Earlier today, we wrote about the FCC’s reminder that TV broadcasters must, by February 4, complete the upload to their FCC-mandated online public inspection file all materials from the current renewal term that were created prior to the August 2 effective date of the online public inspection file requirement.  We noted that the FCC had not addressed the question of stations that had outstanding renewals from the last renewal term – which could potentially mandate that some stations upload as much as 16 years worth of material to their online files.  Well, today, the FCC issued another decision waiving its rules so that stations only need to post Quarterly Issues Programs lists from the current license term on their online public files – subject to some caveats.

There are certain limits on this waiver.  If the limits are not met, then all Quarterly Issues Programs lists, back to the last granted renewal, have to be posted to the online public file.  The limits include the following:

  1. The last renewal cannot have been opposed by a member of the public.
  2. The delay in the renewal cannot have been caused by issues relating to the public interest service of the station to its local service area
  3. The station must continue to keep the Quarterly Issues Programs lists from the last renewal cycle at the station in a paper public file.

This decision does not relieve stations from all obligations to post materials from prior renewal terms, as described below.


Continue Reading FCC Grants Certain TV Stations Limited Waiver from Online Public File Obligations for Documents from Prior Renewal Terms

The six months that the FCC gave to television stations to upload the contents of their paper public files to their new online public file seemed like a long time back in August, when the deadline was announced and the online public file rule became effective. But that deadline is upon us, and the FCC yesterday issued a reminder that television broadcasters (full power and Class A stations) need to have all of their required documents uploaded to their online public file by Monday, February 4.  The 6 month deadline actually falls on the weekend, so the FCC has given stations to the end of the day on Monday to come into compliance. The Commission has even offered to have people at the FCC over the coming weekend to answer questions about the uploading process for all those waiting until the last-minute to comply. 

As made clear in the public notice, no broadcasters need to upload contents of their political files that existed prior to the August 2 effective date of the rules. TV Broadcasters who are affiliates of the Big 4 networks in the Top 50 markets should already be uploading new political file material onto their online files, while other TV broadcasters have until July 1, 2014 before they are subject to the requirement that they upload their new political materials to the online file. In neither case do stations have to upload political file materials that precede the date that the obligation applies to their station. 


Continue Reading FCC Issues Reminder that TV Stations Need to Complete Online Public File By February 4 – Upload Documents Including All Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and EEO Public File Reports Since the Last License Renewal Grant

February is almost upon us, and it brings a host of regulatory obligations for broadcasters – as well as the filing deadline for those interested in pursuing new FM channels in an upcoming auction, and a number of opportunities to comment on important FCC proceedings. The week before last, TV NewsCheck published our latest quarterly update on the regulatory issues facing television broadcasters – and these include several with February dates. Most importantly (at least in the short term), there is the obligation for television broadcasters to upload to their Online Public Inspection file all documents created before the August 2 effective date of the rules (but for documents relating to political broadcasting).   So documents that had been kept in paper – like Annual EEO Public Inspection File Reports and Quarterly Issues Programs Lists – need to be in the Online Public File by the beginning of the month. 

In the longer term, while not due in February, comments to be filed this Friday (January 25) on the television incentive auction process, will need to be analyzed in preparation for the Reply comments due on March 12 in this most important proceeding which may well define the composition of over-the-air television in the coming years. Comments on the FCC proceeding on expanding the information gathered in the Form 323 Biennial Ownership Reports are also due in February – just in time for Valentine’s Day on the 14th

 


Continue Reading February Legal Deadlines for Broadcasters – Online Public File, Review of Incentive Auction Comments, Filing Deadline for FM Auction, and Lots of Renewals and EEO Public File Reports

Every year, about this time, I dust off the crystal ball to offer a look at the year ahead to see what Washington has in store for broadcasters. This year, like many in the recent past, Washington will consider important issues for both radio and TV, as well as issues affecting the growing on-line presence of broadcasters. The FCC, Congress, and other government agencies are never afraid to provide their views on what the industry should be doing but, unlike other members of the broadcasters’ audience, they can force broadcasters to pay attention to their views by way of new laws and regulations. And there is never a shortage of ideas from Washington as to how broadcasters should act. Some of the issues discussed below are perennials, coming back over and over again on my yearly list (often without resolution), while others are unique to this coming year.

Last week, we published a calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters.  This article looks ahead, providing a preview of what other changes might be coming for broadcasters this year – but these are delivered with no guarantees that the issues listed will in fact bubble up to the top of the FCC’s long list of pending items, or that they will be resolved when we predict. But at least this gives you some warning of what might be coming your way this year. Issues unique to radio and TV, and those that could affect the broadcast industry generally, are addressed below.

General Broadcast Issues

 

There are numerous issues before the FCC that affect both radio and television broadcasters, some of which have been pending for many years and are ripe for resolution, while others are raised in proceedings that are just beginning. These include:

 

Multiple Ownership Rules Review: The FCC is very close to resolving its Quadrennial review of its multiple ownership proceeding, officially begun in 2011 with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The rumors were that the FCC was ready to issue an order at the end of 2012 relaxing the rules against the cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers, as well as the radio-television cross-interest prohibitions, while leaving most other rules in place. TV Joint Sales Agreements were also rumored to be part of the FCC’s considerations – perhaps making some or all of these agreements attributable. But even these modest changes in the rules are now on hold, while parties submit comments on the impact of any relaxation of the ownership rules on minority ownership. Still, we would expect that some decision on changes to the ownership rules should be expected at some point this year – probably early in the year. 


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – What Washington Has In Store For Broadcasters in 2013

The care and feeding of the broadcaster’s public file is a hot topic once again. For many years, the public file was often overlooked, being visited most often by competing broadcasters looking for dirt on their cross-town rivals, or by college journalism students assigned a project by their professor requiring the review of local stations’ files. But, with the debate that occurred earlier this year over the online public file for television stations, the file has received much publicity, being the subject of review and analysis in the popular and academic press, as well as in the broadcast trade journals. This week, the FCC issued a reminder about the obligations of a television broadcaster for complying with the public file rules (see that reminder here). In the past two weeks, I’ve conducted two seminars for broadcast groups on the public file obligations of stations. The first was a webinar for 20 state broadcast associations and their members, organized by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. The PowerPoint slides used in that presentation are available here.

The slides set out information about the importance of the file, and provide some description of the required contents of the file, and the retention period for documents that need to be contained in the file. Radio stations have the obligation to place all of the required documents in their local, paper files and maintain them there for the appropriate period of time. TV stations, with the advent of the FCC-hosted public file (see one of our previous posts on the mechanics of the online file here), actually have a somewhat easier time in meeting some of their obligations – as the FCC itself will post to the file all documents that stations are required to file with the FCC – including renewal and technical applications, ownership reports, children’s television reports, coverage maps, the station license and the Public and Broadcasting procedure manual. Radio stations need to find all of these documents and manually place them into their files. TV stations need only upload other information that is not filed at the FCC – like Quarterly Issues Programs lists, annual EEO Public File Reports, and certifications as to the station’s compliance with the Children’s television commercial limits. Beyond these basics, in the seminars that I recently conducted, several other interesting questions were raised.


Continue Reading The Care and Feeding of the Broadcaster’s Public Inspection File – An FCC Reminder and a Compliance Seminar

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

With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the US East Coast, the FCC has issued reminders to consumers and communications companies about what to do in areas affected by the storm. Late Friday, it issued two public notices. The first public notice advised broadcasters and other communications companies that the FCC will be available 24-7 over the weekend and during the storm to answer calls about service outages, to assist where possible in restoring any lost service, and to issue emergency authorizations for temporary facilities.  As we have written before, the FCC has been helpful in past disasters – seemingly able to bridge bureaucratic barriers that might otherwise delay the restoration of communications services.  The second public notice was directed to consumers, telling them to try a variety of means to communicate if one service is not working, suggesting text messages if mobile networks are affected by the storm, and urging that communications be kept short and limited to immediate needs so as not to overload any communications systems.

The FCC did not issue another notice that is usually issued in these circumstances, but we will remind television broadcasters and other video providers of their obligations to visually present any information that identifies an immediate threat or which conveys actionable information about an emergency to the public.  This information was related to broadcasters in a Public Notice issued just before Hurricane Isaac reminding video providers – particularly television stations, but other video providers as well – that they need to visually present emergency information that they may be conveying verbally on the air so that the hearing impaired have access to that information, and similarly that information that is provided visually (e.g. through a crawl), be also provided aurally, or at least alert tones must be used to put the visually-impaired on notice of the fact that emergency information is running on the station.  It is important that video providers remember this obligation, as many complaints are filed with the FCC each year by groups who represent those with a disability, calling television stations to task for not meeting their captioning obligations.


Continue Reading FCC Issues Emergency Communications Reminders to Broadcasters and Other Communications Entities in the Path of Hurricane Sandy

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 has released its agenda for its September meeting, and it is an important one for television broadcasters. On the agenda for the meeting to be held this Friday, September 28, is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek comments on its proposals to implement the Congressional authority to hold incentive auctions to clear part of the television spectrum so that the spectrum can be used for wireless broadband purposes (see our summary of the legislative authority here). Obviously, this will decision will be important for the television industry, as well as for companies looking to deploy additional wireless broadband and those hoping to reach consumers using wireless broadband.

This proceeding will necessarily be very complex, as it will need to design a system that will take into account many moving parts. First, it will need to take bids from those television stations that are willing to turn in their licenses, or to share spectrum with another station or move to a VHF channel – all of which might qualify the station for compensation. While keeping these bids secret, the Commission must also take bids to buy the cleared spectrum from wireless companies.  The Commission needs to determine if enough money will be received from these bids to pay for stations to turn in their licenses, to repack the remaining TV stations into a smaller television band that will free some television channels to allow for a contiguous swath of spectrum that the wireless operators can use, to pay the auction costs, and to pay for certain public safety wireless uses that are to be subsidized by the auction proceeds. The Commission will also have to design a process for repacking TV stations into a smaller television band, in many ways replicating the process that the FCC went through when it compacted the TV spectrum during the digital transition.


Continue Reading FCC To Consider Incentive Auctions for TV Spectrum This Week

With Hurricane Isaac soon to make landfall on the Gulf Coast, the FCC is issuing its usual reminders to broadcasters and other communications facilities in areas that are likely to be affected by the storm.  It has today issued two public notices.  The first Public Notice reminds video providers – particularly television stations, but other video providers as well – that they need to present visually emergency information that they may be conveying verbally on the air so that those that are hearing impaired have access to that information, and similarly that information that is provided visually (e.g. through a crawl), be also provided aurally, or at least alert tones must be used to put the visually-impaired on notice of the fact that emergency information is running on the station.  A second public notice tells communications users that they can use the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System ("DIRS") to notify the FCC about service outages that may be caused by the storm

The information about making emergency information accessible is one that is commonly issued by the FCC (see our stories here and here about past warnings).  The FCC reminds  video providers that emergency information must be made available to those with hearing or visual impairments.  For those who are hearing impaired, information must either be provided by closed caption, or by some other means that does not block the closed caption information.  Even where a station is exempt from captioning a story – as many are in the case of breaking news – a visual element must still be provided for all audio information given on the air about "critical details regarding the emergency and how to respond to the emergency."  So stations should do open captions or have their on-air announcers use whiteboards or other means to visually convey the emergency information that they are providing in their commentary.  In the past, big fines have followed from stations that have not provided such information visually (see our post here), and the FCC has made the complaint process easier in recent years, as highlighted by today’s Public Notice.


Continue Reading FCC Issues Reminders to Broadcasters in the Path of Hurricane Issac – Provide Visuals Of Emergency Information and Notify the FCC of Service Outages