Articles Posted in Cable/Satellite TV

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October 1, 2020 is the deadline for TV stations to (1) upload to their online Public Inspection Files their must-carry/retransmission consent carriage election statements for the three-year cycle covering January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2023, and (2) notify MVPDs of any changes to their election status.

As we previewed in May, the upcoming October 1 deadline marks the first under the FCC’s new electronic notice system, which replaces the previous requirement that eligible broadcasters mail paper notices to cable and satellite providers regarding carriage elections by October 1 every three years. This year, the FCC’s new procedures simplify this notification process.

Under the new approach, commercial TV stations must place statements electing either must-carry or retransmission consent in their online Public Inspection File by October 1 every third year.  A separate notice to MVPDs is only required when the station wishes to change the status it elected in the prior three-year cycle.  Similar to the obligation imposed on broadcasters (discussed in more detail here), the new rules require cable providers to maintain up-to-date contact information for carriage-related issues in the FCC’s Cable Operations and Licensing System (COALS) database (which the FCC makes available in the online Public Inspection Files of cable providers).  Satellite providers must place such information directly in their online Public Inspection File, making it easier for broadcasters to identify the appropriate contact for election notices.

To that end, stations opting to change their election with respect to any MVPD must send notice of the change to the e-mail address provided by the relevant MVPD, with a copy to the FCC at ElectionNotices@FCC.gov, and attach a copy of the election change notice to the election statement uploaded to the station’s online Public Inspection File.  In response, MVPDs are supposed to confirm receipt of the change notice.  The FCC has said that if broadcasters fail to receive such confirmation, and are unable to reach anyone at the phone number provided by the MVPD, the change notice will still be considered timely if placed in the station’s Public Inspection File, and the proper FCC e-mail address copied, by the October 1 deadline.

Similarly, the FCC simplified the election process for noncommercial educational (“NCE”) stations by eliminating the triennial election notice requirement after October 1, 2020.  As a result, once NCE stations place their election statements requesting carriage in their online Public Inspection File by the October 1, 2020 deadline, no further triennial notices will be required.  While separate carriage notification procedures were adopted for low power television stations and NCE translator stations that qualify for must-carry status, but which do not have a Public Inspection File, the FCC yesterday waived the carriage notice requirement with regard to NCE educational translators.  In doing so, it noted the unique challenges sending such notices would pose for these stations, as they merely rebroadcast rather than originate programming.

For veterans of the cumbersome certified mail approach previously used for many years, the new approach seems almost too easy.  If only that were true of all FCC rule changes.

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On July 30, 2020, the FCC released a Public Notice and Final Cost Category Schedule for the C-Band Relocation, and established August 31, 2020 as the deadline for C-Band earth station licensees to submit their lump sum election notices.  We discussed the Public Notice and Schedule here.

In response to a request from the Society of Broadcast Engineers, the FCC announced today that the deadline for submitting election notices will be extended until September 14, 2020.  The FCC still has under review a separate request by ACA Connects to stay the deadline entirely while the FCC reviews an Application for Review filed by that organization.

In the meantime, C-Band earth station licensees have an additional two weeks to consider their options.

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The FCC took another significant step in the C-Band reallocation process, releasing its Final Cost Category Schedule for Relocation Expenses of C-Band (3.7-4.2 GHz) satellite licensees. The Public Notice accompanying the cost schedule also established August 31, 2020 as the deadline for C-Band earth station licensees to elect whether they wish to receive a lump sum reallocation payment.

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This advisory is directed to television stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were carried by at least one cable system located outside the station’s local service area or by a satellite provider that provided service to at least one viewer outside the station’s local service area during 2019. These stations may be eligible to file royalty claims for compensation with the United States Copyright Royalty Board. These filings are due by July 31, 2020.

Under the federal Copyright Act, cable systems and satellite operators must pay license royalties to carry distant TV signals on their systems. Ultimately, the Copyright Royalty Board divides the royalties among those copyright owners who claim shares of the royalty fund. Stations that do not file claims by July 31, 2020 will not be able to collect royalties for carriage of their signals during 2019.

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As we noted in last week’s post, television stations eligible to file 2018 distant signal copyright royalty claims with the United States Copyright Royalty Board must do so by July 31, 2019.  While that due date still seems far away (especially to those accustomed to the FCC’s real-time electronic filing options) we remind filers to build in extra time well ahead of the end of the month.

Prior to filing electronically, eligible stations (i.e. stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were carried by at least one cable system located outside the station’s local service area or by a satellite provider that provided service to at least one viewer outside the station’s local service area during 2018) or their representatives must first request to register for an account with the Copyright Royalty Board’s online filing system (“eCRB”).  After submitting an initial registration request, filers should expect to wait at least 1-2 business days before receiving a verification email allowing them to activate their eCRB account.  Only then can filers begin submitting claims electronically.  As a result, e-filers who expect to register on July 31 or even the day or two leading up to that date will almost certainly miss the filing window.  To complicate matters further, July 27-28 is a weekend, which will not count toward the registration wait time.

To avoid missing the filing cutoff, our recommendation for e-filing should come as no surprise to longtime readers: register and file as soon as possible!  Claimants that are unable to file electronically must adhere to the Copyright Royalty Board’s strict delivery rules, which include a narrow daily window for hand delivery and prohibit the use of overnight delivery services like FedEx.  As a result, the best bet is to submit a registration request today and file electronically no later than Monday, July 29, leaving room to file a physical copy should the need arise for any reason.

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This advisory is directed to television stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were carried by at least one cable system located outside the station’s local service area or by a satellite provider that provided service to at least one viewer outside the station’s local service area during 2018. These stations may be eligible to file royalty claims for compensation with the United States Copyright Royalty Board. These filings are due by July 31, 2019.

Under the federal Copyright Act, cable systems and satellite operators must pay license royalties to carry distant TV signals on their systems. Ultimately, the Copyright Royalty Board divides the royalties among those copyright owners who claim shares of the royalty fund. Stations that do not file claims by the deadline will not be able to collect royalties for carriage of their signals during 2018.

In order to file a cable royalty claim, a television station must have aired locally-produced programming of its own and had its signal carried outside of its local service area by at least one cable system in 2018. Television stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were delivered to subscribers located outside the station’s Designated Market Area in 2018 by a satellite provider are also eligible to file royalty claims. A station’s distant signal status should be evaluated and confirmed by communications counsel.

Both the cable and satellite claim forms may be filed electronically or in paper form. Paper forms may be downloaded from https://www.crb.gov/cable; however, with the recent introduction of the Copyright Royalty Board’s new online filing system, eCRB, claimants are strongly encouraged to file claims online. Prior to filing electronically, claimants or their authorized representatives must register for an eCRB account at https://app.crb.gov. To submit claims, stations are required to supply the name and address for the filer and for the copyright owner, and must provide a general statement as to the nature of the copyrighted work (e.g., local news, sports broadcasts, specials, or other station-produced programming). Claimants should keep copies of all submissions and confirmations of delivery, including certified mail receipts.

Those filing paper forms should be aware that detailed rules as to how the claims must be addressed and delivered apply. Claims that are hand-delivered by a local Washington, D.C. commercial courier must be delivered between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. (those hand-delivered by a private party must arrive by 5:00 p.m.). Claims may be sent by certified mail if they are properly addressed, postmarked by July 31, 2019, and include sufficient postage. Claims filed via eCRB must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. (EDT) on July 31. The Copyright Royalty Board will reject any claim filed prior to July 1, 2019 or after the deadline. Overnight delivery services such as Federal Express cannot be used. Stations filing paper claims should verify the proper procedures with communications counsel.

Please contact any of the group’s attorneys for assistance in determining whether your station qualifies to make a claim and in filing the claim itself.

A PDF version of this article can be found here.

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Broadcasters were spared some of the uncertainty related to the December 22, 2018 government shutdown because the FCC was able to independently fund its operations until January 3, 2019.  Yesterday, those funds ran out, and under the Antideficiency Act, FCC employees are prohibited from continuing to work until funds are available to pay them.  While the Antideficiency Act doesn’t directly affect the FCC’s filing and other databases (being automated, they don’t get paid as FCC employees), some of those systems are incapable of operating without regular human intervention, and some can operate without human intervention only until they “break”, at which point the Antideficiency Act prohibits anyone from maintaining or repairing them.

As a result, it wasn’t clear until the past two days which systems might remain online, and which systems would be preemptively taken down to avoid “breakage”.  The FCC released a Public Notice on Wednesday clarifying that the last normal day of business prior to the shutdown was January 2, 2019 (January 3 being only a half-day), so any FCC filings due on January 3rd or thereafter are now due on the day after the day the Commission eventually reopens.

The Public Notice also listed certain Commission electronic filing and database systems that would remain operational during the shutdown, and certain systems that would be taken offline.  Absent from either list was the FCC’s online Public Inspection File database, and conversations with FCC staff minutes before they were required to leave the building indicated that even they didn’t know for sure whether the public file database would continue operating during the shutdown.

The answer became clear late yesterday afternoon when the online Public Inspection File database ceased to function, redirecting stations trying to upload documents and any members of the public wishing to view them to a webpage describing the shutdown.  The public’s inability to access the online Public File triggers the obligation on the part of broadcasters and cable/DBS systems to make available to the public a back-up copy of the political broadcasting portion of their Public Inspection File (generally referred to as the “Political File”).  At the time the Commission created that obligation, it said stations could keep the Political File either electronically or in paper and make it available either at their main studio or on their website.

With the elimination of the Main Studio rule, however, that obligation was further modified such that Political File documents that are not available via the Commission’s online database must now be made available at an “accessible location” in the station’s community of license during normal business hours.  An accessible location would include a station office, the local library, the office of another broadcaster, or any other business.  Broadcasters are not required to make any other portion of their Public Inspection File beyond the Political File available during the federal shutdown.

Moving beyond the Political File “backup” obligation, the shutdown of the online Public Inspection File database also means that broadcasters cannot upload their Quarterly Issues/Programs List or Children’s Commercial Television Limits compliance documents that would otherwise be due in the online Public Inspection File on January 10, 2019.   Accordingly, while the upload of Public File documents is not considered an FCC “filing”, the date to upload those documents has effectively been extended until after the Commission reopens.

However, the inability to upload materials to the Public File does not relieve stations of their recordkeeping obligations.  As stated in a 2016 Public File Report and Order by the FCC, “[i]f the Commission’s online file becomes temporarily inaccessible for the uploading of new documents, [the FCC] will require entities to maintain those documents and upload them to the file once it is available again for upload.”  These materials do not need to be made available to the public during the shutdown, but stations should proceed as usual in the creation of their January 10th documentation and be prepared to upload those materials once the online Public Inspection File database becomes accessible.

Note also that television stations, while not obligated to, can still file their Children’s Television Programming Reports (that would normally be due on January 10th) with the FCC.  This is because the FCC has left the LMS filing system up and running for incentive auction-related filings (which are excluded from the shutdown because auction-related activities at the FCC are separately funded—see below).  However, the Commission’s Public Notice is clear that, other than auction filings and those necessary for the protection of life and property, filings at the FCC during the lapse in government funding “will not be reviewed or processed and will be considered accepted on the day following the day of return to normal operations.”

Finally, be aware that because the spectrum auction operations of the FCC remain fully funded, they are NOT affected by the government shutdown.  FCC staff will continue to be available to answer questions, grant requests for Special Temporary Authority and process requests for reimbursement from television broadcasters that are transitioning to another channel as a result of the broadcast incentive auction and repack.  Because those FCC operations continue, the FCC left its LMS database up and running, which means that transitioning television stations CAN and MUST make filings related to their transition.  This includes the Quarterly Transition Progress Report due on January 10, which must still be filed by that date.  For stations assigned to Phase 2 of the transition, the obligation to notify cable and satellite TV distributors 90 days prior to a station’s transition to a new channel, and the deadline for filing with the FCC a request for any extension of time to transition, remain unchanged.  In that regard, FCC staff will still be available to provide Phase 2 transition stations with the mailing addresses of the multichannel video programming distributors to which the notices must be sent.

So if upon hearing of the FCC shutdown you thought you could extend that holiday vacation, think again.  Your regulatory obligations didn’t go away, they just became more complicated to fulfill.

 

 

 

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We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again:  If you wait until the last minute to submit an online FCC filing, be prepared to bang your head against your desk while you struggle to log in to a filing system that often melts down when thousands of filers simultaneously attempt access. Fortunately, the FCC appreciates the limitations of its filing systems, and has frequently granted extensions where the system collapse was sufficiently apparent. And so it was with today’s C-Band earth station registration deadline, which the FCC announced this afternoon would be extended to October 31, 2018.

As many of our readers are aware, the FCC issued a temporary freeze earlier this year on applications for new or modified fixed satellite service (FSS) earth stations and fixed microwave stations in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (the “C-Band”) and concurrently opened a 90-day window during which entities that own or operate existing FSS earth stations in the C-Band could file to register their earth stations or modify their current registrations.  The purpose of the filing window was to give the FCC a better idea of whether and how to open up the band to other shared uses while giving those with constructed and operational (but currently unregistered or unlicensed) earth stations an opportunity to secure some degree of interference protection as the FCC moves to open the band.  In June, the FCC extended the filing window another 90 days, to today, October 17, 2018.

Then yesterday, things got (predictably) weird as IBFS experienced a “large influx of earth station applications filed near the deadline,” and the filing system “experienced intermittent difficulties that have prevented some applicants from filing for licenses or registrations.”  In response, the International Bureau earlier today extended the filing window for an additional two weeks, to October 31, 2018.

Consider yourself warned. If you’ve got any plans this Halloween, do not wait until the (new) last day to file.  The FCC is unlikely to treat you to any further extensions.

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This advisory is directed to television stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were carried by at least one cable system located outside the station’s local service area or by a satellite provider that provided service to at least one viewer outside the station’s local service area during 2017. These stations may be eligible to file royalty claims for compensation with the United States Copyright Royalty Board. These filings are due by July 31, 2018.

Under the federal Copyright Act, cable systems and satellite operators must pay license royalties to carry distant TV signals on their systems. Ultimately, the Copyright Royalty Board divides the royalties among those copyright owners who claim shares of the royalty fund. Stations that do not file claims by the deadline will not be able to collect royalties for carriage of their signals during 2017.

In order to file a cable royalty claim, a television station must have aired locally-produced programming of its own and had its signal carried outside of its local service area by at least one cable system in 2017. Television stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were delivered to subscribers located outside the station’s Designated Market Area in 2017 by a satellite provider are also eligible to file royalty claims. A station’s distant signal status should be evaluated and confirmed by communications counsel.

Both the cable and satellite claim forms may be filed electronically or in paper form. Paper forms may be downloaded from https://www.crb.gov/cable; however, with the recent introduction of the Copyright Royalty Board’s new online filing system, eCRB, claimants are strongly encouraged to file claims online. Prior to filing electronically, claimants or their authorized representatives must register for an eCRB account at https://app.crb.gov. To submit claims, stations are required to supply the name and address for the filer and for the copyright owner, and must provide a general statement as to the nature of the copyrighted work (e.g., local news, sports broadcasts, specials, or other station-produced programming). Claimants should keep copies of all submissions and confirmations of delivery, including certified mail receipts.

Those filing paper forms should be aware that detailed rules as to how the claims must be addressed and delivered apply. Claims that are hand-delivered by a local Washington, D.C. commercial courier must be delivered between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm (those hand-delivered by a private party must arrive by 5:00 pm). Claims may be sent by certified mail if they are properly addressed, postmarked by July 31, 2018, and include sufficient postage. Claims filed via eCRB must be submitted by 11:59 pm (EDT) on July 31. The Copyright Royalty Board will reject any claim filed prior to July 1, 2018 or after the deadline. Overnight delivery services such as Federal Express cannot be used. Stations filing paper claims should verify the proper procedures with communications counsel.

Please contact any of the group’s attorneys for assistance in determining whether your station qualifies to make a claim and in filing the claim itself.

A PDF version of this article can be found here.

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If trying to maintain the required paperwork for political advertising aired by your station gives you a headache, prepare for a migraine of biblical proportions.

With the departure of Commissioner Rosenworcel leaving the FCC in a 2-2 partisan split, there are really only two types of broadcast orders coming out of the FCC these days—those having the unanimous support of all four remaining commissioners, and those that can be done by the Media Bureau on delegated authority with or without the support of the two Republican commissioners.  That was evidenced twice last week.  The first was the Media Bureau’s rejection of various petitions seeking reconsideration of increased ownership reporting requirements for noncommercial stations.  That action generated an immediate response from Republican commissioners Pai and O’Rielly, who released a joint statement chiding the Media Bureau for taking the action right before the FCC changes control, and encouraging the rejected petitioners to appeal the decision to the full Commission for reversal:

The Commission’s ruling no longer enjoys the support of the majority of Commissioners—nor is there a majority that supports today’s Media Bureau decision—so it was wrong for the Bureau to bypass Commissioners and reaffirm these reporting requirements unilaterally. . . . The good news is that today’s decision need not be the final word. We encourage public broadcasters to file an application for review so that the newly constituted Commission will have an opportunity to revisit this matter. It is pointless to require board members of NCE stations to report sensitive personal information (like the last four digits of individual Social Security numbers) to the Commission and will only serve to discourage these volunteers from serving their communities.

We might now be headed down a similar path with the political file.  This past Friday evening, the Media Bureau released an Order expanding the recordkeeping associated with airing political advertising.  Perhaps simply an error, but contributing to the appearance that the Order was rushed out to beat the change in administrations, is the fact that the formatting and text of the Friday night version deteriorates badly in the last third of the Order, with no text at all in the last 49 footnotes, the paragraph numbering changing, and the text of some paragraphs being in bold type and/or all capitals.  The cleaned up version can now be found here.  The Order responds to complaints filed by activist groups against eleven different stations owned by a Who’s Who of television broadcasters, with the FCC admonishing nine of the eleven stations for political ad recordkeeping violations.  A separate order admonishing a twelfth station in response to a more recent complaint was also released Friday night.

But why would an order admonishing stations for alleged recordkeeping violations (which originated from complaints sitting at the FCC since mid-2014) need to be rushed out?  Perhaps because it also “clarifies” that the admittedly vague rules on political ad recordkeeping require much more expansive political file records than most anyone has previously suggested (at least anyone who wasn’t trying to use the records for other than their intended purpose; for example, as a proxy for overall political ad expenditures).  The clarifications apply not just to broadcasters, but to cable, DBS, and satellite radio providers as well.

Read without an understanding of the current political ad landscape, the clarifications probably seem dryly mundane.  They include the following: Continue reading →