Some quick items to update some of our recent articles. The FCC has granted extensions of time to comment in two rulemaking proceedings, and released its tentative agenda for its next open meeting where it will adopt an initial order in the incentive auction proceeding. That’s the proceeding that we most recently wrote about
FCC Gives a Peek at Some Details for the Incentive Auction – What’s Up for TV Stations?
The incentive auction by which the FCC will try to get some television stations to surrender their spectrum so that it can be sold to wireless broadband users is moving forward. A vote on the general rules to implement the auction and to repack the television band are expected to be held at the Commission’s May 15 meeting. We are now beginning to get a look at what the FCC is thinking, based on a post on the FCC’s blog on Friday by Chairman Wheeler, and a fact sheet released later that day (which does not appear to be available on the FCC website). While not terribly detailed, the documents at least show that the Commission is planning a quick transition – looking for the repacking to be complete within 39 months from the end of the incentive auction – and perhaps sooner for some stations.
The blog post again reiterates the Chairman’s belief that the Incentive Auction process poses:
a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand the benefits of mobile wireless coverage and competition to consumers across the Nation – particularly consumers in rural areas – offering more choices of wireless providers, lower prices, and higher quality mobile services
The post also suggests that TV stations, by agreeing to share television spectrum with another station in their market so that they can give up a channel to the auction have another “once in a lifetime” opportunity to get money from the government to pursue new business opportunities in new technologies, while still providing some broadcast service. This is much the same message that the Chairman conveyed at the NAB Convention in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. But for stations that do not take him up on his invitation to sell their spectrum, what is likely to happen?
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What’s Up in Washington For Broadcasters in 2014? — Part 1, FCC Issues
It is the beginning of another year – and a time to look ahead to look ahead at what broadcasters should expect from Washington in the coming year. With so many issues on the table, we’ll divide the issues into two parts – talking about FCC issues today, and issues from Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington’s alphabet soup of regulatory agencies in the near future. In addition, watch these pages for our calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters in the next few days.
Each January, we publish a list of issues for the coming year, and it is not always the case that these issues make it to the top of various piles (literal or figurative) that sit in various offices at the FCC. As set forth below, there are a number of FCC proceedings that remain open, and could be resolved this year. But just as often, a good number of these issues sit unresolved to be included, once again, on our list of issues for next year. While some issues are almost guaranteed to be considered, others are a crap shoot as to whether they will in fact bubble up to the top of the FCC’s long list of pending items. So this list should not be seen as a definitive list of what will be considered by the FCC this year, but instead as an alert as to 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.
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FCC Seeks Comments on Reimbursable Costs of TV Stations Changing Channels as Part of Repacking of TV Spectrum for Incentive Auctions, and Announces Panels to Discuss the Process
We have not written as much as we should have about the current FCC proceeding looking to reclaim parts of the television spectrum in order to repurpose it for auction to wireless users. The process by which the FCC will pay some broadcasters to give up their spectrum (the "incentive auction"), and get the money to pay for that surrender of spectrum from a simultaneous auction of the reclaimed spectrum, is a very complicated one. It will require careful judgments about how much money will be received and how much will be needed to be spent to clear the required spectrum, and to pay for other costs required by Congress in the enabling legislation (see our article here about the legislation), including the costs of moving remaining broadcasters to new channels after the auction. In order to provide a uniform block of wireless spectrum across the country (so that devices can be built to receive new signals on the same channels everywhere), the television stations that are not going to return their spectrum to the FCC will have to be “repacked” into a reduced television band, requiring some stations to change channels to accomplish that repacking. This week, the FCC made two announcements that will begin to shed some light on that transition – announcing the panelists for a discussion on the repacking process, and asking for comments on the costs to be incurred by TV broadcasters which can be reimbursed by the fund that the FCC is required to maintain to fund that repacking.
The FCC first released notice of the panelists for a September 30 discussion of how the repacking of TV spectrum will take place, discussing the likely mechanics of the repacking and the ways that the repacking can be accomplished efficiently. (For more on the discussion, go to this page on the FCC website). Representatives of the FCC will moderate panels of trade association representatives, engineers and others to discuss the repacking process. The discussion will be webcast by the FCC (go here for the webcast on September 30).…
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FCC Fines of Up to $18,000 Proposed for 7 TV Stations For Failure To Timely File Children’s Television Reports – The Big Renewal Issue for TV Stations?
In at least 7 decisions released last week, the FCC fined TV stations between $3000 and $18,000 for failure to timely file Form 398 Children’s Television Reports – reporting on the programming broadcast by the stations to address the educational and informational needs of children. In these cases, the fines were not for failing to file the reports at all, but instead for the failure to timely file the reports. All but one of the cases involved Class A television stations, which, as we’ve written before, are being subject to very strict scrutiny as the FCC looks to find some willing to give up their protected status before the upcoming incentive auctions (Class A stations being protected from being bumped off the air by new users – but subject to all the rules applicable to full power stations). In each of the cases involving Class A stations, the FCC has offered to forget the fines for noncompliance, if the station gives up its Class A status and becomes an LPTV station, which has no protections. If the station gives up its protected status, it will have no rights to receive compensation if it gives up its channel in the incentive auction, or if it is forced to change channels in the repacking of TV channels after that auction.
These cases all stem from the FCC review of the license renewal of the station. With the obligation to file a Form 398 only two weeks away – the quarterly report being due on July 10 – TV stations, especially stations that have not yet filed their renewals, need to pay attention now to make sure that they don’t miss the upcoming deadline. With public files now online, the FCC late-filing becomes more visible, and with the television renewal cycle in full swing, many TV stations are either now or soon to be under the scrutiny of the FCC. So meeting these obligations becomes important – as the failures can be costly. And, as set forth below, any time that there are multiple late filings – late by more than 10 days (which the FCC note that it might excuse as de minimis) – a fine is likely.…
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June FCC Obligations for Broadcasters – Renewals, EEO, FM Translator and Auction Filings, and Comments on Regulatory Fees, Indecency, and Incentive Auction Band Plan
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). …
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The President Nominates Tom Wheeler to Chair the FCC – What Will It Mean for Broadcasters?
The President has nominated Thomas Wheeler as the next FCC Chairman, to become effective after confirmation by the US Senate. What does this mean for broadcasters? As we have said before, one never really knows what issues will drive a Chairman’s agenda. For this Chair, some issues are clear – like dealing with the incentive auction to reclaim some TV spectrum for wireless use, which is inevitably marching forward. Other issues are forced on the FCC – like dealing with the indecency issues still pending after Supreme Court remand, or the multiple ownership quadrennial review still pending at the Commission while waiting for the MMTC study on the effects of media cross ownership on the ability of minorities and other new entrants to get into broadcast ownership. And some are issues that for one reason or another capture the interest or attention or concern of the FCC Chair. Usually, these issues don’t become clear until after the Chairman assumes his position, but that has not stopped many in Washington from speculating what the new Chairman will do once he is confirmed.
Interestingly, the speculation ranges the gamut, from Free Press fearing that he will be too friendly to big business because of his past service as the head of two trade associations – NCTA (the cable television industry trade association) and CTIA (the wireless industry association), to the statement of Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, fearing that he will impose too many regulations on these same big business organizations. In short, the perspective on the nomination seems to be based, at least in part, on the initial perspective of those who muse about what it means.…
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FCC Imposes Freeze on Television Station Technical Improvements – Preparing for Repacking the TV Spectrum to Allow for Spectrum Auctions
With broadcasters making their way to the NAB Convention in Las Vegas, the FCC on Friday provided one topic for conversation among TV broadcasters – issuing a Public Notice imposing a freeze – effective immediately – on the filing of any technical application by any licensee or permittee of a full power TV station or a Class A station if that application which would increase their protected service area. The freeze was imposed, in the words of the FCC, in order to “facilitate analysis of repacking methodologies and to assure that the objectives of the broadcast television incentive auction are not frustrated.” In other words, the FCC wants a stable TV database from which it can begin the process of repacking TV stations into a smaller portion of the TV spectrum to facilitate the auction of parts of the TV spectrum recaptured after an incentive auction for wireless broadband purposes.
According to the notice, the Media Bureau will no longer accept the following types of applications:
· Modification applications (and amendments to pending modification applications) by full power and Class A television broadcast licensees and permittees for changes to existing service areas that would increase a full power station’s noise-limited contour, or a Class A station’s protected contour, in one or more directions beyond the area resulting from the station’s present parameters as represented in its authorizations (licenses and/or construction permits).
· Class A displacement applications that would increase a station’s protected contour. (However, the Bureau will continue to accept Class A minor change applications to implement the digital transition (flash cut and digital companion channel) subject to current rule limitations.
The Notice states that the Bureau will consider requests for waivers of the freeze, on a case-by-case basis “when a modification application is necessary or otherwise in the public interest for technical or other reasons to maintain quality service to the public, such as when zoning restrictions preclude tower construction at a particular site or when unforeseen events, such as extreme weather events or other extraordinary circumstances, require relocation to a new tower site.” So, if your tower collapses and you need to move to a different site, a waiver may be possible, but improvements for the sake of improving a station’s signal will most likely be prohibited by the freeze.…
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February Legal Deadlines for Broadcasters – Online Public File, Review of Incentive Auction Comments, Filing Deadline for FM Auction, and Lots of Renewals and EEO Public File Reports
February is almost upon us, and it brings a host of regulatory obligations for broadcasters – as well as the filing deadline for those interested in pursuing new FM channels in an upcoming auction, and a number of opportunities to comment on important FCC proceedings. The week before last, TV NewsCheck published our latest quarterly update on the regulatory issues facing television broadcasters – and these include several with February dates. Most importantly (at least in the short term), there is the obligation for television broadcasters to upload to their Online Public Inspection file all documents created before the August 2 effective date of the rules (but for documents relating to political broadcasting). So documents that had been kept in paper – like Annual EEO Public Inspection File Reports and Quarterly Issues Programs Lists – need to be in the Online Public File by the beginning of the month.
In the longer term, while not due in February, comments to be filed this Friday (January 25) on the television incentive auction process, will need to be analyzed in preparation for the Reply comments due on March 12 in this most important proceeding which may well define the composition of over-the-air television in the coming years. Comments on the FCC proceeding on expanding the information gathered in the Form 323 Biennial Ownership Reports are also due in February – just in time for Valentine’s Day on the 14th.
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Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – What Washington Has In Store For Broadcasters in 2013
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. …
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