Each day, there seems to be a report about broadcast stations going off the air because of the current economic downturn – some permanently (witness several Montana full-power television stations formerly owned by Equity Broadcasting whose licenses were surrendered two weeks ago), some temporary, and some being given away to charity (like Clear Channel’s announcement of its donation of 4 AM stations to the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council).  Several months ago, we wrote here about the steps a broadcaster should take when taking a station off the air – notification to the FCC within 10 days of the station going silent, seeking permission to remain silent after 30 days, and making sure that tower lights are maintained even if the station is off the air.  But, as this situation becomes more common, there are a couple of other issues that have recently come up that are worth mentioning – one having to do with the one year period that a station can stay off the air without forfeiting its license, and the other dealing with music royalties. 

First, in the last few months, there have been cases which have clarified, at least to a degree, the law that states that a license will be forfeit if a station is off the air for more than a year.  In one decision, the Commission’s Video Division of its Media Bureau canceled the license of a television station that had come back on the air shortly before the year of silence was to end, but only broadcast a test pattern.  Finding that the station had not broadcast any programming, and that transmission of a test pattern did not constitute "broadcasting", the Division determined that the obligation to return to the air had not been met, and canceled the license.  The licensee is appealing this decision, arguing that the law (Section 312g of the Communications Act) does not require that a station broadcast programming, just that it "transmit broadcast signals" within a year of the time that it went off the air.  But, for now, licensees who take their stations silent should plan for returning to the air with some programming within a year, or risk the cancellation of the station license.


Continue Reading Broadcast Stations Going Dark – Issues to Think About

In three recent cases, the FCC revisited the issue of broadcast contest rules – fining stations for not following the rules that they set out for on-air contests, and reiterating that the full rules of any contest need to be aired on the station (see our previous post on this issue here).  The most recent case also made clear that a broadcast station’s contests that may be primarily conducted on its web site are still subject to the FCC’s rules if any mention of the contest is made on the broadcast station.  Thus, even though the contest itself may be conducted on the website, with entries being made there and prizes being first announced on the site, if the station uses its broadcast signal to direct people to the site to participate in the contest or otherwise promote it, the broadcaster must announce all of the rules on the air.

In one case, a listener called a station with what she believed to be the correct answer to a question that needed to be answered to win a prize.  The listener gave the answer, only to be asked a second unexpected question that she did not answer correctly.  The next day, she heard another listener call in, answer the original question in the same way that she did – and win the prize without ever even being asked the second question.  When the first listener complained, station employees agreed that the second question was not part of the rules, but did nothing to correct their mistake until after the listener filed her complaint with the FCC.  The Commission fined the station $4000 for failing to follow the contest rules and for failing to fully publicize all of the material terms of the contest on the air. 


Continue Reading Broadcast Station Contests – Announce the Full Contest Rules and Follow Them

At the FCC meeting held on Election Day, the Commission approved the operation of "white spaces" devices in the TV spectrum.  These would be mobile, unlicensed devices that would operate on TV channels that are not used in a particular location.  Many Internet users have hailed the expansion of wireless Internet opportunities that they believe that this decision will bring.  While the FCC promised that these devices would protect television operations and other current uses of the TV Band, many other groups have reacted to the decision far more skeptically.  All in all, we have probably not heard the end of this debate.

The full text of the FCC Order has not yet been released but, from the Public Notice summarizing the action (which came late in the day, after a several hour delay in the start of the FCC meeting), the FCC appears to have made some concessions to the broadcasters who were objecting that the tests of the white spaces devices were not able to adequately sense the presence of television signals in a way that would protect those stations.  So, to protect television signals, the FCC ordered that, in addition to sensing the existence of television signals, the white spaces devices would also have to have geo-location abilities, which would check the location of the device and compare it to a database of television stations and prevent the device from operating on channels that the database shows to be occupied.  Even with this capacity, organizations representing television stations do not believe that this compromise is sufficient to protect those stations.


Continue Reading FCC Approves White Spaces Devices in TV Band – While Some Hail a Boon to Wireless Internet, Others Say Not So Fast