Each full power and Class A TV station being repacked must file its next Transition Progress Report with the FCC by July 10, 2018. The Report must detail the progress a station has made in constructing facilities on its newly-assigned channel and in terminating operations on its current channel during the months of April, May, and June 2018. Continue reading →
The next Children’s Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations’ public inspection files by July 10, 2018, reflecting programming aired during the months of April, May, and June 2018.
Statutory and Regulatory Requirements
As a result of the Children’s Television Act of 1990 (“Act”) 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 under, and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under.
These two obligations, in turn, require broadcasters to comply with two paperwork requirements. Specifically, stations must: (1) place in their online public inspection file one of four prescribed types of documentation demonstrating compliance with the commercial limits in children’s television, and (2) submit FCC Form 398, which requests information regarding the educational and informational programming the station has aired for children 16 years of age and under. Form 398 must be filed electronically with the FCC. The FCC automatically places the electronically filed Form 398 filings into the respective station’s online public inspection file. However, each station should confirm that has occurred to ensure that its online public inspection file is complete. The base fine for noncompliance with the requirements of the FCC’s Children’s Television Programming Rule is $10,000.
Broadcasters must file their reports via the Licensing and Management System (LMS), accessible at https://enterpriseefiling.fcc.gov/dataentry/login.html.
Noncommercial Educational Television Stations
Because noncommercial educational television stations are precluded from airing commercials, the commercial limitation rules do not apply to such stations. Accordingly, noncommercial television stations have no obligation to place commercial limits documentation in their public inspection files. Similarly, though noncommercial stations are required to air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under, they do not need to complete FCC Form 398. They must, however, maintain records of their own in the event their performance is challenged at license renewal time. In the face of such a challenge, a noncommercial station will be required to have documentation available that demonstrates its efforts to meet the needs of children.
Commercial Television Stations
The FCC’s rules require that stations limit the amount of “commercial matter” appearing in children’s programs to 12 minutes per clock hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per clock hour on the weekend. In addition to commercial spots, website addresses displayed during children’s programming and promotional material must comply with a four-part test or they will be considered “commercial matter” and counted against the commercial time limits. In addition, the content of some websites whose addresses are displayed during programming or promotional material are subject to host-selling limitations. Program promos also qualify as “commercial matter” unless they promote (i) children’s educational/informational programming, or (ii) other age-appropriate programming appearing on the same channel. Licensees must prepare supporting documents to demonstrate compliance with these limits on a quarterly basis.
For commercial stations, proof of compliance with these commercial limitations must be placed in the online public inspection file by the tenth day of the calendar quarter following the quarter during which the commercials were aired. Consequently, this proof of compliance should be placed in your online public inspection file by July 10, 2018, covering programming aired during the months of April, May, and June 2018.
Documentation to show that the station has been complying with this requirement can be maintained in several different forms:
- Stations may, but are not obligated to, keep program logs in order to comply with the commercial limits rules. If the logs are kept to satisfy the documentation requirement, they must be placed in the station’s public inspection file. The logs should be reviewed by responsible station officials to be sure they reflect compliance with both the numerical and content requirements contained in the rules.
- Tapes of children’s programs will also satisfy the rules, provided they are placed in the station’s public inspection file and are available for viewing by those who visit the station to examine the public inspection file. The FCC has not addressed how this approach can be utilized since the advent of online public inspection files.
- A station may create lists of the number of commercial minutes per hour aired during identified children’s programs. The lists should be reviewed on a routine basis by responsible station personnel to be sure they reflect compliance with both the numerical and content requirements contained in the rule.
- The station and its network/syndicators may certify that as a standard practice, they format and air the identified children’s programs so as to comply with the statutory limit on commercial matter, and provide a detailed listing of any instances of noncompliance. Again, the certification should be reviewed on a routine basis by responsible station officials to ensure that it is accurate and that the station did not preempt programming or take other action that might affect the accuracy of the network/syndicator certification.
- Regardless of the method a station uses to show compliance with the commercial limits, it must identify the specific programs that it believes are subject to the rules, and must list any instances of noncompliance. As noted above, commercial limits apply only to programs originally produced and broadcast primarily for an audience of children ages 12 and under.
The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ public inspection files by July 10, 2018, reflecting information for the months of April, May, and June 2018.
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 the 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 that program logs are no longer mandated by the FCC, 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 television station compliance discussed below. We therefore urge stations not to “skimp” on the Quarterly Lists, and to err on the side of over-inclusiveness. Otherwise, stations risk a determination by the FCC that they did not adequately serve the public interest during the license term. Stations should include in the Quarterly Lists as much issue-responsive programming as they feel is necessary to demonstrate fully their responsiveness to community needs. Taking extra time now to provide a thorough Quarterly List will help reduce risk at license renewal time.
It should be noted that the FCC has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Quarterly Lists and often brings enforcement actions against stations that do not have fully complete Quarterly Lists or that do not timely place such lists in their public inspection file. The FCC’s base fine for missing Quarterly Lists is $10,000.
Preparation of the Quarterly List
The Quarterly Lists are required to be placed in the public inspection file by January 10, April 10, July 10, and October 10 of each year. The next Quarterly List is required to be placed in stations’ public inspection files by July 10, 2018, covering the period from April 1, 2018 through June 30, 2018.
- Stations should maintain routine outreach to the community to learn of various groups’ perceptions of community issues, problems, and needs. Stations should document the contacts they make and the information they learn. Letters to the station regarding community issues should be made a part of the station’s database.
- There should be procedures in place to organize the information that is gathered and bring it to the attention of programming staff with a view towards producing and airing programming that is responsive to significant community issues. This procedure and its results should be documented.
- Stations should ensure that there is some correlation between the station’s contacts with the community, including letters received from the public, and the issues they have identified in their Quarterly Lists. A station should not overlook significant issues. In a contested license renewal proceeding, while the station may consider what other stations in the market are doing, each station will have the burden of persuading the FCC that it acted “reasonably” in deciding which issues to address and how.
- Stations should not specify an issue for which no programming is identified. Conversely, stations should not list programs for which no issue is specified.
- Under its former rules in this area, the FCC required a station to list five to ten issues per Quarterly List. While that specific rule has been eliminated, the FCC has noted that such an amount will likely demonstrate compliance with the station’s issue-responsive programming obligations. However, the FCC has noted that some licensees may choose to concentrate on fewer than five issues if they cover them in considerable depth. Conversely, the FCC has noted that other broadcasters may address more than ten issues in a given quarter, due perhaps to program length, format, etc.
- The Quarterly Lists should reflect a wide variety of significant issues. For example, five issues affecting the Washington, DC community might be: (1) the fight over statehood for the District of Columbia; (2) fire code violations in DC school buildings; (3) clean-up of the Anacostia River; (4) reforms in the DC Police Department; and (5) proposals to increase the use of traffic cameras on local streets. The issues should change over time, reflecting the station’s ongoing ascertainment of changing community needs and concerns.
- Accurate and complete records of which programs were used to discuss or treat which issues should be preserved so that the job of constructing the Quarterly List is made easier. The data retained should help the station identify the programs that represented the “most significant treatment” of issues, e.g., duration, depth of presentation, frequency of broadcast, etc.
- The listing of “most significant programming treatment” should demonstrate a wide variety in terms of format, duration (long-form and short-form programming), source (locally produced is presumptively the best), time of day (times of day when the programming is likely to be effective), and days of the week. Stations should not overlook syndicated and network programming as ways to address issues.
- Stations should prepare each Quarterly List in time for it to be placed in their public inspection file on or before the due date. If the deadline is not met, stations should give the true date when the document was placed in the public inspection file and explain its lateness.
- Stations should show that their programming commitment covers all three months within each quarter.
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:
- Media Bureau Hits Michigan Radio Station for Low Power Snafu
- Online Retailer Faces $2,861,128 Forfeiture for Selling Unauthorized Drone Parts
- Enforcement Bureau Issues Advisory on Drone Accessories
Weathering the Storm: Media Bureau Proposes Fine for Botched Low Power Operation
The FCC’s Media Bureau issued an $18,000 Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) to a Michigan radio licensee accused of omitting material facts from an FCC application and operating its station at variance from its license.
Under Section 312(g) of the Communications Act of 1934 (“Act”), a broadcast station’s license automatically expires after the station fails to broadcast for 12 consecutive months. Section 73.1745(a) of the FCC’s Rules requires a station to broadcast according to the “modes and power” specified by its license, and Section 73.1765 permits licensees to request special temporary authority (“STA”) to operate at variance from their license for a limited time.
The licensee originally applied for renewal of its license in May of 2012. Section 309(k) of the Act provides several criteria that the FCC must consider when reviewing license renewal applications. The FCC will grant 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.
In February 2015 (while the renewal application was still pending), the licensee requested an STA to remain silent, claiming that his facilities would require significant repair after a broken water main flooded the studio.
The following month, the licensee of several religious broadcast stations filed an objection to the license renewal application, alleging that the broadcaster was “untruthful” about the circumstance of the flood. It also claimed that the licensee had broken a contract between the two parties, “attempted to extort money” from a Texas broadcaster, and failed to pay money to another broadcaster.
In May 2016, the Media Bureau inquired into the length of time the licensee’s station had been silent. The licensee responded that the station had returned to air shortly after the STA was filed, but a “clerical error” had prevented the licensee from notifying the FCC. As evidence, the licensee provided sworn declarations, as well as bills and ad orders for another one of the licensee’s stations. The licensee also indicated that the station was operating with a lower-powered transmitter than specified in the license due to a lightning-related power surge the previous year.
Unsatisfied, the Media Bureau sent the licensee a second letter demanding more information about the station’s operations. The licensee responded with more information relating to the station in question, including a letter from an engineer which confirmed that while the station was licensed to operate at 50 kW, it was only operating at 1.4 kW.
That same day, the licensee requested an STA to operate at that reduced power level, stating that the station was “currently operating at the reduced power level of 1.4 kW” and needed to continue at this reduced power for the next 180 days. The requested STA was not granted until over a year later.
The Media Bureau ultimately concluded that the station was operating with a “non-conforming” transmitter and at significant variance from its 50 kW authorization. The Bureau also found that the licensee failed to timely request an STA to operate at that reduced power, and failed to disclose a material fact in its second STA request when it said that it was “currently operating” at the lower level despite having operated at that reduced power for over a year. The NAL also indicated that it was “at best misleading” to suggest that the station would be back to full power within 180 days. Section 1.17(a)(1) of the FCC’s Rules prohibits individuals from intentionally providing incorrect “material factual information” or intentionally omitting “material information that is necessary to prevent any material factual statement that is made from being incorrect or misleading.”
As a result, the Media Bureau proposed: (1) a fine of $10,000 for operating without the appropriate authorization for the service; (2) an additional $3,000 fine for failing to file a required form; and (3) a $5,000 fine for failing to disclose a material fact in the STA request.
Fortunately for the licensee, the Media Bureau did not find these acts to be “serious violations” or a pattern of abuse, and therefore granted the station’s license renewal application in a separate action. In doing so, the Media Bureau denied the religious licensee’s objections, noting that the FCC does not adjudicate private contractual disputes.
Flight Delay: Online Drone Retailer Dinged for Marketing Dozens of Noncompliant Drone Parts
The FCC proposed a $2,861,128 penalty against a group of commonly-owned companies in the United States and Hong Kong for marketing unauthorized drone equipment.
Pursuant to Section 302 of the Act, the FCC regulates radio-frequency energy-emitting devices (“RF” devices) that can potentially interfere with radio communications. The FCC sets limits on a device’s spurious emissions, transmission power, and on which bands it may operate. Generally, noncompliant devices may not be imported, marketed or sold in the United States. Continue reading →