Notice was published in the Federal Register today of the FCC’s changes in the children’s television rules – setting the effective date for most of those new rules as September 16. The elimination of the obligation to air three hours of children’s educational and informational programming for each digital multicast channel will expire on that

In anticipation of its July 10 open meeting, the FCC last week released its draft Order making changes to its rules requiring television stations to broadcast specific amounts of educational and informational programming directed to children.  The current rules require that stations air an average of three hours of such programming every week for every channel of programming they broadcast.  The current rules also impose all sorts of restrictions on programming for it to be considered “Core Programming” that can be counted toward meeting the three-hour per channel obligation.  The draft Order, if adopted at the July meeting, would ease some of the restrictions and, perhaps most importantly, eliminate the requirement that, for each multicast channel, three hours of unique educational programming directed to children be broadcast.

The Commission surveyed the current TV marketplace and found that, in the 15 years since it adopted the requirement that there be 3 hours of programming per multicast channel, much more educational and informational programming for children has become available – through public broadcasting and through new programming sources, including those delivered online.  Providing those three extra hours of educational and informational programming imposed significant cost burdens on broadcasters (even a weather radar channel carried with it a three-hour children’s programming obligation) for seemingly little benefit given the availability of so much other kids’ programming elsewhere.  The FCC draft Order also would change some of the specific requirements for station’s primary video channel.
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The beginning of a calendar quarter always brings numerous regulatory obligations, and October is one of those months with a particularly full set of obligations. All full-power broadcasters, commercial and noncommercial, must complete their Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and place these reports into their public inspection files by October 10. These reports are the FCC’s only official record of how a station served its community. They document the broadcaster’s assessment of the most important issues facing their communities, and the programming that they have broadcast to address those issues. Failing to complete these reports was the biggest source of fines during the last license renewal cycle – with fines of $10,000 or more common for stations missing numerous reports during the license renewal term (see, for example, our articles here, here and here). With the public inspection file for all TV stations now being online and the public file of large radio groups in major markets also already converted to being online, the timeliness of the completion of these reports and their inclusion in the public file can now be assessed by the FCC and anyone else who wants to complain about a station’s regulatory compliance (as documents added to the public file are date stamped as to their inclusion, and the FCC has used this stamp to assess station’s compliance in other areas, see our post here). All other radio stations will be converting to the online file by March 1, 2018 and will need to upload this quarter’s reports into the file by that date (along with all others back to your last license renewal, see our post here), meaning the reports they complete this quarter too can be scrutinized from afar. Thus, be sure that you complete this important requirement.

TV stations have the additional quarterly obligation of filing with the FCC by October 10 their Quarterly Children’s Television Reports, Form 398. These reports detail the educational and informational programming directed to children that the station broadcast in the prior quarter. These reports are used to assess the station’s compliance with the current obligation to broadcast at least 3 hours per channel of programming addressing the educational and informational needs of children aged 16 or younger. Late-filed Children’s Television Reports, too, were the source of many fines for TV broadcasters in the last renewal cycle (see, for instance, our articles here and here), so don’t forget this obligation and don’t be late in making the required filings. At the same time, TV stations should also include in their public file documentation showing that they have complied with the limitations on commercialization during children’s programming directed to children 12 and under.
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The FCC announced a Consent Decree with a New Jersey TV station where the licensee agreed to make a $17,500 payment to the US Treasury for failing to identify “core” educational and informational programming directed to children with the required “E/I” symbol on the programming itself. This programming was, according to the consent decree, run

Another month has started – and it is one with regulatory dates for broadcasters. All broadcasters, commercial and noncommercial, have an obligation to complete their Quarterly Issues Programs lists and place them into their public inspection filed by October 10. For TV stations and large-market commercial radio, that means that these lists need to be in the online public file by that date (see our article here about the online public file for radio). For TV stations, the 10th also brings the obligation to submit Quarterly Children’s Television Reports on Form 398 to the FCC (as the 10th falls on a Federal holiday, you may be able to file on the 11th, but consult your legal advisor for details on that deadline).

For stations in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands that are part of employment units with 5 or more full-time employees (30 hours a week or more), EEO public inspection file reports should have been included in their public inspection file by October 1. For Radio Station Employment Units with 11 or more full-time employees in Iowa and Missouri and Television Employment Units with five or more full-time employees in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, Mid-Term EEO Reports on FCC Form 397 should also have been filed at the FCC by October 1. See our article here on the obligation to submit Mid-Term EEO Reports.
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While TV broadcasters can enjoy an incentive auction respite in July as attention shifts to the “forward auction” where we will see whether wireless carriers come up with enough money to fund the $86,422,558,704 (plus $1.75 billion for repacking costs, plus auction-related administrative costs) needed for the buyout of TV stations who agreed to surrender their spectrum, radio broadcasters will get some of their own attention as, at the end of the month, the second window for the filing of 250-mile waiver applications opens for Class A and B AM stations. We wrote about these waivers here, which allow an AM licensee to acquire an FM translator and file an application to move it up to 250 miles and operate it on any commercial frequency that does not create interference in their market. That window for Class A and B AM stations opens July 29 and runs through October 31 (and remains open for any other AM that has not already filed one of these waivers in the first window which opened back in January).

In addition to the AM window, there are routine filing deadlines for all TV stations – required to file their FCC Form 398 Children’s Television Reports by the 11th of the month (because the 10th of July is a Sunday) demonstrating the educational and informational programming they broadcast directed to children. By the 10th television stations also need to upload information into their online public files to demonstrate compliance with the limits on commercial time in children’s programs.
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April brings the whole panoply of routine regulatory dates – from the need to prepare EEO Public File and Noncommercial Ownership Reports in some states, to Quarterly Issues Programs lists for all full-power broadcast stations and Quarterly Children’s Television Programming Reports for all TV stations.  So let’s look at some of the specific dates that broadcasters need to remember this coming month.

On the first of the month, EEO Public Inspection File Reports should be placed in the Public Inspection files of all stations in employment units with five or more full-time employees in the following states: Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.  In addition, EEO Mid-Term Reports on FCC Form 397 need to be submitted to the FCC by radio stations that are part of employment units of 11 or more full-time employees in Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana.  For more on the EEO Mid Term Report, see our article here.
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In a Notice of Apparent Liability released yesterday, the FCC proposed to fine a TV station $20,000 for being late in the filing of 4 years of Quarterly Children’s Television Programming Reports (FCC Form 398). While the penalty is consistent with the size of penalties that the FCC has been imposing for similar

In a Public Notice released yesterday, the FCC announced that all Form 398 Annual Children’s Television Programming Reports, which report on the amount of educational and informational programming directed to children was broadcast by any TV station in the prior quarter, need to be filed in the FCC’s new Licensing and Management System (LMS). The FCC is migrating all TV broadcast filings to this new system, and the next Form 398, due by April 10 to report on programming broadcast by stations in the first quarter of this year, must be filed in this system.  While LMS has been available for stations to use for these reports since last June, beginning with the reports due in April, no more reports can be filed in the FCC’s old KidVid Filing System.

The Notice was also interesting as it stated that broadcasters need to check their online public files to make sure that these reports are timely uploaded into the file. While the FCC is supposed to automatically link the form as filed with the Commission to the station’s online public inspection file, the notice states that station licensees need to manually upload the report to the online public file if the link is not made within 10 days of the end of the calendar quarter. So if the new system does not quickly upload the report to your public file, you need to do it yourself.
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October is one of those months where the regulatory stars align, when not only do broadcasters in many states have EEO Public File report obligations, but also Quarterly Issues Programs Lists need to be placed in the public files of all commercial and noncommercial stations, and Quarterly Children’s Television Reports need to be filed at the FCC and placed in the public files of television stations.  On top of these routine obligations, there are a number of actions likely to be taken by the FCC that may affect many segments of the broadcast industry.  So let’s look at some of the specifics.

First, by October 1, EEO public file reports should be placed in the public file of stations with 5 or more full-time employees, if those stations are located in the following states and territories: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.  In addition to those obligations, radio stations that are part of employment units with 11 or more full-time employees and are located in the states of Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands must prepare and file with the FCC EEO Mid-Term Reports on FCC Form 397, submitting specifics of their employment practices in the last two years (through the submission of their Public File reports) as well as some additional information.  The Mid-Term report for those stations are due by October 1.  More information about these EEO obligations can be found in our article here.
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