Last year, we wrote about legislation adopted by Congress telling the FAA to adopt rules to require the lighting of towers less than 200 feet tall located in rural areas. That legislation was designed to protect aircraft used for agricultural purposes like crop-dusting from collisions with such towers. The law surprised most of the
Should Online Recruiting Satisfy the FCC’s EEO Requirements for Wide Dissemination of Job Openings? – Comments Requested on Petition Saying that it Does
The FCC yesterday issued a Public Notice of the filing of a Petition for Rulemaking asking the FCC to declare that a broadcaster, by using its own airwaves and online sources to publicize job openings at its station, satisfies the requirement that a broadcaster widely disseminate information about job openings to members of all groups within its likely recruiting area. In 2002, when the FCC adopted its current EEO rules, it determined that online recruiting would not widely disseminate information about job openings in the way that a local newspaper would given the digital divide that the FCC thought existed at that time. But, the FCC said that it would later revisit that decision as circumstances change. The petition suggests that circumstances have indeed changed in the 14 years since the rules were adopted, that online recruiting is how people now find and apply for new jobs, and that it is time that the FCC recognize that fact and allow online recruiting to satisfy the obligation that a broadcaster give its community notice of job openings. Comments are due January 30, and replies on February 14.
The FCC has up to this point actively enforced its prohibition on station’s relying solely on its own airwaves and online sources for recruiting purposes, fining stations who meet their wide dissemination obligations solely by relying on such sources (see our articles about such cases here and here). But some at the FCC itself have recognized that this position no longer makes sense – including Commissioner O’Rielly who, in a blog post we wrote about here, suggested that broadcast recruiting in today’s world is appropriately done online, and that the FCC’s rules should reflect that fact. As set out in the Petition, Julius Genachowski, then-chairman of the FCC, recognized in a speech that: “In today’s world, you need broadband to find a job and apply for a job, because companies increasingly require online applications.” The petition notes that the FCC has recognized that the Internet is fine for public files and contest rules, so shouldn’t it also be found to be sufficient to get out the word about job openings?
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$11,000 FCC EEO Fine for Recruiting Solely Through Online Sources – Time to Revisit the FCC Rules?
An FCC decision fining a cable company $11,000 for not adequately recruiting for job openings should be viewed as a warning to broadcasters as well as well as MVPDs – failure to recruit for job openings by disseminating information about those opening through diverse sources will likely result in a substantial fine under the current rules being enforced by the Commission’s Media Bureau. As the Commission has held before (see our article here), simply recruiting through online sources will not be enough to avoid the imposition of a fine. In this case, the FCC specifically points out that approximately 30% of the cable system’s service area did not have Internet access, so people in that group were likely not exposed to information about the station’s job openings. As the Commission requires that job openings be publicized so as to reach all groups within a system’s (or a broadcast station’s) recruitment area (which is related to its core service area), the decision found that the failure to recruit so as to reach this significant portion of the local population, together with the failure to complete one year’s EEO public inspection file report, merited a fine of $11,000.
One of the interesting aspects of this decision is the emphasis that the Media Bureau continues to put on the distinction between online recruiting and other more traditional means of reaching out to potential job applicants (e.g. using employment agencies, sending notices to community groups, using college job offices, etc.). Even though Commissioner O’Rielly has suggested that the Commission allow recruiting to be done solely using online sources (see our article here), as that is much more in tune with the way that job seekers today look for potential employment opportunities, the Commission continues to insist on station’s using these more traditional outreach efforts regardless of their success rate. In fact, the FCC has never revisited its 2003 EEO order that presumes that the local newspaper is a source that can reach most groups within a community, when it no doubt can be proven that, in today’s world, the circulation of online job sites is significantly greater than that of almost any newspaper. Commissioner O’Rielly notes that the FCC itself has recognized the reach of the Internet through actions such as the requirements that broadcast and MVPD public files be moved online, and that disclosures about contest rules can be made online. Yet, in the EEO world, online recruitment, unless tied with the use of other more traditional outside sources, will bring a fine. Certainly, it is an issue that the FCC needs to revisit – and one that perhaps will be revisited in appeals of decisions like this one, or in response to the calls of Commissioner O’Rielly and others.
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FCC To Consider Abolition of Requirement that Broadcasters Maintain Letters From the Public in their Public Files – Moving Toward the End of the Physical Public File?
Yesterday, the FCC announced its agenda for its May open meeting to be held on May 25. Among the items on the agenda is a proposal to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to abolish the obligation that broadcasters maintain in their public files copies of letters and emails from the general public about station operations. These letters are the last vestige of the physical public file for TV broadcasters who several years ago migrated the rest of their public file to an online system maintained by the FCC (see our summary of the TV online public file obligations here). The letters from the public were deemed too sensitive to put online, as they could reveal private information about the writers of those letters. Thus TV stations must still maintain a paper file at their main studio. Radio broadcasters too will soon be moving their public files online. In the order adopting the requirement for an online public file for radio (see our summary here), the FCC proposed that the same paper system for letters from the public be maintained. However, it did note that there were calls to abandon entirely the requirement to maintain these letters in a separate file, and promised to initiate this rulemaking to look at that issue.
Commissioner O’Rielly has been a major proponent of that change, tying the issue to one of the security of broadcast stations and personnel. In his concurring statement to the Online Public File order, he noted that the abolition of the requirement that broadcasters maintain these letters from the public would eliminate the need for many broadcasters to open their stations to all comers who enter on the pretext of inspecting the public file. In a blog post, he noted the need for security at broadcast stations. The recent events at Sinclair’s Baltimore TV station, where an individual with emotional or mental issues triggered a police shoot-out at the station, and last year’s tragedy involving the Roanoke TV crew, highlighted the very real threats to safety that broadcasters face every day. Minimizing these threats by removing one pretext for people to enter broadcast studios unchallenged is an important consideration in these deliberations.
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Combatting Pirate Radio – What Can the FCC Do?
Pirate radio is still a problem. While pirate radio was much in the news a decade ago, and was even glamorized in movies, the popular perception may be that it has disappeared. In fact, particularly in major urban areas, it is still a major issue – causing interference to licensed broadcast stations and even, at times, to non-broadcast communications facilities. The FCC yesterday upheld a previously issued $15,000 fine to an operator of an illegal station in Florida, rejecting arguments that the community service provided on the station should mitigate the fine. The FCC, from time to time, releases this sort of fine, yet these stations keep popping up. A number of Commissioners have recognized the gravity of the issue, and that recognition caused the FCC to last month issue an Enforcement Advisory, warning operators that unauthorized broadcasting is illegal, suggesting that the public turn in those who operate pirate stations, and warning those who support pirate radio (e.g. landlords and advertisers) that their support could “expose them to FCC enforcement or other legal actions.” What is the reality of this actually happening?
A few states, including New Jersey and Florida, have passed criminal statutes making pirate radio illegal, but such enforcement, in the few cases that I have dealt with in those states, has tended to be a low enforcement priority for state authorities. Most defer to the FCC, given their perceived expertise in this area. Thus, there has been a recognition that the FCC needs to do more to combat pirate radio, particularly in urban centers like New York where the problem has been particularly acute. I had the privilege of interviewing FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly at the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters convention the week before last. The Commissioner has been an outspoken advocate of more pirate radio enforcement. In addition to early support for public education on the issue, including the issuance of the Enforcement Advisory, the Commissioner suggested that additional Congressional action may be necessary to give the FCC more enforcement tools to really bring pressure to bear on pirate radio operators and those who support them. What tools are needed?
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