that anyone can “lie” in a political ad is incorrect.  While the standard for finding that a “public figure” (like a political candidate) has been defamed is very high, stations have been sued for running allegedly defamatory ads (see, for instance, our articles here and here) and, even if the station is able to prevail when a case is brought, they can still face significant legal fees fighting off the claims.

The NPR story itself contains a link to a story done by another public broadcaster, which more thoroughly explains the differences between candidate and non-candidate ads (and which quotes me for the discussion of those issues).  But neither story mentions another limitation on the ability of a candidate to “lie” in a political ad – though one that is seldom if ever used.  While the broadcaster is shielded from liability for the content of a candidate ad, theoretically the candidate who produces an attack ad that contains a real “lie” could themselves be sued by the individual being attacked.  If the content of an ad contains a “lie” that could really give rise to liability for the broadcaster if they were not protected by Section 315, that same content would give rise to liability against the candidate who produced and distributed the ad.  That route is rarely if ever pursued, but it is open to a candidate that has been attacked by an opposing candidate.  Beyond issues of bad publicity, attacked candidates are often reluctant to sue because of the New York Times v Sullivan standards that make it hard to prove defamation of a public figure.  However, as we wrote here, there have been calls to revisit those standards which, if these reforms were ever implemented, might change the calculation of when candidates sue each other for libel or slander on the campaign trail.

The NPR article also expresses surprise that the FCC itself does not regulate the truth of candidate ads the way that the FTC regulates false and deceptive commercial advertising.  As we have written before (see our articles here and here), do we really want a government agency deciding the truth or falsity of political speech?  While the article links to an academic article that suggests that some independent, non-partisan commission could be established to act as the arbiter of truth in these ads, any government agency, no matter how non-partisan it may seem, can either be subject to political bias or—as is the case with the Federal Election Commission, where each political party has equal representation—hopelessly deadlocked on important issues.  With our tradition of the First Amendment keeping government out of the business of regulating speech, do we really want to create a government agency that somehow tries to regulate one of the most protected forms of speech –political speech?

Of course, any short radio article cannot go into depth on these issues – just as this article glosses over many very important nuances of the issues it discusses.  And the suggestion of a former FCC Chair for more enhanced disclosure of those behind third-party ads will be one that we discuss in a future article (though it is also one that we have discussed in the past, here, here, and here).  Just remember, the rules governing political ads are not as clear as they may seem, so broadcasters, during election season, should keep their lawyers on speed-dial!

The FCC yesterday released another of its regular EEO audit notices (available here), this time targeting over 250 radio and TV stations.  Those stations, and the station employment units (commonly owned stations serving the same area) with which they are associated, must provide to the FCC (by posting the information in their online public inspection file) their last two year’s EEO Annual Public File reports, as well as backing data to show that the station in fact did everything that was required under the FCC rules.

Audited stations must provide copies of notices sent to employment outreach sources about each full-time vacancy at the stations as well as documentation of the supplemental efforts that all station employment units with 5 or more full-time employees are required to perform (whether or not they had job openings in any year). These non-vacancy specific outreach efforts are designed to educate the community about broadcast employment positions and to train employees for more senior roles in broadcasting. Stations must also provide, in response to the audit, information about how they self-assessed the performance of their EEO program. Stations that are listed in the audit notice have until May 5, 2022 to upload this information to their online public file. Continue Reading FCC Releases First EEO Audit of 2022 – Notices Sent to Over 250 Radio and TV Stations

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, and a look ahead at an important deadline next week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • New FCC sponsorship identification rules that impose obligations on almost all broadcast licensees took effect on March 15. The new rules require that programming that has been sponsored, paid for, or furnished by a “foreign governmental entity” include a clear, standardized disclosure. The rules also set “reasonable diligence” steps a broadcaster must take to determine whether a foreign government entity is the source of programming aired pursuant to a “lease agreement.” This includes asking program suppliers if they are representatives of foreign governments and confirming their answers by checking specified government websites.  The new rules are now effective for all new or updated leases of program time.  Stations have six months to review existing contracts for the sale of program time to determine if there is foreign-government involvement and to come into compliance with the disclosure requirements.  Short-form advertising, like 30- and 60-second spots, is exempt from the rules.  Stations with questions on the new rules should read our post at the Broadcast Law Blog and reach out to their FCC attorney.  (News Release) (Public Notice) (Report and Order)
  • The FCC rejected an appeal of $512,228 fines it imposed on 18 different TV stations for violations of the FCC’s rules requiring “good faith negotiation” of retransmission consent agreements. The fines were originally handed down in September 2020 after the Media Bureau found that the stations, through a shared consultant, had not operated in good faith in negotiating retransmission consent agreements with a satellite TV provider. The penalties were based, among other things, on the stations’ failures to meet and negotiate the terms of these agreements and to respond to proposals of the other party, including providing the reasons for the rejection of any such proposal.  The decision implied that the negotiations for these stations were put on hold until some other agreement was reached, when the FCC requires each station to negotiate in good faith.  This week’s order found that the parties had fair notice of how the FCC would enforce the good faith negotiation standards and how much of a financial penalty could be imposed. We wrote more about the earlier stages of this proceeding, here.  (Order and Order on Reconsideration).
  • Several changes to the FCC’s radio technical rules that clean up inconsistent, outdated, or inaccurate rules will take effect on April 18. The changes eliminate the rule on the maximum rated power of AM transmitters, clarify city-coverage requirements for NCE FM stations, lessen second-adjacent channel interference protections for Class D NCE FM stations, and update some FM spacing requirements in border areas to conform to Mexican and Canadian treaty obligations.  See more on these changes in this article on our Broadcast Law Blog.  (Federal Register)
  • The Media Bureau fined the licensee of a Chicago FM translator $8,000 for failing to request special temporary authority when it discontinued operations, failing to notify the FCC of changes to the primary station the translator was rebroadcasting, and for failing to update its pending license renewal application with accurate information. The failures were raised in an objection filed against the renewal application. (Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture)
  • The FCC announced that it would be holding a forum on March 28 to discuss the accessibility of online programming, this time to discuss whether audio description requirements, like those that apply to television stations and MVPDs, could or should be extended to online video programming. Audio description requires that television stations provide audio descriptions of the principal visual elements of a television program during natural breaks in dialog in the program.  Details for online viewing of the forum are in the FCC’s Public Notice (Public Notice).  More on the latest expansion of those audio description rules for television stations and MVPDs is available in articles on the Broadcast Law Blog, here and here.  We looked at the FCC’s authority over online video in a blog post here when the FCC hosted another forum last year on other accessibility issues for that programming.
  • A Media Bureau Order announced that certain cable systems have been requested to provide information on the prices paid by consumers for cable television services, and the costs the systems incurred in providing those services, including the amount of retransmission consent fees paid to broadcast stations for the rebroadcast of their signals. This information is required so that the FCC can provide its annual report to Congress on the state of the communications marketplace.  (Order)

As a reminder for the coming week, full power and Class A TV stations that were assigned repacking completion dates in phases 6-10 following the incentive auction must submit all remaining invoices for reimbursement by March 22.  See a reminder about this deadline, here.

The FCC this week announced that broadcasters must now comply with new rules designed to identify when programming is run on U.S. stations that was provided by a foreign governmental entity pursuant to a lease of airtime.  While this seems like a narrow purpose, the new rules will impose a burden on broadcasters.  Because of First Amendment considerations, the FCC cannot totally prohibit the broadcast of such programming, but it adopted this rule to ensure that audiences are informed about programming backed by a foreign government.  The NAB and other groups have appealed the FCC’s rules, and that appeal is pending.  The court also denied a request to delay the requirements of the new rules from going into effect.  Thus, broadcasters must begin to comply with the rules now.

The FCC’s rules require broadcasters to make a very specific sponsorship identification disclosure in programming aired under an agreement for the lease of airtime if that programming has been supplied by a “foreign governmental entity” (defined in the rule), or if anyone involved in the production or distribution of that programming aired pursuant to the lease agreement (or a sub-lease) qualifies as a foreign governmental entity.  A foreign government entity is defined by the FCC rule (Section 73.1212(j)) to “include governments of foreign countries, foreign political parties, agents of foreign principals, and United States-based foreign media outlets.”  The rule goes on to give other specific definitions of these terms. Continue Reading New Rules on the Identification of Foreign Government-Provided Programs Affects All Broadcasters – Now in Effect  

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, and a look ahead to events of importance next week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The Media Bureau this week released the first of what will likely be a series of decisions resolving conflicts between mutually exclusive applications for new noncommercial FM stations filed during last year’s filing window. Mutually exclusive applicants are those that, because of interference considerations, cannot both be granted. These applicants did not enter into settlement agreements when the FCC provided a window for voluntary resolutions of conflicts earlier this year.  Because there was no voluntary resolution offered to the FCC, the applications underwent comparative consideration by the FCC.  The 15 groups of mutually exclusive applicants analyzed this week were all resolved through a “307(b) analysis,” a technical review as to whether one of the applicants will provide substantially more first or second noncommercial radio service than the other applicant (see our article describing the application of the 307(b) analysis here).  As a result of this analysis, fifteen applicants were tentatively selected to be awarded construction permits (Memorandum Opinion and Order).  These were relatively easy conflicts to resolve, as each group had only two mutually exclusive applicants.  The FCC is analyzing other groups of mutually exclusive applicants, some including groups of many conflicting applications where only one will be selected.  Where the 307(b) analysis of the relative coverage areas does not find meaningful differences between mutually exclusive applicants, the FCC will conduct a “point system” analysis of other attributes of the applicants.  See our article here for more information on the FCC selection criteria for mutually exclusive noncommercial applications.
  • A consent decree requiring a company to pay a $250,000 penalty and surrender about 100 LPTV authorizations shows the FCC’s insistence that LPTV applicants filing construction permits for changes in their transmitter site locations have a serious intent to permanently construct the proposed new facilities and to continuously serve the public in the area authorized by the permits. In this decree, the FCC explained that the company had abused FCC processes by filing for and receiving construction permits for changes in at least 30 of its stations and only operating those stations for a matter of days before taking them silent and filing applications to move to yet another transmitter site.  The FCC found that the company tried to use a series of “minor” changes (which can be filed at any time) to accomplish a “major” change in the stations, when major changes are only permissible during rare filing windows.  The company also used the serial minor changes to “hop” signals closer to urban areas, when many of the permits for the stations were awarded as of a result of a filing window designed to authorize new stations to serve rural areas (Order and Consent Decree). This decision mirrors similar decisions from the Media Bureau in connection with FM translators.  We wrote more about this week’s decision on our Broadcast Law Blog, here.
  • The Office of Management and Budget approved the paperwork collection aspects of the FCC’s new rules on enhanced sponsorship identifications required for broadcast programming paid for by foreign governments and their agents. These rules also require that broadcasters, when selling any block of program time, investigate the buyer to make sure that it is not a foreign agent.  These rules will become effective on a date to be announced by the Media Bureau – an announcement that is expected soon.
  • Our law partner Mitch Stabbe wrote a two-part article on the Broadcast Law Blog about legal concerns that stations should keep in mind when designing advertising or promotions using March Madness, the Final Four, and many other trademarks associated with the upcoming NCAA basketball tournaments. (Part 1, Part 2)

Looking ahead to next week, March 14 is the effective date for a new FCC requirement that stations consider a write-in candidate’s social media and online presence when deciding if the candidate is a “legally qualified candidate” entitled to the protections of the FCC’s political broadcasting rules.  See our article on this rule change here.  March 14 is also the deadline to submit reply comments in the ATSC 3.0 licensing rulemaking.  In that proceeding, the FCC proposes to determine that the station originating the programming is responsible for legal and regulatory compliance when their programming is “hosted” on the multicast stream of another station as part of the Next Gen TV transition.  Read the comments submitted in that docket, here.  And with the March 13th start of Daylight Saving Time, operators of AM daytime-only stations and stations with pre-sunrise and/or post-sunset authorizations should confirm that they are operating with the proper sign-on and sign-off times specified on their current FCC authorizations, as these times are usually specified in “standard time.”