dark broadcast station

What will be the issues that broadcasters need to be concerned about in next year’s Media Ownership proceeding?  To get a clue, broadcasters should watch and listen to the second day of the FCC workshop on multiple ownership, featuring members of various public interest groups in Washington the week before last (watch it on the FCC website, here).  These workshops, as we wrote here, were held to start the process on the Commission’s upcoming Quadrennial Review of the multiple ownership rules.   The representatives who testified on this panel discussed the issues that they thought should be reviewed, and facts that they thought should be collected, in order for the Commission to successfully complete the ownership review required by Congress.  As these Washington "insiders" are sure to be the ones filing comments in the proceeding and lobbying the Commission on the issues, the agenda of these organizations are likely to set the grounds for debate in the upcoming proceeding.  From watching this hearing, there are bound to be a number of contentious issues that will come up.

The panel was made up of representatives of five different Washington public interest groups – four that tend to favor more regulation and less consolidation.  The representative of the fifth organization, suggesting just the opposite – that in the new media world, little or no media ownership regulation is necessary.  While much of the discussion was process-oriented, there was discussion of specific issues that might come up in the review.  Both the process – which included extensive discussion of the need for detailed industry information for informed regulation to take place – and the substance could cause problems for broadcasters.  Substantive issues discussed included the need for more scrutiny of shared services agreements in the television world (as some saw these as a way of evading the FCC ownership regulations), and for ways to insure that there is more local programming as part of the process. One representative also mentioned the need to review noncommercial broadcasting as part of the ownership proceeding – which is usually restricted to a review of commercial operations.Continue Reading Multiple Ownership Workshops Start to Identify Issues for Quadrennial Review – Shared Services Agreements and Local Origination To Be Focus of Public Interest Groups

Section 312(g) of the Communications Act authorizes the FCC to cancel the license of any broadcast station that has not operated for a full year.   In a recent case, the Commission clarified when it would choose to use that authority to cancel the license of a station that had not been on the air with authorized facilities within that one year period.  In this case, the FCC decided not to cancel the license of a station whose tower was destroyed, where the station came back on the air from the old site but with reduced facilities before the end of the one year period, even though the resumption of operations was initially conducted without FCC authority for the low power operation. The station did, however, ask for Special Temporary Authority to operate with these facilities, authority which was not granted until several weeks after the station had resumed operation.  As the station had requested the authority to resume operations, and had been candid with the FCC about its operations and intentions, the Commission did not cancel the license, but it did fine the station $7000 for operating with unauthorized facilities during the period before the STA was granted.

The decision distinguished the actions of the licensee here with that of the licensee in another case, about which we wrote here, where the FCC canceled the license of a station that was forced off the air at its licensed site, and came back on the air just before the end of the one year period from a totally new site where it had no FCC authority, and where it could not get FAA approval for operations.  The Commission stated that the element of deception in the earlier case, with the station coming on the air at a site where it could not get FCC approval as the FAA had refused its operations from the site, was the distinguishing factor which caused that station license to be canceled. Continue Reading STA Request Saves Broadcast Station License From Cancellation For Being Off the Air for A Full Year

In these challenging economic times, it seems like almost every day we see a notice that a broadcast station has gone silent while the owner evaluates what to do with the facility.  This seems particularly common among AM stations – many of which have significant operating costs and, in recent times, often minimal revenues.  The DTV transition deadline (whenever that may be) may also result in a number of TV stations that don’t finish their DTV buildout in time being forced to go dark.  While these times may call for these economic measures to cut costs to preserve the operations of other stations that are bringing in revenue, broadcasters must remember that there are specific steps that must be taken at the FCC to avoid fines or other problems down the road.

One of the first issues to be addressed is the requirement that the FCC be informed of the fact that a station has gone silent.  Once a station has ceased operations for 10 days, a notice must be filed with the the FCC providing notification that the station is not operational.  If the station remains silent for 30 days, specific permission, in the form of a request for Special Temporary Authority to remain silent, must be sought from the FCC.  The rules refer to reasons beyond the control of the licensee as providing justification for the station being off the air.   Traditionally, the FCC has wanted a licensee to demonstrate that there has been a technical issue that has kept the station off the air.  The Commission was reluctant to accept financial concerns as providing justification for the station being silent – especially if there was no clear plan to sell the station or to promptly return it to the air.  Perhaps the current economic climate may cause the FCC to be more understanding – at least for some period of time.Continue Reading Steps to Take When A Broadcast Station Goes Silent