public interest obligations

The FCC has announced that the obligation for television broadcast stations to post their public inspection files online will become effective August 2, 2012, absent a stay requested by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which has appealed the rule to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

Absent a stay, the rule requires full power and Class A television stations to post any NEW public file documents online at an FCC-hosted website as of August 2nd.  Those broadcasters will have six months or until February 2, 2013 to post PRE-EXISTING public file documents online. 

The political public file, which is the subject of the NAB appeal, will be treated a bit differently.  NEW political public file documents must be posted effective August 2 by only the top four network affiliated stations (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) in the top 50 markets. There is no requirement to post pre-existing political file documents online.

All other TV stations (i.e. non-network affiliated stations in the top 50 markets and ALL TV stations outside of the top 50 markets), do not have to post political public file documents online until July 1, 2014.


Continue Reading Online Public File Requirement for TV Broadcasters Effective August 2, 2012

The FCC’s proposal to replace the never-implemented Form 355 with a new form to document the public interest programming of television broadcasters (to eventually be expanded to include radio operators) was published in today’s Federal Register – setting January 17 as the comment date for those interested in telling the FCC what they think of

Online public files, detailed reports about virtually every program aired on a television station as to its source and whether it addressed various types of perceived community interests, and other paperwork requirements that would have required most television stations to hire a new employee just to deal with the burden, were all part of mandatory television public interest reporting requirements adopted by the FCC back in 2007 (see our articles here and here on these reports on FCC Form 355).  Similar obligations were also proposed for radio but never adopted.  The TV "enhanced disclosure" rules have never been implemented, however, and were apparently never even submitted to the Office of Management and Budget  for approval of their compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act.  The numerous petitions for reconsideration filed against these rules are on the tentative agenda for the next FCC meeting, to be held on October 27.  Not only is the disposition of these petitions on the agenda, but a proposal for a further proceeding to look at new requirements for an online public file, to be hosted by the FCC, is to be considered at the same time.  What can broadcasters expect to happen?

In the Future of Media Report issued by the Commission earlier this year (actually renamed the Report on the Information Needs of Communities), the FCC study group recommended abolishing these 2007 rules, and terminating the proceeding looking at imposing them on radio (see our summary here).  The Report seemed to recognize that the reports were far too burdensome on licensees, and were not reasonably related to the current FCC rules on programming.  In essence, the reports required the collection of lots of information, without any regulatory purpose for the information collected.  In light of these findings, and the 4 year delay in implementing the rules already adopted, it seems safe to conclude that the 2007 rules are probably on their way out.  But the accompanying notice suggesting that the FCC will begin a new rulemaking to look at the online public inspection files, to be hosted by the FCC, raises questions about what will replace the 2007 rules.


Continue Reading TV Public Interest Obligations and Online Public Inspection File on Agenda for Next FCC Meeting

The end of September marks the close of the Third Quarter of 2011, which brings two quarterly filing obligations for broadcast stations.  The first obligation is that by October 10 all radio and television stations, both commercial and noncommercial, must prepare and place in their public inspection file Quarterly Issues Programs Lists reporting on the important

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

A reminder to all radio and television broadcast stations, both commercial and noncommercial, that Quarterly Issues Programs Lists reporting on the important issues facing the stations’ communities, and the programs aired in the months of July, August, and September dealing with those issues must be prepared and placed in the stations’ public inspection file

In our recent summary of the Commission’s order on Digital Radio, we wrote about the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that raised specific proposals to adopt new rules regulating the public interest obligations of radio broadcasters.  These proposals included the possible requirements for a standardized disclosure form for a stations public service programs, limits on a station’s ability to originate programming from locations other than the station’s main studio, and possible limitations on the current ability of stations to operate without manned studios.  A recent Commission decision reminds television broadcasters that there is another proceeding – one six years old – that proposes many of the same restrictions on television broadcasters.  Does the recent mention of this proceeding that so closely parallels the recent radio proposals indicate that some action may soon be forthcoming on the TV proceeding?

The TV proceeding was mentioned in an FCC decision released last week rejecting Petitions to Deny that had been filed against a number of license renewal applications for television stations in Wisconsin and Illinois alleging that the stations had not adequately served the public interest through the broadcast of issue responsive programming, especially programming covering election issues.  In rejecting those Petitions, the FCC stated that its ability to second guess the editorial discretion of a licensee was limited by the First Amendment and by the Communications Act’s prohibition against broadcast censorship.  In this case, the FCC said that the showing made by the Petitioner was not sufficient to demonstrate that the stations had not served the public interest of their communities.  However, the decision noted that the Commission was considering quantitative standards for evaluating the public service of broadcast licensees, citing to the long-pending rulemaking proceeding, and implying that the evaluation of these licensees might have been at least somewhat different had these proposed standards been in place.


Continue Reading Enhanced Public Interest Requirements for TV Too?

We recently wrote about the FCC’s proceeding to assess the status of stations that are primarily home shopping in nature – to determine if such stations are serving the public interest and are entitled to must carry status on cable systems.  The FCC has just issued an Order extending the comment deadline in that proceeding. 

Two long awaited broadcast items seem to be missing in action at the FCC. Both the final rules on digital radio ("HD radio") and the Commission’s Notice of Proposed rulemaking on using FM translators to fill in gaps of the signals of AM stations, while expected quite a while ago, have still not been released by the FCC. The digital radio item, adopting rules on digital radio, eliminating the need to file for experimental authority for multi-channel FM operations and allowing AM stations to operate digitally at night, was adopted by the FCC at its meeting in March, yet the final text of the decision still hasn’t been released.  As the text has not been released, the effective date of the new rules has not been set.  Those AM stations ready to kick on their nighttime digital operations continue to wait.

As we explained in our previous posting on this matter, here, the digital radio order also contains a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, addressing issues such as the public interest obligations of broadcasters on their multicast digital channels. That was one of the items that was supposedly delayed the action that finally occurred at the March meeting, and perhaps it is delaying the release of the text of the order in this proceeding


Continue Reading Radio Items Missing In Action at the FCC