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June 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website.

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, (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.

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, June 1, 2024 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. Continue reading →

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published the 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:

  • FCC Proposes $8,000 Fine for Contest Rule Violations
  • Business Communications Company Settles Business Radio Investigation by Agreeing to Compliance Plan and $100,000 Penalty
  • FCC Issues $16,500 Fine to Alabama FM Translator for Multiple Rule Violations

California FM Station Receives $8,000 Proposed Fine for Contest Rule Violation

The FCC proposed a fine of $8,000 against the licensee of a California FM radio station for violating the FCC’s Contest Rule.  Specifically, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) asserting that the licensee failed to conduct the contest substantially as announced.

Section 73.1216 of the FCC’s Rules requires a licensee to “fully and accurately disclose the material terms” of a contest it conducts or promotes and to conduct the contest “substantially as announced and advertised.”  Material terms include, among other things, eligibility restrictions, the means of selecting winners, and the extent, nature, and value of prizes.  Prizes must also be awarded promptly, and in the past the FCC has found Contest Rule violations where a station failed to award prizes in a manner consistent with the advertised rules.

The FCC received a complaint alleging that the station did not award a cash prize to the winner of a contest conducted in October 2019.  To investigate the complaint, the FCC issued a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) to the station.  In response, the station admitted that there had been “undue delay,” with the prize being awarded after the announced timeline.  The station’s contest rules indicated prizes were to be awarded to winners “within thirty (30) business days of the date the winner completes all required Station documents.”  The station acknowledged that it received all required documentation on January 16, 2020, and thus it should have issued the prize by March 2, 2020, but did not issue the prize until May 2021.  The station cited three separate events as the cause of the undue delay: (1) difficulty accessing necessary files after the COVID-19 pandemic led to employees working from home; (2) a ransomware attack that affected corporate IT systems between October 2020 and March 2021; and (3) a lack of staff after the ransomware attack that prevented the station from completing work in a timely manner.

Despite these defenses, the FCC found that the station apparently willfully violated Section 73.1216 of the FCC’s Rules when it failed to award the prize in accordance with the advertised contest rules, and therefore failed to conduct the contest “fairly and substantially as represented to the public.”  The FCC explained that “timely fulfillment of the prize” was a “material term of the Licensee’s own contest rules” and the station delayed issuing the prize for over a year.  The FCC disagreed with the station’s justifications for the delay, finding that they did not excuse the failure to award the prize in compliance with the announced contest rules.  In particular, the FCC pointed out that the station’s first justification for the delay (the pandemic transition to work-from-home) occurred in mid-March 2020 – after the station should have already issued the prize by March 2, 2020.

The FCC’s base fine for violations pertaining to licensee-conducted contests is $4,000.  In this case, the FCC found a single violation of Section 73.1216 of the FCC’s Rules resulting from the station’s failure to issue the prize within the timeframe established by the contest rules.  However, considering the totality of the circumstances, and in line with the FCC’s Forfeiture Policy Statement, the FCC determined an upward adjustment was warranted, emphasizing that “large or highly profitable companies should expect to pay higher forfeitures for violations of the Act and the Commission’s rules” to ensure that the fine is an “effective deterrent and not simply a cost of doing business.”  The FCC therefore concluded that an upward adjustment of the proposed fine from $4,000 to $8,000 was appropriate.  The station has 30 days from release of the NAL to pay the fine or file a written statement seeking reduction or cancellation of it.

Rule Violations by Business Communications Company Result in Consent Decree with Compliance Plan and Six-Figure Penalty

A nationwide business communications company settled an FCC investigation by admitting that it failed to seek approval from the FCC before transferring control of business radio licenses and that it conducted business radio operations without authorization.  The company entered into a consent decree that requires implementation of a compliance plan and payment of a $100,000 civil penalty. Continue reading →

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published the 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:

  • Maine LPTV Licensee Agrees to Pay $2,500 for Closed-Captioning Violation
  • Georgia Broadcaster Loses FM Translator License, Faces Five-Figure Fine for Various Alleged Rule Violations
  • FCC Proposes $9,500 Fine for Missouri LPTV Licensee for Failing to File License Application and Renew Special Temporary Authority

Low Power Television Licensee Enters Into Consent Decree for Closed Captioning Violation

The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau and the licensee of a low power television station entered into a Consent Decree to resolve an investigation into whether the licensee violated the FCC’s Rules pertaining to closed captioning of video programming.  Under the Consent Decree, the licensee admitted to violating the FCC’s closed captioning rules, agreed to implement a compliance plan, and pay a $2,500 penalty.

The FCC’s closed captioning rules are designed to ensure that individuals with hearing disabilities have full access to video programming content.  The FCC’s Rules, among other things, require Video Programming Distributors to: (1) pass video programming with closed captioning to viewers with the original closed captioning data intact; (2) maintain their equipment and monitor their signal transmissions to ensure the closed captioning is reaching viewers; and (3) maintain records of their maintenance and monitoring activities.

In June 2021, a cable subscriber noticed that the station’s programming did not contain closed captioning and contacted their cable provider.  The cable provider told the viewer that the signal from the station did not contain closed captioning, so the viewer contacted the station directly in July 2021.  The station explained that it was getting new equipment which would fix the closed captioning problem, but after three months, the closed captioning was still missing from the programming.  After no further response from the station, the viewer filed a complaint with the FCC in October 2021.  Despite telling the FCC in November 2021 that it had identified the problem and was working to replace the deficient equipment, the licensee failed to timely respond to a December 2021 Letter of Inquiry (LOI) from the FCC.  A second LOI was issued in April 2022, prompting the licensee to respond in part to both LOIs.

After an investigation, the FCC determined that the licensee had failed to pass through closed captioning on its programming for a total of eight months.  Additionally, the FCC found that the licensee was not fully responsive to the viewer’s complaint or the FCC’s LOIs during the investigation, in violation of Section 1.17 of the Commission’s Rules.

To resolve the investigation, the licensee agreed to enter into a Consent Decree under which it will designate a compliance officer, implement a multi-part compliance plan, including implementing procedures to monitor its transmissions, routinely conduct equipment checks, and pay a $2,500 civil penalty.  The Consent Decree also indicates that in the event the licensee fails to comply with the requirements to monitor its transmissions and conduct equipment checks, it will pay an additional $12,500 civil penalty.

 Variety of Alleged Rule Violations by Georgia AM Station Generate Proposed $16,200 Fine and License Cancellation for Its FM Translator

A Georgia broadcaster faces a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) and a $16,200 fine for several alleged FCC rule violations, including operating a full-power AM radio station at variance from its license, discontinuing operation of the station without notifying the FCC or obtaining FCC authorization to do so, transferring control of the station and its FM translator to another party without FCC authorization, and failing to completely and fully respond to FCC inquiries.  The FCC also found that the translator’s license had automatically terminated after the translator failed to operate from its authorized location for more than a year. Continue reading →

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April 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website. 

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, (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.

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. Continue reading →

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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:

  • New Hampshire Presidential Primary Deepfake Robocalls Lead to Enforcement Action Against Call Originator
  • TV Broadcaster Faces $720,000 Fine for Failure to Negotiate Retransmission Consent in Good Faith
  • Statutory Maximum Penalty of $2,391,097 for Pirate Radio Operator

Telecommunications Company Accused of Originating Illegal Robocalls That Used President Biden’s Voice

A Michigan-based telecommunications company received a Notice of Suspected Illegal Traffic (“Notice”) from the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau accusing it of originating illegal robocall traffic related to the New Hampshire Presidential Primary election.

Two days before voting began in the Primary, New Hampshire residents believed to be potential Democratic voters began receiving calls purportedly from President Joe Biden telling them to “save” their vote for the November general election and not vote in the Primary.  The caller ID information indicated the call came from the spouse of a former state Democratic Party chair who was running a super PAC urging state Democrats to write in President Biden’s name in the Primary.  The call was not authorized by President Biden or his campaign or an authorized committee, nor did it include a legitimate message from the president but instead was a so-called deepfake using the President’s voice.  The caller ID information was spoofed.

Following widespread news reporting of the calls, the FCC investigated the matter together with the New Hampshire Attorney General, the Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force and USTelecom’s Industry Traceback Group (“ITG”).  This group determined that the telecommunications company was the originating provider of the robocalls at issue, and the ITG provided identifying call data to the company for the suspect calls.  In response, the company identified another entity as the party that initiated the calls and told the ITG that it had warned the initiating entity as to the illegality of the calls.  According to the Notice, both the company and the apparent initiating entity have been previous subjects of illegal robocall investigations.

It is illegal under federal law to “knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value” and the law requires originating providers to protect their networks by taking “affirmative, effective measures to prevent new and renewing customers from using its network to originate illegal calls, including knowing its customers and exercising due diligence in ensuring that its services are not used to originate illegal traffic.”  Failure by a provider to protect its network can lead to downstream providers permanently blocking all of the upstream provider’s traffic.  In this case, the FCC believed the caller knowingly transmitted misleading and inaccurate caller ID information to deceive and confuse call recipients and apparently intended to harm prospective voters by using the President’s voice to tell them to not participate in the Primary.  The company also signed the calls with A-Level Attestation, an authentication designation that signals to downstream providers that the company has a direct relationship with the customer and that the customer legitimately controls the phone number in the caller ID field.

Transmittal of the Notice triggered several obligations for the company, including that it investigate the illegal traffic identified by the FCC and block or cease accepting all of the illegal traffic within 14 days of the Notice if the company’s investigation determines that it was part of the call chain for the identified traffic or substantially similar traffic.  Failure to respond to the Notice or to comply with additional obligations could result in temporary or permanent blocking of all traffic from the company, removal of the company from the Robocall Mitigation Database, which would cause all intermediate and terminating providers to immediately cease accepting the company’s telephone traffic, and more.  The FCC also issued a Public Notice notifying all U.S.-based voice service providers of the suspected illegal traffic coming from the company and authorizing the providers, at their discretion, to block or cease accepting traffic from the company without liability under the Communications Act of 1934 if the company failed to effectively mitigate the illegal calls. Continue reading →

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February 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website. 

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, (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.

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. Continue reading →

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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:

  • TV Broadcaster Faces $150,000 Fine for Failure to Negotiate Retransmission Consent in Good Faith
  • Sponsorship ID and Political File Violations Lead to $500,000 Consent Decree for Radio Broadcaster
  • $26,000 Fine for Georgia Radio Station EEO Rule Violations

 FCC Finds That TV Broadcaster Failed to Negotiate Retransmission Consent in Good Faith

Responding to a complaint by a cable TV provider, the Federal Communications Commission found that a broadcaster failed to negotiate retransmission consent for its New York TV station in good faith.  The enforcement action involves a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) proposing a $150,000 fine against the broadcast licensee.  The licensee was represented in the negotiations by another broadcaster who provides services to the station at issue.

Under Section 325 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the Act), TV stations and multichannel video programming distributors (i.e., cable and satellite TV providers) have a duty to negotiate retransmission consent agreements in good faith.  In a 2000 Order, the FCC adopted rules relating to good faith negotiations, setting out procedures for parties to allege violations of the rules.  The Order established a two-part good faith negotiation test.  Part one of the test is a list of objective negotiation standards, the violation of any of which is deemed to be a per se violation of a party’s duty to negotiate in good faith.  Part two of the test is a subjective “totality of the circumstances” test in which the FCC reviews the facts presented in a complaint to determine if the combined facts establish an overall failure to negotiate in good faith.

In this case, the cable provider complained that the broadcaster, through its negotiator, proposed terms for renewal of the parties’ agreement that would have prohibited either party from filing certain complaints with the FCC after execution of the agreement.  For its part, the broadcaster did not dispute that it proposed the terms in question, but argued that (1) “releasing FCC-related claims or withdrawing FCC complaints is not novel,” (2) “parties typically agree to withdraw good faith negotiation complaints once retransmission consent agreements have been reached,” and (3) no violation could have occurred since the proposed term was not included in the final agreement reached.

The FCC disagreed, stating that its 2000 Order made clear that proposing terms which foreclose the filing of FCC complaints is a presumptive violation of the good faith negotiation rules.  The FCC also disagreed with the broadcaster’s contention that terms not included in a final agreement could not violate the good faith rules.  Finally, while the licensee argued that it was not responsible for actions taken by the party negotiating on its behalf, the FCC reiterated that licensees are responsible for the actions of their agents, and the licensee in this case delegated negotiation of the agreement to its agent.

Relying upon statutory authority and its Forfeiture Policy Statement, the FCC arrived at a proposed fine of $150,000.  The Forfeiture Policy Statement establishes a base fine of $7,500 for violating the cable broadcast carriage rules, and the FCC asserted that the alleged violations continued for 10 days (the time period from first proposing the terms at issue and the signing of the agreement without them), yielding a base fine of $75,000.  The FCC then exercised its discretion to upwardly adjust the proposed fine to $150,000, asserting that the increase was justified based on the licensee’s financial relationship with a large TV company, its prior rule violations, and the FCC’s view that a larger fine was necessary to serve as a meaningful deterrent against future violations.

Repeated Violations of Sponsorship ID and Political File Rules Lead to $500,000 Consent Decree

A large radio station group entered into a consent decree with the FCC’s Media Bureau, agreeing to pay a $500,000 civil penalty for two of its stations’ violations of sponsorship identification laws and the Political File rule.

Section 317(a)(1) of the Act and Section 73.1212(a) of the FCC’s Rules require broadcast stations to identify the sponsor of any sponsored content broadcast on the station.  This requirement applies to all advertising, music, and any other broadcast content if the station or its employees received something of value for airing it.  The FCC has said that the sponsorship identification laws are “grounded in the principle that listeners and viewers are entitled to know who seeks to persuade them . . . .” Continue reading →

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If there was any doubt that the late-2023 confirmation of Anna Gomez as the fifth commissioner would bring a flurry of FCC activity in 2024, the FCC has laid those questions to rest. In addition to a $150,000 good faith NAL, $500,000 sponsorship ID consent decree, $26,000 EEO report NAL, and some public file NALs, the FCC this week released two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking of potential interest to broadcast licensees.

Continue reading →

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With the Iowa Republican Caucus happening in mid-January and dozens of additional primaries and caucuses to follow before the 2024 general election, broadcasters need to be aware of the use of artificial intelligence (AI), deepfakes and synthetic media in political advertising and the various laws at play when such content is used. These laws seek to ensure that viewers and listeners are made aware that the person they are seeing or the voice they are hearing in political advertising may not be who it looks like or sounds like. Campaigns, political committees, super PACs, special interest groups and other political advertisers are using AI, deepfakes and synthetic media in advertisements, making it easier to mislead and misinform viewers and listeners.

Continue reading →

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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:

  • Mobile Service Provider Enters $23.5 Million Consent Decree to Resolve Lifeline and Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Investigation
  • Texas TV Station Receives $13,000 Penalty for Unauthorized Operation and Late License Application
  • Radio Station License Revoked Over Eight Years of Unpaid Regulatory Fees

Investigation Into Lifeline and Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Violations Leads to $23.5 Million Penalty for Mobile Phone Provider

A major mobile virtual network operator and mobile wireless telecommunications services provider entered into a Consent Decree with the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau (the “Bureau”) resolving an investigation into whether the provider violated the Commission’s rules for its Lifeline and/or Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) programs by claiming credit for subscribers that were ineligible for these programs.  These programs federally subsidize the cost of providing various services to qualifying subscribers.  The company provided Lifeline telephone service as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) and broadband internet access service under the EBB program.

The Bureau investigated whether the phone service provider (a) improperly sought and/or obtained Lifeline or EBB financial support from the government for ineligible subscribers, or failed to de-enroll subscribers who lacked eligibility documentation or whose applications were supported by falsified tax forms; (b) sought and/or obtained Lifeline support/EBB support for subscribers who didn’t use a Lifeline-supported/EBB-supported service; and (c) directly or indirectly compensated field enrollment representatives based on earning a commission, rather than being paid on an hourly basis.

Under the Commission’s Lifeline rules, ETCs must satisfy specific requirements to be eligible to receive federal Lifeline dollars, and may only receive such support “based on the number of actual qualifying low-income customers listed in the National Lifeline Accountability Database that the eligible telecommunications carrier serves directly as of the first of the month.”  Similarly, EBB providers may claim government financial support for providing discounted broadband internet access service during the emergency period of the EBB program based on the number of qualifying low-income households that the provider serves each month.

As part of these programs, participating providers were required to develop policies and procedures to ensure that their EBB households were indeed eligible to receive the discount benefit.  For example, two criteria for EBB qualification are whether the household income falls below a certain threshold or whether at least one member of the household has experienced a documented substantial loss in income during the emergency period.

Continue reading →