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As I have noted on several occasions in the past, the FCC requires that certain video programming delivered online by television stations be captioned if that programming previously aired on television with captions (for a quick refresher you can view my posts “FCC Seeks Greater Clarity on IP Video Captioning Rules”, “Second Online Captioning Deadline Arrives March 30″, and “First Online Video Closed Captioning Deadline Is Here”).

All video programming that appeared on television with captions after April 30, 2012, is considered “covered Internet Protocol (IP) video” and is required to be captioned when shown online. In January of 2012, the FCC released an Order exempting “video clips” and outtakes while requiring that television stations display captioning for prerecorded full-length programming delivered via IP if the programming had aired on television with captions. Where a captioned TV program is streamed on the Internet in segments, it must be captioned if substantial portions of the entire program are shown via those segments.

However, in the latest turn, the FCC is now asking for updated information regarding whether it should remove the “video clip” exemption. It is seeking public comment on the issue, with comments due on January 27, 2014, and reply comments due on February 26, 2014. The FCC’s Public Notice asks commenters to answer a number of questions regarding the current state of captioning of IP-delivered video clips, including:

  • What portion of IP-delivered video clips generally, and of IP-delivered news clips specifically, are captioned?
  • Has the availability of captioned versions of such clips been increasing?
  • What is the quality of the captioning on IP-delivered video clips?
  • Should the FCC require captioning of IP-delivered video clips?
  • How are the positions of commenters consistent with the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), its legislative history, and the intent of Congress to provide video programming access to people with disabilities?
  • What are the potential costs and benefits of requiring captioning of IP-delivered video clips?
  • How have consumers been affected by the absence of closed captioning on IP-delivered video clips, particularly news clips?
  • To the extent that some entities have already captioned these clips, what technical challenges, if any, had to be addressed?
    How does the captioning of IP-delivered video clips differ from the captioning of full-length IP-delivered video programming?
  • What are the differences between captioning live or near-live IP-delivered video clips, such as news clips, and prerecorded IP-delivered video clips?
  • If the FCC imposes closed captioning obligations on IP-delivered video clips, should the requirements apply to all video clips, or only to a subset of such clips?
  • If only to a subset, what subsets would be most appropriate and what would be the rationale for excluding others?

The FCC also asks for comment on any additional issues relevant to its determination of whether closed captioning of IP-delivered video clips should be required.

TV stations have been making greater use of their websites over the last few years to deliver video programming, and that use is only likely to increase in the years ahead as TV stations expand their use of mobile applications to reach viewers. As a result, the FCC’s new proceeding raises important issues that will affect stations’ video streaming, online marketing, and bottom line. As the saying goes, you’re not entitled to complain about an elected official if you didn’t bother to vote, and broadcasters need to speak up now if they want to avoid having to complain later about any complex or burdensome online captioning requirements that might be adopted in this proceeding.

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December 2013

Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:

  • FCC Cancels $20,000 Children’s Television Fine
  • Fine and Reporting Requirements Imposed for EEO Violations
  • Individual Fined $15,000 for Unauthorized Operation of a Radio Transmitter

$20,000 Kidvid Fine Rescinded Due to Timely Filing

The FCC has continued to impose fines on numerous licensees for failing to timely file their Children’s Television Programming Reports on FCC Form 398. The FCC’s rules require that full power and Class A television stations file a Children’s Television Programming Report each quarter listing the station’s programming that is educational and informational for children, and regularly notify the public as to where to find those reports. The base fine for failing to file a required form with the FCC is $3,000.

In July of this year, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) against a Louisiana licensee for failing to timely file its Children’s Television Programing Reports 18 times. After examining the facts and circumstances, including the licensee’s failure to disclose the late filings in its license renewal application, the FCC proposed a $20,000 fine.

In response to the NAL, the licensee asserted that the reports in question had been timely filed, and that the “late” dates the FCC was seeing in its filing database were merely amendments to the timely filed reports. Unfortunately, as those who have dealt with the FCC’s filing systems are aware, when an amendment to an existing report is filed, the FCC’s filing system changes the filing date shown from the original filing date to the filing date of the amendment. That is why it is important to print out evidence of the original filing when it is made, allowing the licensee to demonstrate that a timely filing was made if it is later questioned.

Based on the licensee’s ability to produce Submission Confirmation printouts showing that the reports were timely filed, the FCC agreed to rescind the NAL and cancel the $20,000 fine.

License Assessed $20,000 Fine and Reporting Obligations for Failing to Notify Job Referral Sources and Self-Assess Its EEO Performance

Earlier this month, the FCC imposed a $20,000 fine and detailed reporting requirements on an Illinois radio licensee. Under Section 73.2080(c)(1)(ii) of the FCC’s Rules, a licensee must provide notices of job openings to any organization that “distributes information about employment opportunities to job seekers upon request by such organization,” and under Section 73.2080(c)(3), must “analyze the recruitment program for its employment unit on an ongoing basis.”

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As our own Lauren Lynch Flick reported last month, the deadline for commercial broadcast stations to file their biennial ownership reports with the FCC, which the FCC in August moved from November 1st to December 2nd, and then in November moved from December 2nd to December 20th, has now been moved up, but just by a little.

In a Public Notice released today, the FCC announced that:

The Media Bureau previously issued an order granting requests to extend the 2013 biennial ownership report filing deadline to December 20, 2013. Subsequently, a power outage of the FCC headquarters building’s electrical systems, as required by the District of Columbia Fire Code, was scheduled. The Commission’s systems, including CDBS, will become unavailable after business hours on the evening of the filing deadline. The outage is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on December 20, 2013. Filers must complete electronic filing of their 2013 biennial Ownership Report for Commercial Broadcast Stations prior to that time to comply with the filing due date.

Because the FCC’s website has been known to struggle on days where large numbers of filings are due, broadcasters should generally avoid filing documents on their due date unless there is good reason to do so. However, one benefit of electronic filing has been the ability to file after normal business hours, when traffic on the FCC’s filing databases eases. That will not be possible this year, and for those on the West Coast, the 7 p.m. (Eastern) deadline means that they will need to get their ownership reports on file by 4 p.m. Pacific time, before their business day actually ends.

As a result, broadcasters will need to be extra vigilant this year to ensure that they don’t find themselves trying to file their ownership reports late in the day on December 20th, only to realize that the FCC’s filing system is moving at the speed of molasses from the high volume of filers. When the lights go out at the FCC on December 20th, so will your chance of a timely filing.

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If there had been any doubt that the Video Division of the FCC’s Media Bureau would check a television station’s online public inspection file to confirm the truthfulness of certifications made by the licensee in a pending license renewal application, that doubt has been eliminated.

In a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture released December 3, the Video Division has proposed a $9,000 fine against the licensee of two Michigan televisions stations on the grounds that (i) each station had filed their Children’s Television Programming Reports (“Kidvid Reports”) late, and (ii) the stations failed to report those violations in responding to one of the certifications contained in their license renewal applications.

According to the FCC, the licensee had filed each station’s Kidvid Report late for three quarters during the license term in violation of Section 73.3526(e)(11)(iii) of the Commission’s Rules.

The problem was compounded when the licensee failed to disclose those violations in responding to Section IV, Question 3 of the Form 303-S, which requires licensees to certify “that the documentation, required by 47 C.F.R. Section 73.3526…has been placed in the station’s public inspection file at the appropriate times.” That same certification requires the applicant to submit an exhibit explaining any violations.

The Video Division of the FCC proposed that each station be assessed a fine of $3,000, the base forfeiture amount for failing to timely file Kidvid Reports, plus a fine of $1,500 for omitting from its renewal applications information regarding those violations. The Division suggested that it could have fined each station $3,000, rather than $1,500, for the reporting failure, but reduced the amount because each licensee “made a good faith effort to identify other deficiencies.”

Fortunately for the licensee in this case, it had checked the certification box with a “no,” and disclosed that its quarterly issues/programs lists had not been timely uploaded to the FCC’s online public file for the station. While the licensee did not mention anything about the late-filed Kidvid Reports, apparently the Video Division believed that the licensee’s failure to disclose was intentional enough to warrant a fine, but not deliberate enough to warrant a charge of misrepresentation or lack of candor that could have resulted in a much larger fine or worse.

The lessons learned from the Video Division’s action include: before signing off and filing a station license renewal application, (i) check the FCC’s online database to make sure that it has a record of all documents that were required to be timely filed, (ii) check the station’s paper (in the case of radio) and online (in the case of television) public inspection file to confirm (or not) that the file is complete and that the documents required to be in the file were placed there on a timely basis, and (iii) discuss with counsel what may need to be disclosed (or not disclosed) in response to certifications contained in a station’s application for renewal of license.

Of future concern is whether the Media Bureau will now be more inclined to impose even higher fines, claiming misrepresentation/lack of candor, where a license renewal applicant makes an unqualified affirmative certification that is not correct, or where the applicant states that it is unable to make an affirmative certification and provides an explanation, but does not fully disclose all material facts in its explanation. Recently the Media Bureau imposed a $17,000 fine against a station for violating Section 1.17 (misrepresentation/lack of candor) after having concluded that had the station “exercised even minimal due diligence, it would not have submitted incorrect and misleading material factual information to the Commission.” The Bureau made a point of the fact that the base statutory fine for misrepresentation or lack of candor is $37,500. Affirmative due diligence and caution are your best insurance policies in avoiding such a new and unbudgeted line item expense on your company’s next P&L.

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Earlier today, the FCC released a Public Notice detailing the results of the recent LPFM filing window, along with guidance as to what happens next. More than 2,800 low power FM (LPFM) applications were filed during the October 15 – November 15 (as extended) filing window, with the largest numbers coming from Texas (303), California (283), and Florida (276). To put that number in perspective, if it were possible to grant all of the filed LPFM applications, it would increase the number of radio stations in the U.S. (not including translators) by nearly 20%.

However, many if not most of the applications will indeed conflict with each other, so part of the reason for today’s Public Notice is to respond to inquiries regarding the processing of singleton and mutually exclusive applications. This includes such topics as amendments, settlement agreements between mutually exclusive applicants, time-sharing agreements, petitions to deny, and how parties can obtain reinstatement of dismissed applications. Given the more than a decade it took to process applications from the 2003 FM translator filing window, the breakneck speed at which the FCC is moving to process LPFM applications is notable.

According to the Public Notice, the FCC intends to begin rapidly processing applications as early as this month, stating that:

  • The Bureau’s first priority has been to identify singleton applications (applications that do not conflict with other applications filed in the window), of which there appear to be about 900. The FCC indicates it hopes to begin granting such applications in January 2014.
  • Later this month, the Bureau will release a Public Notice identifying the mutually exclusive (MX) application groups.
  • Effective with the release of the Public Notice on MX application groups, mutually exclusive applicants will have the ability to file technical amendments and/or enter into settlement and time-sharing agreements to resolve application conflicts.
  • Following the Bureau’s review of technical amendments and agreements filed to remove application conflicts, the FCC will identify one or more tentative selectees from each mutually exclusive group. The Bureau will then analyze petitions to deny filed against each tentative selectee, and either grant or dismiss that application. In certain cases, the FCC will identify a successor tentative selectee or selectees after acting on the application of the original tentative selectee.

The Public Notice also provided the following information:

Mutually Exclusive Applications: For applications that do not meet the minimum separation requirements of the FCC’s rules, parties are allowed to negotiate settlements and/or file technical amendments to resolve conflicts after the FCC releases the MX Public Notice. As noted above, the FCC intends to release the MX Public Notice later this month.

Amendments: Once the MX Public Notice is released, parties will be allowed to file certain minor amendments to their applications. Major amendments can only be filed by tentative selectees, and only after the FCC announces which applicants have been anointed with that status.

Settlement Agreements: MX applicants will also be allowed to resolve technical conflicts through settlement agreements among applicants, including agreements to make technical amendments to their applications to eliminate the conflict. The Public Notice spells out a detailed process applicants must follow to notify the FCC of their settlement plans.

Voluntary Time-Share Agreements: Parties are also allowed to enter into “partial or universal time-share” agreements. Time-share agreements must (i) specify the proposed hours of operation of each time-share proponent; (ii) not include simultaneous operation of the time-share proponents; and (iii) include a proposal by each time-share proponent to operate for at least 10 hours per week.

Petitions to Deny: All applications that the Commission accepts are subject to petition to deny filings within 30 days after a Public Notice announcing that the application has been accepted for filing.

Dismissed Applications: The FCC is required to dismiss any application that does not comply with the FCC’s minimum distance separation requirements to pre-existing facilities. Any application that does not meet the separation requirements to existing facilities cannot be amended to fix that problem.

It is clear from today’s Public Notice that the FCC is working quickly to try and wrap up much of this proceeding by Christmas or shortly after the new year begins. Parties involved or potentially affected by this proceeding should therefore start adjusting their holiday schedules to be able to move quickly in response to the promised notices that will be rolling out of the FCC in the next few weeks.

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November 2013

Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:

  • Multiple Indecency Complaints Result in $110,000 Payment
  • $42,000 in Fines for Excessive Power, Wrong Directional Patterns and Incomplete Public Inspection Files
  • Cable Operator Fined $25,000 for Children’s Programming Reports

Broadcaster Enters Into $110,000 Consent Decree Involving Allegations of Indecent Material

The FCC recently approved a consent decree involving a broadcaster with TV stations in California, Utah and Texas accused of airing indecent and profane content.

Section 73.3999 of the FCC’s Rules prohibits radio and television stations from broadcasting obscene material at all times and prohibits indecent material aired between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

The FCC received multiple complaints about the television show in question and sent Letters of Inquiry to the broadcaster asking it to provide a copy of the program and to answer questions about possible violations of the FCC’s indecency rule. The licensee complied with the requests but maintained that the program did not contain indecent content.

Earlier this month, the FCC entered into a consent decree with the broadcaster and agreed to terminate its investigation and dismiss the pending indecency complaints. Under the terms of the consent decree, the broadcaster is required to (a) designate a Compliance Officer within 30 days, and (b) create and implement a company-wide Compliance Plan within 60 days, which must include: (i) creating operating procedures to ensure compliance with the FCC’s restrictions on indecency, (ii) drafting a Compliance Manual, (iii) training employees about what constitutes indecent content, and (iv) reporting noncompliance to the FCC within 30 days of discovering any violations. The consent decree also requires the filing of a compliance report with the FCC in 90 days and annually thereafter for a period of 3 years. The requirements imposed under the consent decree expire after three years.

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A few minutes ago, the FCC released an Order extending the December 2, 2013 deadline for commercial broadcast stations to file their biennial ownership reports to December 20, 2013. The extension is meant to respond to the fact that the FCC took its website (including the Consolidated Database System used for preparing and filing reports and applications) offline during the October government shutdown. Because of this, broadcasters were prevented from preparing their voluminous ownership reports until the FCC reopened and the website was reactivated.

Since the biennial ownership report requires filers to provide their ownership information as it existed on October 1, 2013, broadcasters normally have sixty days after the October 1 reporting date to prepare and submit their reports. By extending the deadline to December 20, the FCC is seeking to maintain that sixty day preparation period.

Noncommercial broadcasters whose biennial ownership reports are due on December 2, 2013 (radio stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota) should be aware that this extension does not apply to noncommercial ownership reports. Barring further action by the FCC, noncommercial stations in the listed states should continue to plan on filing their ownership reports by the current December 2, 2013 deadline.

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This morning, the FCC’s proposal to eliminate the UHF Discount was published in the Federal Register, establishing the comment and reply comment dates for that proceeding. Comments are due December 16, 2013, and reply comments are due January 13, 2014.

Under current law, no individual or entity is permitted to hold an interest in broadcast TV stations that, in the aggregate, reach more than 39 percent of U.S. television households. While this if often shorthanded as “no broadcast group can reach more than 39% of the population”, the rule is actually more restrictive than that. Since it applies not just to broadcast groups but to individuals, the rule prohibits an investor from holding 5% of the voting stock of two different TV groups if those otherwise unconnected groups’ stations together reach more than 39% of the population. Similarly, the rule would be violated if an individual served as a director for both companies.

Fortunately, the rule’s impact on broadcast investment has been lessened by the FCC’s UHF Discount, under which the FCC counts only half of the population in a station’s market towards the 39% cap if the station operates on a UHF channel (14-51) rather than on a VHF channel (2-13). Because most digital television stations operate on UHF channels, the practical effect has been to permit a group or individual to hold interests in TV stations located in markets representing more than 39% of the population (note, however, that the rule still counts every TV household in the market against the 39% cap, even where the station does not actually serve those households with an over-the-air signal).

The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes to eliminate the UHF Discount on the theory that while UHF stations had weaker coverage than VHF stations in an analog world, VHF frequencies are not well suited to digital transmissions, and it is now VHF stations that are suffering from poor coverage. That is accurate, but it would seem to be an argument for also creating a VHF Discount rather than eliminating the UHF Discount. While it is true that the FCC provided UHF stations with an opportunity to increase their operating power in transitioning to digital television if they could do so without creating interference to other stations, the guiding principal of making channel allotments in the DTV transition was replicating analog service areas, meaning that UHF analog stations were given digital allotments replicating their flawed analog coverage.

Oddly, however, the NPRM looks past that history, focusing instead on the fact that UHF stations and VHF stations are now much more equivalent because of VHF’s digital woes. While the 39% ownership cap, and how it is calculated, may well merit revisiting, the NPRM explicitly makes the decision to forego an examination of the 39% cap and how compliance with that cap should be calculated, and instead limits the FCC’s review to whether the UHF Discount should be eliminated.

In his dissent to the NPRM, FCC Commissioner Pai noted this fact, chiding the FCC for putting on its regulatory blinders while plunging ahead on the UHF Discount:

[B]ecause we are proposing to end the UHF discount, we should ask whether it is time to raise the 39 percent cap. Indeed, this step is long overdue notwithstanding any change to the UHF discount. The Commission has not formally addressed the appropriate level of the national audience cap since its 2002 Biennial Review Order, and it has been nearly a decade since the 39 percent cap was established. The media landscape has changed dramatically in the many years since. I’ve spoken a lot about the importance of reviewing our rules to keep pace with changes in technology and the marketplace, and I wish today’s item had done so with respect to this issue in a comprehensive manner.

Like the story of the blind men and the elephant, the FCC’s NPRM thrusts out its hand, touching only one aspect of the FCC’s ownership rules, and risks discovering later that there is much more to the elephant than its tail.

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Over the years, I’ve written a number of times of the FCC’s concern about airing emergency sounds, from the siren blare telling you that Indiana Wants Me, to Emergency Alert System tones promoting the movie Skyline, to an actual EAS alert warning of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Section 11.45 of the FCC’s Rules states that “[n]o person may transmit or cause to transmit the EAS codes or Attention Signal, or a recording or simulation thereof, in any circumstance other than in an actual National, State or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS.” As a result, every time that annoying EAS digital squeal slips onto the airwaves during a commercial rather than in an EAS test, it is guaranteed that the employee charged with screening ads is going to have a very bad day.

Fortunately, most broadcasters and cable operators are well aware of the restriction and go to great lengths to screen out such content. Unfortunately, advertisers and ad agencies are often not so attuned, and given the sheer amount of ad content being aired, an EAS-laden ad will slip through sooner or later.

Aggravating the situation is that while airing the tone from the old Emergency Broadcast System could cause public confusion, the EAS squeal contains digital information that is relayed to other media entities, whose EAS equipment then reads that data and automatically transmits the alert on down the alert chain. The farther the alert travels from the original source (where observant viewers or listeners might have figured out it was just part of a commercial), the greater the likelihood of public confusion and panic.

While the FCC certainly takes EAS false alerts seriously, it has seemed to recognize that the media entity airing the ad is usually as much a victim of the false alert signal as anyone, and as long as prompt action was taken to prevent a recurrence, has not been particularly punitive in its enforcement actions. Its strongest reaction to false EAS alerts up till now has been to issue an Urgent Advisory after the Zombie Apocalypse telling EAS participants to change the default password on their EAS equipment to prevent hackers from commandeering the equipment over the Internet to send out false alerts.

That changed late today, when the FCC issued a News Release and an FCC Enforcement Advisory warning against “False, Fraudulent or Unauthorized Use of the Emergency Alert System Attention Signal and Codes”, along with a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) for $25,000 against Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and a $39,000 consent decree against a Kentucky TV station.

According to the NAL, Turner aired a promo for the Conan show that contained a simulated EAS tone in connection with an appearance by comic actor Jack Black. The FCC was not amused. While the base fine for violating Section 11.45 is $8,000, the FCC found that the seriousness of the violation, particularly given the nationwide transmission of the false alert signal, as well as Turner’s ability to pay, justified increasing the proposed fine to $25,000. While not specifically addressed in the NAL, the fact that Turner produced the promo itself, rather than this being a case of a third party advertiser slipping it past Turner, appears to have drawn the FCC’s ire.

More interesting still is the $39,000 consent decree, where the Kentucky station did not contest that it aired an ad for a sports apparel store that “stops in the middle of the commercial and sounds the exact tone used for the Emergency Alert warnings.” Besides the eye-opening $39,000 payment, the consent decree requires extensive further efforts by the licensee, including implementing a Section 11.45 compliance program for its staff, creating and distributing a compliance manual to its staff, implementing a compliance training program, filing annual compliance reports for the next three years, reporting any future violations to the FCC, and developing and implementing a program to “educate members of the public about the EAS alerts, the limits of public warning capabilities, and appropriate responses to emergency warning messages.” With regard to this last requirement, the educational program must include:

  • Airing 160 public service announcements (80 on the station’s primary channel and 80 on its multicast channel).
  • Interviewing local emergency preparedness officials and including vignettes on emergency awareness topics at least twice a month on the station’s morning program.
  • Expanding the station’s website to include links to local emergency agencies, banner messages with emergency-related information, and video messages from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local emergency preparedness agencies.
  • Installing an additional SkyCam at its tower site and using “special radio equipment” to communicate with local emergency management officials and which will relay alerts to the station’s master control personnel.
  • Leasing tower space to the local emergency management agency for a “new modernized communications system” linking local agencies and organizations.
  • Using social media and digital technologies to promptly disseminate emergency alerts, including posting information culled from the station’s public service announcements, vignettes, and the local emergency management agency on the station’s Facebook page weekly, and including timely late-breaking news coverage of severe weather conditions and forecasts on the station’s smartphone app.
  • Utilizing specific computer hardware and software to render weather data and maps for use on-air, online, and in mobile applications, as well as to track severe weather events.
  • Periodically reviewing and revising the station’s educational program to improve it and ensure it is current and complete, including conferring with the National Weather Service and state, county and federal emergency preparedness managers and public safety officials.

The consent decree does not indicate how many times the offending ad aired, or if the station produced it, but the severity of the consent decree terms is startling. Also noteworthy is the FCC Enforcement Advisory’s admonition that not just broadcast stations and multichannel video programming distributors are on the hook, but that “[t]he prohibition thus applies to programmers that distribute programming containing a prohibited sound regardless of whether or not they deliver the unlawful signal directly to consumers; it also applies to a person who transmits an unlawful signal even if that person did not create or produce the prohibited programming in the first instance.”

The FCC has therefore decided that it is time to crack down on violations, and ominously, today’s FCC Enforcement Advisory notes that “[o]ther investigations remain ongoing, and the Bureau will take further enforcement action if warranted.” Given today’s actions by the FCC, everyone whose job it is to review ad content before it airs is having a very bad day.

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Yesterday, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making setting forth a number of potential changes to its technical rules governing AM radio designed to revitalize AM stations and enhance the quality of AM service.

In the past several years, the Commission has instituted several changes to its AM rules and policies in hopes of improving AM radio and reducing the regulatory burdens on AM broadcasters. Among these are:

  • 2005 and 2008 – Announced simplified AM licensing procedures for KinStar (2005) and Valcom (2008) low-profile and streamlined AM antennas, which provide additional siting flexibility for non-directional stations to locate in areas where local zoning approval for taller towers cannot be obtained;
  • 2006 – Adopted streamlined procedures for AM station community of license changes;
  • 2008 – Adopted moment method modeling as an alternative methodology to verify AM directional antenna performance, reducing the cost of AM proof of performance showings substantially;
  • 2009 – Authorized rebroadcasting of AM stations on FM translators, which has proven to be extremely successful, with over 10% of all AM stations now using FM translators to provide improved daytime and nighttime service to their communities of license;
  • 2011 – Authorized AM stations to use Modulation Dependent Carrier Level (“MDCL”) control technologies, which allow AM stations to cut energy costs through reduced electrical consumption on transmissions and related cooling functions;
  • 2011 – Announced an FM translator minor modification rule waiver policy and waiver standards to expand opportunities for AM stations to provide fill-in coverage with FM translators;
  • 2012 – Authorized all future FM translator stations licensed from Auction 83 to be used for AM station rebroadcasting;
  • 2012 – Granted first Experimental Authorization for all-digital AM operation; and
  • 2013 – Improved protection to AM stations from potential re-radiators and signal pattern disturbances by establishing a single protection scheme for tower construction and modification near AM tower arrays, and designating moment method modeling as the principal means of determining whether a nearby tower affects an AM radiation pattern.

Now, with the introduction of yesterday’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making, the FCC is considering yet more changes to its rules to help AM radio. Among the proposals in the Notice of Proposed Rule Making are:
(1) Open an FM translator filing window exclusively for AM licensees and permittees during which AM broadcasters may apply for a single FM translator station in the commercial FM band to be used solely to rebroadcast the AM station’s signal to provide fill-in and/or nighttime service. The window, as proposed, would have the following limitations:

  • Applications filed during this window must strictly comply with the existing restrictions on fill-in coverage governing AM use of FM translators (e.g., they must be located so that no part of the 60 dBu contour of the FM translator will extend beyond the smaller of a 25-mile radius from the AM station’s transmitter site, or the AM station’s daytime 2 mV/m contour; and
  • Any FM translator station authorized though this filing window will be permanently linked to the licensee or permittee of the primary AM station acquiring the authorization, and the FM translator authorization may not be assigned or transferred except in conjunction with that AM station.

(2) Modify the daytime community coverage standards for existing AM stations contained in Section 74.24(i) of the FCC’s Rules to require only that stations cover either 50% of the population or 50% of the area of the station’s community of license with a daytime 5 mV/m signal. This proposal would not affect applications for new AM stations, or proposals to change the community of license of an existing AM station, both of which will continue to require that 100% of the community of license receive at least a 5 mV/m signal during the day, and cover at least 80% of the community of license at night with a nighttime interference-free signal.

(3) Modify nighttime community coverage requirements for existing AM stations by (i) eliminating the nighttime coverage requirement for existing licensed AM stations, and (ii) in the case of new AM stations and AM stations seeking to change their community of license, modify the rules so the station would be required to cover either 50% of the population or 50% of the area of the community of license with a nighttime 5 mV/m signal or a nighttime interference-free contour, whichever value is higher.

(4) Delete the AM “Ratchet Rule,” which currently results in a reduction of nighttime signal coverage for AM stations relocating their licensed facilities.

(5) Permit wider implementation of Modulation Dependent Carrier Level control technologies by amending the FCC’s rules to allow AM stations to commence operation using MDCL control technologies without seeking prior FCC authority, provided that they notify the FCC of the MDCL operation using the Media Bureau’s Consolidated Database System within 10 days of commencing such operation.

(6) Modify AM antenna efficiency standards, and consider whether the minimum field strength values set forth in various technical rules could be reduced by approximately 25%.

While the changes under consideration are significant, AM broadcasters will have a fair amount of time to contemplate them before comments on the proposals are due at the FCC. The comment deadline will be 60 days after Federal Register publication of the Notice of Proposed Rule Making, with reply comments due 30 days after that.