Articles Posted in Noncommercial Operation

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Noncommercial stations caught a break today.  For many years, broadcast stations filed annual ownership reports on the anniversary date of their license renewal deadline.  Since those deadlines varied from state to state (and even between radio and TV in the same state), determining whether a station had filed its reports on time could be challenging.  That task was further complicated by the fact that a licensee owning stations in multiple states could elect to consolidate the filing of its ownership reports for all stations on the license renewal date for any one state in which it had a station.

Ultimately, the FCC concluded that the reports didn’t need to be filed annually, and made them biennial.  The result was that it became even more difficult for the FCC to keep track of whether a station had filed on time.  In fact, a licensee that had consolidated its ownership report filing date across multiple states might not even be filing in the same year as the FCC would normally expect.

Ultimately, the FCC gave up and decided to adopt a unified national deadline for commercial TV and radio stations in 2009.  At the same time, it expanded the list of entities that were required to file the reports (previously, sole proprietorships, general partnerships composed only of individuals, and LPTV licensees were exempt).  It set November 1 of odd-numbered years as the consolidated filing deadline, and indicated that it planned to eventually adopt a unified national deadline for noncommercial stations as well.

However, the FCC quickly discovered that given the increased complexity of the reports, and the fact that the information reported in them was required to reflect a station’s ownership as of October 1 of that same year, broadcasters were having trouble generating all of the required ownership reports in just 30 days.  The FCC also had some teething pains with the new electronic form, with the result that the November 1, 2009 deadline ended up being extended multiple times, ultimately resulting in a deadline for the 2009 reports of July 8, 2010.

After that painful ordeal, the FCC in 2011 permanently moved the commercial station deadline to December 1 of odd-numbered years, providing stations with a 61-day period to file the reports.  Perhaps because of how difficult and drawn out the process of establishing a unified deadline for commercial stations had been, the FCC moved very slowly in establishing the promised unified deadline for noncommercial stations.  It wasn’t until January 8, 2016 that the FCC moved forward on that front, adopting an Order creating a new online form (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 323-E) and establishing a unified national deadline for noncommercial stations to file it.  Because the new form had to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget (and that approval published in the Federal Register) before it could be used, it has still not gone into effect, meaning that throughout 2016, noncommercial stations have continued to file on a state-by-state basis using the old form.  It therefore seemed likely that a lot of noncommercial stations would end up filing two sets of ownership reports in 2017—one set on a station’s license renewal anniversary, and one set on the likely December 1, 2017 unified filing date.

Thankfully, the FCC announced this afternoon that it would not be burdening noncommercial stations with dual filings in 2017, releasing an Order suspending all 2017 biennial ownership reporting deadlines for noncommercial stations and announcing that 2017 will indeed be the year that noncommercial stations will finally have a common ownership reporting deadline.  That deadline will be December 1 of odd-numbered years, the same as the deadline for commercial stations.

That’s good news for noncommercial stations in general, and particularly for those with limited resources to make such filings.  Consider it an early Christmas gift from the FCC.

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November 2016

The staggered deadlines for noncommercial radio and television stations to file Biennial Ownership Reports remain in effect and are tied to each station’s respective license renewal filing deadline.

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont must electronically file their Biennial Ownership Reports by December 1, 2016. Licensees must file using FCC Form 323-E and must also place the form as filed in their station’s public inspection file.

On January 8, 2016, the Commission adopted changes to the ownership report forms and a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial radio and television broadcast stations like the one that the FCC previously established for all commercial radio and television stations. However, until the Office of Management and Budget approves the new forms, noncommercial radio and television stations should continue to file their biennial ownership reports every two years by the anniversary date of the station’s license renewal application filing deadline.

A PDF of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports are due by December 1, 2016 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota and Noncommercial Television Stations in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont

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November 2016

All commercial and noncommercial educational digital television broadcast station licensees and permittees must file FCC Form 2100 – Schedule G by December 1, 2016.

The FCC requires all digital television stations, including all commercial and noncommercial educational full power television stations, digital low power television stations, digital translator television stations, and digital Class A television stations, to submit FCC Form 2100 – Schedule G (formerly known as the FCC Form 317) each year. The report details whether stations provided ancillary or supplemental services at any time during the twelve-month period ending on the preceding September 30. It is important to note that the Form 2100 – Schedule G must be submitted regardless of whether stations offered such services. Form 2100 – Schedule G must be filed electronically in the Commission’s Licensing and Management System (“LMS”), absent a waiver, and is due on December 1, 2016.

Ancillary or supplementary services are all services provided on the portion of a DTV station’s digital spectrum that is not necessary to provide the required single free, over-the-air signal to viewers. Any video broadcast service that is provided with no direct charge to viewers is exempt. According to the FCC, examples of services that are considered ancillary or supplementary include, but are not limited to, “computer software distribution, data transmissions, teletext, interactive materials, aural messages, paging services, audio signals, subscription video, and the like.”

If a DTV station provided ancillary or supplementary services during the 12-month time period ending on September 30, 2016, it must pay the FCC 5% of the gross revenues derived from the provision of those services. This payment can be forwarded to the FCC’s lockbox at the U.S. Bank in St. Louis, Missouri and must be accompanied by FCC Form 159, the Remittance Advice. Alternatively, the fee can be paid electronically using a credit card on the FCC’s website. The fee amount must also be submitted by the December 1, 2016 due date.

A PDF of this article can be found at Annual DTV Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report Due for Commercial and Noncommercial Digital Television Stations

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The staggered deadlines for noncommercial radio and television stations to file Biennial Ownership Reports remain in effect and are tied to each station’s respective license renewal filing deadline.

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Iowa or Missouri and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands must electronically file their Biennial Ownership Reports by October 3, 2016 (because October 1 falls on a weekend, submission of this filing to the FCC may be made on the following business day). Licensees must file using FCC Form 323-E and must also place the form as filed in their station’s public inspection file.

On January 8, 2016, the Commission adopted changes to the ownership report forms and a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial radio and television broadcast stations like the one that the FCC previously established for all commercial radio and television stations. However, until the Office of Management and Budget approves the new forms, noncommercial radio and television stations should continue to file their biennial ownership reports every two years by the anniversary date of the station’s license renewal application filing deadline.

A PDF of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports are due by October 3, 2016 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in Iowa and Missouri and Noncommercial Television Stations in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.

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The staggered deadlines for noncommercial radio and television stations to file Biennial Ownership Reports remain in effect and are tied to each station’s respective license renewal filing deadline.

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Illinois and Wisconsin and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in California, North Carolina and South Carolina must electronically file their Biennial Ownership Reports by August 1, 2016. Licensees must file using FCC Form 323-E and must also place the form as filed in their station’s public inspection file. Television stations must ensure that a copy of the form is posted to their online public inspection file at https://publicfiles.fcc.gov/.

On January 8, 2016, the Commission adopted a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial radio and television broadcast stations like the one that the FCC previously established for all commercial radio and television stations. However, until the Office of Management and Budget approves the new forms, noncommercial radio and television stations should continue to file their biennial ownership reports every two years by the anniversary date of the station’s license renewal application filing deadline.

A PDF of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports are due by August 1, 2016 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in Illinois and Wisconsin and Noncommercial Television Stations in California, North Carolina and South Carolina.

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Friday will see the launch of the FCC’s new online public inspection file system, called, not surprisingly, the Online Public Inspection File (“OPIF”).  With stations moving to a “next gen” public inspection file, Pillsbury today released its next gen Public Inspection File Advisory.  Like earlier editions have done since the creation of the public inspection file requirement, this latest edition provides in-depth information on the content of the file for both commercial and noncommercial stations, whether they are already online, moving online this Friday, or not moving online until 2018.

As discussed here previously, the OPIF replaces the Broadcast Public Inspection File (“BPIF”) for full power and Class A TV stations, and becomes mandatory on June 24th for not just those stations, but for:

  • Commercial broadcast radio stations that are located in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets with five or more full time employees (“First Wave stations”)
  • DBS providers
  • SDARS licensees
  • Cable systems with 1,000 or more subscribers.

As it did with the predecessor BPIF, the FCC took some commonsense steps to simplify the transition to an online file and avoid unnecessary effort for stations going forward.  Specifically, the FCC will automatically upload to a station’s online public inspection file most applications and reports that are electronically filed with the FCC.

However, stations should not be complacent that the FCC is assuming responsibility for the public file being complete.  Stations must still be knowledgeable about which items actually belong in the public inspection file and for how long.  Not all items required to be filed with the FCC electronically have to be kept in the public file, and many items that are not filed electronically with the FCC do have to be kept in the public inspection file.  Stations must know the difference.  In addition, stations must know where in the file to upload required items.  For example, most commercial stations will have a Political File that covers candidate airtime purchases, and a Section 73.1212 Sponsorship Identification File addressing issue ads.  As the FCC itself has acknowledged, however, many stations have tended to combine those two categories, placing both in their Political File folder.

Knowing how and where these various documents should be uploaded is important for ensuring a rule-compliant file that can withstand worldwide scrutiny on the Internet.  Equally important, however, is knowing when a document should be removed from the public file.  The OPIF does not address this need, and documents that are past their retention period must be manually removed by the licensee.

Of course, the transition to any new online system requires users to become familiar with that system’s architecture and operation as well.  To that end, the FCC recently hosted a live demonstration of the OPIF.  That demonstration revealed that First Wave stations must log into their new online public inspection file on June 24th and actively take steps to switch the file “on” so that the public can access the content.

It turns out that accomplishing this involves several steps.  First, the licensee must sign into the system using its Federal Registration Number (“FRN”) and password, revealing the Owner Dashboard.  The Owner Dashboard displays the Passcode that the system has assigned to each of that owner’s stations.  This allows an owner of multiple stations to give the Passcode to employees responsible for maintaining one station’s public file without having to give up the overall FRN or the Passcodes to its other stations’ public files associated with that FRN.  After this has been accomplished, the licensee will need to log out of the Owner Dashboard and then log back into the system using the “Entity ID”, which in the case of a broadcast station is the Facility Identification Number for the station and the Passcode acquired in the first step.

At this point, a banner will be visible at the top of the public file screen that reads “[Call Sign] is now ready for keeping public inspection files online.  [Call Sign] profile is currently turned On/Off for public view.”  The last step that needs to be taken is switching the station’s public file view to “On”.  The licensee makes the file visible to the world by toggling the On/Off button to the On position.  This action cannot be undone.  Once it is toggled on, it remains on forever.

As part of this process, a pop up box will open requiring the station to certify (and yes, this is exactly how it reads according to the FCC’s demonstration) “I confirm that you are now uploading to your online public inspection file all new public and political file material on a going-forward basis.”  This appears to be intended to let the public know which radio stations are First Wave stations (whose online public files are being phased in from June 24th to December 24th), and explain why documents created before June 24th may not yet be in that station’s online public file.  Once the certification is checked, the station’s online public file will be visible to the public and a banner will appear stating “This entity has confirmed that it is uploading to the online public inspection file all new public and political file material on a going-forward basis.”

For First Wave stations, public file documents that existed prior to June 24th must be uploaded to the online public file by December 24th.  When a station has completed that uploading process, it must go to the Certification tab in the public file and certify “Yes, I certify I have uploaded all existing public file material required to be included in the online public inspection file” and then enter the name of the person certifying.  A banner stating “This entity has confirmed that it has completed uploading of all existing public file material required to be included in the online public file” will then appear and be visible to the public.  Stations obviously will want to make sure this is an accurate statement before making the certification.

While this somewhat complicated process may make radio stations nostalgic for paper files, the transition on June 24th should be much smoother for full power and Class A television stations.  The FCC plans to move all materials in a TV station’s current online public file into the new system by June 24th.  According to the FCC, the links that stations have on their websites to their online public inspection files in BPIF should still work in an OPIF world, as the FCC intends to automatically redirect that link to the new online filing system.  However, stations are still encouraged to update the link on their website on June 24th to be certain visitors actually reach the new online public file location.  More immediately, the direct link that TV stations are required to have on their website to their most recent EEO public inspection file report (if the report itself is not posted on the station website) will not be redirected by the FCC.  As a result, such TV stations need to manually fix that link on their website as of June 24 or be in violation of the EEO report posting requirement.

One final note: in the new database, the FCC has hidden the various document folders under the “Manage” tab, so television stations that are used to seeing all their materials immediately upon logging in should click that tab before assuming the FCC failed to import their public file documents into the new system.

If “content is king” in programming, then content in the public file is king in a station’s next license renewal.  Successfully navigating the transition to an online public file and the worldwide scrutiny it can bring will determine how smoothly that license renewal will go.  More immediately, knowing what needs to be in the public file and ensuring it is there on time will avoid public file fines that start at $10,000 and go up from there.

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This Advisory is designed to aid commercial and noncommercial radio and television stations comply with the FCC’s public inspection file rules, including the online public inspection file requirements. See 47 C.F.R. §§ 73.3526 and 73.3527.  This Advisory discusses the public access, content, retention, and organizational requirements of these regulations. Previous editions of this Advisory are obsolete, and should not be relied upon.

For decades, the FCC required that public inspection files be kept at a station’s main studio in paper or electronic form. In a 2012 push to “modernize” the broadcast disclosure rules, the FCC modified this requirement by requiring stations to make most public file information available online in a Commission-hosted database. In January of 2016, the FCC extended the online public file requirement to broadcast radio stations,
starting with commercial radio stations in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets that have five or more full-time employees. Beginning on June 24, 2016, this “first wave” of radio stations must upload their public file materials created on or after that date to the online public inspection file. These stations have until December 24, 2016 to upload all public file documents (with a few exceptions discussed below) created prior to June 24.

All other radio stations (i.e., all non-commercial educational radio stations, commercial radio stations in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets with fewer than five full-time employees, and all commercial radio stations located outside of the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets) will be required to upload their public inspection file documents to the online public inspection file by March 1, 2018, and then use the online public file going forward. This “second wave” of radio stations may continue to maintain their public inspection files exclusively at their main studio until that time, or can voluntarily transition to the online file early. Once a station has transitioned to the online public inspection file, it must provide a link to that file from the home page of that station’s website, if it has one. Beginning on June 24, 2016, online public inspection files will be hosted at https://publicfiles.fcc.gov/.  Full power and Class A TV stations that already have a link on their stations’ websites to the FCC’s “old” public file database will need to verify that the link redirects to this new website address for online public inspection files and update the link on their station website, if they have one, to their current EEO Public Inspection File report in the online public file, which will not be redirected automatically.

With the following two exceptions, all content and retention requirements are the same for local and online public inspection files. First, the FCC does not require station licensees to make letters and email from the public available online due to privacy concerns. As of the date of this publication, each station must continue to maintain these documents in paper or electronic form in a local file at the station’s main studio. The FCC is considering eliminating altogether the requirement that correspondence from the public be kept in the public inspection file, and has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing that change. However, until the FCC actually changes the requirement, stations must continue to retain such correspondence in a file located at their main studio.

Second, stations need only upload political file documentation on a going-forward basis. Thus, commercial radio stations in the Top 50 markets with five or more full-time employees that make up the “first wave” of radio stations subject to the online filing requirements may continue to maintain political file documentation that existed prior to June 24, 2016 in their local public file until the expiration of the two-year retention period. Similarly, radio stations moving to the online file as part of the “second wave” may continue to maintain political file documentation that existed prior to March 1, 2018 in their local public file until the expiration of the two-year retention period.

Public Access to the Public Inspection File

The FCC requires every applicant, permittee, or licensee of a full-power AM, FM, or TV station or of a Class A TV station to maintain a public inspection file. The purpose of this file, according to the Commission, is “to make information to which the public already has a right more readily available, so that the public will be encouraged to play a more active part in a dialogue with broadcast licensees.” Because the public file rules are part of the FCC’s commitment to responsive broadcasting, the Commission places great importance on the public’s ability to readily access all of the information required to be in the public file. (Continued…)

A PDF version of this entire article can be found at Special Advisory for Commercial and Noncommercial Broadcasters: Meeting the Radio and Television Public Inspection File
Requirements.

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In a Public Notice released today, the FCC has taken the next steps towards implementing the expanded online public inspection file, which is set to go live on June 24th.  Specifically, the FCC announced that on June 13, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time, it will hold an online demonstration on using the new online public file.  In addition, the FCC publicized the Internet address for the new online public file, which licensees must use to create the required link from their websites to the online public file.

As we previously described in Neither Sleet Nor Snow Can Keep the Radio Public File from Going Online and All New Online Public File for TV, Radio, Cable and Satellite Coming June 24th, the FCC adopted a Report and Order in January 2016 extending the online public inspection file requirement to broadcast and satellite radio licensees and cable and satellite television operators.  That requirement is currently applicable only to full power and Class A television stations.  Pursuant to a phased-in schedule, commercial radio stations that have five or more employees and are located in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets, as well as satellite radio licensees, cable systems with 1000 or more subscribers, and DBS operators, must begin using the new system on June 24, 2016.  While commercial radio stations not included in this group as well as all noncommercial radio stations are exempt from the new online public file requirement until March 1, 2018, they are allowed to voluntarily commence use of the new system sooner.  Because these exempt stations are permitted to transition early, the demonstration should be of interest to all radio station licensees.  The demonstration will take place in the Commission Meeting Room, but can be viewed live at https://www.fcc.gov/news-events/events/2016/06/demonstration-expanded-online-public-inspection-file-interface.

Today’s Public Notice also notes that the website address where the new online public file will be hosted will be https://publicfiles.fcc.gov/.  Once a station has transitioned to the online public file, it must provide a link to the new online public inspection file from the home page of the station’s website, if it has one.  Full power and Class A television stations that already have such a link will need to update that link to reflect the new website address.

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May 2016

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Michigan and Ohio and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming must electronically file their Biennial Ownership Reports by June 1, 2016. Licensees must file using FCC Form 323-E and must also place the form as filed in their station’s public inspection file. Television stations must ensure that a copy of the form is posted to their online public inspection file at https://stations.fcc.gov.

On January 8, 2016, the Commission adopted a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial radio and television broadcast stations like the one that the FCC established for all commercial radio and television stations. The new deadline will not become effective until the revised rule is published in the Federal Register. Until then, noncommercial radio and television stations should continue to file their biennial ownership reports every two years by the anniversary date of the station’s license renewal application filing deadline.

A PDF of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports are due by June 1, 2016 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in Michigan and Ohio and Noncommercial Television Stations in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

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Television broadcasters have had to comply with an online Public Inspection File requirement since 2012.  This past January, the FCC announced that it would expand the online Public File requirement to certain broadcast radio, satellite radio, cable system, and DBS operators.  Today, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing the effective date of that new obligation.  It also announced that it has established a new filing system, the Online Public Inspection File (“OPIF”), for use by these newly-covered entities, as well as by television broadcasters who until now have been using the existing online Broadcast Public Inspection File (“BPIF”).

The entities that are newly covered by the online Public File requirement will begin use of the new system in two “waves,” with larger entities going first and having a phase-in period, and smaller entities going later, but having no phase-in period.  There are lots of dates to keep track of, which include:

  • To Be Announced:  FCC Webinar Demonstrating Use of OPIF
  • June 24, 2016:  Public Inspection File documents (including Political File documents) created on or after this date must be uploaded to OPIF by the “first wave” of newly-covered entities:
    • Commercial radio stations that have five or more full-time employees and are located in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets
    • DBS providers
    • SDARS licensees
    • Cable systems with 1,000 or more subscribers (except with respect to the Political File, for systems with fewer than 5,000 subscribers)
  • June 24, 2016:  OPIF use by full-power and Class A television stations becomes mandatory and BPIF use is disabled
    • The FCC says it will transition television stations’ existing documents from the BPIF to the OPIF automatically by this date
  • December 24, 2016:  Public Inspection (but not Political) File documents created prior to June 24, 2016 must be uploaded to the OPIF by the “first wave” entities listed above
  • March 1, 2018:  A “second wave” of newly-covered entities must begin use of OPIF for all newly created Public Inspection and Political File documents and upload all existing Public Inspection (but not Political) File documents.  The “second wave” consists of:
    • All NCE radio stations
    • Commercial radio stations that have fewer than five full-time employees and are located in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets
    • Commercial radio stations located outside of the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets, regardless of staff size
    • Cable systems with between 1,000 and 5,000 subscribers, with respect to newly-created Political File documents only

Commercial broadcast licensees must continue to retain letters and emails from the public at their main studios; the FCC will not let them be posted in the online public file.  However, as we noted last week, the FCC is circulating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes eliminating such letters and emails from the public file entirely.

The Public Notice announces that the OPIF will include a number of technical improvements not found in the BPIF system currently used by television licensees.  According to the FCC, these improvements are meant to allow stations to better manage their online files, including implementing APIs to enable the upload of multiple documents from a third-party website and permitting a document to be placed into multiple folders.  OPIF will also feature improved .pdf conversion software to speed uploads, and allow more flexibility to delete empty folders.

While radio stations have been nervously gearing up to face the new frontier of online public files, TV stations may be a bit surprised that the online file is changing for them as well.  Particularly surprised will be those TV stations who haven’t been following these developments and who try to log into the old public file system on July 10 to file their quarterly reports.  Whether you are a TV or radio broadcaster, or a cable, DBS, or SDARS provider, now is the time to start learning how OPIF will work; it’s not a BPIF world anymore.