The FCC recently issued a declaratory ruling (which we summarized here) addressing the requirement that broadcasters widely disseminate information about all of their job openings in such a way as to reach all of the groups within their communities. The recent FCC decision stated that a broadcaster can now rely solely on online sources to meet the wide dissemination obligation. In the past, the sole reliance on online sources would have brought a fine from the FCC, so this is a big change for broadcasters – one which recognizes the realities in the world today as to where people actually go to find information about job openings .

This decision does not end all other EEO obligations imposed by the FCC rules. The Indiana Broadcasters Association recently asked me 5 questions about that new decision to highlight some of the other obligations that still arise under the FCC’s EEO rules. Here is that discussion of the continuing obligations under the EEO rules:

  1.  The FCC recently issued a Declaratory Ruling about how Job Openings should be posted.  What’s changing?

The FCC is now permitting broadcasters (and cable companies) to meet their obligation to widely disseminate information about their job openings solely through the use of online recruitment sources. In the past, broadcasters were fined if they did not, in addition to online sources, use recruitment sources such as community groups, employment agencies, educational institutions and newspapers to solicit candidates for virtually all open positions at any station. Under the FCC’s new ruling, a broadcaster can use online recruitment sources as their sole means of meeting their obligation to widely disseminate information about job openings, as long as the broadcaster reasonably believes that the online source or sources that it uses are sufficient to reach members of the diverse groups represented in its community.
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The FCC on Friday released a declaratory ruling making it significantly easier for broadcasters and MVPDs to meet their EEO obligations imposed by FCC rules.  These rules for broadcasters and MVPDs (cable and satellite TV providers) requires that these businesses, when filling job openings, widely disseminate information about the openings in a manner that is expected to reach members of all community groups in the area from which employees are likely to be found.  In the past, under the rules adopted in 2002, the Commission has not allowed recruitment to be conducted solely through online sources.  Instead, the 2002 order suggested that the daily newspaper would, in many communities, be an outlet that would reach the diverse groups within a community – though most broadcasters supplemented newspaper publication with notifications to numerous schools, community organizations, educational institutions and others who might possibly refer employee candidates.  Stations that relied solely on online sources faced substantial fines from the FCC (see the cases we summarized here and here).

The decision on Friday recognized that we are in a different world than when these rules were adopted almost 15 years ago.  Now, most recruiting is done online.  Thus, in response to a petition I filed on behalf of clients (summarized here), the FCC determined that a broadcaster or MVPD can rely solely on online sources in its recruiting.  It no longer needs to use the newspaper, reach out to community groups community groups or even use its own airwaves to give notice of job openings to satisfy the wide dissemination obligation.  The FCC encouraged stations to continue to use some of these outreach methods, but it is no longer required.  The broadcaster or MVPD needs to be reasonable in picking online sources that are likely to reach the members of various groups within its community – though the decision as to exactly which online employment sources to use will be left to the good-faith discretion of the broadcaster or MVPD.  The Commission went so far as to say that, depending on the circumstances, a single online source could reasonably be found to be sufficient.
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A new President and a new Chair of the FCC have already demonstrated that change is in the air in Washington. Already we’ve seen Chairman Pai lead the FCC to abolish the requirement that broadcasters maintain letters from the public about station operations in their public file (which will take effect once the Paperwork Reduction Act analysis is finalized), revoke the Media Bureau guidance that had limited Shared Services Agreements in connection with the sales of television stations, and rescind for further consideration FCC decisions about the reporting of those with attributable interests in noncommercial broadcast stations and the admonitions given to TV stations for violations of the obligation for reporting the issues discussed in, and sponsors of, political ads (see our article here). Also on the table for consideration next week are orders that have already been released for public review on expanding the use of FM translators for AM stations and proposing rules for the roll-out of the new ATSC 3.0 standard for television. Plus, the television incentive auction moves toward its conclusion in the repacking of the television spectrum to clear space for new wireless users. Plenty of action in just over 3 weeks.

But there are many other broadcast issues that are unresolved to one degree or another – and potentially new issues ready to be discussed by the FCC this year. We usually dust off the crystal ball and make predictions about the legal issues that will impact the business of broadcasters earlier in the year, but we have waited this year to get a taste for the changes in store from the new administration. So we’ll try to look at the issues that are on the table in Washington that could affect broadcasters, and make some general assessments on the likelihood that they will be addressed this year. While we try to look ahead to identify the issues that are on the agenda of the FCC, there are always surprises as the regulators come up with issues that we did not anticipate. With this being the first year of a new administration that promises a different approach to regulation generally, what lies ahead is particularly hard to predict.
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The FCC yesterday issued a Public Notice of the filing of a Petition for Rulemaking asking the FCC to declare that a broadcaster, by using its own airwaves and online sources to publicize job openings at its station, satisfies the requirement that a broadcaster widely disseminate information about job openings to members of all groups within its likely recruiting area. In 2002, when the FCC adopted its current EEO rules, it determined that online recruiting would not widely disseminate information about job openings in the way that a local newspaper would given the digital divide that the FCC thought existed at that time. But, the FCC said that it would later revisit that decision as circumstances change. The petition suggests that circumstances have indeed changed in the 14 years since the rules were adopted, that online recruiting is how people now find and apply for new jobs, and that it is time that the FCC recognize that fact and allow online recruiting to satisfy the obligation that a broadcaster give its community notice of job openings. Comments are due January 30, and replies on February 14.

The FCC has up to this point actively enforced its prohibition on station’s relying solely on its own airwaves and online sources for recruiting purposes, fining stations who meet their wide dissemination obligations solely by relying on such sources (see our articles about such cases here and here). But some at the FCC itself have recognized that this position no longer makes sense – including Commissioner O’Rielly who, in a blog post we wrote about here, suggested that broadcast recruiting in today’s world is appropriately done online, and that the FCC’s rules should reflect that fact. As set out in the Petition, Julius Genachowski, then-chairman of the FCC, recognized in a speech that: “In today’s world, you need broadband to find a job and apply for a job, because companies increasingly require online applications.” The petition notes that the FCC has recognized that the Internet is fine for public files and contest rules, so shouldn’t it also be found to be sufficient to get out the word about job openings?
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After months of speculation, Chairman Wheeler today announced that he will step down from the FCC on Inauguration Day. Together with the Senate not confirming the renomination of Commissioner Rosenworcel (as the Senate is effectively on recess and not expected to return before the end of the term, her renomination will almost certainly not be approved in this session of Congress, meaning that she must step down when the Congress adjourns on January 3), that leaves three Commissioners on the FCC. Two are the current Republican commissioners – Pai and O’Rielly – and Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. What will that mean for broadcasters?

First, it is expected that one of the two Republicans will be named as Acting Chairman to set the agenda for the first few months of the Trump administration, until a permanent Chair is announced (and confirmed by the Senate, if that Chair is not one of the two current Republicans). These commissioners have been vocal in their dissents on several big issues for broadcasters – including the repeal of the UHF discount (about which we wrote earlier this week) and on other issues dealing with the ownership of television stations – including the decision to not repeal the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules, and the decision to reinstate the FCC’s ban on Joint Sales Agreements in TV unless they are done between stations that can be co-owned. We already speculated about these issues being on the Republican agenda soon after the election. What other issues are likely to be considered?
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