With the summer winding down, you can expect that come September, like everywhere else, Washington will leap back to life and the government will try to accomplish what they can before the end of the year. That will no doubt mean some regulatory actions (and potentially court actions and legislative actions) affecting broadcasters this Fall, though what they are remains to be seen. In the meantime, there is plenty to keep broadcasters busy. While September is one of those months in which there are few of the normally recurring filing deadlines (no EEO reports, renewal filings or quarterly reports need to be submitted during the month), there is one big deadline that no commercial broadcaster should forget – the filing of annual regulatory fees.

We understand that there is an order circulating at the FCC right now to set the final amount of the regulatory fees for the year. As these fees must be paid before October 1 when the government’s new fiscal year begins, we can expect that order shortly, with fees due at some point in September. As the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposed significant unexplained increases in the fees paid by radio, and a change to the methodology used to compete TV fees, moving from a DMA-based fee to one calculated based on an individual station’s predicted coverage (which had the effect of raising some fees, especially for high-powered VHF stations, while lowering others), a number of broadcasters and the NAB complained about those proposals. Watch for the FCC’s decision in the coming days to see how it addresses these complaints about the proposed fees, and to see when the fees will be due.
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In July, we wrote about the FCC’s plan to transfer the responsibility for EEO enforcement from the Media Bureau, where it has resided, to the Enforcement Bureau which the FCC suggested would have more resources and experience to aggressively enforce the FCC’s EEO rules and policies.  That transfer was effective on Friday (see the

A Notice of Apparent Liability released yesterday shows that the FCC is still enforcing its EEO rules even though those rules have been somewhat relaxed to reflect modern recruiting practices. As we wrote here, the FCC now allows a station to recruit to fill employment vacancies solely by using online sources. But, as we warned here, that does not mean that a station can ignore its obligations to document its EEO efforts and to otherwise observe all of the obligations set out in the EEO rules. In yesterday’s action, the FCC’s Media Bureau proposes a $20,000 fine for a license operating a 5-station cluster in South Carolina that allegedly did not keep good EEO records and, when subject to a random EEO audit, was unable to identify any recruitment sources for other than word-of-mouth recruiting for 6 of 11 hires over a two-year period. For several positions, the licensee was said to not even be able to provide information about any recruitment sources that were used by the station.

The FCC requires stations to use sources other than its existing employees to recruit to fill full-time vacant positions. Using simply word-of mouth recruiting is considered to be recruiting through the “old-boys network” that the FCC’s EEO rules are designed to overcome, so this violation alone was enough for the FCC to have concerns. But, according to the FCC’s Notice, that was not the only deficiency in the licensee’s paperwork.
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The FCC yesterday issued a Public Notice announcing its second EEO audit for 2015.  Letters to just over 100 radio (no TV stations were included in the current audit) went out on June 12 asking for evidence of their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules.  Many of the stations included on this list appear to be noncommercial broadcasters. In yesterday’s notice, the FCC released the form audit letter and list of stations that will be audited. Responses from the audited stations are due to be filed at the FCC by July 27. Licensees should carefully review the list of affected stations contained in the Public Notice to see if any of their stations have been selected for the audit. Note that there are some blank pages included in the PDF version available at this link, so be sure to scroll through these blank pages to view the entire list of audited stations.

The Commission has pledged to audit 5% of all broadcast stations and cable systems each year to assure their compliance with the Commission’s EEO rules – including the requirements for wide dissemination of information about job openings and non-vacancy specific supplemental efforts to educate a station’s community about job opportunities in the media industry. We recently summarized the FCC EEO issues here, reminding broadcasters of the possibility of being audited. We also recently wrote about the start of the obligations for the filing of FCC Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports – which started this month for radio groups with more than 11 full-time employees and will extend to TV licensees with 5 or more full-time employees next year, and are filed on the 4th anniversary of the filing deadline for the station’s license renewal – which will give the FCC another chance to review station EEO performance.  
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In three cases released last week, the FCC made clear that its EEO rules, requiring wide dissemination of information about job opportunities at broadcast stations (and cable systems), are not satisfied by solely posting of information about openings on websites.  Instead, the Commission required that additional outreach efforts be undertaken in order to assure that the notice of the job opening reaches all groups within a  community.  The decisions pointed to the FCC’s 2003 Report and Order adopting the current rules which stated that the FCC did not feel that the Internet was sufficiently ubiquitous that they could feel comfortable with on-line postings being sufficient to reach all groups within a community.  In the recent decisions, the FCC staff said that they were not ready to change the determination of the 2003 Commission.

What does this mean on a practical level?  The decisions hold that simply using internal station sources plus on-line postings (in one case website postings plus some combination of walk-ins, industry referrals, and internal postings; in another case  the use of the station’s website, plus employee referrals) were insufficient to assure wide dissemination.  To avoid getting caught in this trap, broadcasters must use some other traditional outreach services (e.g. employment agencies, community groups, educational institutions, and the local newspapers) to assure that they meet the Commission’s wide dissemination requirements. 


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The FCC today announced another round of EEO audits of broadcast stations throughout the country.  The FCC’s Public Notice of the audits, and the list of the stations that are affected, can be found here.  Broadcasters should review this list carefully, both by call letter and licensee name, as we have noted situations where the