Articles Posted in Low Power & Class A Television

Published on:

Today the FCC publicly released a Report and Order eliminating TV stations’ annual obligation to report whether they have provided feeable ancillary or supplementary services on their spectrum during the past year unless they have actually provided such services.  The order was originally slated for discussion and a vote at next week’s FCC Open Meeting, but the Commission wound up adopting this widely supported change early, unanimously voting for it on circulation.

Previously, all digital television stations had to report by December 1 of each year whether they had provided feeable ancillary or supplementary services in the past year, what those services were, and then submit payment to the government of 5% of the gross revenue derived from such services.  Ancillary and supplementary services are any services provided on a TV station’s digital spectrum that is not needed to provide the single free over-the-air program stream required by the FCC.  The reason the word “feeable” is important is that broadcast video streams (i.e., multicast streams) do not trigger payment of the 5% fee.  Examples previously provided by the FCC of feeable ancillary and supplementary services include computer software distribution and data transmissions.

Observers had expected this rule change for a while.  In the spring of 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spearheaded the “Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative,” which aimed to institute a massive review of potentially outdated or irrelevant regulations affecting broadcasters, cable system operators, and satellite providers.  At Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s urging, the Commission originally proposed today’s changes in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in October 2017.  The following month, the Media Bureau spontaneously waived the December 1, 2017 filing deadline for TV stations that had not provided feeable services over the prior twelve-month reporting period, signaling that the proposed rule change was likely coming.

Indeed, the FCC received broad support from commenters for the change.  In last year’s NPRM, the FCC noted that of 1,384 full-power commercial TV stations, fewer than 15 reported revenues from ancillary or supplementary services, netting the Commission around $13,000 in fees.

As a result, today’s Order amends Section 73.624(g) of the FCC’s Rules to require that only TV stations actually providing feeable ancillary or supplementary services need file the report in the future.  The FCC could find no justification for the immense expense incurred in having broadcasters submit, and the FCC collect and process, forms merely indicating the station hadn’t provided such services.  It wasn’t so much the FCC concluding that the expense outweighed the public interest benefit; it was the FCC being unable to point to a public interest benefit.

Which just makes you wonder just how this rule stayed in place for nearly 20 years, and no prior FCC bothered to ask that fundamental question.

 

Published on:

Each full power and Class A TV station being repacked must file its next Transition Progress Report with the FCC by April 10, 2018. The Report must detail the progress a station has made in constructing facilities on its newly assigned channel and in terminating operations on its current channel during the months of January, February, and March 2018.

Continue reading →

Published on:

The next Children’s Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations’ public inspection files by April 10, 2018, reflecting programming aired during the months of January, February, and March 2018.

Statutory and Regulatory Requirements

As a result of the Children’s Television Act of 1990 (“Act”) and the FCC rules adopted under the Act, full power and Class A television stations are required, among other things, 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.

These two obligations, in turn, require broadcasters to comply with two paperwork requirements.  Specifically, stations must: (1) place in their public inspection file one of four prescribed types of documentation demonstrating compliance with the commercial limits in children’s television, and (2) submit FCC Form 398, which requests information regarding the educational and informational programming the station has aired for children 16 years of age and under.  Form 398 must be filed electronically with the FCC.  The FCC automatically places the electronically filed Form 398 filings into the respective station’s online public inspection file.  However, each station should confirm that has occurred to ensure that its public inspection file is complete.  The base fine for noncompliance with the requirements of the FCC’s Children’s Television Programming Rule is $10,000.

Broadcasters must file their reports via the Licensing and Management System (LMS), accessible at https://enterpriseefiling.fcc.gov/dataentry/login.html.

Noncommercial Educational Television Stations

Because noncommercial educational television stations are precluded from airing commercials, the commercial limitation rules do not apply to such stations.  Accordingly, noncommercial television stations have no obligation to place commercial limits documentation in their public inspection files.  Similarly, though noncommercial stations are required to air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under, they do not need to complete FCC Form 398.  They must, however, maintain records of their own in the event their performance is challenged at license renewal time.  In the face of such a challenge, a noncommercial station will be required to have documentation available that demonstrates its efforts to meet the needs of children.

Commercial Television Stations

Commercial Limitations

The FCC’s rules require that stations limit the amount of “commercial matter” appearing in children’s programs to 12 minutes per clock hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per clock hour on the weekend.  In addition to commercial spots, website addresses displayed during children’s programming and promotional material must comply with a four-part test or they will be considered “commercial matter” and counted against the commercial time limits.  In addition, the content of some websites whose addresses are displayed during programming or promotional material are subject to host-selling limitations.  Program promos also qualify as “commercial matter” unless they promote (i) children’s educational/informational programming, or (ii) other age-appropriate programming appearing on the same channel.  Licensees must prepare supporting documents to demonstrate compliance with these limits on a quarterly basis.

For commercial stations, proof of compliance with these commercial limitations must be placed in the public inspection file by the tenth day of the calendar quarter following the quarter during which the commercials were aired.  Consequently, this proof of compliance should be placed in your public inspection file by April 10, 2018, covering programming aired during the months of January, February, and March 2018. Continue reading →

Published on:

The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ public inspection files by April 10, 2018, reflecting information for the months of January, February, and March 2018.

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 the 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.

It should be noted that the FCC has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Quarterly Lists and often brings enforcement actions against stations that do not have fully complete Quarterly Lists or that do not timely place such lists in their public inspection file.  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 April 10, 2018, covering the period from January 1, 2018 through March 31, 2018. Continue reading →

Published on:

Each TV station being repacked must file its next Transition Progress Report with the FCC by January 10, 2018. The Report must detail the progress a station has made in constructing facilities on its newly-assigned channel and in terminating operations on its current channel during the months of October, November, and December 2017.

Following the 2017 broadcast television spectrum incentive auction, the FCC imposed a requirement that television stations transitioning to a new channel in the repack file a quarterly Transition Progress Report by the 10th of January, April, July, and October of each year. The first such report was due on October 10, 2017.

The next quarterly Transition Progress Report must be filed with the FCC by January 10, 2018, and must reflect the progress made by the reporting station in constructing facilities on its newly-assigned channel and in terminating operations on its current channel during the period from October 1 through December 31, 2017. The Report must be filed electronically on FCC Form 2100, Schedule 387 via the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS), accessible at https://enterpriseefiling.fcc.gov/dataentry/login.html.

The Transition Progress Report form includes a number of baseline questions, such as whether a station needs to conduct a structural analysis of its tower, obtain any non-FCC permits or FAA Determinations of No Hazard, or order specific types of equipment to complete the transition. Depending on a station’s response to a question, the electronic form then asks for additional information regarding the steps the station has taken towards completing the required item. Ultimately, the form requires each station to indicate whether it anticipates that it will meet the construction deadline for its transition phase.

These quarterly reports will continue for each repacked station until that station has completed construction of its post-repack facilities, has ceased operating on its pre-auction channel, and has reported that information to the FCC. Until then, the Reports must be filed each quarter as well as:

  • Ten weeks before the end of a station’s assigned construction deadline.
  • Ten days after completion of all work related to constructing a station’s post-repack facilities.
  • Five days after a station ceases operation on its pre-auction channel.

More information about the specific transition phases and related deadlines can be found in this CommLawCenter article on the subject.

A PDF version of this article can be found at 2017 Fourth Quarter Transition Progress Report.

Published on:

Each year around this time, Pillsbury’s Communications Practice releases its Broadcasters’ Calendar for the upcoming year.  It may not be the perfect stocking stuffer, but broadcasters that don’t read it closely are much more likely to end up on the FCC’s Naughty List next year.  When I’m on the road visiting stations or speaking at broadcaster conventions, it’s fairly common that someone walks up to me and tells me how much they appreciate the Broadcasters’ Calendar.  Rarely do calendars without pictures attract such attention.

I cannot take credit for the calendar, however.  The current communications lawyers at Pillsbury are merely the stewards of this publication.  When I joined the firm 30 years ago, the Broadcasters’ Calendar was already a well-established annual publication.  I honestly don’t know when the first Broadcasters’ Calendar was published, but I suspect there are editions floating around out there announcing deadlines relating to the launch of FM radio and color television.

And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Broadcasters’ Calendar is blushing.  Clients have sent me bootlegs in which someone has lifted the content wholesale and just put it on their own letterhead.  For a number of years I entertained myself by incorporating unusual words into the calendar just to see who was copying it outright rather than merely happening to describe a particular deadline the same way.

But it’s not hard to understand why the Pillsbury Broadcasters’ Calendar has developed such a following.  It outlines numerous regulatory and other deadlines broadcasters face in the coming year, along with brief descriptions of what complying with a particular deadline requires.

Despite the advent of a deregulatory FCC, the 2018 edition of the Broadcasters’ Calendar contains a fairly hefty number of entries, including dates and deadlines for TV’s upcoming spectrum repack and the conclusion of radio’s migration to an online public inspection file.  Fortunately, the 2018 edition also notes some filing deadlines that the FCC is actively considering eliminating.  Here’s hoping that the 2019 edition will be significantly thinner.

Published on:

The FCC today released an Order waiving, at least for this year, the requirement that full power, Class A and low power television stations file what has traditionally been known as a Form 317 report by December 1.  More formally known as the DTV Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report, and due each December 1 for the past two decades, the reports are now actually filed on Form 2100, Schedule G rather than on the discontinued Form 317 (small wonder that everyone still refers to it as the Form 317 report).

The purpose of the report is to inform the FCC if a TV station has used its spectrum to provide non-broadcast services during the past year, and if so, to submit a payment to the government equivalent to 5% of the gross revenues derived from that service.  Ancillary or supplementary services are all services provided on any portion of a DTV station’s digital spectrum that is not necessary to provide the single free over-the-air program stream required by the FCC.  Any video broadcast service that is provided with no direct charge to viewers is exempt.  According to the FCC, examples of services that are considered ancillary or supplementary include “computer software distribution, data transmissions, teletext, interactive materials, aural messages, paging services, audio signals, subscription video, and the like.”  If the station charges a fee for such a service, it must pay the government 5% of the gross revenues derived from that service when it files its report.

The FCC first adopted the requirement in 1999 as a result of a directive contained in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  Since then, the rule has required digital full power commercial and noncommercial TV stations, and later Class A and low power television stations, to report annually “whether they provided ancillary or supplementary services in the 12-month period ending on the preceding September 30.”  The rule requiring the filing of these reports mandates that TV stations file them whether or not they have any non-broadcast services to report.  In fact, the rule pointedly says that failure to file “regardless of revenues from ancillary or supplementary services or provision of such services may result in appropriate sanctions.”  As a result, many thousands of these reports have been filed over the years despite the fact that very few stations have ever offered such services.

When the FCC this summer opened the door in its Modernization proceeding for suggestions as to how to eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens, a chorus rang out in support of modifying this particular rule.  In one of those now glaringly obvious “how could someone not have thought of this twenty years ago?” moments, first Commissioner O’Rielly and then numerous commenters suggested modifying the rule to eliminate the requirement for all stations except those that actually provide such services.  That led to the FCC voting last month to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to eliminate the filing requirement for all stations that do not offer ancillary or supplementary services.

Buried in a footnote to that NPRM was the answer to a question many of us had asked over the years; namely, what is the percentage of stations indicating they are actually providing such services?  Having been involved in the filing of well over a thousand of these reports over the years, we had yet to file one indicating a station has actually provided ancillary or supplementary services.  Now we know that, according to the NPRM, fewer than 15 stations nationwide offered such services in 2016, yielding a total payment to the government of roughly $13,000.  That’s fewer than fifteen out of more than 6600 reports filed in 2016 (0.2%).

Stated differently, if the FCC had just asked each of those 6600 stations to mail in $2.00 rather than a report, the government would have garnered more revenue while wasting far less station resources.  Of course, that doesn’t take into account the resources the FCC was forced to expend processing 6600 reports looking for the 15 that actually reported revenues, ensuring that fulfilling this congressional mandate currently costs the FCC more than it brings in.

For that reason, today’s Order waiving this year’s filing requirement for stations not offering such services will likely be welcome news not just for those broadcasters, but for FCC staff as well.  It does, however, remain a short-term fix.  The FCC’s proceeding to permanently change the rule is still underway, with the comment deadline not yet set.  Based on today’s waiver, the odds seem pretty good that by the time December 1, 2018 rolls around, a waiver will no longer be necessary as the change will have been incorporated into the rule.  In a time when even the most mundane proposals for change can generate fervent opposition, this may be the rare Commission rule that lacks a constituency to defend it to the death.

So the vast majority of stations that had been drafting their 2017 report can stop right now.  Of course, if your station is one of the lonely 15 that provided ancillary and supplementary services during the past year, the waiver doesn’t apply and you will still need to file the report and pay the FCC 5% of the gross revenues generated.  Then Congress can debate at length where to spend the $13,000.

Published on:

As Lauren Lynch Flick wrote here several weeks ago, the FCC announced in October that it would be lifting its 2013 freeze on certain TV station modification applications that would increase a station’s coverage area.  Lifting the freeze would let full-power and Class A TV stations that weren’t able to expand facilities in the just-ended modification windows for repacked stations (ie, stations that were not affected by the repack) to do so for the first time in nearly five years.

The purpose of the planned thaw is to let these stations implement desired modifications of their facilities long prohibited by the freeze, as well as to react to changes in coverage and interference coming from competing stations that were repacked.  By lifting the 2013 freeze before the FCC opens its planned Special Displacement Window for LPTV stations early next year, the FCC hopes to avoid having LPTV stations apply for and build out displacement facilities only to then be displaced again when these long-frozen full-power and Class A TV stations finally have a chance to modify their facilities.

The news released by the FCC this afternoon is that the thaw will commence on November 28, and will be quite short in duration, ending at 11:59 pm Eastern on December 7.  During this period, full-power and Class A TV stations that were not assigned a new channel in the repack will be able to file for minor modifications of their facilities.  Unlike other recent filing windows where applications filed at any time during the window were all treated as having been filed on the same day, applications filed in this window will be processed on a first come, first served basis.  That means there is a definite benefit to filing on the first day of the window.

While most stations that avoided being moved to a new channel in the repack were thrilled by that fact, being locked in place while those all around them modify and maximize facilities has been frustrating.  Now they have a chance to join other stations in nudging and jostling for position in a post-repack world.  They will need to move quickly, however.  Winter is coming.

Published on:

This evening the FCC released the Agenda for its November 16 Public Meeting, and as anticipated, the two Media items on it are the Reconsideration of the FCC’s Broadcast Ownership Rules and the FCC’s proposed approval of ATSC 3.0.  More importantly, the FCC released the proposed draft orders for each item and an associated “Fact Sheet” summarizing the proposals to be voted on at the November meeting.

The content of the broadcast ownership draft Order matches what Chairman Pai had announced in his testimony before a House subcommittee yesterday and in an FCC blog post this afternoon.  Specifically, the Order proposes to eliminate the Newspaper/Broadcast and TV/Radio Cross-Ownership Rules, permit certain TV duopolies by eliminating the Eight Voices Test and assessing proposed Big-4 station combinations on a case-by-case basis, eliminate attribution of Joint Sales Agreements, and create an incubator program to promote new entry and ownership diversity in the broadcast industry.

That would normally have been enough big news for a day, but in an era that makes what once was referred to as “Internet time” seem excruciatingly slow, most of this information was already old news by tonight.  As far as breaking news goes, the more interesting item was the FCC’s reveal of its plans for ATSC 3.0 (“Next Gen TV”), which it had been holding close to the vest until tonight.

As summarized by the FCC’s Fact Sheet attached to the draft Order, the FCC proposes to:

  • Allow television broadcasters to use Next Gen TV on a voluntary, market-driven basis.
  • Require broadcasters that use Next Gen TV to partner with another local station to simulcast their programming in the current digital television (DTV) transmission standard (ATSC 1.0), so that viewers will continue to receive their existing broadcast service.
  • For five years, require the programming aired on the ATSC 1.0 simulcast channel to be “substantially similar” to the programming aired on the ATSC 3.0 channel. This means that the programming must be the same, except for programming features that are based on the enhanced capabilities of ATSC 3.0, advertisements, and promotions for upcoming programs.
  • Exempt low power TV and TV translator stations from the simulcasting requirement, and permit case-by-case waivers if a station has no viable simulcast partner.
  • Retain mandatory carriage rights on cable and satellite systems for simulcast DTV signals, and afford Next Gen TV signals no mandatory carriage rights while the Commission requires local simulcasting.
  • Subject Next Gen TV signals to the public interest obligations that currently apply to television broadcasters.
  • Require broadcasters to provide advance on-air notifications to educate consumers about Next Gen TV service deployment and simulcasting.
  • Incorporate specific parts of the Next Gen TV technical standard (A/321 and A/322) into [the FCC’s] rules and explain the methodology used to calculate interference. The A/322 requirement would apply only to a broadcaster’s primary video stream and would sunset five years from the effective date of the rules unless extended by the Commission.
  • Conclude that it is unnecessary to adopt a Next Gen TV tuner mandate for new television receivers.

The FCC also proposes to adopt a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to:

  • Seek comment on issues related to exceptions and waivers of the requirement that Next Gen TV broadcasters partner with a local station to simulcast DTV signals.
  • Seek comment on whether to let full power broadcasters use vacant channels in the television broadcast band to encourage use of Next Gen TV.
  • Tentatively conclude that local simulcasting should not change the “significantly viewed ” status of a Next Gen TV station for purposes of cable and satellite carriage.

For broadcasters now diving into the spectrum repack and looking for the silver lining in having to rebuild on a new channel, tonight’s announcement will be welcome news.  Broadcasters have been urging the FCC to move forward on approving ATSC 3.0 so that it can be incorporated into station rebuilds and business planning, where any form of uncertainty complicates matters.  By revealing tonight its working draft of the ATSC 3.0 Order, the FCC has begun to remove that uncertainty. The remainder will hopefully dissipate on November 16.

Published on:

The FCC announced late today that the freeze that has been in place since April 2013 which prevents full-power and Class A TV stations from filing applications to expand their coverage areas will be lifted temporarily, likely before the end of this year.  The lifting of the freeze allows stations that were not repacked following the Broadcast Incentive Auction to file minor modification applications to expand their signal for the first time in nearly five years.

Earlier this year, television stations that were repacked filed applications specifying facilities on their new channel assignments.  A small group of repacked stations that were unable to build on their assigned channel, and stations that were predicted to receive excessive interference as a result of the repack, were allowed to file applications for different facilities in a priority filing window that closed on September 15.  A second priority window for repacked stations to further modify their facilities is currently underway.  CommLawCenter reported on these various repack milestones here and here.

Today’s announcement alerts full-power and Class A TV stations which were not repacked that the freeze on filing modification applications will be lifted temporarily some time after the second priority window for repacked stations closes on November 2, but before a planned Special Displacement Window for LPTV stations is opened, which is predicted to occur early next year.

Given the timing of those two windows, the odds seem good that the temporary lifting of the freeze will occur before the end of this calendar year.  By allowing these stations to file modification applications before the opening of next year’s LPTV window, the FCC hopes to avoid having LPTV stations file in that window only to find their newly authorized facilities subsequently displaced by full-power and Class A TV stations that have been waiting to file a modification application since 2013.

While the freeze is lifted, applications to modify facilities will be accepted on a first come, first served basis.  Only applications that qualify as minor modifications will be permitted.  The temporary lifting of the freeze also means that processing of modification applications that were pending in April of 2013 can resume.

In this complex game of upgrade chess, LPTV station licensees should file any minor modification applications they are contemplating as soon as possible, since the FCC indicates that the filing of those types of applications will be frozen 30 days prior to the opening of the LPTV Special Displacement Window.  Such is the freeze-thaw cycle at the FCC.