By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP
As the calendar flips to March, many of us have put our trust in Punxsutawney Phil’s weather forecasting expertise that an early spring is coming. A surer place to put our trust, however, is in the guarantee that there are always some regulatory dates about which broadcasters should be aware. While March is a month without with many of the regularly scheduled deadlines for renewals, EEO public file reports or Quarterly Issues Programs lists, there are still plenty of regulatory dates about which you should take notice.
The closest we come in March to a broadly applicable FCC filing deadline is the requirement that, by March 30, 2020 television broadcasters must complete and submit through LMS the FCC’s new Form 2100, Schedule H documenting their compliance with the requirements under the children’s television (KidVid) rules to broadcast educational and informational programming directed to children. This report will document that programming from September 16, 2019 (when the new KidVid rules went into effect) to December 31, 2019. The March 30 date is a transitional date as the FCC moves away from the old quarterly children’s television reports to ones that will be filed annually – in future years by the end of January. This year, however, the FCC took time to develop the form for the new annual report and to explain how it should be used, thus the extra time to file. Once filed, TV broadcasters won’t file another children’s television report until early 2021 reporting on compliance for all of 2020. For more on the transition to the new KidVid obligations, read our articles here, here, and here. To learn how to work with the new form, watch the FCC’s archived instructional webinar here.
Other dates affecting many broadcasters are the political windows during which broadcasters must offer lowest unit rate to candidates in upcoming primary elections. In the 45 days before a primary and the 60 days before a general election, stations (and cable systems) must offer candidates running in those elections the lowest unit rate that they charge any commercial advertiser for a comparable advertisement. Many of the windows are already open, including those for stations which are among primaries happening on Super Tuesday (March 3). For later primaries, the window opens on March 14 for the primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Later windows open on March 18 for Guam (D) and Kansas (D), March 21 (Indiana), and March 28 (Nebraska). See our article here for thoughts on some of the issues that broadcasters should be considering for primary season survival. Learn more about navigating the range of political broadcasting issues by reading our Political Broadcasting Guide and for more guidance on how to compute lowest unit rates, see our articles here, here, and here (this last article dealing with the issues of package plans and how best to determine the rates applicable to spots in such plans).
In early February, about 320 broadcast stations received an unwelcome letter in their mailbox notifying them that they had been randomly selected by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau to participate in an audit of their compliance with the FCC’s equal employment opportunity (EEO) rules. Each year, approximately 5% of broadcast stations are selected for auditing and, if you are one of the unlucky 320 who recently received an audit notice, you will want to begin preparing immediately to respond by uploading to the station’s online public file the responsive documents by March 23, 2020. To see the stations that made the audit list and to read the letter sent to them detailing the matters that the must be covered in the response, visit the FCC’s website here. For more on this first round of 2020 EEO audits, see our article here.
The FCC in March takes another step in its plan to revitalize AM radio. As we noted in earlier posts here and here, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that proposes allowing AM radio broadcasters to voluntarily transition to an all-digital signal. Currently, most AM operations are analog, though some operate in a hybrid analog-digital mode. Among the questions asked in the NPRM are whether all-digital operations would provide a better listening experience with less interference, whether AM broadcasters could use the digital signal to transmit artist and song data to listeners, and how AM broadcasters should be required to notify the FCC if they begin digital operations or revert to analog operations. The NPRM asks many technical questions, so you may want to put on your broadcast engineer hat when writing your comments. The FCC is accepting comments on its proposal through March 9. Reply comments are due by April 6.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) together with Xperi Corporation and National Public Radio (NPR) petitioned the FCC in December 2019 to revive a currently-dormant issue dealing with HD radio technology. The petition asks the FCC to begin a rulemaking that would amend the Commission’s rules to allow FM stations to use asymmetric sideband power levels without special authorization which could enable stations to maximize their digital coverage area and match their analog coverage to the greatest extent possible, within existing digital power limits while minimizing interference to adjacent channel stations. If you are interested in supporting or opposing a potential rulemaking, you have until March 6 to submit comments. You can read the petition for rulemaking here.
The repacking of the broadcast TV band, made necessary by the FCC’s broadcast incentive auction, continues across the country. Stations assigned to Phase 8 must complete the transition to their new channels by March 13, 2020. One day later, on March 14, 2020, stations assigned to Phase 9 of the repack may begin testing and operating on their new channels.
Looking ahead to early April, all AM, FM, LPFM, and FM translator stations licensed to Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee must file their license renewal application by April 1, 2020. Beginning on April 1, 2020, stations filing renewals by that date must begin airing a series of six post-filing announcements (one announcement each on April 1, April 16, May 1, May 16, June 1, and June 16).
Full-power AM, FM, LPFM, and FM translator stations in Michigan and Ohio and full-power TV, Class A TV, TV translator, and LPTV stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia (the first TV window in the current license renewal cycle) are due to file license renewal applications by June 1, but, before that, those stations must air a series of announcements alerting listeners to their upcoming license renewal filing. The first of four of these pre-filing announcements begin on April 1, with further required pre-filing announcements to air on April 16, May 1, and May 16. For more on pre-filing announcements, including the timing of the announcements and sample text to use, visit the FCC’s radio license renewal page here and the TV license renewal page here.
April 1 also brings the obligation for full-power radio and television stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas with five or more full-time employees in their station employment unit to place in their online public file and on their station website their Annual EEO Public Inspection File Report documenting their hiring from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020.
Be sure to bookmark our blog to read updates throughout the month or, better yet, sign-up in the box on the right side of your screen (or at the bottom of your screen if you’re visiting on a mobile device) to receive email alerts every time we publish a new article. And check with your own counsel for details about these obligations and for other dates we have not highlighted here, including any dates that may be uniquely applicable to your own station.
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.