Another month is upon us, along with all of the FCC regulatory obligations that accompany it. August brings a host of license renewal obligations, along with EEO public file obligations in a number of states, as well as noncommercial Biennial Ownership Report filings in several states. We also expect that the FCC will notify stations of the date for the payment of their regulatory fees (which will either be due late this month or early next). As we reported yesterday, the filing of long-form translator applications for over 1000 applicants from the 2003 FM translator window also comes at the end of the month. There are comments due in a number of FCC proceedings. We’ll talk about some of those issues below. For TV broadcasters, we also suggest that you review our article that recently ran in TV NewsCheck, updating TV broadcasters on issues of relevance to them not only this month, but providing a description of the full gamut of issues facing TV broadcasters. We prepare this update for TV NewsCheck quarterly.

Today brings the deadline for the filing of license renewal applications for radio stations in California and for TV stations in Illinois and WisconsinStations in these states, and in North and South Carolina also have EEO public inspection file reports that should be placed in their public inspection files no later than today. Noncommercial TV stations in Illinois and Wisconsin also need to file Biennial Ownership Reports today, and noncommercial radio stations in California, North Carolina, and South Carolina should also file their Biennial Ownership Reports by today.


Continue Reading August FCC Regulatory Deadlines for Broadcasters – Including Renewals; EEO; Comments on Indecency, the Online Public File and Cross-Ownership

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.


Continue Reading 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?

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

April is one of those months in which many FCC obligations are triggered for broadcasters. There are the normal obligations, like the Quarterly Issues Programs lists, that need to be in the public file of all broadcast stations, radio and TV, commercial and noncommercial, by April 10. Quarterly Children’s television reports are due to be submitted by TV stations. And there are renewal obligations for stations in many states, as well as EEO Public File Reports that are due to be placed in station’s public files and on their websites. The end of March also brings the obligation for television broadcasters to start captioning live and near-live programming that is captioned on air, and then rebroadcast on the Internet. Finally, there are comment deadlines on the FCC’s proposal to relax the foreign ownership limits, and an FM auction and continuing FM translator filing requirements.

Radio stations in Texas and television stations in Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana have renewal applications due on April 1. The license renewal pre-filing broadcast announcements for radio stations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and for TV stations in Michigan and Ohio, must begin on April 1. All of these stations will be filing their renewals by June 1. EEO Annual Public file reports for all stations (radio and TV) with five or more full-time employees, which are located in Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Delaware, Pennsylvania or Indiana, must be placed in their public files (which are now online for TV broadcasters) by April 1.   Noncommercial radio stations in Texas, and noncommercial TV stations in Tennessee, Indiana Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky must also file their Biennial Ownership Reports by April 1


Continue Reading April FCC Obligations for Broadcasters – Renewals, EEO, Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, Captioning of Live or Near-Live Online Programming, FM Translator Filings, an FM Auction and Comments on Alien Ownership

Both radio and TV broadcasters either have recently completed the license renewal process, or will be doing so in the next few years. Many broadcasters think that, once their broadcast licenses are renewed, so too are all of the other communications licenses that are operated in connection with their station. While that may be true for broadcast auxiliary licenses, like Studio Transmitter Links and Remote Pickups, there are other FCC authorizations that are not covered by the broadcast license renewal process, and are also not covered by the applications on FCC Forms 314 and 315 for the sale of a broadcast station. If a broadcaster does not pay attention to the expiration dates for these nonbroadcast licenses, or forgets to separately file an application for permission to assign these licenses during a sale of their broadcast station, a fine like the $18,000 fine that was just issued to a radio broadcaster who forgot that earth station licenses are different from a main broadcast license or a broadcast auxiliary license, may occur.

In this case, the broadcaster sold its radio station in 2003, including in a list of auxiliary licenses in its FCC application for the sale of the station, the call letters of the earth station. While the FCC granted the assignment application with the statement that the seller was authorized to assign the station and all authorized auxiliaries, the Commission makes clear in this order that the sale of an earth station is not a broadcast auxiliary, but instead needs a separate authorization from the FCC’s International Bureau before it can be sold. As that authorization was not granted, when the buyer took control of the station (and earth station), it operated that earth station without FCC approval for almost 10 years – without seeking a renewal of the license in 2006 – until the new licensee finally discovered the error and applied for an STA and new license to cover its operations. The FCC determined that the length of the violation required an upward adjustment of the normal $10,000 fine for operating an unlicensed station.


Continue Reading $18,000 FCC Fine for Operating Earth Station with Expired License Reminds Broadcasters That Not All of Their Licenses are Covered During the License Renewal or Assignment and Transfer Approval Process

Earlier today, we wrote about the FCC’s reminder that TV broadcasters must, by February 4, complete the upload to their FCC-mandated online public inspection file all materials from the current renewal term that were created prior to the August 2 effective date of the online public inspection file requirement.  We noted that the FCC had not addressed the question of stations that had outstanding renewals from the last renewal term – which could potentially mandate that some stations upload as much as 16 years worth of material to their online files.  Well, today, the FCC issued another decision waiving its rules so that stations only need to post Quarterly Issues Programs lists from the current license term on their online public files – subject to some caveats.

There are certain limits on this waiver.  If the limits are not met, then all Quarterly Issues Programs lists, back to the last granted renewal, have to be posted to the online public file.  The limits include the following:

  1. The last renewal cannot have been opposed by a member of the public.
  2. The delay in the renewal cannot have been caused by issues relating to the public interest service of the station to its local service area
  3. The station must continue to keep the Quarterly Issues Programs lists from the last renewal cycle at the station in a paper public file.

This decision does not relieve stations from all obligations to post materials from prior renewal terms, as described below.


Continue Reading FCC Grants Certain TV Stations Limited Waiver from Online Public File Obligations for Documents from Prior Renewal Terms

The six months that the FCC gave to television stations to upload the contents of their paper public files to their new online public file seemed like a long time back in August, when the deadline was announced and the online public file rule became effective. But that deadline is upon us, and the FCC yesterday issued a reminder that television broadcasters (full power and Class A stations) need to have all of their required documents uploaded to their online public file by Monday, February 4.  The 6 month deadline actually falls on the weekend, so the FCC has given stations to the end of the day on Monday to come into compliance. The Commission has even offered to have people at the FCC over the coming weekend to answer questions about the uploading process for all those waiting until the last-minute to comply. 

As made clear in the public notice, no broadcasters need to upload contents of their political files that existed prior to the August 2 effective date of the rules. TV Broadcasters who are affiliates of the Big 4 networks in the Top 50 markets should already be uploading new political file material onto their online files, while other TV broadcasters have until July 1, 2014 before they are subject to the requirement that they upload their new political materials to the online file. In neither case do stations have to upload political file materials that precede the date that the obligation applies to their station. 


Continue Reading FCC Issues Reminder that TV Stations Need to Complete Online Public File By February 4 – Upload Documents Including All Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and EEO Public File Reports Since the Last License Renewal Grant

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

 


Continue Reading 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

As personal marijuana use becomes decriminalized in the states of Washington and Colorado, we once again repeat our warning to broadcasters who may be looking to pot sales as a new source of advertising revenue – remember that the Federal government still thinks that the drug is illegal. The US Attorney’s Office in Seattle has reportedly issued a statement reminding residents in Washington State of that fact, and told Washingtonians that the Department of Justice plans to enforce Federal law on all Federal properties in the state. How does this affect broadcasters? 

Broadcasters are Federal licensees. Thus, there still is a concern that advertising for an activity that is considered a felony under Federal law might present problems if a license renewal is challenged or a complaint is filed.  It is Federal law, of course, that governs the issuance and renewal of FCC licenses. No FCC official has been willing to say that advertising medical marijuana is permissible (and, as we wrote last year, a US attorney in California threatened to prosecute media outlets advertising medical marijuana clinics and to possibly seize property used for such advertising). As Washington state officials discuss how to license stores to sell pot under its new laws, some broadcasters may eye these stores, once authorized, as a potential new source of advertising revenue.  Especially with license renewal now underway for radio stations in Colorado, and soon coming up for TV stations in Colorado and for broadcasters in Washington, now is probably not the time to press the limits of advertising a product with such an ambiguous legal status. 


Continue Reading Legalized Marijuana – Why Broadcasters Should be Wary

In three proposed fines issued in the last few weeks, the FCC proposed $10,000 fines for the failure of stations to have all of their required Quarterly Issues Programs Lists in their public files.  In one case, the deficiency was discovered by an FCC inspector, filing random reports missing from 2007-2009.  In two others (here