Three broadcast items are tentatively scheduled for the next FCC meeting, to be held on April 27, according to the tentative agenda released today.  In one expected action, though perhaps moving more quickly than many thought possible, the FCC has indicated that it will adopt an Order in its proceeding requiring TV broadcasters to place and maintain their public files on the Internet.  A second broadcast item will adopt rules for channel sharing by TV broadcasters as part of the plan for incentive auctions to entice TV broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum for wireless broadband use.  Finally, the FCC proposes to adopt a NPRM on whether to amend current policies so as to permit noncommercial broadcasters from interrupting their regular programming to raise funds for organizations other than the station itself.

The first item is to determine whether to require that the broadcasters maintain an Online Public Inspection File, is a controversial issue about which we wrote last week. The proposal for the online file grew out of the FCC’s Future of Media Report (renamed the Report on the Information Needs of Communities when it was released last year, see our summary here).  In that same report, it was suggested that the FCC relax rules applicable to noncommercial broadcasters that limit their on-air fundraising for third-parties, if that fundraising interrupts the normal course of programming.  The Future of Media Report suggests that this restriction be relaxed so that noncommercial broadcasters be able to do block programming from time to time to raise funds for other noncommercial entities


Continue Reading On the Schedule for the April 27 FCC Meeting: Television Public Interest Obligations, TV Channel Sharing and Third-Party Fundraising by Noncommercial Broadcasters

The FCC has extended the comment deadline in two proceedings looking at imposing new public interest obligations on TV broadcasters (and potentially, at some point in the future, on radio stations as well).  Both proceedings are an outgrowth of the FCC’s Future of Media Report, that suggested that broadcasters be made to be more

The FCC’s proposal to replace the never-implemented Form 355 with a new form to document the public interest programming of television broadcasters (to eventually be expanded to include radio operators) was published in today’s Federal Register – setting January 17 as the comment date for those interested in telling the FCC what they think of

When the FCC last month started a new proceeding to mandate an online public file for television stations, the Commission promised to soon initiate another proceeding to look into the need for a new form to document the public interest programming that TV stations provide.  The FCC today fulfilled that promise, and issued a Notice of Inquiry ("NOI") to start the process of adopting a new form for TV stations to complete to report on various categories of "public interest programming," however that might be defined.  In 2007, the FCC had adopted Form 355 to accomplish that task.  But, after an outcry from stations about the paperwork burden that the form would impose, the FCC never submitted it to the Office of Management and Budget for approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act, and thus the form never became effective.  The adoption of the Form 355 was vacated last month in the online public file proceeding.  But the Commission now proposes its return – in some fashion.  So what does the Commission now propose to require from TV stations to document their public interest programming?

First, the FCC asks a series of questions about how such a form should be structured, and how the information should be collected to be meaningful for those that want to analyze it, but not overly burdensome for the TV stations.   The Commission seems to conclude that the form is necessary – not even asking questions on that basic issue of whether to adopt a standardized form.  The NOI states:

We continue to believe that the use of a standardized disclosure form will facilitate access to information on how licensees are serving the public interest and will allow the public to play a more active role in helping a station meet its obligation to provide programming that addresses the community’s needs and interests

The Commission then goes on to discuss the Quarterly Programs Issues lists  ("QPIs") that are currently required to be placed in a station’s public file every three months – describing the issues that station management sees as important in the community and the programs that the station has broadcast to address those issues (see our most recent advisory on this obligation, here).  The Commission states that these quarterly reports should be replaced, as broadcasters have been uneven in their recordkeeping of such lists.  Of course, that may be because the FCC has never proscribed any specific form for these reports, nor specifically said what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in connection with such reports.  Seemingly, replacing one form with another (albeit a more complete, detailed new form) may well accomplish nothing if the new report does not have clear and unambiguous instructions – something never adopted for the Quarterly Reports.


Continue Reading FCC Proposes New Form Requiring TV Broadcasters to Document their Public Interest Programming

At its meeting today, the FCC vacated its 2007 Order mandating an online public file and the filing of the Form 355 “Enhanced Disclosure” form that detailed the public interest service of television broadcasters. But these requirements are not gone, as the Commission has adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking to reinstate an obligation for an online public file, and a Notice of Inquiry is apparently circulating at the FCC that would propose a substitute for the Form 355. The proposal for the new online public file apparently also suggests including new information in the online file, including information about sponsorship identification and copies of shared service agreements. While the text of the FCC order is not yet out, from the information provided at the FCC meeting, the following matters appear to be on the table at the FCC:

  • The FCC proposes that TV broadcasters will need to have an online public file, submitted to and maintained on servers at the FCC rather than on each individual station’s website
    • Several Commissioners suggest that the Commission will develop a mechanism for accessible storage of online public files, which may be searchable by the public
    • The online public file form will automatically import other FCC filings that are required to be in the file
    • Until the FCC electronic database is perfected, the documents will be placed online in their current formats
  • Letters from the public concerning station operations are proposed to be excluded from the online file out of privacy concerns, though broadcasters will still need to keep those letters in a public file at the station.
  • The online public file is proposed to include the political file, which was exempt under the 2007 rule as it would be too burdensome to update that report rapidly during an election season
  • The online file is proposed to include additional material not now required to be in the public file, including:
    • Copies of shared services agreements
    • Sponsorship identification information that is now only broadcast on air in connection with the program in which sponsored material is included
  • The FCC is currently considering a Notice of Inquiry, a draft of which is apparently circulating among the Commissioners now, that proposes some form of enhanced disclosure form that will replace the Form 355 (and the current Quarterly Programs Issues list) to document the public service provided by TV broadcasters


Continue Reading FCC Proposes Revised Rules for Online Public File – Including Political File – and Discusses the Public Interest Obligations of TV Stations

Online public files, detailed reports about virtually every program aired on a television station as to its source and whether it addressed various types of perceived community interests, and other paperwork requirements that would have required most television stations to hire a new employee just to deal with the burden, were all part of mandatory television public interest reporting requirements adopted by the FCC back in 2007 (see our articles here and here on these reports on FCC Form 355).  Similar obligations were also proposed for radio but never adopted.  The TV "enhanced disclosure" rules have never been implemented, however, and were apparently never even submitted to the Office of Management and Budget  for approval of their compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act.  The numerous petitions for reconsideration filed against these rules are on the tentative agenda for the next FCC meeting, to be held on October 27.  Not only is the disposition of these petitions on the agenda, but a proposal for a further proceeding to look at new requirements for an online public file, to be hosted by the FCC, is to be considered at the same time.  What can broadcasters expect to happen?

In the Future of Media Report issued by the Commission earlier this year (actually renamed the Report on the Information Needs of Communities), the FCC study group recommended abolishing these 2007 rules, and terminating the proceeding looking at imposing them on radio (see our summary here).  The Report seemed to recognize that the reports were far too burdensome on licensees, and were not reasonably related to the current FCC rules on programming.  In essence, the reports required the collection of lots of information, without any regulatory purpose for the information collected.  In light of these findings, and the 4 year delay in implementing the rules already adopted, it seems safe to conclude that the 2007 rules are probably on their way out.  But the accompanying notice suggesting that the FCC will begin a new rulemaking to look at the online public inspection files, to be hosted by the FCC, raises questions about what will replace the 2007 rules.


Continue Reading TV Public Interest Obligations and Online Public Inspection File on Agenda for Next FCC Meeting

Come the New Year, we all engage in speculation about what’s ahead in our chosen fields, so it’s time for us to look into our crystal ball to try to discern what Washington may have in store for broadcasters in 2009. With each new year, a new set of regulatory issues face the broadcaster from the powers-that-be in Washington. But this year, with a new Presidential administration, new chairs of the Congressional committees that regulate broadcasters, and with a new FCC on the way, the potential regulatory challenges may cause the broadcaster to look at the new year with more trepidation than usual. In a year when the digital television transition finally becomes a reality, and with a troubled economy and no election or Olympic dollars to ease the downturn, who wants to deal with new regulatory obstacles? Yet, there are potential changes that could affect virtually all phases of the broadcast operations for both radio and television stations – technical, programming, sales, and even the use of music – all of which may have a direct impact on a station’s bottom line that can’t be ignored. 

With the digital conversion, one would think that television broadcasters have all the technical issues that they need for 2009. But the FCC’s recent adoption of its “White Spaces” order, authorizing the operation of unlicensed wireless devices on the TV channels, insures that there will be other issues to watch. The White Spaces decision will likely be appealed. While the appeal is going on, the FCC will have to work on the details of the order’s implementation, including approving operators of the database that is supposed to list all the stations that the new wireless devices will have to protect, as well as “type accepting” the devices themselves, essentially certifying that the devices can do what their backers claim – knowing where they are through the use of geolocation technology, “sniffing” out signals to protect, and communicating with the database to avoid interference with local television, land mobile radio, and wireless microphone signals.


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – The Outlook for Broadcast Regulation in 2009

Broadcasting and Cable magazine today reported that the FCC is looking to back off some of the requirements for the "enhanced disclosure" of television broadcaster’s public interest programming (see our summary of the new requirements of FCC Form 355, here).  B&C reports that the FCC may lessen or at least better explain