May is somewhat lighter on broadcast regulatory dates and deadlines than some recent months, but there are still dates to note.  Among other things, the FCC will begin the process of auctioning 140 construction permits for new AM and FM radio stations across the country.  Also, broadcasters in several states, with an eye on the June 1 deadline, should be preparing now to file applications for license renewal or to prepare and upload to their public inspection file EEO public file reports, demonstrating their compliance with the FCC’s equal employment opportunity requirements.  So let’s take a look at some of the important dates for May (and early June).  As always, be sure to consult with your communications counsel on the dates and deadlines applicable to your operation.

The Auction 109 window for “short-form” applications to participate in the auction of 136 FM construction permits and 4 AM construction permits began at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time on April 28 and will close at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time on May 11.  By that deadline, interested parties must file with the FCC their short-form applications (FCC Form 175) setting out information including their ownership and the channels on which they are interested in bidding.    The auction is scheduled to begin on July 27.  A freeze on the filing of FM minor modification applications remains in effect until the end of the auction filing window.  This freeze was imposed to ensure that Commission staff and auction bidders have a stable database to work with during the auction.  Read more about the auction and freeze, here and here.
Continue Reading May Regulatory Dates: Auction Applications for AM and FM Construction Permits for New Radio Stations, New DTS Rules, License Renewals and More

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • At the FCC’s regular monthly Open Meeting, the Commissioners voted to adopt new rules mandating sponsorship identification of foreign government-provided

Earlier this week, we highlighted a letter sent last week from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo asking the FCC to review CALM Act complianceThe letter noted that the FCC has received thousands of complaints about loud commercials in the decade that the law has been in effect without having taken any enforcement action.  The FCC wasted no time in reacting, with Media Bureau issuing a request late Monday for comments on the current rules which implement the law and whether changes to those rules are needed.  Comments are due June 3, 2021, with reply comments due by July 9.

The CALM Act (the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act) was passed in 2011 due to the perception of many in Congress that the volume of commercials on broadcast, cable and satellite television was far higher than that in the programming that surrounded the commercials.  After the legislation was passed, the FCC adopted rules to implement the Act (which we described here).  Those rules were principally based on compliance with a set of ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) recommended practices, to be enforced through a complaint-driven system. The FCC has updated those rules once (when ATSC updated its recommended practices – see our article here).  The FCC now asks if those rules should be revisited to make them more effective in combatting the perceived problem of loud commercials.
Continue Reading FCC Being Anything but CALM About Congressional Letter – Asks for Public Comments on CALM Act Enforcement

As we highlighted yesterday in our weekly summary of regulatory issues for broadcasters, last week saw a letter from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo to the FCC asking for the FCC to review the enforcement of the rules established by the CALM Act, which prohibits loud commercials on TV stations.  The letter cites news reports of thousands of complaints annually to the FCC since the rule’s adoption in 2012 without there ever having been an enforcement action against a station for any violation.  When the CALM Act was passed by Congress, there were many industry questions about how that law could be enforced, as there are many subjective judgments in assessing whether a commercial is louder than the program into which it is inserted (see our article here).  But, ultimately, the FCC adopted rules that were based on industry standards and most parties seemed to believe that they were workable (see our article here about the adoption of those rules).  Like many FCC rules, the CALM Act rules are complaint-driven, and even the article cited by Congresswoman Eshoo recognized the difficulty in assessing the merits of any complaint.

Nevertheless, with this letter and the publicity that it has received in the broadcast trade press, TV stations should carefully review their compliance with the CALM Act rules, as this publicity could signal that the FCC will turn its attention to this issue in the coming months.  In fact, with a Commission that is currently evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans until the vacant seat on the Commission is filled, enforcement of existing FCC rules may well be one place where the current Commission will turn its attention while more controversial (and potentially partisan) rule changes await FCC action.
Continue Reading Congressional Letter to FCC on CALM Act Violations Puts Focus on FCC Enforcement Issues

In the last few weeks, while I was on vacation and otherwise occupied, there have been many big developments in the broadcasting and music industries that I’ll try to write about separately – including the release of the FCC’s Order setting up the first official outline of the television incentive auction process and the Department of Justice beginning an examination of the antitrust consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI.  But a couple of quick FCC decisions bear mentioning here.

First, the FCC announced a change in the CALM Act, regulating loud commercials.  We wrote about the FCC’s order implementing the Act, here.  One of the FCC’s decisions in implementing the Act was that stations could comply with its provisions by meeting the standards set out in A/85 Recommended Practice, a standard adopted by the ATSC (the Advanced Television Standards Committee).  The FCC noted that such standards would be revised from time to time.  That standard has now been revised by ATSC, and stations, to remain in compliance with this safe harbor for compliance under the CALM Act, are expected to comply with the revised standard by June 4, 2015.
Continue Reading Odds and Ends – CALM Act Revisions, New Effective Date for Higher FCC Application Fees, and a Case Exploring the Reach of the FCC Character Policies

The CALM Act, meant to end the dreaded "loud commercial," is set to go into effect tomorrow, December 13. We summarized the requirements for compliance with the Act here. Basically, TV stations must adopt certain practices set out in a series of standards known as A/85 Recommended Practice, adopted by the ATSC (the Advanced Television Standards Committee). As we advised stations, the rules initially required any station needing more time was supposed to ask for a waiver of the rules by October 12. In an Order released on Tuesday, the FCC granted two waivers, and also decided that any other station needing more time could request a waiver as late as the compliance deadline date.

In the order, the Commission granted two waiver requests – one for just a month and a half as the cable system simply had a misunderstanding of what they needed to do to achieve compliance, and the second until the end of May because a TV station was in the middle of a studio move, and promised to install the new compliant equipment at the new studio. The Commission also reminded stations that there are two kinds of waivers available – automatic waivers, upon request, for small stations (those with under $14 million in annual revenue or in a TV market from number 150 to market 210) and small cable systems; and other waivers for stations facing specific problems, including financial hardships. Those who do not qualify as small stations would need to demonstrate the specific hardship justifying the waiver. So any stations or systems seeking a waiver have a last chance to do so, by Thursday.


Continue Reading Compliance Deadline for CALM Act December 13 – FCC Allows Waiver Filings Until that Deadline

This Friday (October 12) is the deadline for requesting a waiver under the FCC’s Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (“CALM”) Act implementing procedures, intended to combat "loud commercials."  We wrote about the implementing rules and the obligations of television stations to come into compliance with the standards set out in the rules, adopting a protocol that seeks to maintain consistency between commercials and surrounding programs, here. The Commission’s order allowed for waiver requests by stations that would have a financial hardship in complying – with such waivers being due 60 days before the compliance deadline. As that deadline for compliance is December 13, the waiver requests are due on Friday.

All such waiver requests must be submitted through the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System.  Waiver applicants must demonstrate that purchasing the required equipment would result in “financial hardship.”  Such waivers, if granted, will be valid for one year and may be renewed for one additional year.  The FCC also retains the authority to issue a waiver for good cause.  “Small stations” are eligible for a streamlined waiver process for demonstrating financial hardship.


Continue Reading CALM Act Waiver Requests Due By October 12

The FCC this week adopted its rules implementing the CALM Act to address the public perception that commercials are too loud – louder than the programming which they accompany. Congress passed a law last year requiring that the FCC address the issue, and this week’s order adopts these implementing rules which will go into effect on December 13, 2012 (see our articles on the passage of the Act here, and on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in this proceeding here). The rules adopted by the FCC allow television stations and MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors – cable and satellite TV companies) to meet the requirements of the Act by relying on the A/85 Recommended Practice, a standard adopted by the ATSC (the Advanced Television Standards Committee) setting out a process by which these TV providers can assure that commercials that they insert into program streams are not louder than the programs that they accompany. The rules also allow a safe harbor by which stations and MVPDs can comply with the Act in connection with “embedded commercials”, i.e. commercials that are sent to the station or system by a network or other program supplier.

The specific requirements for compliance with the new rules depend on whether the advertisements that are being broadcast are originated by the station or system, or whether they come embedded from some third-party program provider. For commercial insertions by the station or MVPD, compliance is assumed if they install the equipment required by A/85, use it in connection with their insertions, and maintain and repair it as necessary to keep it in good working order. For embedded commercials, stations can run all the programming through some sort of real time processing to ensure that the audio loudness is uniform. However the Commission was concerned would audio processing would degrade the audio quality of the programming provided by third parties. Thus, the Commission offered an alternative safe harbor with respect to embedded advertising. To comply with the safe harbor, stations and systems would either:

  • Rely on widely available certifications from networks and other program suppliers that they have complied with the standards necessary to assure that the commercials are no louder than the programming in which they are embedded, or
  • The stations and systems will need to perform “spot checks” on programming for which they have obtained no certification. Spot checks are done as follows:
    • Large stations (with over $14 million in annual 2011 revenue based on BIA Media Access Pro information) and very large MVPDs ( those with over 10 million subscribers) needs to annually spot check 100% of their non-certified programming. Large MVPDs (those with between 500,000 and 10 million subscribers) need to spot check 50% of their programming. Small stations and systems are exempt from regular spot check obligations
    • The spot check is a once-a-year obligation, requiring the station or system to do 24 hours of monitoring within a 7 day period, including at least one complete program from each non-certified program supplier, to ensure that the programs comply with the A/85 standards
    • Spot checks will phase out over 2 years as more and more programming is brought into compliance
    • If a spot check reveals an issue, the station or system needs to notify the program provider and the FCC, and do another spot check of the non-compliant programming within 30 days . If the programming continues to be noncompliant, then the programming is outside the safe harbor (meaning that, if a station or system continues to run it, they can be subject to fines)

The Order also set out additional details about what kinds of programming are subject to the rules, the complaint process for those who believe that stations or systems are not complying with their obligations, and waivers for small stations and systems.  These matters are discussed below.


Continue Reading A Summary of the FCC Rules Implementing the CALM Act to Regulate Loud TV Commercials

For our readers in the television business, there have been recent developments in two proceedings about which we have written recently.  Last week, we wrote about the extension of time to file reply comments on the CALM Act implementation Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, where the FCC is implementing a Congressional act to curb loud commercials

The FCC has granted a short extension for Reply Comments on the implementation of the CALM Act.  The new deadline for Reply Comments is August 1, 2011.  We wrote about the issues in this porceeding here,  The CALM Act ("Commercial Announcement Loudness Mitigation" Act), which must be implemented by the end of this year