multilingual EAS alerts

The license renewal cycle, about which we have been warning broadcasters for at least the last year (see, for instance, our posts here, here and here), is now upon us. June 3 is the filing deadline for license renewals for radio stations in Maryland, DC, Virginia and West Virginia. Radio stations (including FM translators and LPFMs) licensed to any community in any of those states should be filing their renewal applications in the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS) by Monday’s deadline. The new FCC forms, as we wrote here, have been available since early May, so the renewal and the accompanying EEO program report should either be on file or ready to be filed in LMS by the June 3 filing deadline. These stations should also be running their postfiling license renewal announcements on the 1st and 16th of June, July and August. Radio stations in the next renewal group, in North and South Carolina, should begin their license renewal pre-filing announcements on June 1st and 16th as well, informing the public about the upcoming filing of their renewals due on August 1. See this article on pre-filing announcements for more information.

In addition, broadcasters in Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees should also be preparing to add to their online public inspection file their Annual EEO Public File Report. This report is due to be added to their online public files by June 1. A link to this report should also be placed on the station’s website, if it has a website.
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As we wrote here, MMTC (a DC-based public interest group) had petitioned the US Court of Appeals for a Rehearing on its decision (about which we wrote here) upholding the FCC decision deciding not to impose any multilingual EAS obligations on broadcasters.  The full Court of Appeals has just issued a one

While November is an odd numbered month in which there are no deadlines for EEO Public File or Mid-term Reports, and it is not the beginning of a new calendar quarter when Quarterly Issues Programs Reports are added to a station’s public file and Quarterly Children’s Television Reports are filed with the FCC, that does not mean that there are no dates of interest to broadcasters this month. In fact, there are numerous policy issues that will be decided this month, and filing dates both for television broadcasters and AM broadcasters seeking FM translators for their stations.

The biggest policy dates will be November 16, when the FCC holds its monthly meeting, with two major broadcast items on the agenda. As we wrote here, the FCC will be considering both the adoption of ATSC 3.0, the new television transmission system promising better mobile reception and more data transmission capabilities for TV stations, and the reconsideration of last year’s decision on the ownership rules, where the FCC is expected to repeal the broadcast-newspaper and radio television cross-ownership rules and loosen the restrictions on TV duopolies in markets where such duopolies cannot now be formed.
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The United States Court of Appeals yesterday issued an order denying the appeal of an FCC order that rejected a requirement that multilingual EAS alerts be provided in every market.  We wrote about the FCC’s proceeding here and here. The Court upheld the FCC’s decision as reasonable, finding that the Commission did not have enough evidence to determine how such alerts should be implemented on a nationwide basis, and noting that the FCC was still reviewing whether to adopt requirements that broadcasters provide alerts in languages other than English in the future. That decision should serve as a reminder that in the FCC order rejecting the call to mandate multilingual EAS alerts in all markets, the Commission did call for broadcasters to supply more information – information that is due in early November.

In 2016, when the FCC rejected the imposition of multilingual EAS alerts, they imposed an obligation on broadcast stations to report to their State Emergency Coordinating Committees (“SECC”) information about what the stations are doing to implement multilingual EAS – including a description of any plans they have to implement such alerts in the future, and whether or not there are significant populations of non-English speaking groups in their communities that would need such alerts. We wrote about that obligation here. The one year deadline would seem to be November 3, one year after the FCC’s order was published in the Federal Register (though an FCC small-business compliance guide summarizing the obligations, released in August, available here, states on the top of page 3 that the deadline is November 6).  In any event, given the Court’s decision relying on the FCC gathering information about the provision of emergency alerts to non-English speaking communities, it is important that stations provide their SECCs by early November.  The FCC’s Small Business Compliance Guide is a good summary of what is required.
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Earlier this year, the FCC decided not to adopt a proposal that would have required at least one broadcast station in each community to provide emergency alerts to local listeners who do not speak English. The FCC decision deciding to not mandate multilingual EAS alerts is here, and our article on the initial proposal

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

With so much going on at the FCC and in connection with other topics that we consider, I’m sometimes late getting to all of the issues that arise, and sometimes never mention some of them.  But there is one interesting and important proceeding that the Commission has recently resuscitated and is worthy of mention – the proposal to mandate multilingual emergency alerts by broadcast stations – even when the station broadcasting in a language other than English is knocked off the air by some local emergency.  The proposal would require that all primary EAS stations broadcast national alerts in both English and Spanish, and that state EAS plans should designate stations to provide emergency information in other languages where there are significant populations that have a primary language other than English or Spanish.  Not only that, but English language stations in these areas are proposed to have to play a back-up role, ready to step in and provide emergency information in one of these languages should the primary station serving a particular non-English speaking population be forced off the air.  Comments on this proposal are due on April 28, and replies by May 12.

This is not a new proposal, having first been raised by MMTC (the Minority Media Telecommunications Council) in 2005 after there was a perceived failure to get information to minority populations in the area of Hurricane Katrina.  In recent filings, MMTC has suggested that broadcasters need to work together with local authorities to develop a plan that communicates each party’s responsibility based on likely contingencies. Specifically, MMTC stated, “Such a plan could be modeled after the current EAS structure that could include a ‘designated hitter’ approach to identify which stations would step in to broadcast multilingual information if the original non-English speaking station was knocked off air in the wake of a disaster.” What are the potential issues with such an approach? 
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