October 1, 2020 is the deadline for TV stations to (1) upload to their online Public Inspection Files their must-carry/retransmission consent carriage election statements for the three-year cycle covering January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2023, and (2) notify MVPDs of any changes to their election status.
As we previewed in May, the upcoming October 1 deadline marks the first under the FCC’s new electronic notice system, which replaces the previous requirement that eligible broadcasters mail paper notices to cable and satellite providers regarding carriage elections by October 1 every three years. This year, the FCC’s new procedures simplify this notification process.
Under the new approach, commercial TV stations must place statements electing either must-carry or retransmission consent in their online Public Inspection File by October 1 every third year. A separate notice to MVPDs is only required when the station wishes to change the status it elected in the prior three-year cycle. Similar to the obligation imposed on broadcasters (discussed in more detail here), the new rules require cable providers to maintain up-to-date contact information for carriage-related issues in the FCC’s Cable Operations and Licensing System (COALS) database (which the FCC makes available in the online Public Inspection Files of cable providers). Satellite providers must place such information directly in their online Public Inspection File, making it easier for broadcasters to identify the appropriate contact for election notices.
To that end, stations opting to change their election with respect to any MVPD must send notice of the change to the e-mail address provided by the relevant MVPD, with a copy to the FCC at ElectionNotices@FCC.gov, and attach a copy of the election change notice to the election statement uploaded to the station’s online Public Inspection File. In response, MVPDs are supposed to confirm receipt of the change notice. The FCC has said that if broadcasters fail to receive such confirmation, and are unable to reach anyone at the phone number provided by the MVPD, the change notice will still be considered timely if placed in the station’s Public Inspection File, and the proper FCC e-mail address copied, by the October 1 deadline.
Similarly, the FCC simplified the election process for noncommercial educational (“NCE”) stations by eliminating the triennial election notice requirement after October 1, 2020. As a result, once NCE stations place their election statements requesting carriage in their online Public Inspection File by the October 1, 2020 deadline, no further triennial notices will be required. While separate carriage notification procedures were adopted for low power television stations and NCE translator stations that qualify for must-carry status, but which do not have a Public Inspection File, the FCC yesterday waived the carriage notice requirement with regard to NCE educational translators. In doing so, it noted the unique challenges sending such notices would pose for these stations, as they merely rebroadcast rather than originate programming.
For veterans of the cumbersome certified mail approach previously used for many years, the new approach seems almost too easy. If only that were true of all FCC rule changes.