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The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by October 10, 2022, reflecting information for the months of July, August, and September 2022.

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 their 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.

The FCC has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Quarterly Lists and often brings enforcement actions against stations that do not have complete Quarterly Lists in their Public Inspection File or which have failed to timely upload such lists when due. 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 October 10, 2022, covering the period from July 1, 2022 through September 30, 2022.

Stations should keep the following in mind:

  • 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 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 quarter. 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 indicated that licensees may choose to concentrate on fewer than five issues if they cover them in considerable depth. Conversely, the FCC has noted that broadcasters may seek to address more than ten issues in a given quarter, due perhaps to program length, format, etc.
  • The Quarterly List 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.

These are just some suggestions that can assist stations in meeting their obligations under the FCC’s rules. The requirement to list programs providing the most significant treatment of issues may persuade a station to review whether its programming truly and adequately educates the public about community concerns.

Below is a sample format for a “Quarterly Issues/Programs List” to assist stations in creating their own Quarterly List. Please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys in the Communications Practice for specific advice on how to ensure your compliance efforts in this area are adequate.

Class A Television Stations Only

Class A television stations must certify that they continue to meet the FCC’s eligibility and service requirements for Class A television status under Section 73.6001 of the FCC’s Rules. While the relevant subsection of the Public Inspection File rule, Section 73.3526(e)(17), does not specifically state when this certification should be prepared and placed in the Public Inspection File, we believe that since Section 73.6001 assesses compliance on a quarterly basis, the prudent course for Class A television stations is to place the Class A certification in the Public Inspection File on a quarterly basis as well.

Sample Quarterly Issues/Programs List[1]

Below is a list of some of the significant issues responded to by Station [call sign], [community of license], [state of license], along with the most significant programming treatment of those issues for the period [date] to [date].  This list is by no means exhaustive.  The order in which the issues appear does not reflect any priority or significance.

2nd-Quarter-Issues

[1] This sample illustrates the treatment of one issue only.

A PDF version of this article can be found at 2022 Third Quarter Issues/Programs List Advisory for Broadcast Stations

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The FCC released its Report and Order adopting the final amounts that regulatees must pay in annual regulatory fees for FY2022, and opened the filing window for making those payments. The window closes at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on September 28, 2022.

If paying the fees wasn’t challenging enough, as part of its continuing rollout of the Commission Registration System (CORES), the FCC has retired the familiar Fee Filer system that regulatees previously used to make these payments. As a result, regulatory fee payments must now be made through CORES, meaning that payors will have to contend with a new fee filing system for this year’s regulatory fees. Given the initial reactions of some that attempted to submit their regulatory fees since the window first opened, regulatees would be wise to start the process early, ensuring they have enough time to deal with the inevitable filing hiccups and still meet the September 28, 2022 deadline.

In the past, a party owing regulatory fees signed into the FCC’s Fee Filer system using the Federal Registration Number (FRN) of the licensee and the password established for that FRN. If a filer lost either the FRN or password they had used in prior years to pay the station’s fees, they could create a new account or reset the password on the spot to get their payments on file in a timely manner. The new filing system, however, uses a more cumbersome two-step process that is not conducive to overcoming last-minute issues involving a lost FRN or password, and has the potential to trip up those unaccustomed to it.

This is the same two-step process that broadcasters first had to navigate to file their Forms 1, 2 and 3 in the EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) in connection with nationwide tests of the EAS, which we wrote about back in 2017. That two-step process proved difficult for many and prevented some broadcasters from timely making their required filings, so we are describing the individual steps in detail below. However, stations should also be aware that if their engineer or lawyer completed this process in connection with the ETRS filings in 2017, they may now be considered by the FCC’s system as the Administrator of the licensee’s FRN.  If so, they will need to be consulted to get the station’s regulatory fees on file this year.

To begin the process, the individual making the regulatory fee payment on behalf of the licensee must create a personal account in CORES here using their email address and a password of their choosing. This account is personal to the filer, not the licensee, and identifies who is making the filing on the licensee’s behalf.

Next, the filer must sign in to CORES here using that new account and choose the option to “Associate Username to FRN” on the main screen to be able to make filings under the licensee’s FRN. As noted, if someone else has already done this, that person will be the Administrator and must grant the “associate” request before the submission can proceed, delaying the regulatory fee filing until that person responds to a request to approve the association (assuming they respond at all if they have retired, departed, etc.).

Once the filer’s account is associated with the licensee’s FRN, the filer must sign into CORES and select the “Manage Existing FRNs/FRN Financial/Bill and Fees” option on the main screen.

On the next screen, they must select the “Regulatory Fee Manager” option.

Finally, they need to select the licensee’s FRN from a dropdown list of all FRNs associated with the account and click the “Find Assessments” button. The next screen should display the licensee’s name and a total fee due amount.

Licensees should click the link labeled “View” to see the details of what stations and fees are included in the total shown. Errors in importing prior year data are common, especially where a licensee has used multiple FRNs in the past, and early reports indicate that the system-generated fee totals are sometimes missing stations, putting those licensees at risk of interest and penalties if they do not add the missing stations/fees before filing. If fees or stations are missing, the licensee must click the button labeled “Add More Manually” to add the missing stations/fees. If all fees are accounted for, the filer clicks on the “Continue to Pay” button to complete the payment process.

As for the fee amounts themselves, broadcasters can review the Commission’s Media Services Regulatory Fees Factsheet summarizing the fees due in each Media Service category and look up the fees due for individual broadcast call signs here. The FCC notes that “[i]n some instances, it may be necessary to clear your browser before logging onto the website” to look up fees. Fees for authorizations in other services such as transmit earth stations can be found in the Factsheets for those services on the FCC’s regulatory fee page here. Information about seeking deferrals or exemptions from paying the fees (for those who might qualify) can be found here.

The bottom line is that broadcasters should act quickly to begin the FY2022 regulatory fee payment process because it will look very different from how it appeared in the past, and late or missed payments can incur significant interest and penalties.

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Full power TV, Class A TV, LPTV, and TV Translator stations licensed to communities in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Guam, Mariana Islands, and American Samoa must file their license renewal applications by October 3, 2022.

October 3, 2022 is the license renewal application filing deadline for commercial and noncommercial TV broadcast stations licensed to communities in the following states:

Full Power TV, Class A, LPTV, and TV Translator Stations:
Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Guam, Mariana Islands, and American Samoa

Overview

The FCC’s state-by-state license renewal cycle began in June 2019 for radio stations and in June 2020 for television stations. TV stations licensed to communities in the respective states listed above should be moving forward with their license renewal preparation. This includes becoming familiar with the requirements for the filing itself, as well as being aware of changes the FCC has made to the public notice procedures associated with the filing (discussed below).

The license renewal application (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 303-S) primarily consists of a series of certifications in the form of Yes/No questions. The FCC advises that applicants should only respond “Yes” when they are certain that the response is correct. Thus, if an applicant is seeking a waiver of a particular rule or policy, or is uncertain that it has fully complied with the rule or policy in question, it should respond “No” to that certification. The application provides an opportunity for explanations and exhibits, so the FCC indicates that a “No” response to any of the questions “will not cause the immediate dismissal of the application provided that an appropriate exhibit is submitted.” An applicant should review any such exhibits or explanations with counsel prior to filing.

When answering questions in the license renewal application, the relevant reporting period is the licensee’s entire 8-year license term. If the licensee most recently received a short-term license renewal, the application reporting period would cover only that abbreviated license term. Similarly, if the license was assigned or transferred via FCC Form 314 or 315 during the license term, the relevant reporting period is just the time since consummation of that last assignment or transfer. Continue reading →

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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 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Alaska, American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, the Mariana Islands, Missouri, Oregon, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Washington 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 submit their two most recent EEO Public File Reports along with FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 as part of their license renewal applications due by October 3. 

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,[1] (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.  As discussed below, nonexempt SEUs must submit to the FCC their two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports when they file their license renewal applications.

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.

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

Consistent with the above, October 1, 2022 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 its station records file.

These Reports will cover the period from October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022.  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 date used in the immediately preceding Report.  For example, if the Nonexempt SEU uses the period October 1, 2021 through September 20, 2022 for this year’s report (cutting it off up to ten days prior to September 30, 2022), then next year, the Nonexempt SEU must use a period beginning September 21, 2022 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.

  • Nonexempt SEUs with between five and ten full-time employees, regardless of market size, must earn at least two Menu Option credits over each two-year segment.
  • Nonexempt SEUs with 11 or more full-time employees and which are located in the “smaller markets” must earn at least two Menu Option credits over each two-year segment.
  • Nonexempt SEUs with 11 or more full-time employees and which are not located in “smaller markets” must earn at least four Menu Option credits over each two-year segment.

The SEU is deemed to be located in a “smaller market” for these purposes if the communities of license of the stations comprising the SEU are (1) in a county outside of all metropolitan areas, or (2) in a county located in a metropolitan area with a population of less than 250,000 persons.

Because the filing date for license renewal applications varies depending on the state in which a station’s community of license is located, the time period in which Menu Option initiatives must be completed also varies.  Radio and television stations licensed to communities in the states identified above should review the following to determine which current two-year segment applies to them:

  • Nonexempt radio station SEUs licensed to communities in Alaska, American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, the Mariana Islands, Oregon, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Washington must earn at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two year “segment” between October 1, 2021 and September 30, 2023, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt radio station SEUs licensed to communities in Iowa and Missouri must have earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2022, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt television station SEUs licensed to communities in Iowa and Missouri must earn at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between October 1, 2021 and September 30, 2023, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt television station SEUs licensed to communities in Alaska, American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, the Mariana Islands, Oregon, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Washington must have earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2022, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.

Additional Obligations for Stations Whose License Renewal Applications Are Due by October 3, 2022 (Television Stations Licensed to Communities in Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, the Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington)

October 3, 2022 is the date by which television stations in Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, the Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington must file their license renewal applications.  In conjunction with that filing, these stations must submit Schedule 396 of FCC Form 2100.  Nonexempt SEUs must include in their Schedule 396 filing their two most recent EEO Public File Reports and a narrative discussing their EEO Program over the past two years.

Recommendations

It is critical that every SEU maintain adequate records of its performance under the EEO Rule and that it practice overachieving when it comes to earning the required number of Menu Option credits.  The FCC will not give credit for Menu Option initiatives that are not duly reported in an SEU’s Annual EEO Public File Report or that are not adequately documented.  Accordingly, before an Annual EEO Public File Report is finalized and made public by posting it on a station’s website or placing it in the Public Inspection File, the draft document, including supporting material, should be reviewed by communications counsel.

Finally, note that the FCC is continuing its program of EEO audits.  These random audits check for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule, and are sent to approximately five percent of all broadcast stations each year.  Any station may become the subject of an FCC audit at any time.  For more information on the FCC’s EEO Rule and its requirements, as well as practical advice for compliance, please contact any of the attorneys in Pillsbury’s Communications Practice.

[1] In light of the significant layoffs and workforce reductions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC has waived the requirement that broadcasters engage in broad outreach when rehiring employees that were laid off in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, but only where the employee is rehired within nine months of being laid off.  Additional information on this limited waiver of EEO obligations can be found in our CommLawCenter article on this subject.

A PDF of this article can be found at EEO Public File Deadline

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Broadcast stations face a September 15 deadline to ensure that all programming aired on their stations complies with the FCC’s foreign sponsorship disclosure requirements.

The Foreign Sponsorship Disclosure Rule was adopted by the FCC in April 2021, targeting airtime lease agreements between broadcasters and foreign governments or their representatives. The rule requires stations to take specific steps to ensure that the public is made aware of any programming aired that is provided, funded, or distributed by “governments of foreign countries, foreign political parties, agents of foreign principals, and United States-based foreign media outlets.”

Specifically, broadcasters are required to notify program suppliers leasing airtime or providing free programming to the station for airing that there is a disclosure requirement that applies to programming provided by foreign government entities or their agents, and to affirmatively ask whether the programmer is a foreign government entity or an agent of one, as well as whether a foreign government entity or an agent of one was involved in the preparation, funding, or distribution of the programming.

That inquiry must be documented by the broadcaster, and the broadcaster must retain that documentation for the remainder of the station’s license term, or one year, whichever is longer. If the inquiry results in a determination that the programming was in fact prepared, funded, or distributed by a foreign government entity or an agent of one, then a disclosure notice must air at the beginning and end of the program, stating: “The [following/preceding] programming was [sponsored, paid for, or furnished], either in whole or in part, by [name of foreign governmental entity] on behalf of [name of foreign country].  If the program length is five minutes or less, a single announcement can be aired either at the beginning or end of it, and if it is longer than an hour, the announcement must also air at regular intervals, airing at least once per hour.  Note that the FCC specifically excluded agreements to air short-form advertising from its definition of leasing agreements covered by the Rule.

In addition to airing the disclosure, the station must upload a copy of the disclosure, along with the name of the affected program and the dates and times it aired, to its Public Inspection File on a quarterly basis.  These materials should be uploaded to the standalone file folder titled “Foreign Government-Provided Programming Disclosures.”

The Foreign Sponsorship Disclosure Rule went into affect for new airtime leasing arrangements on March 15, 2022.  However, because the Rule applies to both newly-entered and existing airtime leasing arrangements, the FCC provided a six-month period for stations to complete the inquiry/documentation process for airtime arrangements created prior to March 15, 2022.

That grace period ends on September 15, 2022, at which point stations should have completed their inquiries for all programming arrangements (not just pre-March 15, 2022 leasing agreements), documented those inquiries, and commenced airing on-air disclosures for any content that must be identified as having foreign government-connected sponsorship. Therefore, to the extent they have not already done so, stations with existing airtime leasing agreements should reach out to the program provider to determine whether a disclosure is required.

For new airtime agreements going forward, broadcasters may want to consider making the notice and inquiry part of the leasing agreement, integrating language into the leasing agreement forms to include a discussion of the disclosure requirement and requiring the programmer to affirmatively verify whether an on-air disclosure is required. To the extent that the programmer discloses that it is a foreign government entity or agent, then the agreement should note that the station will be running the required disclosure.

That approach of course doesn’t work for agreements that were previously created (unless done as an amendment to the original contract), so stations needing to document their inquiries relating to agreements that predated March 15, 2022 will need to separately document the inquiry, and then ensure that any program content determined to require a disclosure commences airing with the disclosure no later than September 15.

As noted, the Rule applies to all agreements to lease airtime to third parties. Therefore, to the extent that they have not already done so, broadcasters should be sure to complete their inquiries, document them, and commence airing the required disclosures.  Stations should also be careful not to forget to upload those disclosures to their Public Inspection File each quarter.