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What do these three have in common?  Well, if you are planning to be at the Radio Show in Orlando next week, you probably already know about the Pillsbury Broadcast Finance sessions at the Radio Show, with this year’s session marking the event’s 28th year.  The 2018 edition is titled Pillsbury’s Broadcast Finance 2018: Radio’s Debt Cloud Finally Lifts—a reference to the packaged bankruptcies of iHeart and Cumulus that will lighten both companies debt load in 2019, and which will hopefully allow us to turn the page on investors’ perception of radio as a slow growth, high-debt industry.

The event (September 26 from 8:30am to 10am) is often referred to as the “Radio Show Leadership Breakfast” because (1) the session panels feature some of the most influential CEOs in the radio business along with up-and-comers that will soon become the future of radio, and (2) our friends at Media Services Group are once again buying breakfast for everyone.  It’s a tough combination to beat, and perennially a standing room only event.

In addition to our CEO panelists—Caroline Beasley of Beasley Media Group, Ginny Morris of Hubbard, and Dhruv Prasad of Townsquare—Wells Fargo analyst J. Davis Hebert will be returning to launch this year’s event with his always head-turning presentation on the Financial State of the Radio Industry.  This economic snapshot (with bright colors and graphs!) provides a degree of insightful clarity rarely found in such a large and complex industry.

But what—for those of you that still remember the question that launched this post—does any of this have to do with political dollars?  Well (spoiler alert), one of the points Davis will be illustrating with his slides is a projection that 2018 will be by far the biggest political ad spending midterm election of the century, and an incredibly close second to the biggest political ad spending election of all, the 2016 general election ($2.9B vs. 2016’s $3B).  There are 34 Senate seats at stake, 11 of which are highly competitive races, 66 highly competitive House races, and 36 gubernatorial elections, with 16 states “potentially in play.”

Radio will have to fight for its share of those dollars, but in markets with highly competitive races, the influx of dollars from candidates and PACs can be so immense that ad buyers have trouble finding media that aren’t sold out as election time nears.  The competition to place ads can be so intense that I’ve been contacted by more than one noncommercial station trying to figure out how to deal with candidates that are insisting upon placing ads on their stations.

Which raises the less fun to contemplate, but equally important, matter of ensuring that your station’s political ad practices don’t leave you fighting off political advertising complaints once the election is over.  The political advertising rules for broadcasters are complex and so fact-sensitive that many an experienced broadcaster is left scratching their head trying to deal with a political ad buy.  I know those calls well, which often begin with something along the lines of “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, but I’ve never had something like this pop up before….”

That, along with the fact that stations’ Political Files are now online for political activists to scrutinize at any time, day or night, means broadcasters will again lose a lot of sleep this election season trying to ensure they are doing everything right.  In hopes of making their lives a little easier, Pillsbury released an updated version of its Political Broadcasting Advisory this year.

So if you’ve been clinging to the last edition like it’s your security blanket during election season, you can now toss it aside and get that warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from holding something that’s still warm from the laser printer (it’s much longer than you’ll ever want to read on a phone).  That way, you’ll have something to read on the plane ride to Orlando, where you will arrive well-versed in the intricacies of political ad rules compliance, and stoked for a great Radio Show.

We look forward to seeing you there!

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This Pillsbury Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in the areas noted above, and highlights upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

October 1, 2018 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection file and post the report on their station website.  In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must electronically file an EEO Mid-Term Report on FCC Form 397 by October 1.

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements.  Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term.  These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the public inspection files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application.  The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities.  Nonexempt SEUs must submit to the FCC the two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports when they file their license renewal applications.

In addition, all TV station SEUs with five or more full-time employees and all radio station SEUs with 11 or more full-time employees must submit to the FCC the two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports at the mid-point of their eight-year license term along with FCC Form 397—the Broadcast Mid-Term EEO Report.

Exempt SEUs—those with fewer than five full-time employees—do not have to prepare or file Annual or Mid-Term EEO Reports.

For a detailed description of the EEO Rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group.  This publication is available at: http://www.pillsburylaw.com/publications/broadcasters-guide-to-fcc-equal-employment-opportunity-rules-policies.

Deadline for the Annual EEO Public File Report for Nonexempt Radio and Television SEUs

Consistent with the above, October 1, 2018 is the date by which Nonexempt SEUs of radio and television stations licensed to communities in the states identified above, including Class A television stations, must (i) place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the public inspection files of all stations comprising the SEU, and (ii) post the Report on the websites, if any, of those stations.  LPTV stations are also subject to the broadcast EEO Rule, even though LPTV stations are not required to maintain a public inspection file.  Instead, these stations must maintain a “station records” file containing the station’s authorization and other official documents and must make it available to an FCC inspector upon request.  Therefore, if an LPTV station has five or more full-time employees, or is otherwise part of a Nonexempt SEU, it must prepare an Annual EEO Public File Report and place it in the station records file.

These Reports will cover the period from October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018.  However, Nonexempt SEUs may “cut off” the reporting period up to ten days before September 30, so long as they begin the next annual reporting period on the day after the cut-off day used in the immediately preceding Report.  For example, if the Nonexempt SEU uses the period October 1, 2017 through September 20, 2018 for this year’s report (cutting it off up to ten days prior to September 30, 2018), then next year, the Nonexempt SEU must use a period beginning September 21, 2018 for its report.

Deadline for Performing Menu Option Initiatives

The Annual EEO Public File Report must contain a discussion of the Menu Option initiatives undertaken during the preceding year.  The FCC’s EEO Rule requires each Nonexempt SEU to earn a minimum of two or four Menu Option initiative-related credits during each two-year segment of its eight-year license term, depending on the number of full-time employees and the market size of the Nonexempt SEU. Continue reading →

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in coordination with the FCC, announced this morning that the National Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) tests scheduled for this Thursday, September 20, have been postponed due to “ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Florence.”

Instead, the tests will be conducted on the previously announced backup date of October 3.  The Wireless Emergency Alerts test will commence at 2:18 p.m. EDT and the EAS test will commence at 2:20 p.m. EDT on that date.  FEMA has indicated that the purpose of the tests is to “assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether improvements are needed.”

As we previously discussed on CommLawCenter, in preparation for the national test, all EAS Participants were required to file their Form 1 with the FCC by August 27, 2018.  They were then to file their Form 2 (day of test data) on September 20, 2018, with the final test report to be filed on Form 3 by November 5, 2018.

The Form 2 (and likely the Form 3) deadline will now shift to align with the new October 3 test date.  As of the publication of this post, the FCC had not yet announced new filing deadlines, but the Form 2 will likely be due on October 3, 2018, and since the FCC’s Rules require that EAS Participants “are required to file detailed post-test data 45 days following a nationwide EAS test,” the Form 3 deadline will most likely move to November 19, 2018.  Those are just predictions, however, and broadcasters and other EAS Participants should watch for a formal announcement from the FCC with the new filing deadlines.

[Editor’s Note: Subsequent to publication, the FCC did in fact release a Public Notice confirming the October 3 deadline for Form 2, and the November 19 deadline for Form 3.]

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Whether tracking a developing storm so the public can prepare, or disseminating evacuation orders and alerts, broadcasters continue to serve as the bedrock of the nation’s warning system in emergencies.  As Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast, TV and radio stations are hurrying to make sure they are in position to warn and inform their audiences of new developments.

Continuing operations during a hurricane is tough enough with employees sleeping in the studio while wondering if their house is still standing, but TV stations are also required by the FCC to ensure that all viewers, regardless of hearing or vision challenges, are able to receive emergency information being relayed.  As a result, emergency information presented on-air aurally must also be made available visually, and emergency information presented visually must also be made available aurally.  In past disasters, the FCC has proposed fines of up to $24,000 ($8,000 per “incident”) for TV stations that effectively said “run for shelter” but didn’t air a crawl or other graphic at that time conveying the same information.

To help television stations in this week’s storm path meet their obligations, Pillsbury today published an updated edition of Keep Calm and Broadcast On: A Guide for Television Stations on Airing Captions and Audible Crawls in an Emergency.  Stations whose communities are near the path of Hurricane Florence should review it, both as a refresher on what they will need to do in the next few days, and on how best to do it.

While broadcasters are working to help their communities prepare for the storm, the FCC is also trying to do its part to help broadcasters.  Earlier today, the FCC released a Public Notice providing emergency contact info for various divisions of the FCC relevant to an emergency, as well as procedures for making emergency requests for Special Temporary Authority to operate at variance from normal license parameters where needed due to equipment damage, etc.  The Public Notice also states that licensees requiring emergency assistance or STAs outside of business hours can “call the FCC’s Operations Center, which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at (202) 418-1122 or by e-mail at FCCOPCenter@fcc.gov.”

State governments are doing their part as well—nearly a dozen states have adopted laws granting broadcast personnel First Responder/First Informer status.  During earlier hurricanes in Florida, dedicated broadcasters stayed at their stations rather than protect their homes, only to find their transmissions halted when the station generator ran out of fuel and government officials prevented fuel trucks from entering the disaster area to resupply stations.  First Responder/First Informer laws allow broadcasters access to crisis areas, both for reporting on a disaster and maintaining station operations.  This includes granting priority to broadcasters for scarce fuel supplies (and emergency access for vehicles transporting fuel to stations) to keep their stations’ emergency generators—and the transmitters they power—running during emergencies.

Recognizing the limitations of a state-by-state approach, in March of this year, Congress granted broadcasters First Informer status in federal disaster areas throughout the nation.  Hurricane Florence will serve as one of the first tests of broadcasters’ new federal First Informer status.

While the last decade has brought progress in making communications infrastructure more resilient in emergencies, cable and Internet service is often disrupted in disasters, and cell phone networks, where they don’t fail outright, become overwhelmed by increased usage during a disaster.  Unlike communications infrastructure that requires wired connections over a broad area, or numerous short-range towers and repeaters, broadcast stations just need an upright tower or tall building for their antenna, fuel for their generator, and access for their employees.  That resilience in extreme conditions—and the ubiquity of radios and TVs—is critical in emergencies.

It’s time for broadcasters to once again weather the storm, and to help their communities survive it.

 

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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:

Headlines:

  • International Hotel Company Agrees to $504,000 Settlement for Overlooked Wireless License Transfers
  • Media Bureau Fines AM Licensee for Years-Old Unauthorized Transfers
  • Suburban Elementary School Busted as Pirate Radio Operator

Approval Needed: International Hotel Chain Settles with the FCC for $504,000 Over Unauthorized Transfers

The FCC recently entered into a Consent Decree with a global hotel company for violating the FCC’s rules governing transfers of control.  The company admitted to transferring dozens of private wireless licenses without prior FCC approval in the midst of its multi-billion dollar acquisition of another international hotel group.

In addition to regulating the transfer of broadcast licenses, Section 310 of the Communications Act (“Act”) prohibits the transfer of control of a private wireless license holder without prior FCC approval.  Under Section 1.948 of the FCC’s Rules, parties seeking consent to a transfer of control of such a license must first file FCC Form 603 and await Commission approval before completing the transfer.

At issue in this case were the transfers of 65 wireless licenses controlled by entities owned or operated by the acquired company.  Unlike commercial wireless services such as wireless broadband, private wireless licenses are generally used for internal communications, like those associated with company operations or security.  According to the late-filed transfer applications, these wireless licenses were used for “operational efficiency and safety of employees and guests” at the company’s various properties.  Prior to the transaction, the acquired company’s employees controlled the use of the licenses as part of their regular operational duties.  Though the day-to-day use of the licenses did not change as a result of the company’s acquisition, ultimate control of the licenses did.

In February 2017, several months after the deal was completed, the hotel company voluntarily disclosed the violations to the FCC, chalking up the missing applications to “administrative oversight … during a larger transaction.”  By January 2018, applications for transfer of control of all 65 licenses were submitted to the FCC’s Wireless Bureau.  Those applications remain pending.

To resolve the FCC’s investigation of the violations, the acquiring company entered into a Consent Decree with the Commission.  Under the terms of the Consent Decree, the hotel company agreed to (1) admit liability for violations of the FCC’s unauthorized transfer rules; (2) develop and implement a compliance plan to prevent further violations of the FCC’s Rules; and (3) pay $504,000 to the United States Treasury.

Trust Issues: “Ridiculously Complicated” Estate Planning Leads to $8,000 Fine

The Media Bureau entered into a Consent Decree with the licensee of three Georgia AM radio stations to resolve an investigation into an unauthorized transfer of control of the station licenses.

Section 310 of the Act and Section 73.3540 of the FCC’s Rules prohibit transfers of control of broadcast licensees from one individual, entity, or group to another without prior FCC approval.  In the case of full-power broadcast stations, parties must file FCC Form 315 applications and receive FCC consent before a transfer of control can be consummated.

The applications ultimately leading to the Consent Decree were filed with the FCC in March 2018, but the licensee’s problems began nearly two decades earlier when the licensee’s sole owner created an irrevocable trust and named two of his sons as co-trustees.  That same day, the FCC approved the licensee’s acquisition of the Georgia stations.  The following day, the licensee’s owner, functioning as de facto trustee of the irrevocable trust (and without his sons’ knowledge), transferred 90% of his equity in the licensee to the trust in the form of non-voting shares.  When the station acquisition was consummated a few days later, the licensee failed to report the existence of the trust to the FCC and did not subsequently report it until earlier this year.

In 2010, the trust was divided into sub-trusts for each of the father’s six children—each of whom was then unaware that they were to serve as trustee of their respective sub-trust.  Shortly before their father’s passing in 2013, the children assumed control of the overall trust (as trustees of the individual sub-trusts).  They converted the trust’s stock in the licensee to voting shares and cancelled all other shares of licensee stock, resulting in a transfer of control of the licensee to the children as trustees of the trust. Continue reading →

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Many thought the broadcast incentive auction was the most complex task ever undertaken by the FCC, but the ten-phase spectrum repack following the auction is running a close second.  The TV stations being repacked in Phase 1 are serving as the pioneers of the repack process, and since they must complete the transition to their post-repack channel by November 30, 2018, the applicable deadlines are coming at a fast and furious pace.

The process of repacking these Phase 1 stations has led to lots of questions, and in an effort to answer at least some of them, the FCC released a Public Notice this week discussing a variety of details for stations completing the repack.  Since Phase 1 will be the template for all subsequent phases, all stations being repacked should review the Public Notice with an eye toward discerning their obligations and timely meeting the various milestones.

The Public Notice also reminds transitioning stations that they can, where necessary, seek authority from the FCC to go silent, operate with alternate facilities or reduced power, remain on their pre-transition channels for a period of time, or commence early operations on their post-transition channels.  All of these require filing for Special Temporary Authority and obtaining Commission consent in advance.  While such flexibility will be useful for stations facing unusual repack obstacles, such stations must be sure to schedule adequate time to request and secure Special Temporary Authority from the Commission, lest they find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being forced to violate either the FCC’s repack requirements or the FCC’s operating rules (or being forced off the air entirely).

While the Public Notice provides various ground rules for stations, it also provides a lot of densely packed information on the procedures stations must follow during the repack.  To assist stations, we have consolidated that information below in a concise format that will hopefully make it easier to follow.  While the dates will obviously be different for stations assigned to other phases of the repack, the information below provides a good overview of the path that all repacked stations must navigate during their own repack phase.  Note that the information below assumes that a station will not terminate operations on its pre-transition channel until the last day of the phase (November 30, in the case of Phase 1 stations).  Stations transitioning before that time will need to adjust the other various dates accordingly. 

The Public Notice makes clear that between September 14, 2018 and November 30, 2018, Phase 1 stations may test their equipment/signal and commence operating on their new channel pursuant to program test authority.  The testing phase, however, is strictly for testing, and does not permit stations to simulcast content on both their pre-transition and post-transition channels.  Broadcasters should be aware that some stations’ construction permits do not grant them automatic program test authority (e.g., stations transitioning to Channel 14), so those stations must build extra time into their schedules to request and obtain such authority.

Finally, the Public Notice indicates that linked stations cannot simply test their own equipment and commence operations on their post-transition channel as they choose.  They must coordinate with the other stations in their phase with which they are linked by interference concerns.

The schedule for Phase 1 stations is as follows:

September 1, 2018 Last day to provide notice of channel change to MVPDs.  Any stations granted additional time or flexibility to transition by the FCC must provide MVPDs with this notice 90 days prior to commencing operation on their post-transition channel.  Stations should also review their construction permits for individual notice requirements.  For example, a station must provide notice of its channel change to health care facilities in its service area an “ample time before commencing operation” on its new channel, and some stations may be required to give notice to nearby AM stations, as discussed in more detail in the Public Notice.
September 4, 2018 Last day to request 180-day Construction Permit Extension on Form 2100, Schedule 337.  Stations may request one extension of up to 180 days in which to complete construction of their new facility.  An extension application must include an exhibit demonstrating circumstances that, despite all reasonable efforts by the station, were either unforeseeable or beyond the station’s control.
September 14, 2018 Testing Period begins.
September 21, 2018 File Transition Progress Report on Form 2100, Schedule 387.  Transitioning stations must file a transition progress report ten weeks before the end of their assigned construction deadline.
October 1, 2018 Deadline for channel-sharing repacked stations to file a minor modification application.  Applications must specify the host’s post-auction channel and the parameters of the sharee’s facility.
October 10, 2018 File Quarterly Transition Progress Report on Form 2100, Schedule 387.  Transitioning stations must file a transition progress report on the tenth day following each calendar quarter, providing information regarding the steps taken during the previous quarter to construct facilities for its new channel and end operations on its current channel.  This obligation ceases when a station has completed its transition and has filed a final report with the FCC indicating that fact.
November 1, 2018 Last day to commence consumer notifications of channel change.  Any stations granted additional time or flexibility by the FCC must provide viewers with this notice 30 days prior to commencing operations on their post-transition channel.
November 30, 2018 Last day to operate on pre-auction channel absent FCC consent.
December 5, 2018 Last day to file “Pre-Auction Termination” Transition Progress Report on Form 2100, Schedule 387.  Any stations that terminate operations on their pre-auction channel earlier than November 30 must file this report within 5 days of terminating operations on their pre-auction channel.
December 10, 2018 Last day to file “Construction Completion” Transition Progress Report on Form 2100, Schedule 387.  Any stations that complete construction earlier (including before September 14, 2018) must file this report within 10 days of completion of all construction-related work.
December 10, 2018 Last day to file License to Cover Application on FCC Form 2100, Schedule B (full power) or Schedule F (Class A).  Any stations that commence program test operations earlier than November 30 must file this application within 10 days of commencing program test operations.
December 30, 2018 Last day to file certification of compliance with viewer notification obligations.  Any stations that complete their transitions earlier than November 30 must place these certifications in the public file within 30 days of completing the transition.

Considering the variety of notices, reports, applications, and certifications involved in the repack process, and how tightly interwoven the associated deadlines are, stations should not dally in finalizing their repack plans.  One missed deadline can quickly cascade into multiple missed deadlines, severely undercutting a station’s prospects for achieving a successful repack.

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The FCC and FEMA have established September 20, 2018 as the date for the next nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS).  The nationwide test is designed to study the effectiveness of the EAS and to monitor the performance of EAS participants.  The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system will be tested immediately prior to the test of the EAS.  The FCC and FEMA have designated October 3, 2018 as the back-up date should circumstances prevent testing on September 20.

While the test itself is a month away, all EAS participants must file their Form One with the FCC by August 27, 2018 in preparation for the test.  To make this filing, EAS participants must log in to the EAS Test Reporting System using an FCC Username Account.  Those filers who do not already have an account can register for one in the FCC’s updated CORES system.  Once a username account is set up, it will need to be associated with a licensee’s FCC Registration Number (FRN) before the user can draft or file forms for that licensee’s station(s).  Many filers struggled to successfully register in past years, but those who participated in the annual test in 2017 should already be registered.

Form One requests information about a station’s transmitter location, EAS equipment, and the stations it is assigned to monitor.  For most EAS participants, this information will prefill from last year’s Form One (so be particularly careful reviewing it if your monitoring assignments, equipment, or something else has changed since last year).  Stations will also see an instruction to file a separate Form One for each encoder, decoder or combination unit.  Most broadcasters will likely have a combination unit and therefore only need to file a single Form One.  However, there may be situations where multiple filings are needed, for example where a cluster of co-owned radio stations share a studio but have to employ separate encoders and decoders to deal with stations in the group having different monitoring assignments.

As in the past, after the test is completed, participants must report the results of the test by filing Form Two, which requests abbreviated “day of test” data, and then Form Three, which collects more detailed data about the station’s performance.

Filing Deadlines:

  • Form One must be filed on or before August 27, 2018.
  • Form Two (“day of test” data) must be filed by 11:59 PM (EDT) on September 20, 2018.
  • Form Three must be filed on or before November 5, 2018.

Additional Requirements

To prepare for the test, the FCC recommends that EAS participants review the EAS Operating Handbook and be sure that it is available at normal duty positions or EAS equipment locations, and is otherwise readily accessible to employees responsible for managing EAS actions.

Participants should also use this time to ensure their facilities are in a state of “operational readiness.”  Operators should confirm that their EAS equipment has any necessary software and firmware upgrades and that it is capable of receiving the various test codes.  If not automatic, operators must also manually set their EAS equipment to the “official time” as established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Each of these issues has been a significant cause of stations being unable to receive or transmit past tests.

Finally, the person filing for each station should verify that they have the right username, password, and licensee FRN in advance of the filing deadline.  Experience from the the past two national tests revealed that many stations were caught off guard not by the test itself, but by their inability to access the ETRS to make required filings, often because of confusion surrounding how to log in.

Summer break notwithstanding, this is one test that broadcasters should study for ahead of time.

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In adopting a Notice of Proposed Rule Making late last week, the FCC took the first step in establishing ground rules for reimbursing Low Power Television, TV translator and FM radio stations affected by the TV spectrum repack. Most of the proposed rules track the statutory direction contained in the Reimbursement Expansion Act (REA) adopted in March, but a few potentially controversial proposals were included as well.

The REA limited reimbursement eligibility for LPTV, TV translators and FM radio stations to stations that were licensed and operating on April 13, 2017. In addition, LPTV stations must establish that they were broadcasting for nine of the twelve months prior to April 13, 2017, which was the date the Incentive Auction officially ended. The FCC is seeking comment on what evidence it should request from licensees to substantiate their eligibility, including potentially requiring licensees to provide program guides and/or power bills.

The FCC is also seeking comment on guidelines for reimbursing licensees, focusing on both the types of expenses that should be reimbursed, and the process for licensees seeking reimbursement. For example, the REA limited eligibility to those LPTV and TV translators that filed a Special Displacement application, so the FCC proposed to limit the reimbursable expenses to just those relating to the displacement of such stations.

While it is likely that no FM radio stations will be permanently displaced as a result of the Incentive Auction, the FCC developed a three-tier proposal to reimburse FM stations for expenses to operate auxiliary stations instead of temporarily ceasing operations while tower work is done. The FCC noted that its rules permit stations to either power down or temporarily discontinue operations for less than thirty days without seeking advance authority, so the FCC proposes to limit reimbursement for constructing new or upgraded FM auxiliary facilities to those stations that will be off-air for extended periods of times.

Under the proposal, FM radio stations off-air for more than 30 days would receive reimbursement for 100% of their expenses to construct or modify existing auxiliary facilities, but stations off-air between 11 and 30 days would receive reimbursement for only 75% of their expenses, and stations expected to be off-air for 1-10 days would receive reimbursement for only 50% of their expenses. To be eligible for reimbursement, FM auxiliary facilities will need to cover 80% of the existing station’s geographic or population coverage.

While the FCC obviously intends to borrow heavily from the existing reimbursement process used by Class A and full-power television stations, it is clear that there are unique circumstances surrounding the reimbursement of expenses for LPTV, TV Translator and FM radio stations that will require further examination. Moreover, Commissioner O’Rielly noted in his separate statement that the FCC has proposed to allocate reimbursement funds based on the length of time that FM radio stations will be off air, but urged parties to submit alternative proposals if the FCC’s assumption that “time equals money” is incorrect.

Comment deadlines have not yet been established, but comments on the FCC’s proposals will be due 30 days after the NPRM’s publication in the Federal Register, with reply comments due 30 days after that date.

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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:

Headlines:

  • Alaskan Licensee Faces Fines Over FM Station Silences
  • Enforcement Bureau Issues Consent Decrees for LED Billboard Violations
  • Tower Owner Hit for Unlit Structure

Cold Justice: Media Bureau Responds to Alaska Licensee’s Applications With Multiple Fines

The FCC’s Media Bureau issued two Notices of Apparent Liability (“NAL”) to an Alaskan licensee for repeated unauthorized silences and reduced power operations on its FM station and FM translator stations.  At the same time, the Media Bureau found an assignment application for one of the translators to be defective, and renewed the FM station’s license for only an abbreviated two-year term.

The FCC sets minimum operating schedule requirements for broadcast stations, and requires a station to transmit according to the “modes and power” specified by its license.  A station that expects to remain off-air for more than 30 days must request permission from the FCC.  However, Section 312(g) of the Communications Act of 1934 (“Act”), provides that a station’s license automatically expires if the station “fails to transmit broadcast signals for any consecutive 12-month period.”

In this case, the licensee originally applied for renewal of an FM license and three FM translator licenses in 2013.  The licensee also filed an assignment application to sell one of the translators up for renewal.

Several months later, another Alaskan broadcaster filed informal objections against all of the applications, alleging, among other things, that: (1) the applicant was delinquent on a debt from a previous enforcement action; (2) the applicant had failed to pay application fees for the translator license renewal applications; (3) all of the stations had been operating at low power or were off-air for extended periods of time (some for as long as 12 consecutive months); and (4) the assignment application was defective.  The objecting broadcaster also claimed the applicant lacked the character qualifications to hold a license.

The Media Bureau quickly dismissed various other claims made by the objecting broadcaster, including that (1) the licensee had not complied with the Emergency Alert System rules; (2) the licensee had violated the main studio rule; (3) the licensee had engaged in an unauthorized transfer of control; and (4) the proposed assignee did not actually exist.

In sorting out the remaining objections, the Media Bureau first determined that the applicant was not delinquent in its payments to the FCC.  Though the licensee had an unpaid Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture from 2009, a licensee is not indebted to the FCC until (1) the fine has been partially paid, or (2) a court has ordered payment.  According to the FCC, the forfeiture never became payable because the license at the heart of the enforcement action had been cancelled shortly after issuance of the NAL and the Media Bureau therefore never issued a Forfeiture Order.

The Media Bureau did, however, find that the licensee had failed to pay license renewal application fees for the translator stations.  Though the applicant claimed that the translators in question were noncommercial educational (“NCE”) broadcast stations and thus exempt from the fee, the Media Bureau determined that the stations being retransmitted by the translators were commercial stations at the time of filing, and thus required a fee.  The Media Bureau also dismissed the assignment application, finding it procedurally defective because a single individual signed for both the assignor and assignee, in contravention of the FCC’s Rules.  Finally, the Media Bureau rejected the character claims, determining that the objecting licensee had failed to make a prima facie case for its claims of false certifications and false statements to the FCC.

Regarding the issue of whether the stations were silent or operated at variance from their licenses, the Media Bureau found that all of the stations were repeatedly silent without authorization for extended periods of time.  Although several of these silent periods lasted 364 days, none of the stations remained silent for the continuous 12-month period required for automatic expiration.  The Media Bureau did, however, find that the FM station had operated at reduced power for much of the most recent license period and beyond without authorization to do so.

Section 309(k) of the Act provides several criteria the FCC must consider when reviewing license renewal applications. The FCC will grant such an application if: (1) “the station has served the public interest, convenience, and necessity;” (2) the licensee has not committed any serious violations of the Act or the FCC’s Rules; and (3) the licensee has not committed any other violations of the Act or the FCC’s Rules that, taken together, would indicate a pattern of abuse.

Though the Media Bureau granted all of the translator license renewal applications, it proposed a $10,000 fine for discontinuing operations on the translator stations on five different occasions, a $20,000 fine for the FM station’s operation at reduced power without authorization, and mandated that the licensee pay the translator stations’ missing application fees along with a 25% late payment penalty.

The Media Bureau proceeded to note that the licensee’s failure to seek or maintain authorization for many of the FM station’s silent and reduced power periods constituted a “pattern of abuse” of the FCC’s Rules and that the FM station’s operational record failed to serve the “public interest, convenience, and necessity” during the most recent license term.  As a result, the Media Bureau granted a short-term renewal of the FM station’s license, providing only a two-year renewal rather than the standard eight year license term.

LED Astray: FCC Settles Multiple Investigations into Noncompliant Digital Billboards

The FCC entered into four separate consent decrees with LED sign manufacturers and marketers in the course of a single week after investigating whether the companies violated its equipment authorization rules.

Section 302(b) of the Communications Act restricts the manufacture, import, sale, or shipment of devices capable of causing harmful interference to radio communications.  To this end, the FCC regulates devices that emit radio frequency energy (“RF device”), including those that unintentionally generate signals that can interfere with other spectrum users.  RF devices must adhere to strict technical standards and various labeling and marketing requirements. Continue reading →

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This advisory is directed to television stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were carried by at least one cable system located outside the station’s local service area or by a satellite provider that provided service to at least one viewer outside the station’s local service area during 2017. These stations may be eligible to file royalty claims for compensation with the United States Copyright Royalty Board. These filings are due by July 31, 2018.

Under the federal Copyright Act, cable systems and satellite operators must pay license royalties to carry distant TV signals on their systems. Ultimately, the Copyright Royalty Board divides the royalties among those copyright owners who claim shares of the royalty fund. Stations that do not file claims by the deadline will not be able to collect royalties for carriage of their signals during 2017.

In order to file a cable royalty claim, a television station must have aired locally-produced programming of its own and had its signal carried outside of its local service area by at least one cable system in 2017. Television stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were delivered to subscribers located outside the station’s Designated Market Area in 2017 by a satellite provider are also eligible to file royalty claims. A station’s distant signal status should be evaluated and confirmed by communications counsel.

Both the cable and satellite claim forms may be filed electronically or in paper form. Paper forms may be downloaded from https://www.crb.gov/cable; however, with the recent introduction of the Copyright Royalty Board’s new online filing system, eCRB, claimants are strongly encouraged to file claims online. Prior to filing electronically, claimants or their authorized representatives must register for an eCRB account at https://app.crb.gov. To submit claims, stations are required to supply the name and address for the filer and for the copyright owner, and must provide a general statement as to the nature of the copyrighted work (e.g., local news, sports broadcasts, specials, or other station-produced programming). Claimants should keep copies of all submissions and confirmations of delivery, including certified mail receipts.

Those filing paper forms should be aware that detailed rules as to how the claims must be addressed and delivered apply. Claims that are hand-delivered by a local Washington, D.C. commercial courier must be delivered between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm (those hand-delivered by a private party must arrive by 5:00 pm). Claims may be sent by certified mail if they are properly addressed, postmarked by July 31, 2018, and include sufficient postage. Claims filed via eCRB must be submitted by 11:59 pm (EDT) on July 31. The Copyright Royalty Board will reject any claim filed prior to July 1, 2018 or after the deadline. Overnight delivery services such as Federal Express cannot be used. Stations filing paper claims should verify the proper procedures with communications counsel.

Please contact any of the group’s attorneys for assistance in determining whether your station qualifies to make a claim and in filing the claim itself.

A PDF version of this article can be found here.