By: David Oxenford,
Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP
March is one of those months where no regularly scheduled FCC deadlines fall. But there are still plenty of other deadlines and dates of importance to broadcasters that fall during this month, from comment dates in rulemaking proceedings, to the start of an auction for new TV stations and the completion of the reimbursement cycle for certain stations involved in the TV repack, to deadlines for radio stations to sign up for the GMR license agreement, and even, with daylight savings time upon us, the time for certain AM stations to adjust their operating parameters.
Let’s start with the rulemaking proceedings. On March 11, comments are due on an FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks to enhance visual EAS messages to assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Reply comments on the NPRM are due by March 28. The same Federal Register notice that set these comment dates also references an associated Notice of Inquiry that asks for suggestions on how to improve the current EAS daisy chain architecture to better deliver alerts. Comments and reply comments on the NOI are due by April 11 and May 10, respectively.
Interested parties that want to reply to comments submitted on the FCC’s Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the ATSC 3.0 (Next Gen TV) proceeding must have those reply comments in by March 14. In that proceeding, the FCC proposes to allow Next Gen TV stations to include within their license certain of their multicast streams that are aired on “host” stations during a transitional period. Under the FCC’s proposals that are designed to clear up which entity is responsible for legal and regulatory compliance, such multicast streams will be part of the originating station’s license, not that of the “host” station. See the Federal Register notice, here, and read the comments submitted to the docket, here.
March 14 is the date on which rule changes require that broadcast stations, in assessing political advertising from purported write-in candidates, need to include in their review the candidate’s social media presence and creation of campaign website when determining if the candidate has made a “substantial showing” of a bona fide candidacy. If a write-in candidate can make the substantial showing, he or she is considered a “legally qualified candidate” entitled to all the benefits and protection of the FCC’s rules, including equal opportunities, lowest unit rates and, for candidates for federal office, reasonable access to buy advertising time on commercial stations. A second rule change that requires broadcasters to upload documentation about federal issue ads to their public file will be effective after additional review to assess the rule’s compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act. Broadcasters already upload this information to their public file, and this update merely brings the FCC’s rules in line with the requirements of federal statute and thus has no practical effect on a station’s political file obligations. We wrote in more detail about these changes, here.
Turning to TV matters, full power and Class A TV stations that were assigned transition completion dates in phases 6-10 of the incentive auction repack must submit all remaining invoices and documentation for reimbursement from the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund by March 22. FM stations and LPTV/translator stations are also eligible for reimbursement from the fund and must have their invoices and documentation submitted by September 6. See the reminder Public Notice, here.
The first step toward bidding on one or more of the 27 new full power TV stations that are part of Auction 112 is to file an initial “short-form application” (FCC Form 175). The FCC will accept these applications from March 17 at 12pm EST to March 30 at 6pm EST. Bidding in the auction will begin on June 7. See the Public Notice for details on the filing window, upfront payments, and bidding procedures. The list of channels available in the auction on which new TV stations can be built is available, here.
By March 31, commercial radio stations that have not already signed a licensing agreement with Global Music Rights (GMR) either need to sign the music licensing agreement that they were offered as part of GMR’s settlement of its litigation with the Radio Music License Committee or risk a copyright infringement action unless they can purge GMR music from their stations or negotiate a different deal with GMR. As we wrote here in early January, GMR and RMLC entered into a conditional settlement to end their long-running court battle over music royalty rates, but enough radio stations had to agree to the licensing terms set by GMR before the settlement would become effective. Enough stations did sign on by the deadline at the end of January, but GMR extended to March 31 the deadline for remaining commercial stations to sign on before it will pursue infringement actions. See our post on the Broadcast Law Blog for more information.
By March 13 when Daylight Saving Time begins, operators of AM daytime-only stations and stations with pre-sunrise and/or post-sunset authorizations should confirm their sign-on and sign-off times on their current FCC authorizations. Note that all times listed on FCC licenses are in Standard Time.
Also, keep your eyes on actions on Capitol Hill. At the time of this writing, the federal government is set to run out of funding at the end of the day on March 11. Without another short-term continuing resolution or agreement to fund the government through September 30, broadcasters’ ability to do business with the FCC could be affected. In past government shutdowns, FCC databases, including the online public file, went offline, staff was furloughed, and processing of applications postponed until funding was restored. In other cases where funding lapsed, the FCC found money to keep some functions operating and still required certain regulatory filings. If a government shutdown looks likely, keep an eye on the FCC’s website for how the agency will handle any interruption of its funding and how you should handle applications, uploads to your public file, filing deadlines, and other regulatory matters.
Looking ahead to early next month, April 1 marks the last radio license renewal filing deadline of the current renewal cycle that began in 2019. By that date, radio stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania must file a license renewal application. TV stations in Texas must also file by April 1, as the TV renewal cycle is one year behind radio. Renewal applications must be accompanied by FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 Broadcast EEO Program Report (except for LPFMs and TV translators). Stations filing for renewal of their license should make sure that all documents required to be uploaded to the station’s online public file are complete and were uploaded on time. Note that your Broadcast EEO Program Report must include two years of EEO Public File reports for FCC review, unless your employment unit employs fewer than five full-time employees. Be sure to read the instructions for the license renewal application (radio, TV) and consult with counsel if you have questions, especially if you have noticed any discrepancies in your online public file or political file.
Also, on or before April 1, all radio and TV station employment units (a station employment unit is a station or stations that share at least one full-time employee, are in the same geographic area, and are under common control) with five or more full-time employees licensed to communities in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas must upload to their online public inspection file an Annual EEO Public File report. This report covers hiring and employment outreach activities for April 1, 2021 through March 31, 2022. These licensees must also post on the homepage of their station website (if they have one) a link to the most recent report.
The April 10 deadline for all full power radio, TV, and Class A stations to upload quarterly issues/programs lists to their online public file is right around the corner. The lists should identify the issues of importance to the station’s community and the programs that the station aired in January, February, and March that addressed those issues. Start preparing the lists early and do so carefully and accurately, as they are the only official records of how your station is serving the public and addressing the needs and interests of its community. See our post here for more on this obligation
As always, thank you for reading our updates, and remember to stay in close contact with your station’s legal and technical advisors for specific dates and deadlines applicable to your operations.
David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline. Access information here. (Members only access). There are no additional costs for the call; the advice is free as part of your MAB membership.