While You Were on Vacation: Looking at FCC Regulatory Actions over the Holidays and Deadlines for January
By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP
While many of us were trying to enjoy the holidays, the world of regulation kept right on moving, seemingly never taking time off. So we thought that we ought to highlight some of the actions taken by the FCC in the last couple weeks and to also remind you of some of the upcoming January regulatory deadlines.
Before Christmas, we highlighted some of the regulatory dates for January – including the Quarterly Issues Programs Lists due to be placed in the online public file of all full-power stations by January 10. Also on the list of dates in our post on January deadlines are the minimum SoundExchange fees due in January for most radio stations and other webcasters streaming programming on the Internet. January also brings the deadline for Biennial Ownership Reports (postponed from their normal November 1 filing deadline).
In that summary of January regulatory dates, we had mentioned that the initial filing of the new Annual Children’s Television Programming Report would be due this month. But, over the holiday week, the FCC extended that filing deadline for that report until March 30 to give broadcasters time to familiarize themselves with the new forms. The FCC will be doing a webinar on the new form on January 23. In addition, the FCC announced that many of the other changes in the children’s television rules that were awaiting review under the Paperwork Reduction Act had been approved and are now effective. See our article here for more details.
Our summary of the January regulatory dates also mentioned the filing window that opens on January 29 for the April auction of new FM channels. The deadline for applications to participate in the auction is February 11 at 6 PM EST (see our article here). We did not mention another filing window falling in January, including one for amendments to pending applications for new LPTV stations or TV translators that had their proposals blocked by changes made during the repacking of the television band following the incentive auction. These applicants can amend their applications to remove these conflicts with repacked channels by January 31. See the FCC Public Notice of this filing window here.
New comment dates in rulemaking proceedings were also recently announced for January. Comments are due on January 22 on the FCC’s proposal to change the rules that preclude radio stations in one service (AM or FM) from duplicating programming on another station in that same service if the two stations serve substantially the same area. See our article here on the FCC’s questions about possible changes in this rule. Comments are also due on the FCC’s inquiry as to whether to allow “Franken FMs” – LPTV stations on Channel 6 providing analog audio programming that can be received on FM 87.7 – to continue to generate an analog audio signal to continue the FM services after the otherwise mandatory end of analog television broadcasting on July 13, 2021. See our article here on some of the issues raised by the FCC, and the Federal Register publication of this notice here setting the comment dates.
Also announced over the holidays was the FCC’s procedural reaction to the Third Circuit decision overturning its 2017 changes in the ownership rules – including the repeal of the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rules and the rules that allowed TV duopolies even in markets with fewer than 8 independent voices from those owning or programming stations in that market. With these and other rules back in effect after the Court’s decision, the FCC now requires applicants for a renewal of license or for the acquisition of a station through an assignment or transfer to demonstrate that they meet the ownership restrictions that were in effect prior to the 2017 changes. For more details on what is now required, see our post here.
It is also worth reminding stations that they should have updated their EAS certifications that expired back in November to authenticate EAS alerts transmitted through the IPAWs online alert system. The updated certification to authenticate these alerts was late in coming out, so the FCC gave stations until January 7 to have their systems updated. If you can’t meet that deadline, an STA is required. See our article here on this issue.
Finally, stations need to remember that we are in political season. Lowest unit rate windows are already open for ads targeting voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. These rates kick in on January 8 for the Democratic caucuses in Nevada, and on January 15 for the South Carolina primary. Only 3 days later, lowest unit rates for Presidential primaries or caucuses begin in Super Tuesday states including Alabama, American Samoa (D), Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia. Later this month, lowest unit charge windows for these presidential contests open in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota (D), Washington, US Virgin Islands, West Virginia, Guam (R), N. Mariana Islands (D) and Wyoming. Watch for the exact dates in your state – as well as the lowest unit rate windows for Congressional, state and local races in your communities. See our article here on the opening of the lowest unit rate windows.
Obviously, there are plenty of deadlines and other regulatory obligations coming up early this year. This is but a summary of some of the obligations we see as generally significant to broadcasters – but check with your own counsel to see if there are other deadlines that apply to your own station. Happy New Year – and good luck navigating the regulatory landscape of 2020.
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.