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What You Thought You Knew About 2018, and Need to Know About 2019

As 2018 moves into the rear view mirror, 2019 promises to be a consequential year for broadcasters.  In accordance with a Pillsbury holiday tradition that goes back farther than any of us can remember, earlier this month we published our annual calendar of upcoming regulatory deadlines for broadcasters–a compendium of the currently “known knowns” of 2019 (this year’s edition being innovatively titled, for the first time ever, the 2019 Broadcasters’ Calendar).  It’s chock-full of dates and deadlines affecting TV and radio in the coming year, and cross-references some of our other Advisories to help stations meet their regulatory obligations in the year ahead.

Of course, 2019 will also bring some currently “known unknowns” into focus, with one of the biggest being the FCC’s recently-launched 2018 Quadrennial Review of its media ownership rules–a proceeding that could well alter the broadcast landscape when it reaches completion.

But as broadcasters look ahead to 2019, pondering both the knowns and unknowns of the coming year, they can at least recount with the confidence of hindsight what rule changes 2018 dropped into their regulatory stocking, right?  Perhaps not.  In a year when deregulatory changes were announced at a steady pace, some broadcasters have become confused as to whether a particular rule change was just proposed, voted on, or has actually gone into effect.

So as we prepare for 2019, let’s take a quick refresher on the changes to the FCC’s Rules 2018 brought, and what’s still to come in 2019:

  • Myth: In 2018, the FCC eliminated the requirement that stations file copies of contracts like TV network affiliations, articles of incorporation, bylaws, options, etc. with the FCC.
  • Fact: While the FCC voted in 2018 to eliminate the paper filing of certain contracts, the process for implementing that change has not yet been completed.  As a result, the rule remains in effect, and stations must continue to file such contracts in paper form at the FCC until January 22, 2019.  Also, while paper copies of these contracts need no longer be filed after that date, stations must still either upload them to their online public file or upload a list of such contracts to the online public file and promptly make copies available to those requesting them.  Check out our CommLawCenter article on this topic.
  • Myth: Broadcasters have been relieved of the need to post a copy of their license at their transmission facility.
  • Fact: Not yet! Even though the FCC voted to eliminate the posting requirement in December 2018, the rule change won’t go into effect until after it has been published in the Federal Register.  As a result, this “2018 rule change” also won’t go into effect until sometime in 2019.
  • Myth: Since all stations were required to file their biennial ownership reports in 2018, that means no more biennial ownership reports until 2020, right?
  • Fact: Unfortunately not the case.  The biennial ownership reports filed in 2018 reported station ownership as of October 1, 2017.  That filing deadline was extended from December 1, 2017 to March 2, 2018 due to the merging of the filing deadlines for all commercial and noncommercial stations, as well as delays in bringing the FCC’s new ownership report filing system online.  As a result, the next batch of biennial ownership reports are due December 1, 2019, and must report station ownership as it exists on October 1, 2019.
  • Myth: In 2019, the FCC will reimburse LPTV, TV translator, and FM broadcast stations for all their costs incurred as a result of the TV spectrum repack.
  • Fact: A partial Yes. In March 2018, Congress passed legislation allocating more repack reimbursement funds and expanding the list of entities eligible for reimbursement to include these types of facilities.  However, in its August Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC noted that Congress had limiting eligibility for LPTV stations to those that were licensed and operating for nine of the twelve months prior to April 13, 2017.  The FCC also proposed reimbursing FM radio stations on a sliding scale based on the length of their time off-air, with only those stations off for more than thirty days entitled to 100% reimbursement.  All in all, certain stations may be on their way to receiving reimbursements, but who will be reimbursed and for how much (and in what order of priority) remains to be determined in 2019.  For more, check out our CommLawCenter article on this topic.
  • Myth: In 2019, CommLawCenter will be the place to go for up-to-date news and analysis in the world of communications law and business.
  • Fact: Actually, this one is true!  Best wishes to all for a New Year that holds few unpleasant regulatory surprises.  Keeping the 2019 Broadcasters’ Calendar close at hand will go a long way in achieving that result.