As part of its order in it proceeding to encourage diversity in broadcast ownership, the FCC adopted a number of new rules, including a rule allowing parties holding construction permits for new broadcast stations to sell those permits to "qualified entities."   The buying qualified entity would then then get 18 months to construct the new station, even if the construction permit would otherwise expire in less than 18 months.  Under prior policy, an FCC construction permit would expire 3 years after it is issued, with no real opportunity for extension (though the construction period could be "tolled" for the period that certain impediments to construction existed, i. e. litigation over zoning, FCC litigation over the validity of the permit, or Acts of God that temporarily stopped construction – but only for the limited period that such an impediment existed).   The new rule was adopted to encourage the sale to new entrants to broadcast ownership who could purchase construction permits that might otherwise expire.  Today, the FCC issued some clarifications of the new rule.

The clarification was issued principally to set out when the sale must take place in order for the buyer to qualify for the 18 month extension.  The FCC’s staff looked at the literal language of the new rule, and concluded that the sale must be approved by the FCC and consummated before the expiration date of the construction permit in order for the buyer to get the 18 month extension.  If the sale is not completed before expiration, the permit would expire.  Thus, the Commission warned applicants planning to take advantage of this new rule to file for the FCC approval of the sale at least 90 days before the expiration of the permit, to give time for the FCC approval of the sale and a consummation.  However, because of the uncertainty of the rule, the Commission decided that it would allow any party wanting to buy an unbuilt construction permit and who files to acquire that permit by May 31 to get the 18 month extension, even if the permit expires while the FCC application for approval of the sale is pending.  But after June 1, the buyer will not get the extension if the sale is not completed before the expiration of the permit. 


Continue Reading FCC Clarifies Rules on Extension of Broadcast Construction Permits Upon Sale to Qualified Entity

In recent months, the broadcast industry has experienced one of the most active periods of regulatory activity in recent memory. Since November, the FCC has adopted enhanced disclosure obligations concerning the public interest programming of television broadcasters and requirements for an on-line public inspection file; rejected most calls for increased deregulation of broadcast ownership (allowing only the cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers in the largest markets); established specific prohibitions against advertising practices that involved “no Spanish, no urban dictates”; placed mandatory disclosure obligations on television broadcasters in connection with promotion of the DTV transition; proposed rules that could favor low power FM stations over improvements in full-power broadcast services and existing FM translator licensees; and proposed sweeping regulation of broadcasters which could potentially require specific amounts of nonentertainment programming by all stations, restrict the flexibility of broadcasters’ location of their main studios, require 24-7 live staffing for all stations that operate on that basis, and perhaps even evaluate the music selection process of radio operators. Rumored to be in the offing are proposals to regulate embedded advertising, to adopt enhanced rules on sponsorship identification in connection with video news releases and payola-like practices, and perhaps even expand EEO reporting requirements (as the FCC recently asked for public comment on the employee-classification information for its long-suspended requirements for the filing of FCC Form 395 – the Annual Employment Report in which stations categorize all their employees by their employment duties, race and gender). And Congress has not been idle, with proposals introduced for the adoption of a performance royalty on over-the-air radio for the use of sound recordings, hearings about potential restrictions on prescription drug advertising, and a proposal to roll back the limited ownership reform adopted by the Commission in December.

With all this activity in a six month period under a Republican administration with a Republican majority on the FCC, during a time of great turmoil in the broadcast industry itself, as television prepares for the digital transition and broadcast revenue growth is slow or nonexistent (based on a variety of factors including general economic conditions and competition from the plethora of new media choices), many broadcasters are wondering what’s going on? And some fear even more changes could come about in any new administration that may come to Washington after the November elections, no matter what the result of that election. The one candidate with the most experience in the regulation of broadcasting, Senator McCain who has chaired the Senate Commerce Committee which regulates the broadcast industry, has by no means been a captive of the broadcast industry – leading efforts to enhance the use of LPFM and at one point pushing a spectrum tax proposal for television broadcasters for the use of the digital spectrum.


Continue Reading Broadcasters and the Regulatory Pendulum – Swinging Toward More Regulation

At its December meeting, at the same time as it adopted rules relaxing the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules, the FCC adopted new rules to expand diversity in the ownership of broadcast stations, encouraging new entrants into such ownership.  The full text of that decision was just released last week, providing a number of specific rule changes adopted to promote diverse ownership, as well as a number of proposals for changes on which it requests further comment.  Comments on the proposed changes will be due 30 days after this order is published in the Federal Register.  As this proceeding involves extensive changes and proposals, we will cover it in two parts.  This post will focus on the rule changes that have already been made – a subsequent post will cover the proposed changes.  The new rules deal not only with ownership rule modifications, but also with issues of discrimination in the sale of broadcast stations and in the sale of advertising on broadcast stations, new rules that leave some important unanswered questions. 

The rules that the Commission adopted were for the benefit of "designated entities."  Essentially, to avoid constitutional issues of preferences based on race or gender, the definition of a designated entity adopted by the Commission is based on the size of the business, and not the characteristics of the owners.  A small business is one designated as such by the Small Business Administration classification system.  Essentially, a radio business is small if it had less than $6.5 million in revenue in the preceding year.  A television company is small if it had less than $13 million in revenues.  These tests take into account not only the revenue of the particular entity, but also entities that are under common control, and those of parent companies.  For FCC purposes, investment by larger companies in the proposed FCC licensee is permissible as long as the designated entity is in voting control of the proposed FCC licensee and meets one of three tests as to equity ownership: (1) the designated entity holds at least 30% of the equity of the proposed licensee, or (2) it holds at least 15% of the equity and no other person or entity holds more than 25%, or (3) in a public company, regardless of the equity ownership, the designated entity must be in voting control of the company.


Continue Reading FCC Takes Actions to Increase Diversity in Broadcast Ownership

Last week, the Copyright Royalty Board published an order seeking comments on a proposed settlement establishing the royalties for "Business Establishment Services."  Essentially, this is the royalty paid by a service which digitally delivers music to businesses to be played in stores, restaurants, retail establishments, offices and similar establishments (sometimes referred to as "background" or "elevator" music, though it comes in many formats and flavors, and may sometime include the rebroadcast of programming produced for other digital services).  The proposed settlement would essentially carry the current rates forward for the period 2009-2013.  These rates require the payment of 10% of a services revenue (essentially what they are paid by the businesses for the delivery of the music) with a minimum annual payment of $10,000.

Some might wonder how a royalty of 10% royalty can be justified – and why it shouldn’t set some sort of precedent for the Internet radio services about which we have written so much here.  Once again, as we’ve written before, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act sets different standards for different kinds of music use.  For many consumer-oriented services (like satellite radio, digital cable radio and Internet radio), there are different standards used to determine the royalty rate.  For Business Establishment Services, it’s not the standard that is different – it’s the royalty itself.  Under the DMCA, there is no performance royalty paid either by the business or the service provider.  Instead, under the statute, the royalty is paid only for the "ephemeral copies" – those transitory copies made in the digital transmission process.  That is different than the royalty for all of the other digital services, where fees are paid for both the performance (under Section 114 of the Copyright Act) and the ephemeral copies (under Section 112).


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Requests Comments on Business Establishment Service Royalty Rate

In a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC last week asked for public comment on a series of initiatives to promote the ownership of broadcast stations by minorities and other Socially Disadvantaged Businesses ("SDBs").  These proposals, which include the potential for the sale without requiring any divestitures of clusters of radio stations which exceed the multiple ownership rules now in effect, and the potential for investors to invest in stations controlled by SDBs, even if such investment would otherwise violate the existing multiple ownership rules.  The Further Notice was issued in response to a petition filed over a year ago by the Minority Media Telecommunications Council, which asked for a withdrawal of the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Multiple Ownership Rules (which we summarized here) because that Notice did not address the promotion of minority ownership of broadcast stations.  MMTC claimed that the Third Circuit’s remand of the 2003 Multiple Ownership decision mandated that consideration.  Comments on the Further Notice, which will be resolved as part of the current multiple ownership proceeding, are due on October 1, and replies on October 15

The Notice raises a number of suggestions for regulatory changes to foster the ownership of broadcast stations by minority owners and other SDBs.  In addition to allowing the transfer of grandfathered radio clusters that no longer comply with the multiple ownership rules, these include specific proposals that would accomplish the following:

  • Allowing investment by exiting broadcasters and others with attributable media interests into companies controlled by minorities without the investment being counted against the ownership holdings of the investing company
  • Allowing minority groups to purchase unbuilt construction permits, and get sufficient time to construct those stations, even if the construction permit is otherwise to expire as it has been outstanding and unbuilt for over three years
  • Granting some non-minority owned companies waivers to exceed the multiple ownership limits if they sell stations to SDBs (including a proposal to create tradable credits for creating minority-owned stations)
  • Allowing for the waiver of the alien ownership limits if the investment by foreign companies would assist a minority-owned company in getting into the broadcast business.
  • Revival of the policies permitting minority distress sales (where a broadcaster against whom there were issues pending which could lead to a revocation of a license could sell their station to a minority group and avoid the revocation proceeding) and minority tax credits  (where a broadcaster who sells to a minority group could defer gains on sale if the money was reinvested into any broadcast company in the future)


Continue Reading FCC Proposes Multiple Ownership Exceptions to Foster Minority Ownership

Last week brought more action, and not much in the way of  results, as we count down to the July 15 effective date of the new Internet Radio Royalties.  The actions that received the largest amount of press coverage were the hearing before the US House of Representatives Small Business Committee, and the offer by SoundExchange suggesting that the minimum $500 per channel fee be capped at $2500 per service. While both initially seemed to offer the prospect of some resolution of the dispute over the Internet Radio royalties that were adopted by the Copyright Royalty Board, in fact neither ultimately resulted in much.

The Committee hearing featured webcasters and musicians – equally divided between those who believed that the royalties were fairly decided, and those who believed that the rates were too high.  The one thing on which most of the witnesses seemed to agree was that some rate adjustment was warranted for small webcasters, though no one was able to quantify how such a settlement should be reached.  The Congressional representatives, on the other hand, were cautious to act, asking again and again whether the parties were going to be able to settle the case between themselves.  While Congressman Jay Inslee testified in favor of his Internet Radio Equality Act, the members of the committee seemed hesitant to act while there were judicial avenues of relief still pending, and the possibility of settlement.


Continue Reading Minimum Per Channel Fee Offer – Waiting for the Stay?