With the partial government shutdown mercifully at an end (for now), broadcasters must hurry to update their Online Public Inspection File and make up for a month’s worth of missed filings.
As we wrote earlier this month, filing deadlines that landed during the shutdown were extended (with a few exceptions) via a January 2 FCC Public Notice. The new deadline was to have been the second day of normal FCC operations (which would have made those filings due tomorrow, Tuesday, January 29). However, in a Public Notice released a few minutes ago, the FCC extended that deadline an additional day, meaning that FCC filings whose due dates fell from January 3 to January 29 are now due by Wednesday, January 30, 2019. All public file documents that could not be uploaded to the Online Public Inspection File while it was unavailable during the shutdown should be uploaded as soon as possible, and certainly no later than the January 30 extended deadline for FCC filings.
Backlogged uploads and filings include: fourth quarter children’s television programming reports on Form 398 (if not already filed in LMS), fourth quarter commercial limits certifications, fourth quarter issues/programs lists, Class A TV continuing eligibility certifications, and NCE fundraising reports.
Because the government is funded for at least the next three weeks, broadcasters in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma will be able (and expected!) to timely upload their annual EEO public file reports in the Online Public Inspection File by Friday, February 1. See our recent advisory for more information on this obligation.
Broadcasters should also take stock of any other filings that, but for the shutdown, would have been due earlier this month (e.g., Special Temporary Authority requests and extensions). As noted in an earlier post, the shutdown did not affect the post-incentive auction broadcast repack, and any filings related to the repack should have been filed as scheduled.
Open Meeting “Lite”
On a related note, now that the FCC is open for business again, the January 30 Open Meeting will take place in person instead of via teleconference. Of course, most of the staff that normally prepare the agenda items and assist the commissioners are just now getting back to work after having been furloughed for several weeks. The show must go on, given the FCC’s statutory obligation to hold a meeting at least once a calendar month, but instead of reviewing the items announced on the Tentative Agenda, the FCC will use this meeting to go over what it calls “Commission announcements.”
The decision to delay votes on matters originally on the FCC’s meeting agenda for January affects two items of interest to broadcasters. First, broadcasters are going to have to wait even longer before they can cease thinking about the now-redundant EEO Mid-Term Report on Form 397. The FCC was prepared to vote on a Report and Order that would have eliminated this reporting requirement. The impact of the delay will be fairly limited, however. According to an advance draft of the Report and Order, the substantive changes would not have gone into effect until May 1, 2019. Given that the last round of EEO Mid-Term Reports for this license renewal cycle are due on April 1, 2019, and the cycle does not resume until 2023, the delay in voting on the item will have no practical impact on stations unless the delay drags on for years.
Also originally up for a vote at the January meeting was a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking several changes in the way the FCC currently processes competing (also known as “mutually exclusive”) license applications for noncommercial educational (“NCE”) FM and television stations and low power FM (“LPFM”) stations. In this proceeding, the FCC is seeking to improve its review process by eliminating certain requirements for NCE applicants, amending its rules governing the “holding period” during which licensees must maintain certain station characteristics, and generally updating rules that are deemed confusing or unnecessarily time-consuming. With this item now off the January meeting agenda, action on it will also have to wait, likely until the February Open Meeting (assuming the federal government remains open through then).
Until then, broadcasters should work on meeting their accrued regulatory obligations that couldn’t be fulfilled during the shutdown, and might do well to expedite any planned future filings. You never know when the next FCC shutdown will occur.