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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:

  • FCC Increases Fine to $25,000 for Main Studio and Public File Violations
  • FCC Reaffirms $10,000 Public File Violation Against Student-Run Noncommercial FM Station

FCC Fines Texas Broadcaster $25,000 for Repeated Failure to Maintain Full-Time Personnel and to Make Available a Complete Public Inspection File

According to a recent Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”), the FCC proposed two fines totaling $25,000 against a Texas broadcaster for violations of Section 73.1125 (the “Main Studio Rule”) and Section 73.3526 (the “Public Inspection File Rule”) of the Commission’s Rules. The violations were discovered during three separate site visits over a two week period by an agent from the Enforcement Bureau’s Houston Field Office.

The Main Studio Rule establishes the requirements for a station’s main studio, including minimum staffing levels. The FCC requires that licensees maintain a “meaningful management and staff presence” at a station’s main studio. Based on a 1991 decision, the FCC defines “meaningful” as having at least one management level employee and one staff level employee generally present “during normal business hours.” The base forfeiture for violations of Section 73.1125 is $7,000. The Public Inspection File Rule requires broadcasters to maintain, and make available, certain material in their public inspection file, including a station’s current authorization, a current copy of the Public and Broadcasting manual, and a list of programs (“issues-programs list”) broadcast during each quarter of the license term that evidences the station’s most significant treatment of community issues. The base forfeiture for violations of Section 73.3526 is $10,000.

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The FCC has released a Report and Order which includes its final determinations as to how much each broadcast licensee will have to pay in Annual Regulatory Fees for fiscal year 2011 (FY2011). The FCC collects Annual Regulatory Fees to offset the cost of its non-application processing functions, such as its rulemaking function.

Each year, the FCC issues a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking setting forth the amounts it proposes to assess each type of license. After taking comments, the FCC releases the final amounts due for that year. It is common for the FCC to adopt its proposed fees without revision, although last year, the FCC significantly increased the fees on Commercial UHF Television Stations and erased promised reductions for radio stations. In contrast, this year, the FCC adopted the fees almost entirely as it had proposed them in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking put out in May.

Nevertheless, for FY2011, Commercial UHF Television Station fees again increased across the board from the amounts those stations paid in FY2010. Commercial VHF Television Station fees for those stations outside the top 25 markets decreased across the board. In addition, satellite television stations and LPTV, Class A television, TV Translator, TV Booster, FM Translator and FM Booster stations all had their fee amounts reduced from their FY2010 levels. The fees for most categories of radio stations increased modestly. A chart reflecting the fees for the various types of licenses affecting broadcast stations is attached here.

The FCC will release an additional Public Notice announcing the dates of the filing window for the fees and other details; however, it will accept payment beginning immediately. The FCC will not mail the hard copy assessments it has sent to broadcast stations in the past. Therefore, stations must be prepared to file and pay their fees without a specific reminder from the FCC.

As has been the case for the past few years, stations must make an online filing using the FCC’s Fee Filer system to report to the FCC the types and amounts of fees they are obligated to pay. Once they have done that, they can pay their fees electronically or by separately submitting payment to the FCC’s Lockbox.

Finally, the FCC reiterated its commitment to opening a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking before the end of 2011 to examine whether it should revise the manner in which it allocates the fee burden among the different industries it regulates, as well as to account for new sectors that have arisen since it first started collecting Annual Regulatory Fees in 1994. Commercial VHF Television Station licensees have previously complained that the FCC assigns too much of the Annual Regulatory Fee burden for media services to VHF stations. Licensees in other services have also objected to the manner in which their fees are calculated. Stations wishing to comment on the rebalancing of the fee obligations will have an opportunity to file Comments once the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is released.

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Every year, television stations whose signals were carried outside of their markets by a cable or satellite television provider during the prior year have the opportunity to obtain copyright royalties for that carriage. However, the claims process contains many rigid requirements. One is that claims must be filed no later than 5:00 pm in Washington, DC on July 31. Since July 31 is a Sunday this year, stations get one additional day, until 5:00 pm on August 1, 2011, to file (4:00 pm for courier-delivered claims).

Stations that aired locally produced programming in 2010 and were carried on cable systems located outside of their DMAs or were delivered to subscribers for home viewing outside of their DMAs by a satellite carrier should review the requirements for eligibility and submission of their claim. If a station’s claim is not filed using an approved method, including the specific addresses for mail and hand deliveries, or if the claim is not filed by the deadline, the station will not be able to seek any copyright royalties for its programming carried out of market in 2010. Stations that successfully file their claims will be asked at a later date to provide additional information to establish the amount of reimbursement to which they may be entitled.

The firm’s Advisory on making copyright royalty claims can be found here, and provides additional information for stations interested in pursuing a claim.

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If you have an LPTV station operating on a channel higher than 51, you have until September 1 of this year to file an application to change to digital operation on channel 51 or below. Failure to file an application by that deadline means the station’s authority to operate will terminate on December 31 of this year, which is the deadline announced late today by the FCC for ending all LPTV operations on channels 52-69.

By establishing this rapid deadline for moving LPTV stations out of channels 52-69, the FCC is seeking to clear the way for the immediate use of that spectrum by wireless operators and public safety systems. Stations that are unable to locate a workable channel below channel 52 and get a modification application on file in the next six weeks will have to shutter their operations by the end of this year.

In the order released today, the FCC also established a hard date of September 1, 2015 for all analog LPTV broadcasting to cease, regardless of channel. The FCC stated that setting the date some four years in advance will allow low power operators ample time to plan for the transition and prepare for the impact of the National Broadband Plan on spectrum availability.

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As we reported last month, the federal government has decided to conduct the first-ever national test of the Emergency Alert System. On June 9, 2011, FEMA and the FCC announced that the nationwide test is scheduled to occur on November 9, 2011, at 2pm Eastern Standard Time.

In an effort to answer questions about the test, the FCC has launched a helpful “Emergency Alert System Nationwide Test” information page which can be found here. The page includes a countdown clock (117 days and counting!) and provides the who, what, when, where and why regarding the first national test.

Last month we also reported that the FCC has implemented a rulemaking proposing sweeping changes to the Part 11 EAS Rules in order to codify the obligation that EAS Participants begin formatting EAS messages using the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP). The FCC’s Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking raises a host of questions, the most immediate of which is whether the current September 30, 2011 deadline for implementing CAP should be extended. For the vast majority of EAS Participants trying to meet that deadline, the answer to the FCC’s question appears to be a resounding “yes”. Among other issues, installing new EAS equipment just a month before the first national EAS test is likely to result in a national test beset by the “teething pains” of getting the new equipment functioning smoothly.

If you wish to respond to this or any of the other CAP-related questions being considered by the FCC, remember that comments are due at the FCC next Wednesday, July 20.

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In a setback for media interests, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit yesterday issued its Opinion in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC (“Prometheus II“). The case focuses on the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent revisions to its media ownership rules, which were adopted in a 2008 Order (the “2008 Order“) concluding the FCC’s 2006 Quadrennial Regulatory Review.

The Prometheus II Opinion generally upheld those portions of the 2008 Order which retained the pre-2003 versions of the:

  • Radio/Television Cross-Ownership Rule
  • Local Television Ownership Rule, including the Top-Four Station and Eight Voices Tests
  • Local Radio Ownership Rule
  • Dual Network Rule

With respect to each of these rules, media interests had argued that the limitations were no longer necessary in the public interest as a result of increased competition, and that the FCC was therefore obligated under Section 202(h) of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to repeal or modify those regulations. The Third Circuit rejected those arguments and found the FCC’s analysis supporting a continuation of its pre-2003 ownership limitations to be reasonable, and not arbitrary, capricious, and/or unconstitutional.

The Third Circuit also remanded some portions of the 2008 Order to the FCC. First, the Third Circuit spent a considerable portion of the Opinion determining that the FCC failed to meet notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act with regard to its decisions affecting the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership (“NBCO”) rules. The court repeated at length criticisms raised by FCC Commissioner Copps and former Commissioner Adelstein and ultimately decided that these defects were so significant as to require that the NBCO rules be vacated and remanded to the FCC to be considered again as part of the 2010 Quadrennial Regulatory Review.

Also with respect to the NBCO rule, the 2008 Order had granted five permanent waivers of the rule to Gannett and to Media General. A group of public advocacy groups challenged those grants, but the Third Circuit held that the FCC had not been given an opportunity to pass on the arguments below and that the court therefore lacked jurisdiction to hear those challenges.

Finally, the Court ruled that the FCC failed to adequately address proposals to foster minority and female ownership of broadcast media in the 2008 Order and the related Diversity Order. It particularly criticized the FCC’s use of SBA criteria in determining whether a party was an “eligible entity” under the failed station solicitation rule adopted in the 2008 Order, and its failure to give adequate consideration to proposals from interest groups to limit eligibility to socially and economically disadvantaged businesses. As a result, this ruling was also vacated and remanded to the FCC.

From here, the FCC will now have to address the items that the Third Circuit has remanded to it. In addition, the FCC is again considering its multiple ownership rules in conjunction with its 2010 Quadrennial Regulatory Review. Therefore, the ball is yet again in the FCC’s court.

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By: Scott R. Flick and Christine A. Reilly

The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ local public inspection files by July 10, 2011, reflecting information for the months of April, May and June, 2011.

Content of the Quarterly List

The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station. The FCC gives each station the discretion to determine which issues facing the community served by the station are the most significant and how best to respond to them in the station’s overall programming.

To demonstrate a station’s compliance with this public interest obligation, the FCC requires a station to maintain, and place in the public inspection file, a Quarterly List reflecting the “station’s most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period.” By its use of the term “most significant,” the FCC has noted that stations are not required to list all responsive programming, but only that programming which provided the most significant treatment of the issues identified.

Given the fact that program logs are no longer officially mandated by the Commission, the Quarterly Lists may be the most important evidence of a station’s compliance with its public service obligations. The lists also provide important support for the certification of Class A TV station compliance that is discussed below and which must be produced by Class A TV applicants and licensees.

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By Lauren Lynch Flick and Christine A. Reilly

The next Children’s Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations’ local Public Inspection Files by July 10, 2011, reflecting programming aired during the months of April, May and June, 2011.

Statutory and Regulatory Requirements

As a result of the Children’s Television Act of 1990 and the FCC Rules adopted under the Act, full power and Class A television stations are required, among other things, to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programs originally produced and broadcast for an audience of children 12 years of age and younger; and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and younger.

For all full-power and Class A television stations, website addresses displayed during children’s programming or promotional material must comply with a four-part test or they will be counted against the commercial time limits. In addition, the contents of some websites whose addresses are displayed during programming or promotional material are subject to host-selling limitations. The definition of commercial matter now include promos for television programs that are not children’s educational/informational programming or other age-appropriate programming appearing on the same channel. Licensees must prepare supporting documents to demonstrate compliance with these limits on a quarterly basis.

Specifically, stations must: (1) place in their public inspection file one of four prescribed types of documentation demonstrating compliance with the commercial limits in children’s television; and (2) complete FCC Form 398, which requests information regarding the educational and informational programming aired for children 16 years of age and under. The Form 398 must be filed electronically with the FCC and placed in the public inspection file. The base forfeiture for noncompliance with the requirements of the FCC’s Children Television Programming Rule is $10,000.

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Hope everyone had a great July 4th! With the long weekend now behind us, I wanted to remind readers that July 10th represents a significant filing deadline for radio and television stations. Below is a brief summary of the quarterly deadlines, as well as links to our Client Alerts describing the requirements in more detail.

Children’s Television Programming Documentation

All commercial full-power television stations and Class A LPTV stations must prepare and file with the FCC a Form 398 Children’s Programming Report for the second quarter of 2011, reflecting children’s programming aired during the months of April, May, and June, 2011. The Form 398 must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations’ public inspection files by July 10, 2011.

In addition to requiring stations to air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children, the FCC’s rules limit the amount of commercial material that can be aired during programming aimed at children. Proof of compliance with the children’s television commercial limitations for the second quarter of 2011 must also be placed in stations’ public inspection files by July 10, 2011.

For a detailed discussion of the children’s programming documentation and filing requirements, please see our Client Alert here.

Quarterly Issues Programs Lists

The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems. Radio and television broadcast stations, whether commercial or noncommercial, must prepare and place in their public inspection files by July 10, 2011, a list of important issues facing their communities, and the programs which aired during the months of April, May, and June, 2011 dealing with those issues. For a detailed discussion of these requirements, please see our Client Alert here.