Last week, as we noted in our weekly summary of regulatory actions of importance to broadcasters, the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued an Order directing the FCC to complete its 2018 Quadrennial Regulatory Review of its broadcast ownership rules by December 27, 2023, or show cause why the National Association of Broadcasters’s (NAB) Petition for Writ of Mandamus should not be granted.  The NAB’s petition, filed in April 2023, requests that the D.C. Circuit compel the FCC to conclude the agency’s still-pending 2018 review.  Neither last week’s order, nor any mandamus order that could be issued by the Court should the FCC fail to finish its review by December 27, will compel any particular decision.  Instead, such an order would only require that the FCC finish the review started in 2018 (see our article here on the start of that review process).

The Quadrennial Review process is mandated by Congress.  Every four years, the FCC is required to review its local ownership rules and determine which ones remain in the public interest.  The NAB’s argument to the Court has been that the FCC failed to meet its statutory obligation by not completing the 2018 review last year.  In December, we wrote about the FCC’s failure to complete the Quadrennial Review, and how the inaction has forestalled any review of the issues that were teed up in that review.  What were those issues?Continue Reading Court Orders FCC to Complete Quadrennial Review by December 27 – What are the Issues for Review by the Commission?

The Senate this week approved Anna Gomez for the open Democratic FCC seat that has been vacant since the start of the Biden Administration.  As we wrote in May when the President first nominated her, Gomez is experienced in government circles, having worked at NTIA (a Department of Commerce agency dealing with federal spectrum use and other communications matters) and recently at the State Department preparing for international meetings about communications issues.  She also has a history in private law firm practice. 

Together with her nomination, the President renominated Commissioners Starks and Carr for new terms as Commissioners, but those nominations remain pending – not having been approved this week with the Gomez nomination.  Democratic Commissioner Starks’s term has already expired but he continues to serve under the allowable one-year carry-over which ends at the beginning of January 2024.  Republican Commissioner Carr’s term will expire at the end of this year, but he would be able to serve through the end of 2024 if his renomination is not confirmed.  There is some speculation that these nominations will be packaged with other pending nominations for positions at other government agencies to avoid having the FCC return to a partisan stalemate again in January if the Starks’ renomination is not approved by then. Continue Reading And Then There Were Five – Senate Approves Anna Gomez as Fifth FCC Commissioner – What Broadcast Issues Could a Full FCC Consider? 

August may be a light month for regulatory dates, as everyone enjoys the end of the summer with many, including Congress, taking the last of their summer vacations.  But there are still dates to which broadcasters should be paying attention.  One that most commercial broadcasters should be anticipating is the order that will set the amount of their Annual Regulatory Fees, to be paid sometime in September before the October 1 start of the federal government’s new fiscal year.  Sometime in August (or possibly in the first days of September), the FCC will make a final determination on the amount of the fees, and then announce the deadlines for the payment of the fees.  As we wrote here, the FCC has proposed to decrease fees for broadcasters from the amounts paid in prior years, but there have been some comments filed in opposition to that proposal. An Order concerning regulatory fees is currently on circulation among FCC Commissioners, so watch for the FCC decision making a final determination on those fees.

August has other routine regulatory deadlines.   August 1 is the deadline for Radio and Television Station Employment Units in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin with 5 or more full-time employees to upload to their online public inspection file their Annual EEO Public File Report. A station employment unit is a station or cluster of commonly controlled stations serving the same general geographic area having at least one common employee.  For employment units with 5 or more full-time employees, the annual report covers hiring and employment outreach activities for the prior year.  A link to the uploaded report must also be included on the home page of each station’s website, if the station has a website. Continue Reading August Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters:  Reg Fee Order, EEO filings, HD Power Increase Proposal, and More

March may not have any of the regular FCC filing deadlines, but there are still plenty of regulatory activities going on this month that should grab the attention of any broadcast or media company. Initially, there are several FCC proceedings in which there are dates in March worth noting.

Initially, there are comments in the 2022 Quadrennial Review of the FCC’s ownership rules.  As we wrote in our summary of the issues on which comments are requested when it was released in late December, the proceeding is to look at rules including the local radio ownership rules, the dual network rule (prohibiting the combination of two of the big four TV networks), and other rules not yet resolved.  The FCC is charged with determining every four years whether these rules continue to be in the public interest.  Even though the FCC has never finished the 2018 Quadrennial Review examining these same issues, the FCC nevertheless asks for comments on how these rules affect FCC policies including competition, localism, and diversity.  Comments in this proceeding are due March 3, with reply comments due March 20. Continue Reading March Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Comment Dates on FCC Ownership Rules, FTC Proposed Ban on Noncompete Agreements, and TV Captioning Rules; Higher FCC Application Fees; Daylight Savings Time Adjustments for AM Stations; and More

Early this year, we provided our look into the crystal ball to see what was on the FCC’s agenda for broadcasters in  the coming year.  Yesterday, the FCC published in the Federal Register its own list – its Semiannual Regulatory Agenda – listing an inventory of the matters at the FCC awaiting Commission action.  The

It’s a new year, and it’s time to look ahead at what Washington may have in store for broadcasters this year.  The FCC may be slow to tackle some of the big issues on its agenda (like the completion of 2018 Quadrennial Review or any other significant partisan issue) as it still has only four Commissioners – two Democrats and two Republicans.  On controversial issues like changes to the ownership rules, there tends to be a partisan divide.  As the nomination of Gigi Sohn expired at the end of the last Congress in December, the Biden administration was faced with the question of whether to renominate her and hope that the confirmation process moves more quickly this time, or to come up with a new nominee whose credentials will be reviewed by the Senate.  It was announced this week that the administration has decided to renominate her, meaning that her confirmation process will begin anew.  How long that process takes and when the fifth commissioner is seated may well set the tone for what actions the FCC takes in broadcast regulation this year.

Perhaps the most significant issue at the FCC facing broadcasters is the resolution of the 2018 Quadrennial Review to assess the current local ownership rules and determine if they are still in the public interest.  As we wrote last week, the FCC has already started the 2022 review, as required by Congress, even though it has not resolved the issues raised in the 2018 review.  For the radio industry, those issues include the potential relaxation of the local radio ownership rules.  As we have written, some broadcasters and the NAB have pushed the FCC to recognize that the radio industry has significantly changed since the ownership limits were adopted in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and local radio operators need a bigger platform from which to compete with the new digital companies that compete for audience and advertising in local markets.  Other companies have been reluctant to endorse changes – but even many of them recognize that relief from the ownership limits on AM stations would be appropriate.Continue Reading Looking Into the Crystal Ball – What’s Coming in Broadcast Regulation in 2023 From the FCC

With the holidays upon us and the end of the year fast approaching, the FCC took care of one piece of business required by statute as it released a Public Notice announcing the start of the 2022 Quadrennial Review of the FCC’s ownership rules.  The FCC is required, once every four years, to review their local ownership rules to see if they remain in the public interest.  The Notice starts the review required for this year even though the 2018 review remains pending with seemingly little likelihood of any action as long as the FCC remains politically divided (currently two Republicans and two Democrats with one open seat).

So, unless the 2018 review is decided and finds that some existing rule is no longer in the public interest and abolishes it, the just announced new review (the “Quad,” as those in DC communications regulatory circles call it) will look at the same issues as the last one did.  Ownership rules governing the limits on radio ownership in each market, largely unchanged since they were first adopted in 1996, are probably the issue that could potentially affect the largest number of broadcasters (see our articles here and here on proposals for change in the radio ownership rules).  Also under review will be issues including the Dual Network Rule, which prohibits combinations of two of the Top 4 TV networks, and a possible clarification of the Top 4 rule on local TV ownership.  The Top 4 rule generally prohibits combinations of two of the Top 4 rated TV stations in any television market.  In 2017, the FCC voted to allow parties to seek a waiver of that prohibition.  Such waiver requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  The proposal raised in the 2018 proceeding was to adopt some bright line tests as to when waivers would be permitted (e.g., allowing combinations of the two lowest rated stations if their audience share did not equal that of the first or second ranked station in the market).
Continue Reading FCC Starts 2022 Quadrennial Review Before the 2018 Review is Complete – Time for Another Look at Radio and TV Local Ownership Rules

The Newspaper Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule is Finally Dead – And More Ownership Rule Changes – Including for Radio – Are to be Considered

Last Friday, the FCC took two actions on broadcast ownership resulting from the recent Supreme Court decision (about which we wrote here) upholding changes to the ownership rules that the FCC adopted in 2017.  Those 2017 changes (summarized here) and any additional changes to the rules, including changes to the radio ownership rules that have not been substantially reviewed since 1996, have been held up by the 2019 decision of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  That Court reversed the FCC’s 2017 decision which had relaxed many ownership rules, notably including the abolition of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule and some of the local television ownership restrictions.

The Third Circuit found that the FCC had done an inadequate job of assessing the impact of the 2017 changes (and past ownership changes) on the diversity of broadcast ownership.  Until such a historical review could be conducted, all FCC ownership proceedings were put on hold.  This hold was finally lifted by the Supreme Court’s decision reversing the Third Circuit and reinstating the 2017 FCC decision.  On Friday, the FCC issued an Order that formally reinstated the rules that had been overturned by the Third Circuit and also took some tentative steps toward restarting its regular review of broadcast ownership rules, including the local radio ownership rules that were largely unaffected by the 2017 FCC rule changes.  The FCC issued a Public Notice that asked for an update on comments they filed on the 2018 Quadrennial Review of the ownership rules (see our article here) in 2019.
Continue Reading FCC Implements Supreme Court Order Reinstating 2017 Ownership Rule Changes, and Asks for Updating of Record of 2018 Quadrennial Review