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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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The deadline to file the 2023 Annual Children’s Television Programming Report with the FCC is January 30, 2024, reflecting programming aired during the 2023 calendar year.  In addition, commercial stations’ documentation of their compliance with the commercial limits in children’s programming during the 2023 calendar year must be placed in their Public Inspection File by January 30, 2024.

Overview

The Children’s Television Act of 1990 requires full power and Class A television stations to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programs originally produced and broadcast for an audience of children 12 years of age and under, and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under.  In addition, stations must comply with paperwork requirements related to these obligations.

Since its passage, the FCC has refined the rules relating to these requirements a number of times.  The current rules provide broadcasters with flexibility that prior versions of the rules did not in scheduling educational children’s television programming, and modify some aspects of the definition of “core” educational children’s television programming.  Quarterly filing of the commercial limits certifications and the Children’s Television Programming Report have been eliminated in favor of annual filings.

Commercial Television Stations

Commercial Limitations

The FCC’s rules require that stations limit the amount of “commercial matter” appearing in programs aimed at children 12 years old and younger to 12 minutes per clock hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per clock hour on the weekend.  The definition of commercial matter includes not only commercial spots, but also (i) website addresses displayed during children’s programming and promotional material, unless they comply with a four-part test, (ii) websites that are considered “host-selling” under the Commission’s rules, and (iii) program promos, unless they promote (a) children’s educational/informational programming, or (b) other age-appropriate programming appearing on the same channel.

Licensees must upload supporting documents to the Public Inspection File to demonstrate compliance with these limits on an annual basis by January 30 each year, covering the preceding calendar year.  Documentation to show that the station has been complying with this requirement can be maintained in several different forms.  It must, however, always identify the specific programs that the station believes are subject to the rules, and must list any instances of noncompliance.

Core Programming Requirements

To help stations identify which programs qualify as “educational and informational” for children 16 years of age and under, and determine how much of that programming they must air to demonstrate compliance with the Children’s Television Act, the FCC has adopted a definition of “core” educational and informational programming, as well as three different safe harbor renewal processing guidelines that establish a minimum of 156 hours of Core Programming that stations must air each year to receive a staff-level license renewal grant.  Stations should document all Core Programming that they air, even where it exceeds the safe harbor minimums, to best present their performance at license renewal time. Continue reading →

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Given that the name of this site is CommLawCenter, our focus is generally on communications law and regulation.  More accurately, however, our focus is on legal developments that affect the media and telecom industries, even when they emanate from entities other than Congress or the FCC.  This is particularly true where a change in non-communications laws could have an outsize impact on the communications industry.  For that reason, we have in the past written about changes involving a variety of employment matters, including who is entitled to overtime pay and when does an intern need to be paid?

Because of that industry focus, being a good communications lawyer often requires more subject matter versatility than most lawyers will ever need.  However, it is certainly helpful to also have access to the excellent group of employment lawyers at Pillsbury, which brings me to today’s topic–last week’s release by the Department of Labor of a new final rule replacing the prior test for determining whether a worker is an employee (entitled to overtime and other benefits) or an independent contractor under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The new DOL rule restores the six-factor “economic realities” test used during the Obama administration, which generally makes it harder to classify a worker as an independent contractor by focusing on the degree to which the worker is economically dependent on the “employer.”  This replaces the two-factor test adopted by the DOL during the Trump administration, which focused principally on two factors–the employer’s degree of control over the work and the worker’s opportunity for profit and loss.

The six factors of the new test are:

  1. The opportunity for profit or loss depending on the worker’s managerial skill
  2. Investments by the worker and the potential employer in the work being produced
  3. The degree of permanence of the work relationship
  4. The nature and degree of the worker’s control over the work
  5. The extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the potential employer’s business
  6. Whether the work performed requires special skills or initiative

A far more detailed description of the new test and how each of these factors enters into the determination (and may interact with a state’s own employment laws) can be found in a pithy advisory from Pillsbury’s employment team on the subject: Employers Face Greater Misclassification Risk Under Resurrected Federal Independent Contractor Rule, Opening Door to Substantial Liability.  It is well worth the read, particularly given the substantial costs and penalties faced by businesses found to have misclassified employees as independent contractors.  It is also time to review your prior classifications of workers as independent contractors to make sure they still hold up under the new rule.

 

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Bookending the Christmas weekend, the FCC’s long-awaited 2018 Quadrennial Review Report and Order was adopted on Friday, December 22 and released Tuesday, December 26.  The Commission is required by Congress to conduct a regulatory review of its broadcast ownership rules every four years and was directed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to conclude this particular review no later than December 27 (or to show cause why that couldn’t be done).

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 →

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The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by January 10, 2024, reflecting information for the months of October, November, and December 2023.

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 January 10, 2024, covering the period from October 1, 2023 through December 31, 2023. Continue reading →

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The origins of the annual Pillsbury Broadcasters’ Calendar have been lost to time, but it’s safe to say the new 2024 version is at least the 50th edition of this guidebook for the broadcast industry.  While your own personal calendar may be full of “happy dates” like vacations and graduations,  the 2024 Broadcasters’ Calendar is full of deadlines that prevent your happy dates from becoming very, very sad dates.  Keeping close track of these dates and their impact permits a licensee to remain a licensee, and a broadcast employee to remain an employee, allowing you to keep taking those vacations and paying those school tuition bills.

The good news for broadcasters is that while 2024 will be a major year for political advertising (and the extensive Political File paperwork that comes with it; notice how everything positive in broadcasting comes with a regulatory cloud?), it is an off-year for regulatory deadlines.  2024 marks a brief respite between FCC license renewal cycles, the off-year for biennial ownership reports, and television broadcasters completed their three-year must-carry elections in 2023.

Of course, that still leaves dozens of deadlines of all kinds that broadcasters must meet in the coming year, and it is certainly possible that some of those may be moved and a few new ones added before it is time for the 2025 Broadcasters’ Calendar.  Until then, keep a copy of the 2024 edition handy, and an eye on CommLawCenter for changes the coming year may bring.

 

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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:

  • Fourteen Years of Unpaid Regulatory Fees Could Lead to License Revocation
  • $6 Million in Fines Imposed on Three Pirate Radio Operators
  • Florida and Washington Television Stations Fined for Late Issues/Programs Lists

License of Missouri FM Could Be Revoked If Years of Regulatory Fees Remain Unpaid

The licensee of a Missouri FM station must either pay its overdue regulatory fees or show cause why the fees are inapplicable or should otherwise be waived or deferred.  The FCC’s Media Bureau and Office of Managing Director assert that the licensee failed to pay regulatory fees for fourteen years (2010-2023) and that it owes the U.S. Treasury nearly $26,000 in fees, interest, penalties, and other charges.

Under Section 9 of the Communications Act of 1934 (the Communications Act) and Section 1.1151 of the FCC’s Rules, the FCC each year assesses regulatory fees upon its regulatees to cover the costs of operating the agency.  The fees are typically due during the last two weeks of September so that the agency is fully funded at the start of the federal government’s fiscal year on October 1.  When payments are late or incomplete, the Communications Act and FCC Rules impose a penalty of 25% of the fees owed plus interest.  When regulatory fees or interest go unpaid, the FCC is authorized to revoke affected licenses and authorizations.  The licensee defaulted on a payment plan it had previously arranged with the Treasury.

In an Order to Pay or Show Cause, the FCC gave the licensee 60 days to file with the Media Bureau documentation showing all outstanding regulatory fee debts had been paid or to show cause why the fees are inapplicable or should be waived or deferred.  The Media Bureau noted in the Order that failure to provide evidence of payment or to show cause within the time permitted could result in revocation of the station’s license.  The Order followed letters to the licensee demanding payment without result.

License revocation normally requires the licensee first be given a hearing, but only if the licensee presents a substantial and material question of fact as to whether the fees are owed.  In the case of a hearing, the licensee bears the burden to introduce evidence and provide proof.  Where a hearing is conducted to collect regulatory fees, the FCC can require the licensee to pay for the costs of the hearing if the licensee does not ultimately prevail.

FCC Proposes Over $6 Million in Fines on Three Pirate Radio Operators

The FCC recently issued Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) proposing fines against three New York pirate radio operators under the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act (PIRATE Act).  In the NALs, the FCC proposed fines of $1,780,000, $2,316,034, and $2,316,034, respectively, against radio operators in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Mount Vernon, New York.  The PIRATE Act gave the FCC enhanced authority to take enforcement action against the pirates themselves and against landlords and property owners who knowingly and willfully allow pirates to broadcast from their properties.  Illegal broadcast operations can interfere with licensed communications and pose a danger to the public by interfering with licensed stations that carry public safety messages, including Emergency Alert System transmissions. 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.

December 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont 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,[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.

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 →