Broadcast Regulation Update
By: David Oxenford,
Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP
Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week (9/4-10), with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.
- The FCC opened the window for Fiscal Year 2021 regulatory fees which must be paid no later than 11:59 pm, Eastern Daylight Time on September 24, 2021 – a 25% penalty will be attached to late payments (Public Notice). The Media Bureau released a guide to computing the fees due for broadcast stations (Media Bureau Fee Filing Guide). A separate notice on payment procedures was also released by the FCC (Payment Procedures Public Notice). Licensees that want to seek a waiver, deferral, or reduction of their regulatory fees based on financial hardship from the pandemic should review yet another public notice setting out the procedures for such requests. These requests, which are to be submitted by September 24, must include financial documentation demonstrating the hardship of a timely payment. (Public Notice on Fee Waivers)
- The FCC reminded broadcasters of their obligations to file biennial ownership reports this year. The window to file these reports opens on October 1 and closes on December 1 (Public Notice). To help broadcasters prepare for filing their biennial ownership reports, the FCC will present an online information session on October 5, 2021 at 2:00 PM EDT, which will include the opportunity for questions from online attendees. The session is designed to help both novice and experienced filers. It will be streamed live from the FCC’s web page at fcc.gov/live and the FCC’s YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/user/fccdotgovvideo (where it will also be available for later viewing).
- The FCC is seeking comment on the accessibility to children with disabilities of children’s educational and informational television programming. Specifically, the agency wants to gather information on the extent to which short-form programming and regularly scheduled weekly programming aired on multicast streams is closed captioned and/or audio described, including on multicast channels like PBS KIDS. Comments are due October 7, and reply comments are due November 8. (Public Notice)
- The Incentive Auction Task Force reminded phase 0-5 repacked full power and Class A TV stations that they must submit all remaining invoices for reimbursement from the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund by October 8, 2021. The deadlines to submit all remaining invoices and initiate interim close-out procedures for phase 6-10 repacked stations is March 22, 2022, and the deadline is September 5, 2022 for all eligible MVPDs, FM stations, and LPTV/translator stations that intend to seek reimbursement. (Public Notice)
- The FCC released the tentative agenda for its September public open meeting to be held on September 30 (Agenda). The agenda includes the proposed adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on standardized questions to be asked of foreign entities seeking to acquire interests in US communications facilities, including interests in broadcast stations, which require approval of the FCC or other government agencies (Factsheet and Draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking)
- A Low Power FM station entered into a consent decree for violating the FCC’s underwriting rules. LPFM stations are all licensed as noncommercial educational broadcasters and cannot run commercials. The consent decree includes a $17,500 fine and requires that the licensee adopt a compliance plan to prevent future violations. The station was also granted a short-term, four-year license renewal instead of the normal eight-year renewal. This action began with a complaint from a commercial station which argued that the LPFM station routinely aired commercial advertisements and had failed to air educational content. The Media Bureau rejected the educational content argument, noting that the FCC has long recognized that licensees are entitled to broad discretion in the scheduling, selection, and presentation of programming; but found that many of the underwriting announcements were too promotional leading to the fine and other penalties. (Consent Decree)
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