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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 Network Draws Proposed Fine of $504,000 for Transmitting False EAS Tones
  • FCC Cites Equipment Supplier for Marketing Unauthorized Devices
  • FCC Proposes $62 Million Penalty Against Wireless Provider for Excessive Connected Devices Reimbursement Claims

FCC Proposes $504,000 Fine Against TV Network and Its O&O Station Group for EAS Rule Violations

The FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) to a TV network and its O&O station group, asserting violations of the Commission’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules.  Specifically, the FCC alleged violations of Section 11.45 of its rules, which prohibits the transmission of false or deceptive EAS tones.

The EAS is a nationwide public warning system designed to alert the public in case of emergencies, such as severe weather warnings or AMBER alerts.  In order to maintain the effectiveness of such alerts, EAS tones may only be aired in actual emergencies, authorized tests, and qualified public service announcements (PSAs).  Section 11.45 strictly prohibits airing the EAS tones, or simulations thereof, except in connection with one of these permitted uses.

The FCC received information from several sources alleging that during the television broadcast of a promotional segment in November 2021, the network transmitted EAS tones that were not connected to an emergency, authorized test, or qualified PSA.  In January 2022, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau sent a Letter of Inquiry seeking information regarding the potential violation and requesting, among other things, recordings of the promotional segment.  The network responded, admitting that it aired a three-second excerpt of the EAS Attention Signal, and admitting that it was not aired in connection with any permitted use.

The network also acknowledged that it broadcast the promotional segment over 18 owned-and-operated TV stations and transmitted it to 190 network-affiliated TV stations, as well as transmitted it on its sports radio network, which has a nationwide reach of nearly 15 million listeners.  Based on the network’s admissions and the FCC’s review of the segment, the Commission found that the network willfully violated Section 11.45(a) of the Commission’s Rules in its capacity as a broadcast TV programming network, as the licensee of multiple television stations, and by transmitting the segment via radio stations.  The FCC explained that although it was shorter than the full EAS Tones, the three-second clip used in the segment had the same dual-tone frequency, pitch, and timbre as the actual EAS Tones, and was recognizable by viewers or listeners as substantially similar to the EAS Tones.

Pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 503(b)(2)(A), which governs broadcast station licensees, the FCC is authorized to issue fines of up to $59,316 per violation, but the total amount for a single act may not exceed $593,170.  The FCC noted that while the base fine for violations of the EAS rule is $8,000, it looks at the particular facts of each case and may upwardly adjust that amount based on a number of specific factors, including the number of transmissions at issue, the network’s large nationwide audience reach, the gravity of the violation, the violator’s degree of culpability, ability to pay, and the serious public safety implications of the apparent violation.

Continue reading →

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Full power TV, Class A TV, LPTV, and TV Translator stations licensed to communities in New Jersey and New York must file their license renewal applications by February 1, 2023.

February 1, 2023 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:
New Jersey and New York

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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The deadline to file the 2022 Annual Children’s Television Programming Report with the FCC is January 30, 2023, reflecting programming aired during the 2022 calendar year.  In addition, commercial stations’ documentation of their compliance with the commercial limits in children’s programming during the 2022 calendar year must be placed in their Public Inspection File by January 30, 2023.

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.

In 2019, the FCC adopted a number of changes to its children’s television programming rules.  Substantively, the new rules provide broadcasters with additional flexibility in scheduling educational children’s television programming, and modified some aspects of the definition of “core” educational children’s television programming.  Those portions of the revisions went into effect in 2019.  Procedurally, the new rules eliminated quarterly filing of the commercial limits certifications and the Children’s Television Programming Report in favor of annual filings.  Those revisions went into effect in 2020. As a result, the Children’s Television Programming Report and commercial limits documentation filed in 2023 will be the third year that annual filings are submitted. 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.  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 February 1. 

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. Continue reading →

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The FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau has announced that technical updates to the EAS Test Reporting System (“ETRS”) have been completed and the ETRS is open and available to accept filings of Form One by EAS participants. Under the FCC’s EAS Rules, EAS participants must update their identifying information annually via a Form One filing. This is typically done in connection with a nationwide EAS test. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not conduct such a test in 2022, and has not yet announced a 2023 nationwide test. Therefore, the Form One must be submitted independently of a test to comply with the annual updating requirement.

All broadcasters are generally required to submit a Form One, including low power FM stations, Class D noncommercial educational FM stations, and stations that are silent pursuant to a grant of Special Temporary Authority. Certain broadcasters are exempt from filing a Form One, including:

  • TV translator stations;
  • FM booster stations;
  • FM translator stations that entirely rebroadcast the programming of other local FM broadcast stations; and
  • Stations that operate as satellites or repeaters of a hub station (or common studio or control point if there is no hub station) and rebroadcast 100 percent of the programming of the hub station (or common studio or control point). Note that the hub station (or common studio or control point) must file a Form One.

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:

  • Violations of Environmental, Historic Preservation, and Tribal Notification Rules Lead to $950,000 Penalty
  • Proposed $300 Million Fine Follows Largest-Ever FCC Robocall Investigation
  • Deceased Licensee’s Estate to Pay $7,000 Penalty for Failing to File Required Applications and Documents

Wireless Provider Pays $950,000 for Violating Environmental, Historic Preservation, and Tribal Notification Rules

A national wireless provider entered into a consent decree with the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, agreeing to pay $950,000 for violating the FCC’s environmental and historic preservation rules, as well as rules requiring entities to coordinate with relevant state governments and tribal nations in the construction of communications sites.

To resolve the FCC’s investigation, the company admitted to prematurely constructing wireless facilities before completing the required environmental and historic preservation reviews and by constructing wireless facilities without onsite monitoring as requested by the affected tribes.  Under Section 1.1307(a)(4) of the FCC’s Rules, applicants and licensees must assess whether proposed facilities may significantly affect the environment and whether the proposed facilities may affect districts, sites, buildings, structures, or objects that are listed (or eligible for listing) in the National Register of Historic Places, or may affect Native American religious sites.  Applicants must also follow other rules set out by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation or the National Historic Preservation Act Review Process, as applicable.

By early 2020, the company began deploying newer wireless technology, commonly known as small cells.  Small cell antennas are used to improve wireless service and can be mounted to streetlight poles, utility poles, or even traffic control structures.  During the summer of 2020, the company began constructing the small cell antennas that are the subject of the Consent Decree.  After the company reported concerns regarding its compliance with the environmental rules to the FCC, the Commission opened an investigation and issued a Letter of Inquiry (“LOI”) to the company in January 2022.  The company filed several responses to the LOI throughout 2022.  Ultimately, the Commission determined that the company began and or/completed building wireless facilities in three states prior to, or without completing, the required review process and Tribal notification process.  The FCC also concluded that the company failed to comply with Tribal notification procedures in two states.  While some of the noncompliant construction was found to have been caused by a miscommunication between the company and its third-party contractors, other violations were the result of a company employee who lacked expertise on the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act requirements.  Before and during the FCC’s investigation, the company stated that it had begun the process of removing any wireless facilities found to have an adverse effect on historic streets. Continue reading →

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With the end of another year soon upon us, we have begun to look forward to the highs, lows, joys, and filings that 2023 has in store.  In accordance with a Pillsbury holiday tradition, earlier this month we published our annual Broadcasters’ Calendar of upcoming regulatory deadlines for broadcasters–a compendium of the currently known deadlines occurring throughout 2023. It’s full of dates and deadlines affecting TV and radio in the coming year, and cross-references some of our other Advisories to help stations meet their regulatory obligations in the year ahead. We hope this Calendar helps guide you into and through the new year.  Happy 2023 to all.

Items of Note in 2023[1]

  1. Commercial and Noncommercial Biennial Ownership Report: December 1, 2023 is the deadline by which all commercial and noncommercial radio and television stations must file their biennial ownership reports. Commercial stations will file FCC Form 2100, Schedule 323, and noncommercial stations will file FCC Form 2100, Schedule 323-E. The filing window opens October 1, 2023, and all ownership reports must reflect information current as of that date.
  2. Applications for Renewal of License: The three-year long state-by-state license renewal cycle ends in April 2023 for stations in the television services (full-power television, Class A television, LPTV, and TV Translator). The three-year renewal cycle for stations in the radio services (AM, FM, FM Translator, and LPFM) ended in April 2022. Stations will file their license renewal applications on FCC Form 2100, Schedule 303-S (“Form 303-S”) along with their Equal Opportunity Employment Reports on Form 2100, Schedule 396 (“Form 396”). The date by which the licensee must file a station’s application for license renewal depends on the state or territory of the station’s community of license. All licensees should familiarize themselves now with the dates associated with this important filing. As noted in previous Calendars, stations are no longer required to air pre-filing announcements during the two months preceding the filing of their license renewal application and instead need only air six post-filing announcements over four consecutive weeks, beginning within five business days after the FCC has “accepted for filing” their license renewal application. Additional information can be found in our License Renewal Advisories published on CommLawCenter prior to each state-by-state application deadline.
  • TV Spectrum Repack Progress Report and Reimbursement Deadlines: Because the 39-month post-auction transition period for full-power and Class A television stations ended in 2020, the post-repack Transition Progress Report (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 387) filing deadlines are not noted in this year’s calendar. However, stations that received an extension of time to complete their transition must continue to file Transition Progress Reports on a quarterly basis until they have ceased operating on their pre-repack channels, completed construction of their post-repack facilities, and reported that information to the FCC. In addition to these quarterly reports, transitioning stations must file Transition Progress Reports ten weeks before the end of their assigned construction deadline, ten days after completion of all work related to constructing their post-repack facilities, and five days after ceasing operations on their pre-auction channel. Throughout 2021 and 2022, all repacked full-power and Class A television stations and FM stations and LPTV/translator stations that sought reimbursement had to submit all invoices and supporting documentation, and initiate interim close-out procedures. The FCC announced in February 2022 that it intends to visit a random sample of Broadcaster Relocation Fund participants to verify the existence and operational status of equipment for which the participant received reimbursement.

January 1

Audio Description Requirements Extend to Nielsen Designated Market Areas 81 to 90—Commercial television stations affiliated with one of the top four broadcast networks and assigned to the Madison, Waco-Temple-Bryan, Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen, Paducah-Cape Girardeau-Harrisburg, Colorado Springs-Pueblo, Shreveport, Syracuse, Champaign and Springfield-Decatur, Savannah, or Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City and Dubuque Nielsen Designated Market Areas must comply with the FCC’s audio description (formerly video description) rules.

January 10

Quarterly Issues/Programs List Due—All full-power radio, full-power television, and Class A television stations must upload to their Public Inspection File by this date the Quarterly Issues/Programs List covering the period October 1, 2022 through December 31, 2022. 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:

  • Broadcaster Receives $518,283 Fine for Local TV Ownership Rule Violation
  • Ohio LED Sign Manufacturer Enters $47,600 Consent Decree for Marketing Unauthorized Devices
  • FCC Reduces Fine to $3,400 for Washington LPTV Licensee’s Unauthorized Operation and Untimely License Applications

TV Broadcaster Receives Statutory Maximum Fine for Violating FCC Multiple Ownership Rule

A large multi-market television company (the “Company”) was fined $518,283 for violating the FCC’s rule prohibiting one entity from owning two top-four rated TV stations in the same Nielsen Designated Market Area (“DMA”).  This Forfeiture Order follows a July 2021 Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”), which we wrote about here.

In July 2020, the Company acquired the non-license assets and network affiliation of a top-four rated station in the Anchorage, Alaska DMA and placed the network’s programming on a non-top-four rated station that was already owned by the Company.  At the time of the transaction, the Company owned one top-four station in the market and one that it claimed organically improved its ratings to join the top four and therefore was not in violation of 47 C.F.R. 73.3555, which includes the Local Television Ownership Rule (the “Rule”).  The Rule prohibits an entity from owning two full-power television stations in the same DMA if both commonly owned stations are ranked among the top-four rated stations in the market.  However, the Rule permits a top-four duopoly if one of the stations was outside the top four and organically improved its ratings to join the top four.  Note 11 (the “Note”), which was added to the Rule in 2016, bars the common ownership of two top-four stations with overlapping contours in the same DMA through the acquisition of a network affiliation and says:

An entity will not be permitted to directly or indirectly own, operate, or control two television stations in the same DMA through the execution of any agreement (or series of agreements) involving stations in the same DMA, or any individual or entity with a cognizable interest in such stations, in which a station (the “new affiliate”) acquires the network affiliation of another station (the “previous affiliate”), if the change in network affiliations would result in the licensee of the new affiliate, or any individual or entity with a cognizable interest in the new affiliate, directly or indirectly owning, operating, or controlling two of the top-four rated television stations in the DMA at the time of the agreement.

The FCC found that the transaction—acquiring the network affiliation and placing that programming on a lower-rated station—was the functional equivalent of a license transfer or assignment and effectively turned the station into a top-four station in violation of the Rule.  The Forfeiture Order noted that the Company had not sought a waiver of the Rule or contacted FCC staff about the permissibility of the transaction.

In response to the NAL, the Company argued that (1) because one of its stations had improved its ratings and already achieved top-four status prior to the transaction, the “plain language” of the Note was not implicated by the transaction; (2) the Company lacked notice that the Note prohibits purchases of network affiliations, rather than just affiliation swaps; and (3) the FCC’s interpretation of the Note constitutes impermissible regulation of the Company’s content choices for its station.  The FCC rejected these arguments.  It found that the relevant ratings showed the station as the fifth-ranked (not top four, as the Company contended) station in the market before the network’s programming caused it to enter the top four.  It also found that the Company could not rely on an exemption to the Rule that allows a network to offer an affiliation to a duopoly owner (one top-four station and one non-top-four station) if the network is unhappy with its current affiliate and the proposed affiliate has “demonstrated superior station operation.”  In this case, the Company indicated it declined an offer from the network to acquire the affiliation and instead bought the affiliation from the current affiliate.  The FCC also pointed to its Second Report and Order that provided more detail on affiliation acquisitions as notice of permissible transactions and stood by its finding that the Rule and accompanying Note 11 do not regulate a Company’s content choices, but merely market concentration.

The FCC concluded that the appropriate fine would be $8,000 for each day the violation persisted, which would result in a total fine of $1,720,000.  However, the statutory cap on fines for a single violation is $518,283.  As a result, the Commission reduced the proposed fine to that amount and indicated it did not see a justification for any further reduction when considering the nature and duration of the violation and the Company’s ability to pay.

LED Sign Manufacturer Settles Equipment Marketing Investigation for $47,600

The FCC entered into a Consent Decree with an Ohio-based sign manufacturer, resolving an investigation into whether the manufacturer unlawfully marketed light-emitting diode (“LED”) signs in the United States.  The entity manufactures, advertises, and sells fully assembled LED signs.  The investigation found, and the manufacturer admitted, that it marketed several unauthorized LED signs without the required FCC equipment authorization, labeling, and user manual disclosures and failed to retain required test records in violation of the Communications Act and the FCC’s Rules. Continue reading →

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Full power TV, Class A TV, LPTV, and TV Translator stations licensed to communities in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont must file their license renewal applications by December 1, 2022.

December 1, 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:
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont

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.

Schedule 303-S: Application for Renewal of TV Broadcast Station Licenses

Parties to the Application

Some of the certifications an applicant is asked to make in Schedule 303-S relate solely to the station, and some—such as character certifications—relate to any “party to the application.” A party to the application is any individual or entity that has an attributable interest in a station. This includes all parties whose ownership interest, positional interest (i.e., an officer or director), or other relation to the applicant confers on that party a sufficient degree of influence or control over the licensee to merit FCC attention.

For a corporation, this typically includes all officers, directors, and shareholders with a 5% or greater voting interest; for an LLC, its officers and members; and for a partnership, all partners. However, each form of entity comes with its own caveats, limitations, and unique rules for determining attributable interest holders. For example, limited partners are normally attributable interest holders unless they have been “insulated” from partnership decisions pursuant to very specific FCC requirements. Filers should reach out to counsel prior to filing if there are any questions about who the FCC would consider a party in interest to the license renewal application.

Character Issues, Adverse Findings and FCC Violations

Pursuant to the FCC’s statutory obligation to consider any serious rule violations or patterns of abuse, each licensee must certify that neither it nor any party to the application has had “any interest in or connection with an application that was or is the subject of unresolved character issues.” Where the applicant is unable to make this certification, it must include an exhibit identifying the party involved, the call letters and location of the station (or file number of the FCC application or docket), and describe the party’s connection to the matter, including all relevant dates. The applicant must also explain why the unresolved character issue “is not an impediment” to grant of the license renewal application.

Applicants must also certify whether the licensee or any party to the application has been the subject of an adverse finding in any civil or criminal proceeding involving a felony, a mass-media related antitrust or unfair competition charge, a false statement to another governmental entity, or discrimination. The applicant must report adverse findings from the past ten years and include an exhibit explaining the matter in detail and why it should not be an impediment to a grant of the license renewal application. Note, however, that a station does not need to report an adverse finding that was disclosed to the FCC in the context of an earlier station application where it was subsequently found by the FCC to be not disqualifying.

The application form also asks the applicant to certify that “there have been no violations by the licensee of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, or the rules or regulations of the Commission during the preceding license term.” The instructions to the form make clear that this question is only asking the applicant to certify that there have been no formal findings of a violation by the FCC or a court, such as a Notice of Apparent Liability, Notice of Violation, or similar finding of a rule violation. Applicants should not use this section to self-disclose any violations not previously identified by the FCC.

Foreign Ownership and Control

The applicant must also certify that the licensee has complied with Section 310 of the Communications Act regarding foreign influence over the station. Section 310 generally prohibits the FCC from issuing a license to an alien, a representative of an alien, a foreign government or the representative thereof, or a corporation organized under the laws of a foreign government. It also prohibits a license being issued to an entity of which more than 20% of the capital stock is owned or voted by aliens, their representatives, a foreign government or its representative, or an entity organized under the laws of a foreign country, or, absent a special ruling from the FCC, to an entity whose parent company  has more than 25% of its capital stock owned or voted by aliens, their representatives, a foreign government or its representative, or an entity organized under the laws of a foreign country.

Station Operations

The license renewal application also requires stations to certify that they are currently operational, as the FCC will not renew the license of a station that is not broadcasting.

In a similar vein, Section 73.1740 of the FCC’s Rules sets forth the minimum operating hours for commercial broadcast stations. In the license renewal application, stations must certify that they were not silent or operated less than the required minimum number of hours for a period of more than 30 days during the license term. If they cannot, they must include an exhibit disclosing the relevant details and explaining why it should not adversely affect the station’s license renewal.

Stations must also certify as to several statements regarding Radiofrequency Electromagnetic (RF) exposure of the public and workers at the transmitter site. Stations that were previously renewed and which have had no changes at their transmitter site since their last renewal application will generally be able to certify compliance with this statement. Stations that have had a material change in the RF environment at their transmitter site must assess the impact of that change before certifying RF compliance and may need to submit an exhibit demonstrating the station’s compliance with RF requirements.

Related Filings and Materials

Other Certifications

Successfully navigating the license renewal application also requires stations to certify that the rest of their regulatory house is in order. For example, applicants must certify that they have timely made other regulatory filings, such as the Biennial Ownership Report on FCC Form 323 or 323-E, and confirm that their advertising agreements do not discriminate on the basis of race or gender and contain non-discrimination clauses. Applicants must also certify that they have placed all items required to be in the station’s Public Inspection File in the File, and that they have done so on a timely basis. Public File violations have traditionally been a significant cause of fines at license renewal time. As the Public Inspection File is now online, stations should be mindful that third parties are able to easily review and confirm the timeliness of Public File documents. As with all other certifications in the application form, stations must accurately respond and be prepared to provide documentation supporting their certifications if later requested by the FCC.

EEO

Depending on staff size, one of the items stations must certify is that they have timely placed in their Public Inspection File, as well as on their website, the annual Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) Public File report.

Generally, a station that is part of a Station Employment Unit that employs fewer than five full-time employees is exempt from these requirements. However, at license renewal time, all stations, regardless of staff size, must file FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396, the Broadcast EEO Program Report. Stations in a Station Employment Unit with fewer than five full-time employees will only need to complete part of the form before filing it. As a practical matter, because of the mechanics of the FCC’s filing system, an applicant will generally be unable to file its license renewal application until it can provide in that form the file number generated by the FCC when the station’s completed Schedule 396 is filed.

Certifications for Full Power TV and Class A TV Stations Only

While there is significant overlap between the certifications included in both the radio and TV license renewal applications, an important portion of the form specific to full power TV and Class A TV stations concerns certifications regarding the station’s children’s television programming obligations.

The Children’s Television Act of 1990 requires commercial full power TV and Class A TV stations to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programming designed for children ages 12 and under, and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children ages 16 and under. While stations have been required to submit Children’s Television Programming Reports and commercial limits certifications demonstrating their compliance with these requirements on a quarterly or annual basis,[1] the license renewal application requires applicants to further certify that these obligations have been satisfied and documented as required over the entire license term and to explain any instances of noncompliance. Stations can find additional information on the children’s television programming and reporting obligations in our most recent Children’s Television Programming Advisory.

Although noncommercial TV stations are not subject to commercial limitations or required to file Children’s Television Programming Reports, such stations are required to air programming responsive to children’s educational and informational needs. In preparation for license renewal, such stations should therefore ensure they have documentation demonstrating compliance with this obligation in the event their license renewal is challenged.

For Class A television stations, in addition to certifications related to children’s television programming, the application requires certification of compliance with the Class A eligibility and service requirements under Section 73.6001 of the FCC’s Rules. Specifically, such stations must broadcast a minimum of 18 hours a day and average at least three hours per week of locally produced programming each quarter to maintain their Class A status. Applicants must certify that they have and will continue to meet these requirements.

Post-Filing License Renewal Announcements

In prior license renewal cycles, stations were required to give public notice of a license renewal application both before and after the filing of that application. For the current cycle, the FCC eliminated the pre-filing public notices and modified the procedures for post-filing notices. These changes modify the timing and number of on-air announcements required, replace newspaper public notice requirements with an online notice, and revise the text of the announcements themselves.

As a result, full power and Class A TV stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, must broadcast a total of six post-filing license renewal announcements over four consecutive weeks, with at least one airing each week and no more than two airing in any week (each of which must air on different days). The first such announcement must air within five business days after the FCC has issued a Public Notice announcing its acceptance for filing of the application.

On-air post-filing announcements must be broadcast on a weekday (Monday through Friday) between 7:00 am and 11:00 pm local time based on the applicant station’s community of license. The text of the announcement is as follows:

On [date], [applicant name], licensee of [station call sign], [station frequency], [station community of license], filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission for renewal of its license.  Members of the public wishing to view this application or obtain information about how to file comments and petitions on the application can visit publicfiles.fcc.gov, and search in [station call sign’s] public file.

For those types of stations that do not have Public Inspection Files, the on-air post-filing announcement should instead be:

On [date], [applicant name], licensee of [station call sign], [station frequency], [station community of license], filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission for renewal of its license.  Members of the public wishing to view this application or obtain information about how to file comments and petitions can visit www.fcc.gov/stationsearch, and search in the list of [station call sign’s] filed applications.

For television broadcast stations, when these on-air announcements are presented aurally, the public notice text must also be presented visually onscreen.

Special rules apply to noncommercial educational stations that do not normally operate during any month when their announcements would otherwise be due to air, as well as to other silent stations. These stations should contact counsel regarding how to provide the required public notice.

Certification of Compliance

Within seven days of the broadcast of the last required announcement, full power TV station and Class A TV station license renewal applicants should complete the Statement of Compliance linked below and place it in the station’s Public Inspection File.  LPTV license renewal applicants should complete the attached Statement of Compliance and place it in their station records file.

Online Public Notice Required for TV Translator and Certain LPTV Stations

TV translator and LPTV stations not capable of local origination are not required to broadcast post-filing announcements, and have typically been required to publish public notices in a local newspaper instead. The FCC has eliminated the newspaper publication requirement in favor of online notices, requiring such stations to publish written notice on a station-affiliated website upon filing a license renewal application.

A prominently displayed link or tab that reads “FCC Applications” must be posted on the station website homepage, and link to a separate page containing the following notice:

On [date], [applicant name], [permittee / licensee] of [station call sign], [station frequency], [station community of license], filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission for renewal of its license. Members of the public wishing to view this application or obtain information about how to file comments and petitions on the application can visit [insert hyperlink to application location in the Media Bureau’s Licensing and Management System].

This separate page must also include the date the page was last revised. The notice and corresponding link to the license renewal application must be posted within five business days after the FCC has issued a Public Notice announcing its acceptance for filing of the application and remain on the station’s website for 30 consecutive days. At the end of the 30-day period, the notice can be removed, and if no other applications requiring online notice are pending, the webpage should be updated to include the following text instead:

There are currently no applications pending for which online public notice is required.

The rules contain specific requirements as to where station applicants that do not have websites should post their announcement. These stations should consult with counsel on the proper online notice procedures.

After publishing the notice, the licensee should complete and execute a Statement of Compliance regarding that publication and place the Statement of Compliance in its Public Inspection File. While TV translator and LPTV station licensees are not required to keep a Public Inspection File, they are required to maintain and make available to FCC representatives a station records file that contains their current authorization and copies of all FCC filings and correspondence with the Commission. For them, the completed Statement of Compliance should be included in their station records file.

The full article, along with examples of compliance statements, can be found at License Application Renewal Reminder.

[1] Note that in 2019, the FCC changed the obligation to file the Children’s Television Programming Report and place the commercial limits certification in the Public Inspection File from a quarterly requirement to an annual obligation.

Published on:

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.  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 December 1. 

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, December 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 December 1, 2021 through November 30, 2022.  However, Nonexempt SEUs may “cut off” the reporting period up to ten days before November 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 December 1, 2021 through November 20, 2022 for this year’s report (cutting it off up to ten days prior to November 30, 2022), then next year, the Nonexempt SEU must use a period beginning November 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 Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont must earn at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two year “segment” between December 1, 2021 and November 30, 2023, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt radio station SEUs licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota must have earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between December 1, 2020 and November 30, 2022, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt television station SEUs licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota must earn at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between December 1, 2021 and November 30, 2023, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt television station SEUs licensed to communities in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont must have earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between December 1, 2020 and November 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 December 1, 2022 (Television Stations Licensed to Communities in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont)

December 1, 2022 is the date by which television stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont 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.

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

[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.