With the FCC closed because of the Federal government shutdown so no new decisions will be coming out for the time being, we get to look at some of the issues and decisions that we didn’t get a chance to write about when they first came out.  One of the cases we overlooked raised the question of whether the FCC cares about a broadcaster’s market share when it goes to buy a new radio station, or will it simply apply the numerical station ownership limits set out in the rules? Based on a decision released last month (note that the link to the decision may not work during the shutdown), the rules which set numerical limits on how many radio stations one party can own in a market are pretty much decisive in the FCC’s determination of whether or not a party can buy a station in a market. Even if the advertising or audience market share of the buyer is very high, the fact that there are other stations in a market providing competitive opportunities makes questions of audience share essentially irrelevant. The case also addresses two other interesting aspects of the FCC’s analysis of radio holdings in a market – which stations are included in the station count for a market, and when a station being silent means that it will no longer be counted as a competitive voice in the market.

The case involved the purchase of a radio station in the Roanoke-Lynchburg, Virginia market. The Buyer already owned four FM stations in the market, and was buying a fifth. Another owner contended that the ownership of those stations would give the Buyer a share of the advertising market of more than 50%, which the petitioner claimed would impede competition and make it difficult for minorities and other new entrants to buy stations in the market. The Media Bureau rejected the arguments, finding that, as there are at least 45 stations in the market, ownership of 5 FM stations in the market is permissible under the rules established back in 1996, and revised in 2003. The numerical limits were found by the Media Bureau to represent the FCC’s judgment of what represented a sufficient limit on one party’s ownership of stations in a market. While a company that owns the maximum number of stations in a market may have a very large share of the advertising market, the decision concluded that the Commission, when adopting the numerical caps, made the determination that the numerical caps were more reliable than a market share analysis.  Even when an owner owns the maximum number of stations allowed under the rules, there are numerous other competitive outlets in the market.  As market shares can change over time, the numerical limits were found to be determinative. So the Media Bureau would not upset that policy decision in a case like this.


Continue Reading Challenge to Radio Station Purchase Helps Define FCC Radio Ownership Limits in Arbitron Markets

Sometimes, even though you have FCC authority for your operations, you can still run into issues that can cause you to have that authority pulled out from under your operations. In three cases decided this week, the FCC’s Audio Division interpreted a number of its procedural rules – in two cases leading to the cancellation of FM translator licenses and the silencing of operating translator stations. In one case, the FCC decided that a licensed and operating FM translator had been licensed in error, as it actually created interference to an existing full-power FM station in a populated area, even though the translator application had initially claimed that it would not. In the second case, a translator was forced to cease operations because of interference from a new full-power station. When it did not resume operations within a one-year period, the FCC found that its license was automatically forfeited because of the year’s silence – even though the station had resumed operations in the construction period specified in a construction permit authorizing the translator to operate on a new frequency. These cases make clear how important the FCC’s procedural rules can be – actually leading to what are effectively life or death decisions for the license of a broadcast station.

In the first case, a translator licensee had a construction permit application granted to move to a new transmitter site. After the permit was granted, the licensee of a full-power station filed a Petition for Reconsideration of the grant, arguing that the translator would in fact create interference in populated areas served by its station. Despite the protest, the permittee constructed the translator at the new site, started operations and filed a license to cover the new construction – which was granted by the FCC. In reviewing the evidence filed by the petitioner, the FCC determined that there would in fact be interference caused to the full-power station in inhabited areas, contrary to what had been claimed in the translator’s CP application.  Based on that finding, the FCC revoked the license and underlying CP for the translator. The FCC made clear that a permittee who constructs a station when there is an objection to the underlying CP does so at its own risk. Where, as here, the underlying objection is found to have merit, the mere fact that the permittee had the right to build the station does not give him any grounds to argue that the station should be permitted to continue to operate – rejecting claims by the translator operator that, as there were no complaints of real interference caused by its operation, it should be permitted to continue to operate. Where the translator had prohibited contour overlap with the protected full-power station, and where it was shown that the area in which that overlap occurred was populated (shown by a USGS Topographic map that showed structures in the area), the operation was not permitted to continue.


Continue Reading FCC Decisions Lead to Cancellation of Two FM Translator Licenses and Silencing of Operating Stations – Interference Issues and Time Limits on Being Off Air to Blame

As is the case with most months, June brings a number of FCC deadlines for broadcasters, both standard regulatory filings and comment deadlines in important regulatory proceedings. The regular filing deadlines include license renewal applications due on June 3 (as June 1 is a Saturday) for Commercial and Noncommercial Full-Power and Class A Television Stations, TV Translators, and LPTV Stations in Ohio and Michigan; and Commercial and Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations, FM Translators, and LPFM Stations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada. Noncommercial stations in the states with renewals also have to file their Biennial Ownership Reports, as do noncommercial radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Renewal pre-filing announcements must begin on June 1 for Commercial and Noncommercial Full-Power and Class A Television Stations in Illinois and Wisconsin and for Commercial and Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations in California. Post-filing announcements for radio stations in Texas should continue on June 1 and 16, as well as for TV stations in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

In addition to these regular filings, broadcasters also have many other deadlines that are coming up either in the month, or soon thereafter. Broadcasters who were successful bidders in the recent FM auction have payment deadlines on June 12, and then have a July 24 deadline for the filing of "long-form" applications on FCC Form 301 specifying the technical facilities that they plan to build (see the FCC Public Notice here). Applicants for new FM translators left over from the 2003 filing window are now in a settlement window, with deadlines for settlements between competing applicants due on July 22 (see the FCC public notice here). 


Continue Reading June FCC Obligations for Broadcasters – Renewals, EEO, FM Translator and Auction Filings, and Comments on Regulatory Fees, Indecency, and Incentive Auction Band Plan

Every year, about this time, I dust off the crystal ball to offer a look at the year ahead to see what Washington has in store for broadcasters. This year, like many in the recent past, Washington will consider important issues for both radio and TV, as well as issues affecting the growing on-line presence of broadcasters. The FCC, Congress, and other government agencies are never afraid to provide their views on what the industry should be doing but, unlike other members of the broadcasters’ audience, they can force broadcasters to pay attention to their views by way of new laws and regulations. And there is never a shortage of ideas from Washington as to how broadcasters should act. Some of the issues discussed below are perennials, coming back over and over again on my yearly list (often without resolution), while others are unique to this coming year.

Last week, we published a calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters.  This article looks ahead, providing a preview of what other changes might be coming for broadcasters this year – but these are delivered with no guarantees that the issues listed will in fact bubble up to the top of the FCC’s long list of pending items, or that they will be resolved when we predict. But at least this gives you some warning of what might be coming your way this year. Issues unique to radio and TV, and those that could affect the broadcast industry generally, are addressed below.

General Broadcast Issues

 

There are numerous issues before the FCC that affect both radio and television broadcasters, some of which have been pending for many years and are ripe for resolution, while others are raised in proceedings that are just beginning. These include:

 

Multiple Ownership Rules Review: The FCC is very close to resolving its Quadrennial review of its multiple ownership proceeding, officially begun in 2011 with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The rumors were that the FCC was ready to issue an order at the end of 2012 relaxing the rules against the cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers, as well as the radio-television cross-interest prohibitions, while leaving most other rules in place. TV Joint Sales Agreements were also rumored to be part of the FCC’s considerations – perhaps making some or all of these agreements attributable. But even these modest changes in the rules are now on hold, while parties submit comments on the impact of any relaxation of the ownership rules on minority ownership. Still, we would expect that some decision on changes to the ownership rules should be expected at some point this year – probably early in the year. 


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – What Washington Has In Store For Broadcasters in 2013

The care and feeding of the broadcaster’s public file is a hot topic once again. For many years, the public file was often overlooked, being visited most often by competing broadcasters looking for dirt on their cross-town rivals, or by college journalism students assigned a project by their professor requiring the review of local stations’ files. But, with the debate that occurred earlier this year over the online public file for television stations, the file has received much publicity, being the subject of review and analysis in the popular and academic press, as well as in the broadcast trade journals. This week, the FCC issued a reminder about the obligations of a television broadcaster for complying with the public file rules (see that reminder here). In the past two weeks, I’ve conducted two seminars for broadcast groups on the public file obligations of stations. The first was a webinar for 20 state broadcast associations and their members, organized by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. The PowerPoint slides used in that presentation are available here.

The slides set out information about the importance of the file, and provide some description of the required contents of the file, and the retention period for documents that need to be contained in the file. Radio stations have the obligation to place all of the required documents in their local, paper files and maintain them there for the appropriate period of time. TV stations, with the advent of the FCC-hosted public file (see one of our previous posts on the mechanics of the online file here), actually have a somewhat easier time in meeting some of their obligations – as the FCC itself will post to the file all documents that stations are required to file with the FCC – including renewal and technical applications, ownership reports, children’s television reports, coverage maps, the station license and the Public and Broadcasting procedure manual. Radio stations need to find all of these documents and manually place them into their files. TV stations need only upload other information that is not filed at the FCC – like Quarterly Issues Programs lists, annual EEO Public File Reports, and certifications as to the station’s compliance with the Children’s television commercial limits. Beyond these basics, in the seminars that I recently conducted, several other interesting questions were raised.


Continue Reading The Care and Feeding of the Broadcaster’s Public Inspection File – An FCC Reminder and a Compliance Seminar

112 new FM channels will be available in the next auction for new FM channels (referred to by the FCC as "Auction 94") to be held beginning April 23, 2013. To participate, interested parties must file their "short form" applications – setting out information about the ownership of the applicant and the channels in which they are interested – by February 6, 2003. All of the procedures for the auction are set out in the order released late Wednesday, available here. The locations of the available channels, authorizing the winners to build new FM stations  serving the named communities and the nearby area, are also set out in this attachment to the order. The notice adopts many of the same procedures set out when the Commission first proposed the auction back in September (see our article here). However, the Commission pushed the auction back the initially scheduled date for the auction by about a month to avoid religious holidays and the NAB Convention, ending up with the new starting date of April 23. The Commission also pushed back other dates associated with the auction, deleted a handful of channels that had been proposed for inclusion in the auction but had not been properly published in the Federal Register, and announced other decisions relating to the auction – all with many cautions for those who may be bidding about the possible pitfalls of the auction process.

The relevant auction dates are as follows:

Auction Tutorial Available (via Internet) …………………….January 28, 2013

Short-Form Application (FCC Form 175)

Filing Window Opens ……………………………………………….January 28, 2013; 12:00 noon ET

Short-Form Application (FCC Form 175)

Filing Window Deadline……………………………………………February 6, 2013; prior to 6:00 p.m. ET

Upfront Payments (via wire transfer)…………………………..March 18, 2013; 6:00 p.m. ET

Mock Auction ………………………………………………………….April 19, 2013

Auction Begins…………………………………………………………April 23, 2013

The most important dates for bidders are the deadline for the submission of the "short-form" application of February 6, the date for the Upfront Payments, and of course the dates for the start of the auction itself. The short-form lists the owners, any bidding agreements that the parties have with other bidders, and the channels in which the party is interested in bidding. The bidder can also submit specific proposed transmitter site coordinates for any channel in which they are bidding, which protects those named sites from moves by other existing stations that could otherwise preclude their use.   The failure to meet this February 6 deadline means that a party cannot participate in the auction.


Continue Reading FCC Sets Deadlines and Procedures for the April 2013 Auction of 112 New FM Channels – February 6 Deadline for Applications to Participate

Moving a station from a rural area into a more urban one was a fairly common occurrence until the recent recession – when the value of new "move-in" stations in many larger markets essentially collapsed. Soon after the collapse, the FCC stepped in to stop what the marketplace had already severely slowed, by effectively prohibiting the practice of moving stations into urbanized areas.  In its Rural Radio Order (which we summarized here), the Commission adopted “presumptions” that eliminated preferences that applicants had received for proposing a new service to large suburban communities, and preferences based solely on the number of people that a modified station would serve. A number of parties (including ones that I represented), sought reconsideration of the FCC’s order, challenging both the theory of the FCC order and some of the details. On Friday, the FCC issued its order on reconsideration, denying any fundamental changes in the policy, but clarifying some of the details of the showings to be made in evaluating city of license changes for broadcast stations, and also grandfathering under the old rules more of the applications that were pending when the new rules were adopted.

Before discussing the changes, it is worth reviewing the Commission’s processes for deciding which of competing proposals for new FM channels in different communities should be granted, and whether the change in the city of license of an existing station is in the public interest. These choices are governed by Section 307(b) of the Communications Act and the substantial case law that has built up at the FCC around that section. Section 307(b) requires that the Commission make a “fair, efficient and equitable” distribution of radio service among the states and communities. Over the years, the FCC has adopted standards for determining how to make this distribution – favoring applications that propose a “first local reception service” (or service to “white areas” – those that currently receive no predicted service from other stations), net favoring a second reception service, next giving a preference to those providing a “first transmission service” (i.e. a first station licensed to a community). Finally, if none of the preceding preferences come into play, the Commission looks at “other public interest factors” – usually the total population served by a proposal, including an evaluation of the other services from other stations available in both the gain and loss area of a proposed facility move (or in the proposed coverage areas of the new allotments that the Commission is evaluating). 


Continue Reading Reconsideration of FCC’s Rural Radio Decision – Making It Difficult to Move a Radio Station from a Rural to an Urban Area

Do you want to start a new FM station?   In what seems to have become a yearly event, the FCC has released a list of 117 new FM channels to be auctioned (a list that also includes the proposed minimum bid for each channel). The FCC also issued a “freeze” on FM applications that could impact these channels. The auction itself is scheduled to begin on March 26, 2013. If the Commission follows the schedule used in the last FM auction, we should expect that the deadline for the "short-form" application to participate in the auction (which basically contains information about the ownership of the applicant and a list of the channels in which they are interested) will be due in early 2013, likely sometime between January 1 and January 15, 2013. The upfront payment of the necessary minimum bids would then likely be due around February 20, 2013.

The channels in this auction on which new stations can be built are spread all across the country. Many are located in large western states, including multiple channels in California, Oklahoma, Arizona and Texas, among other states. If you are interested in starting a station from scratch, look through this list of channels to see if there are opportunities for a construction permit for a new station in an area of interest. If you find something that you might consider, you need to start your due diligence on each channel now, as any bidder is responsible for insuring that the channel for which they are bidding can be built and will serve the audience that you expect. If you win the auction and decide that you can’t really find a transmitter site, then you may well be on the hook for the full amount of the bid even if you don’t build the station. And, if you are successful in the auction, you will have to have an available transmitter site to specify in your "long-form" application submitted about a month after the end of the auction – an application that will specify all of the technical details of the new station. So look at zoning issues, FAA considerations, coverage questions, and even whether technical details like the rural radio order limiting move-ins of FM stations from rural to more urban areas, may limit the potential economic value of the channel in which you are interested.


Continue Reading FCC Announces Auction for 117 New FM Channels – And Freezes Certain FM Applications that Could Affect Those Channels

Determining how much interference to full-power FM stations is acceptable from LPFM stations is perhaps, in the long run, one of the most important issues discussed in the FCC’s two orders released two weeks ago clarifying the rules for LPFM stations.  The FCC’s proposals on this issue, and several others, has now been published in the Federal Register, asking for public comments by May 7, with reply comments due May 21.   As we detailed when we wrote about the proposals that have now been published in the Federal Register, while the FCC did away with strict mileage limitations on third-adjacent channel spacings between LPFM stations and full-power FMs as required by the Local Community Radio Act ("LCRA"), it did not totally eliminate all interference requirements.  Instead, it proposed a two-tier system requiring more remediation efforts by LPFMs that operate at less than what had been the required spacings, and lesser interference for stations that did observe the old mileage separations.  The May 7 comment deadline also applies to comments on the FCC’s proposals for second-adjacent channel waivers of the required spacings between LPFMs and full-power FM stations, and on changes to the service rules for LPFMs – including allowing them to operate at powers as high as 250 watts ERP in rural areas.

The ruling eliminating the third-adjacent channel spacing rule as required by the LCRA was published in the Federal Register yesterday, meaning that the rule becomes effective on June 4, but practically that should mean little until the FCC addresses the interference-complaint resolution issues addressed in the Further NPRM.  The abolition of the third adjacent channel spacing rules did leave in place one limitation, that LPFM stations cannot cause more interference than they can under present rules for stations that offer reading services for the blind

The Further NPRM also addresses second adjacent channel interference, proposing very strict rules that require an LPFM to cease operations if it creates any interference to a regularly used FM signal – even outside of the full-power station’s protected service contours.  This is essentially the FM translator interference requirement – which has, in the past, caused many translators to cease operations or change their technical facilities to protect full-power stations.  Further details on this proposal are available in our summary of the order.  That summary, however, did not address the proposed changes in the LPFM service rules, which we address below.


Continue Reading May 7 Deadline Set for Comments on Proposed Rules on Interference to Full-Power FM by LPFM Stations, and on LPFM Service Rules (Including Proposal for 250 Watt LPFM Stations)

In part one of our report on the FCC’s recent actions on LPFM issues, we wrote about the FCC decisions about what to do with pending FM translator applications that may have an impact on LPFM availability. In this part two, we discuss the Commission’s separate order addressing the provisions of the Local Community Radio Act eliminating third-adjacent channel spacing restrictions between LPFM stations and full-power stations and otherwise modifying the interference protection standards that apply to these stations.  In a third part of this series, to be published soon, we will report on the proposals for changes in the LPFM service rules.

The impetus driving Congress in its adoption of the Local Community Radio Act ("LCRA") was the desire of LP FM advocates for the elimination of all third-adjacent channel protections between LPFMs and full-power FM stations. While the statutory changes mean that LPFM stations do not need to be spaced at any particular distance from third-adjacent channel FM stations, the changes do not completely eliminate all interference protections afforded to full-power stations. In fact, the LCRA sets up a very extensive scheme where LPFM stations must work to resolve any interference that is created to adjacent channel full-power station. The Commission set forth its reading of the statutory requirements, summarized below, and asked for public comment on that interpretation.


Continue Reading FCC Clarifies Rules for LPFM – Part 2 – Interference to Full Power FM Stations