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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:

  • Rebroadcast Changes Lead to FM Translator Station Fine
  • Delinquent Regulatory Fees Threaten AM Station License
  • Procedural Missteps Lead to Dismissal of Stations’ Applications in Administrative Proceeding

North Carolina FM Translator’s Primary Station Change Leads to Fine

Following a Notice of Apparent Liability issued last year, the FCC recently issued a Forfeiture Order fining a North Carolina FM Translator station $2,000 for changing the station it rebroadcasts without notifying the Commission.  However, in an oversight by the FCC, the Order was issued in error as the station had already paid the outstanding fine.

Sections 74.1232(b) and 74.1251(c) of the FCC’s Rules set forth eligibility, licensing, and other technical rules applicable to FM translator stations.  Under Section 74.1232(b), an entity may not hold multiple FM translator licenses to retransmit the same signal to substantially the same area without showing a “technical need” for an additional station.  Section 74.1251(c) requires a translator licensee to notify the FCC in writing if it changes the primary station it rebroadcasts.

The Media Bureau’s investigation began in response to a Petition for Reconsideration challenging the grant of a construction permit for the translator station.  The licensee originally applied for the permit in July 2018, but amended its application to change its primary station.  The Bureau granted the amended application the following month.

In its filing, the petitioner acknowledged that it was not a party to the application proceeding, but argued that it was effectively precluded from participating because the FCC granted the application only ten days after the amended application was placed on public notice.  The Commission ultimately dismissed the challenge, determining that ten days is a reasonable amount of time to prepare and file a pleading and further concluded that the petitioner had sufficient notice of the amended application.  The Commission also found that reconsideration of the application grant is not required in the public interest under the FCC’s rules.

In April 2019, the station filed a license application for the now-constructed station, which the Commission granted shortly thereafter.  In response, the petitioner filed a new petition contesting the grant of the license itself claiming that (1) there was no “technical need” for the translator, such as issues with poor signal quality, and (2) the translator was not operating as authorized.  This petition prompted the FCC’s review of the station’s rebroadcasting practices.

In December 2019, the FCC issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order and Notice of Apparent Liability that again rejected the petitioner’s argument that there was no “technical need” for the translator station, noting that this issue is considered at the permitting, not the licensing phase, and that a showing of technical need is only required when the same party proposes to own more than one translator rebroadcasting the same signal in substantially the same area.

The FCC did, however, conclude that the station violated the FCC’s rules by rebroadcasting a station not specified in its authorization without notifying the FCC.  The FCC found that for roughly a month, the translator rebroadcast a nearby AM station, rather than the FM station specified in its license.

Despite these violations, the FCC concluded that permittees are entitled to a “high degree of protection” and a presumption that the Commission’s public interest determination in granting the permit should remain in effect unless it is shown that the station’s operation would go against the public interest.  As a result, the Commission dismissed the license challenge and instead proposed a fine to resolve the violations.

The Notice of Apparent Liability proposed a $2,000 fine.  Although the base fine amount for failure to file required information is $3,000, and $4,000 for unauthorized transmissions, the FCC proposed the reduced fine due to the short duration of the violations and a lack of history of prior offenses.  The Commission recently followed this NAL with a Forfeiture Order requiring the station to pay the $2,000 fine or file a written statement justifying a reduction or cancellation of the fine.  Days later, however, the Commission issued a separate order cancelling the Forfeiture Order, noting that the station had actually already paid the fine, and indicating that the Forfeiture Order was therefore “issued in error”.

Delinquent Payments Come at a High Price: Failure to Pay Regulatory Fees Threatens California AM Station

As previous CommLawCenter posts demonstrate, failure to pay regulatory fees can lead to significant penalties, including license revocation.  In one recent example, the FCC initiated a license revocation proceeding against a California AM station, ordering it to either pay its delinquent regulatory fees or demonstrate why no payment is due.

Section 9 of the Communications Act (the “Act”) requires the FCC to “assess and collect regulatory fees” to recover the costs of its regulatory activities.  When a payment is late or incomplete, a monetary penalty equal to 25 percent of the fee amount owed will be assessed.  The Act also requires the FCC to charge interest on the debt owed.  In addition to these monetary penalties, Section 9A(c)(4) of the Act and Section 1.1164(f) of the FCC’s Rules provide that the FCC may revoke a licensee’s authorization for failure to timely pay regulatory fees.  If the FCC wishes to pursue that option, the licensee must be given at least 60 days to either pay the debt or demonstrate why the fees are inapplicable.  Although applied sparingly by the FCC, the Commission may waive, reduce, or defer payment of the debt where a party demonstrates “extraordinary circumstances” that outweigh the public interest in recovering the regulatory fees. Continue reading →

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Early this afternoon, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing an extension of broadcasters’ deadlines for certain filings in light of the disruptions being caused by the coronavirus epidemic.  Specifically, the FCC indicated that:

As a result of the fluid and challenging situation caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Media Bureau hereby extends the filing deadline for the first annual Children’s Television Programming Report (FCC Form 2100, Schedule H) from March 30, 2020 to July 10, 2020.  Additionally, we extend the deadline by which radio and television broadcasters must place their first quarter issues/programs lists into their Online Public Inspection File from April 10, 2020, to July 10, 2020.  As a result, the filing deadline for both the first and second quarter issues/programs lists will be the same.

In making the announcement, the FCC also noted that “this Public Notice does not modify any requirements or filing deadlines related to stations’ political files, nor does it modify any other filing obligations or deadline related to broadcasters’ public files.”

So, barring any further announcements from the FCC, other regulatory deadlines remain in place, including the obligation to file license renewal applications by April 1 for radio stations in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

With station staffs already stretched thin and many working remotely, the FCC’s announcement will be welcome news.  While the FCC’s announcements in the initial days of the epidemic focused primarily on the telecommunications industry and broadband access, it’s good to see the FCC acknowledge the challenges broadcasters are also facing during this unprecedented time.

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The FCC announced this afternoon that “effective immediately, [we] will no longer allow visitors into our facilities, absent special permission from the Office of Managing Director.”  However, that announcement, strange as it would be under normal circumstances, was of no particular importance.  That’s because the same document noted that, starting tomorrow, the FCC is asking its staff to telework.  Whether you get through the front door isn’t too important when there is no one inside the building to meet.

Broadcasters are also moving quickly to adapt to a world where no matter how strange your day was, tomorrow’s developments will make it seem unremarkable.  For example, noncommercial college radio stations whose campuses have suddenly shut down are learning about Section 73.561(a) of the FCC’s Rules, which eliminates the requirement that such stations maintain a minimum operating schedule “during those days designated on the official school calendar as vacation or recess periods.”

Meanwhile, NAB, among many, many others, is looking to mitigate the damage resulting from cancelled or postponed events.  If you are a broadcaster that was sponsoring a concert or other event that now isn’t going to happen, you might want to check out the Advisory from Pillsbury’s Insurance Practice regarding the scope of Event Cancellation Insurance policies (and kudos to that group for presciently publishing an Advisory over a month ago titled Insuring Against the Business Risks of Coronavirus).

But what about broadcasters just doing their best to go forward with their day to day business?  Well, some may go into a pool reporting model with other local stations to minimize the number of reporters being crammed into rooms with newsmakers while keeping the public informed.  Others are putting together contingency plans for when a staffer starts coughing, returns from an international trip, or is bragging about how much they enjoyed their recent cruise ship vacation.

Such planning is, however, quite complicated, as employment laws won’t necessarily let you send someone home for two unpaid weeks just because they coughed.  For those doing such planning, you might want to take a look at this recent Advisory, which discusses effective steps you can take in the workplace without simultaneously putting your station in violation of labor laws.

Hopefully by now you’ve begun to pick up a theme, which is simply that dealing with the fallout of coronavirus is a complex and diverse endeavor for all businesses, but particularly so for broadcasters.  Those with significant news operations don’t have the option of sending everyone to work from home for a couple of weeks.  That makes the task of keeping your employees safe, your audience informed, and your station solvent all the more challenging.  The FCC may be able to telework efficiently, but for those that can’t, the days ahead will be difficult, and more so for those that aren’t planning ahead now.

 

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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:

  • Violations of the Live Broadcasting Rule Lead to $50,000 Consent Decree
  • Decision Affirming Dismissal of Mississippi Station’s License Renewal Application Highlights Intricacies of License Renewal Process
  • FCC Reversal Leads to Reinstatement of Georgia Radio Station’s License

Is This Live?  California Broadcaster Settles with FCC Over Violations of the Live Broadcasting Rule

The FCC recently entered into a Consent Decree with a large California-based radio broadcaster for violating the FCC’s rule prohibiting the broadcast of prerecorded programming that “creates the impression that it is occurring live” (often referred to as the “live broadcasting rule”).  This settlement represents the first time the FCC has publicly enforced the rule in recent years.

According to the FCC, the live broadcasting rule is effectively a consumer protection rule that ensures viewers are not misled into believing that a program is live when it is not.  Under Section 73.1208 of the FCC’s Rules, where “time is of special significance” to the program material aired, or “an affirmative attempt is made to create the impression that [the program material] is occurring simultaneously with the broadcast,” broadcasters must disclose if the program was previously taped, filmed, or recorded.  Such disclosure must be made at the beginning of the broadcast “in terms commonly understood by the public”.  The live broadcasting rule does not extend to prerecorded commercial, promotional, or public service programming.

The FCC began its investigation after receiving a complaint alleging that one of the broadcaster’s Los Angeles-area AM stations was airing a call-in show with the word “Live” in its title even though the show was actually prerecorded.  The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau responded by directing a Letter of Inquiry to the station’s licensee seeking additional information about the program.  In response, the licensee admitted the broadcast had indeed been prerecorded and that at several times during the broadcast, the program’s host had suggested that he was taking listener calls live over the air.  The licensee acknowledged that even though the program created the impression that the broadcast was live, the station under investigation, as well as other commonly-controlled stations that broadcast the same program, had failed to make the required disclaimer.

To resolve the investigation, the licensee’s parent company entered into a Consent Decree with the Enforcement Bureau.  Under the terms of that agreement, the company: (1) agreed to pay a $50,000 civil penalty; (2) admitted to violating the live broadcasting rule; and (3) must implement a three-year compliance plan to prevent future violations.  Considering the costly penalty, broadcasters should be wary when airing prerecorded programming, taking care to determine whether the audience needs to be informed of that fact.

Undisclosed Death of Mississippi Radio Station Owner Ends in Non-Renewal of License

In a recent Memorandum Opinion and Order (“Order”), the FCC denied an Application for Review which challenged the dismissal of a Mississippi AM station’s 2012 license renewal application.  The application had failed to disclose that the station’s licensee had previously died, and unsurprisingly, also failed to include the deceased licensee’s signature.

The years-long saga began in January 2011 following the death of the station’s licensee.  Continue reading →

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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:

  • Arkansas University’s Underwriting Violations Lead to $76,000 Consent Decree
  • Large TV Broadcaster Agrees to Pay $1.3 Million Over Predecessor’s Tower Compliance Problems
  • Recent Fine Cancellations Prompt Broadcasters to Double-Check Fees and Fines

A Word From Our Sponsors: Arkansas University Settles With FCC Over Underwriting Violations

The FCC recently entered into a Consent Decree with an Arkansas university for violating the FCC’s underwriting rules for noncommercial stations.  The university admitted that two of its FM stations aired announcements over several days in 2016 that impermissibly promoted the products or services of its financial contributors.  The two stations are operated by a community college under the University’s control.

Noncommercial educational (“NCE”) broadcast stations are prohibited from airing promotional announcements on behalf of for-profit entities in exchange for any benefit or payment.  Instead, NCE stations may broadcast announcements that identify but do not “promote” station benefactors.  Such messages may not, among other things, include product descriptions, price comparisons, or calls to action on behalf of a for-profit donor.  According to the FCC, these limitations “protect the public’s use and enjoyment of commercial-free broadcasts” and “provide a level playing field for the noncommercial broadcasters that obey the law and for the commercial broadcasters that are entitled to seek revenue from advertising.”

The FCC was tipped off to the violations when the licensees of several nearby commonly-owned stations filed a Formal Complaint outlining over a dozen announcements broadcast on the University’s stations.  The complainants alleged that these messages, which were aired on an ongoing basis in 2016, violated the underwriting rules by either including promotional statements or promoting specific products for sale.  Most of the announcements were sponsored by local businesses, including an announcement for a nearby car dealership described as “impressive with a very clean pre-owned model or program unit,” a furniture store that has a “good deal … going there” where listeners can get “pretty stuff,” and a local insurance agent offering services that he had “never done on radio before.”

The Enforcement Bureau responded to the Formal Complaint by issuing multiple Letters of Inquiry to the University seeking additional information about the announcements and the University’s underwriting compliance efforts.  In its response, the University admitted that the announcements had been simulcast on both stations, but emphasized that the stations’ staff had received “extensive” training on underwriting issues, and that it believed that the stations had complied with the underwriting rules.

To resolve the years-long investigation, the University agreed to enter into a Consent Decree under which the University agreed to: (1) pay a $76,000 civil penalty; (2) admit to violating the FCC’s underwriting rules; and (3) implement a five-year compliance plan to ensure there will be no future violations.

Tower Records: Predecessor’s Lax Oversight of Antenna Structures Leads to $1.3 Million Settlement for Large Broadcast Company

A large television broadcast company has agreed to settle an FCC investigation into whether the prior owner of several of the company’s towers failed to sufficiently monitor and maintain records regarding them.

Part 17 of the FCC’s Rules requires a tower owner to comply with various registration, lighting and painting requirements.  Tower marking and lighting is a vital component of air traffic safety, and noncompliant structures pose serious hazards to air navigation.  To this end, a tower owner is responsible for observing the tower at least once every day for any lighting failures or to have in place an automatic monitoring system to detect such failures.  The tower owner must also maintain a record of any extinguished or improperly functioning lights.  The FCC’s rules also require a tower owner to notify the FCC within 5 days of a change in a tower’s ownership.

In September 2018, a small plane crashed into a southern Louisiana broadcast tower, prompting an FCC investigation into the tower and its owner.  The FCC determined that the tower was registered to a subsidiary of a national broadcaster which at the time controlled over a dozen television stations and related antenna structures.  Following up on the crash, the Enforcement Bureau issued the company a Letter of Inquiry seeking information about its compliance with the FCC’s tower rules.  The company responded by disclosing numerous “irregularities” in its monitoring of the lighting systems of the toppled tower and nine other towers.  It also disclosed that it had failed to keep complete records of a dozen lighting failures at several of its towers, and that it had not notified the Commission of its acquisition of two other towers. Continue reading →

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With radio license renewals underway, TV license renewals starting soon, the TV repack chugging along, and a whole new set of deadlines for kidvid launching this year, there are a lot of 2020 deadlines that broadcasters must track and meet.

To help broadcasters accomplish that, Pillsbury has published a new edition of its Broadcasters’ Calendar each year for longer than anyone can recall. (This is the 33rd edition that I’ve personally contributed to.)

And it is a doozy. 2020 is one of the busier regulatory years in recent memory, making the recently published 2020 edition of the Pillsbury Broadcasters’ Calendar an essential tool for broadcasters. While the internet works well for monitoring breaking changes in regulations and deadlines, its tendency to focus your attention on each new change in isolation makes it a poor tool for broadcasters seeking to obtain the big picture and plan their year.

In particular, TV broadcasters will want to focus on the various deadlines related to children’s television. With the FCC’s new rules going into effect on January 21, 2020, broadcasters are entering into a rather complicated transitional period, and we held off on finalizing this year’s Broadcasters’ Calendar until all of those deadlines were set. That allows broadcasters to not only ensure they are meeting their modified January 10 obligations, but to see how those obligations mesh with the shift from quarterly to annual kidvid obligations.

There are sure to be plenty of surprises in 2020. Regulatory obligations that are already in place should not be one of them. We hope you find the 2020 Pillsbury Broadcasters’ Calendar a useful addition to your planning for the year ahead, and wish you a successful 2020.

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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:

  • North Carolina FM Translator Station Hit With $2,000 Proposed Fine Over Primary Station Change
  • FCC Admonishes Georgia TV Stations for Insufficient Political File Disclosures
  • FCC Proposes Historic Fine Against Massachusetts Pirate Radio Operation

Carolina On My Mind: FCC Proposes $2,000 Fine Over Raleigh FM Translator’s Primary Station Confusion

A Raleigh FM translator briefly rebroadcast a station that was not its primary station and which was already being rebroadcast by another commonly-owned translator in the area.  In response, the FCC proposed a $2,000 fine for the licensee’s failure to notify the Commission or to provide any justification for such redundant operations.

An FM translator station rebroadcasts the signal of a primary AM or FM station on a different frequency.  Translators are often used to provide “fill in” service in poor reception areas due to distance or terrain obstructions.  Section 74.1251(c) of the FCC’s Rules requires an FM translator station to notify the FCC in writing if it changes its primary station.  Pursuant to Section 74.1232, an entity may not hold multiple FM translator licenses to retransmit the same signal to substantially the same service area without first demonstrating “technical need” for an additional station, such as a signal gap in the service area.

The Raleigh licensee originally applied for a construction permit to build facilities for an FM translator in July 2018 and shortly thereafter amended the application to change the translator’s proposed primary station.  The FCC’s Media Bureau granted the application a few weeks later.  After completing construction, the licensee filed, and the Media Bureau granted, a license for the translator.

Throughout this process, the licensee of a nearby low power FM station filed multiple petitions–one challenging the FCC’s grant of the construction permit, and a later one challenging the grant of the license itself.  Though the first petition was dismissed by the FCC as “procedurally defective”, the latter became the basis of an investigation into the new station.  The petitioner claimed that since initiating service, the new translator station had been rebroadcasting a nearby AM station rather than the FM station specified as the primary station in its construction permit application.  According to the petitioner, the translator only “returned” to its authorized primary station when the primary FM station began simulcasting the AM station.

The petitioner also asserted that the translator licensee failed to show any “technical need” to rebroadcast the AM station since the AM station was already being rebroadcast to substantially the same area by another translator licensed to an entity that was commonly-owned with the FM translator.

The FCC concluded that the new translator had violated its rules by failing to notify the FCC when it commenced rebroadcasting the AM station during its first month of operation.  The FCC further determined that the licensee should have first submitted a “technical need” showing to support this change due to the presence of the nearby commonly-owned translator station rebroadcasting the same programming.

As a result, the FCC issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order and Notice of Apparent Liability against the licensee, proposing a $2,000 fine.  While FCC guidelines set a base fine of $3,000 for failure to file required forms or information, and a $4,000 base fine for unauthorized emissions, the Commission may adjust a fine upward or downward after considering the particular facts of each case.  Acknowledging the brief duration of the licensee’s violations and finding no history of prior offenses, the FCC proposed a total fine of $2,000.  Additionally, the Commission determined that the licensee’s actions did not raise a “substantial or material question of fact” regarding the licensee’s qualifications to remain a licensee, and affirmed its decision to grant the translator license application.

Political Ad Nauseum: FCC Admonishes Georgia TV Stations Over Political File Defects

In a recent Order, the FCC’s Media Bureau admonished the licensees of two Georgia television stations in response to complaints alleging violations of the FCC’s political file rules.  According to the FCC, the stations failed to sufficiently comply with record-keeping obligations in response to several political ad sales made in 2017.

Pursuant to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (often referred to as “BCRA” or the “McCain-Feingold Act”), broadcasters are required to keep and make available extensive records of purchases and requests for purchases of advertising time if the advertisement communicates a message relating to a “political matter of national importance”.  Section 315(e) of the Communications Act of 1934, which was amended by BCRA, states that ads that trigger such disclosure include those that relate to legally qualified federal candidates and elections to federal office, as well as “national legislative issues” of public importance. Continue reading →

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The FCC announced the opening of a new filing window to modify pending applications proposing new digital Low Power TV and TV translator service in rural areas.  This filing window will permit applicants with long-pending applications who have subsequently been displaced by the Incentive Auction and the repacking process to submit amended proposals, subject to certain conditions.

In June 2009, the FCC announced a filing window for new digital LPTV and TV translator stations to serve rural areas.  The window opened on August 25, 2009, and the plan was for the FCC to permit similar new, non-rural proposals to be filed starting on January 25, 2010.  However, at the same time that the FCC was accepting applications for new rural LPTV and TV translator stations, it was also considering the adoption of the National Broadband Plan, which, inter alia, proposed to re-purpose a portion of the UHF television spectrum.  The FCC first delayed, and then cancelled, the “non-rural” filing window, and imposed a freeze on the filing and processing of the rural proposals.

As a result, there are now a significant number of pending applications for new LPTV and TV translator stations to serve rural areas that have been frozen since 2010.  The new filing window, which will be open between December 2, 2019 and January 31, 2020, will permit applicants to submit amendments that (i) specify a new digital channel in the revised TV band and/or (ii) propose a change in transmitter site of 48 kilometers or less.  The amendments must protect full-power, Class A television and LPTV/translator stations that have been licensed or that hold valid construction permits, along with any previously-filed applications for those services.  Moreover, any amendment must continue to qualify as a rural service proposal.

After the window closes on January 31, 2020, the FCC will provide mutually-exclusive applicants the opportunity to resolve conflicting proposals through settlement or engineering amendments.  If an engineering conflict cannot be resolved, the FCC will conduct an auction.  The FCC will dismiss all pending applications that do not submit an in-core amendment during the filing window.

Given the holiday season and the short turnaround on filing amendments, applicants with long-pending applications should move quickly to find a new channel and/or tower site that will permit the FCC to process their application.

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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:

  • Government Shutdown and Other “Compelling Reasons” Prompt FCC to Reinstate NY Radio Station License
  • FCC Fines Virginia AM Station and Limits License Renewal to Two Years for Missing Quarterly Programs/Issues Lists
  • Virginia Station’s Late License Renewal Application Proves Costly

How Do You Measure a Year?  “Unique Circumstances” Lead to New York AM Station’s Reinstatement

In a Memorandum Opinion and Order and related Consent Decree, the Media Bureau agreed to reinstate the license of a Long Island, New York AM radio station that had been silent for nearly all of 2018 before going back on air without authorization in the midst of this year’s partial government shutdown.  The Media Bureau also approved an application to sell the station that had been pending since February.

Section 73.1745(a) of the FCC’s Rules requires a station to broadcast according to the “modes and power” specified in its license, and further requires licensees to seek special temporary authority (often referred to as an “STA”) when seeking to operate at variance from their license.  Even where a station obtains temporary authority from the FCC to remain silent, Section 312(g) of the Communications Act of 1934 provides that a broadcast station’s license automatically expires if it does not transmit a broadcast signal for 12 consecutive months.  The FCC does not consider unauthorized operation to be a “broadcast signal” for purposes of declaring a station’s operations to be resumed under Section 312(g).  Fortunately, the FCC has the discretion to reinstate a license that would otherwise be lost under Section 312(g) where it is appropriate as a matter of “equity and fairness.”

On January 25, 2018, the AM station went silent due to the loss of its licensed transmitter site.  Shortly thereafter, the licensee sought and was granted authority by the FCC to remain silent through August 16, 2018.  When that date arrived, the station continued to remain silent, but failed to apply for an extension of that authority.  On January 15, 2019, the licensee informed the FCC that it had resumed operations on an emergency antenna at low power, and it filed a request for special temporary authority to operate at those parameters.  The station’s request fell on deaf ears, however, as the federal government was shut down at that time due to a budget dispute.  The FCC did not resume normal operations until January 26, 2019, and did not grant the STA request until February 1. Continue reading →

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[Editor’s Note: Pillsbury will be conducting a December 3, 2019 webinar for broadcasters on the new overtime regulations sponsored by the National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations.  Details can be found here.]

On September 24, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor published final regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act that raised the minimum salary level necessary to be exempt from federal overtime rules under the Act by almost 50%.  While the changes affect all businesses subject to the FLSA, broadcasters in particular may feel the impact of the changes given the staffing models used by many TV and radio stations.  The new requirements will go into effect on January 1, 2020, and broadcasters should take steps to adapt to, and minimize the impact of, those changes prior to that deadline.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is the federal law governing wage and hour requirements for employees.  Pursuant to the FLSA, employers must pay employees a minimum wage and compensate them for overtime at 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for any time worked exceeding 40 hours in a workweek unless those employees are exempt from the requirement.  On September 24, 2019, the Department of Labor issued a Final Rule that increased the minimum salary threshold for certain types of employees to be exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rules.  As a result, many currently exempt employees whose salaries are below the new thresholds will soon be eligible for overtime pay.  The White House projects the change will impact an estimated 1.3 million previously-exempt employees.

Although the FLSA applies to almost all employers, the law contains exemptions for certain types of employees at small-market broadcast stations.  The Final Rule does not affect these broadcast industry-specific exemptions, but will affect many other currently exempt employees in the broadcast industry who, unless they receive salary raises, will soon become eligible for overtime pay.

This Advisory only addresses federal law.  Some state laws impose stricter standards than federal law as to which employees are exempt from overtime pay.  Employers must ensure that they also meet the requirements of any applicable state or local employment laws.

Overview

The FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt employees an overtime rate of 1.5 times their regular rate for all hours worked over 40 hours per workweek.  However, the FLSA exempts from its overtime rules certain classes of employees who are paid on a salary basis and who also meet specific “white collar” duties tests.  The Department of Labor’s Final Rule increases the minimum salary required for these classes of employees to be deemed exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rules, but does not alter the duties tests for those exemptions. Continue reading →