This afternoon, the FCC issued an erratum revising the deadline for submitting Comments in the rule making proceeding regarding potential modifications to the ownership report filing requirements for noncommercial broadcasters.  Comments in this proceeding are now due by June 26th, not June 29th as previously indicated.  Please see our earlier post, here, discussing the

UPDATE:  On June 2, the FCC issued an erratum revising the Comment date in this proceeding to June 26th.  We’ve updated our earlier post to reflect the change.

The FCC today issued a Public Notice announcing the filing deadline for comments regarding potential modifications to the ownership report filing requirements for noncommercial broadcasters (see our

The FCC today issued a Notice of Inquiry into the use of the Portable People Meter technology of radio audience measurement now being rolled out by Arbitron in radio markets throughout the country.  Several months ago, various groups petitioned the FCC for an inquiry into the PPM, contending that it has certain methodological flaws that undercounted particular groups, including minority groups, and thus could have an impact on the financial viability of the stations listened to by such groups (see our summary  of the petitions and the issues raised by these petitions).  The Notice of Inquiry asks about those perceived flaws, about the potential impact of any flaws on the use of Arbitron market definitions for purposes of the FCC radio multiple ownership rules, and on the more general question of whether the FCC even has the jurisdiction to regulate the use of the PPM.

Specific questions on which the FCC seeks comments include:

  • Does the use of this technology really undercount minority populations?
  • If so, what has been the impact on the economics of minority-formatted stations in markets where the system is in use?
  • Are there specific information gathering techniques that should be improved in the PPM system?
  • What has been the effect on the PPM system of settlements between Arbitron and the Attorneys General of several states – where Arbitron promised to change its sampling process?
  • What is the impact of Media Ratings Council accreditation for the PPM in certain markets, and its lack of accreditation in others?
  • Do the questions about PPM reliability have any impact on the use of Arbitron to define radio markets for FCC multiple ownership purposes?
  • What is the FCC’s jurisdiction to review Arbitron’s practices in connection with the PPM? 

Details of these questions can be found in the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry at pages 12-17.


Continue Reading FCC Begins Formal Inquiry Into Arbitron PPM Audience Measurement

At its meeting today, the FCC decided to revamp its Ownership Report filing process – requiring all stations to file Biennial Ownership Reports on FCC Form 323 on November 1 of this year – even stations that have just filed those reports in the normal course in the last few months.  All stations will have to file every two years thereafter – on November 1 of every other year.  Reports will also be required from Low Power TV stations and Class A TV stations, which have not in the past had to file reports.  Reports will also be required from stations that are owned by an individual, and by general partnerships in which all of the partners are individuals (or, in the FCC’s legalese, "natural persons").  In the past, such stations did not have to file reports as any change in ownership would have required, at a minimum, the filing of a Form 316 short-form assignment or transfer application.  Finally, the Commission will require the reporting of the interests of currently non-attributable owners who are not attributable simply because there is a single majority shareholder in the licensee.

The FCC is not asking for this information because it wants to track improper transfers, but instead so that it can gather information about the racial and gender make-up of the broadcast ownership universe.  This information has been required on ownership reports for the last ten years, but the FCC did not believe that the system was extensive enough to capture all information about the ownership of broadcast properties, as so many stations were not covered by the requirements.  Why does the FCC want racial and gender information about the owners of stations?  To potentially take more aggressive actions to encourage minority ownership.  The FCC has considered such actions in the past, but has not felt that it take actions specifically targeted to minority and female applicants, as there was no record of past discrimination in the broadcast industry.  The government can constitutionally only make racial or gender-based decisions if these decisions are to remedy the effects of past discrimination.  To justify such acts, the government agency must demonstrate the past discrimination – and these new filing requirements are meant to gather that information through what is called an Adarand study.  In the recent past, when it adopted certain diversity initiatives for designated entities (like the ability of a designated entity to buy an expiring construction permit and get an extension, which we recently wrote about here), the Commission had to define a designated entity as a "small business" defined by SBA standards.  Chairman Copps today said that this definition did not truly benefit diversity as favoring small businesses "generally benefit white males."


Continue Reading FCC to Require New Ownership Reports from all Commerical Broadcasters on November 1

With Barack Obama’s historic victory just sinking in, all over Washington (and no doubt elsewhere in the country), the speculation begins as to what the new administration will mean to various sectors of the economy (though, in truth, that speculation has been going on for months).  What will his administration mean for broadcasters?  Will the Obama administration mean more regulation?  Will the fairness doctrine make a return?  What other issues will highlight his agenda?  Or will the administration be a transformational one – looking at issues far beyond traditional regulatory matters to a broader communications policy that will look to make the communications sector one that will help to drive the economy?  Some guesses, and some hopes, follow.

First, it should be emphasized that, in most administrations, the President has very little to do with the shaping of FCC policy beyond his appointment of the Commissioners who run the agency.  As we have seen with the current FCC, the appointment of the FCC Chairman can be the defining moment in establishing a President’s communications policy.  The appointment of Kevin Martin has certainly shaped FCC policy toward broadcasters in a way that would never have been expected in a Republican administration, with regulatory requirements and proposals that one could not have imagined 4 years ago from the Bush White House.  To see issues like localism, program content requirements and LPFM become such a large part of the FCC agenda can be directly attributed to the personality and agenda of the Chairman, rather than to the President.  But, perhaps, an Obama administration will be different.


Continue Reading The Promise of an Obama Administration for Broadcast and Communications Regulation

Last week, the FCC released a Public Notice asking for comments on whether it should begin a Section 403 investigation into the use of Arbitron’s Portable People Meter ("PPM").  A coalition of broadcast groups, the "PPM Coalition," principally comprised of broadcasters providing service to minority communities, sought the investigation as a way of delaying the implementation of the PPM technology next month in a number of large broadcast markets.  In their request, which can be found on the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council website, the PPM Coalition argues that the investigation is justified based on the Commission’s objectives (and various administrative and legislative mandates) to improve minority ownership in broadcasting.  The PPM Coalition contends that methodology problems in PPM implementation result in artificially low ratings for minority owned stations.  These parties argue that, if the system is implemented, a number of minority-programmed stations will disappear.  Arbitron has argued that the Commission does not have the jurisdiction to regulate ratings services (who are obviously not FCC licensees) or the methodology that they use.  Comments on the request for an investigatory hearing are due on September 24, and replies on October 6 (two days before the PPM system is to be implemented in eight markets).

Section 403 of the Communications Act gives the Federal Communications Commission the power to conduct investigations of any complaint of any violation of its rules or of provisions of the Communications Act, or to explore any other matter relating to the provisions of the Act.  Such investigations are often conducted before an Administrative Law Judge, but can be conducted before the Commission itself, and allow the FCC to use full discovery techniques (e.g. document production requests and depositions) and to conduct an evidenciary hearing.  In the past, the process was used much more frequently.  It has been used both to investigate specific complaints of possible misconduct by individual licensees, and to conduct broader inquiries into business practices in a regulated industry to decide if FCC regulation was necessary.  For instance, in the 1960s, there was an investigation into network practices to determine if those practices required FCC action to regulate the network-affiliate relationship.  In recent years, the power has been rarely used, and when used has tended to relate to specific allegations of misconduct to determine if the FCC should bring some sort of enforcement action against a regulated entity.


Continue Reading FCC Seeks Comment on Whether to Begin Investigation of Arbitron PPM – How Far Does FCC Regulatory Power Extend?

We recently wrote about the Federal Communications Commission’s actions in their Diversity docket, designed to promote new entrants into the ranks of broadcast station owners. In addition to the rules adopted in the proceeding, the FCC is seeking comment on a number of other ideas – some to restrict the definition of the Designated Entities that are eligible to take advantage of these rules, others to expand the universe of media outlets available to potential broadcast owners – including proposals to expand the FM band onto TV channels 5 and 6, and proposals to allow certain AM stations, which were to be returned to the FCC after their owners received construction permits for expanded band stations, to retain those stations or transfer them to Designated Entities. The proposals, on which public comment is being sought, are summarized below.

Definition of Designated Entity. The first issue raised by the Commission deals with whether the class of applicants entitled to Designated Entity status and entitled to take advantage of the Commission’s diversity initiatives should be restricted. One proposal is to restrict the Designated Entity status to companies controlled by racial minorities. The Commission expressed skepticism about that proposal, noting that the courts had throw out several versions of the FCC’s EEO rules, finding that there was insufficient justification offered by the FCC to constitutionally justify raced-based preferences. The Commission asked that proponents of such preferences provide a “compelling” showing of needed, as necessary for a constitutional justification for governmental race-based discrimination.


Continue Reading FCC’s Acts to Increase Diversity in Media Ownership – Part 2, The Proposals for Future Actions – Channel 6 for FM, AM Expanded Band, Definition of Designated Entity, Must Carry for Class A TV and Others

The FCC has released its agenda for its December 18 meeting – and it promises to be one of the most important,and potentially most contentious, in recent memory.  On the agenda is the Commission’s long awaited decision on the Chairman’s broadcast multiple ownership plan relaxing broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rules (see our summary here).  Also, the FCC will consider a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Localism issues (pending issues summarized here) following the conclusion of its nationwide hearings on the topic, as well as an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on initiatives to encourage broadcast ownership by minorities and other new entrants (summary here).  For cable companies, the Commission has scheduled a proposed order on national ownership limits.  And, in addition to all these issues on ownership matters, the FCC will also consider revising its sponsorship identification rules to determine if new rules need to be adopted to cover "embedded advertising", i.e. product placement in broadcast programs.  All told, these rules could result in fundamental changes in the media landscape.

The broadcast ownership items, dealing with broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership, localism and diversity initiatives, all grow out of the Commission’s attempts to change the broadcast ownership rules in 2003.  That attempt was largely rejected by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which remanded most of the rules back to the FCC for further consideration, including considerations about their impact on minority ownership.  The localism proceeding was also an outgrowth of that proceeding, started as an attempt by the Commission to deal with consolidation critics who felt that the public had been shut out of the process of determining the rules in 2003, and claiming that big media was neglecting the needs and interests of local audiences.


Continue Reading FCC Meeting Agenda for December 18 – Potentially One of the Most Important in Recent Memory – Multiple Ownership, Localism, Minority Ownership, Product Placement and Cable TV National Ownership Caps

The FCC has released the agenda for its Open Meeting to be held on Tuesday, November 27.  The agenda is full of issues of importance to broadcasters, and several items may resolve issues that may be troubling – including issues relating to low power FM stations (LPFM) and resolving a long outstanding proceeding concerning the possibility of mandatory public interest obligations for TV stations.  The Commission also has on tap initiatives to encourage the entry of minorities and other new entrants into the broadcast business – even though comments on the Commission’s proposals on this matter were received just a month ago.

First, the Commission is to release an Order on Low Power FM.  We have written about some of the issues that could be decided previously – including issues of whether or not to allow the assignment and transfer of such stations (here) and whether to give these stations preferences over translators and even improvements in full power stations (here and here).

On the TV side, the Commission seems ready to issue an order on the public interest obligations of television operators.  We wrote about the proposals – made as part of the Commission’s DTV proceedings (though to be applicable to all TV stations), here.  Proposed rules included the standardization of quarterly issues programs lists, making station’s public fies available on the Internet, and quantifying other public interest obligations. 


Continue Reading FCC Meeting to Consider LPFM Reform, Public Interest Requirements for TV Stations, and Minority Ownership Proposals