Articles Posted in Noncommercial Operation

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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:

  • Imprisoned Former Alabama House Speaker’s Felony Convictions Lead to FCC Hearing on Character Issues
  • California Retirement Home Receives Notice of Violation Over Signal Booster Interference
  • Georgia LPFM Station Hit with $10,000 Penalty for Underwriting Violations

Imprisoned Former Alabama House Speaker’s Felony Convictions Raise Questions About FCC Qualifications

The FCC has designated for hearing the question of whether an Alabama radio broadcaster remains qualified to hold Commission licenses.  The licensee’s president and sole shareholder was convicted of six felony charges involving conduct during his time as Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives.

Section 309 of the Communications Act of 1934 requires the FCC to designate an application for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) if a “substantial and material question of fact is presented” as to whether grant of an application would serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.

The character of an applicant is one of several factors examined by the FCC in determining whether a party has the requisite qualifications to become or remain a Commission licensee.  Moreover, an FCC policy (referred to as the Jefferson Radio policy, after a 1964 case) generally prohibits the FCC from granting assignment applications where character questions have been raised regarding the seller.  The theory behind this policy is that a party unqualified to hold an FCC license should not be allowed to profit by selling it.

After a June 2016 trial and multiple appeals, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld six felony convictions against the former Speaker for: (1) soliciting or receiving something of value from a principal; (2) using an official position for personal gain; and (3) representing a business entity before an executive department or agency in exchange for compensation.  Following the court’s decision, and facing a potential four-year prison sentence, the licensee filed an application in September 2020 for consent to assign its FCC authorizations, including AM and FM station licenses, three FM translator licenses, and a construction permit for a new FM translator station.

Prior to filing the assignment application, the licensee had also filed applications for renewal of the AM, FM, and translator station licenses.  In these applications, the licensee disclosed the status of the legal proceedings against the former Speaker.  The FCC considers a felony conviction or misconduct constituting a felony as relevant to its character assessment and ultimately to its determination of whether to grant an application.  The FCC concluded that the former Speaker’s six felony convictions and the actions behind them established a substantial and material question of fact as to whether the licensee, by virtue of the former Speaker’s position as president and sole shareholder, possesses the requisite qualities to hold a Commission license.  As a result, the FCC designated for hearing the questions of whether (1) the licensee has the character to remain a Commission licensee; (2) the licensee’s authorizations should be revoked altogether; and (3) the pending construction permit application should be granted, denied, or dismissed.

Regarding the assignment application, the licensee requested that the FCC apply an exception to its Jefferson Radio policy and grant the application despite the pending character qualification issues.  While the FCC has in limited circumstances found an exception to be warranted, the Commission has generally applied the policy to deter stations from committing violations and then simply selling their assets when faced with potential disqualification.  The FCC found that in the present case, numerous factors weighed against an exception, including the fact that the market is not underserved, as listeners have access to several other broadcast stations, and the lack of any physical or mental disability or other circumstance that would prevent the licensee from fully participating in the hearing.

In light of the pending character concerns, the FCC temporarily set aside consideration of the license renewal and assignment applications until such time as the character questions can be resolved through an administrative hearing before an ALJ.

FCC Investigates California Retirement Community Over Unauthorized Operation of Signal Booster Devices

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a Notice of Violation to a Bay Area retirement community for interference complaints related to its Private Land Mobile Radio (PLMR) operations.

PLMR operations are wireless communications systems used by many local governments and private companies to meet a variety of organizational communications needs.  These systems have been used to support everything from public safety and utilities to manufacturing and certain internal business communications, and often operate on shared frequencies with other PLMR licensees. Continue reading →

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The deadline to file the 2020 Annual Children’s Television Programming Report with the FCC is January 30, 2021, reflecting programming aired during the 2020 calendar year.  Note that because this deadline falls on a weekend, submissions may be made on February 1, 2021.  In addition, commercial stations’ documentation of their compliance with the commercial limits in children’s programming during the 2020 calendar year must be placed in their Public Inspection File by January 30, 2021.  

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.

On July 12, 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 modify some aspects of the definition of “core” educational children’s television programming.  Those portions of the revisions went into effect on September 16, 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.  These revisions went into effect on January 21, 2020.

The differing effective dates of various aspects of the new rules resulted in a confusing situation in 2020 where stations had to file quarterly documentation of commercial limits compliance for the Fourth Quarter of 2019, but an Annual Children’s Television Programming Report that only covered a small portion of the preceding year.  As a result, the Children’s Television Programming Report and commercial limits documentation filed this year will be the first to reflect an entire calendar year of operation under the new rules. Continue reading →

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Full power commercial and noncommercial radio, LPFM, and FM Translator stations, licensed to communities in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, and full power TV, Class A TV, LPTV, and TV Translator stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, must file their license renewal applications by February 1, 2021

February 1, 2021 is the license renewal application filing deadline for commercial and noncommercial radio and TV broadcast stations licensed to communities in the following states:

Full Power AM and FM, Low Power FM, and FM Translator Stations:
Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma

Full Power TV, Class A, LPTV, and TV Translator Stations:
Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi

Overview

The FCC’s state-by-state license renewal cycle began in June 2019 for radio stations and in June 2020 for television stations.  Radio and TV stations licensed to communities in the respective states listed above should be moving forward with their license renewal preparation.  This includes familiarizing themselves with not only the filing deadline itself, but with the requirements for this important filing, including recent 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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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:

  • Louisiana FM Radio Stations’ Late Filings Lead to $3,000 Proposed Fines
  • Telemarketer Fined $9.9 Million for Thousands of Spoofed Robocalls
  • Wi-Fi Device Manufacturer’s Equipment Marketing Violations End with Consent Decree and $250,000 Penalty

Late Filings Come at a Cost: FCC Proposes $3,000 Fines Against Louisiana FM Stations Over Late License Renewal Applications

Earlier this month, the Media Bureau issued Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) against two Louisiana FM radio licensees – one a supermax prison and the other a religious noncommercial broadcaster – for filing their respective license renewal applications late.  The FCC proposed a $3,000 fine for each of the late filings.

Section 73.3539(a) of the FCC’s Rules requires broadcast station license renewal applications to be filed four months prior to the license expiration date.  The prison station’s renewal application was due February 3, 2020 (the first business day following the February 1 deadline), but was not filed until May 29, 2020, mere days before its June 1 license expiration.  Similarly, the noncommercial broadcaster’s station, also subject to the February 3 deadline, did not file its renewal application until May 22.

Section 1.80(b) sets a base fine of $3,000 for failure to file a required form, which the FCC can adjust upward or downward depending on the circumstances of the situation, such as the nature, extent, and gravity of the violation.  In these cases, the FCC noted that neither licensee provided an explanation for their untimely filing, and ultimately proposed the full $3,000 fine for each late application.

Each NAL instructs the licensee to respond within 30 days by either: (1) paying the fine, or (2) providing a written statement seeking a reduction or cancellation of the fine along with any relevant supporting documentation.

Neither NAL, however, impacted the FCC’s review of the stations’ license renewal applications themselves.  According to the FCC, the late filings did not constitute “serious violations” and the FCC found no other evidence of a pattern of abuse.  As such, the Commission stated that it would approve each station’s renewal application in a separate proceeding assuming no other issues are uncovered that would preclude grant of a license renewal.

Thousands of Spoofed Political Robocalls End with $9.9 Million Fine

The FCC recently issued a Forfeiture Order, affirming a $9.9 million fine against a California telemarketer for violations of the Communications Act and the FCC’s rules regarding the use of spoofed phone numbers.

Section 227(e) of the Communications Act prohibits using a telephone caller ID service to “knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value[.]”  Moreover, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) also protects consumers from unwanted calls by imposing numerous restrictions on robocalls.  Such restrictions include requiring the called party’s prior express consent for certain pre-recorded calls to wireless phones and, for pre-recorded messages to wireless or wireline phones, requiring the calling party to identify itself at the beginning of the message and provide a callback number.  Continue reading →

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Full power commercial and noncommercial radio, LPFM, and FM Translator stations, licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota and full power TV, Class A TV , LPTV, and TV Translator stations, licensed to communities in Alabama and Georgia, must file their license renewal applications by December 1, 2020.

December 1, 2020 is the license renewal application filing deadline for commercial and noncommercial radio and TV broadcast stations licensed to communities in the following states:

Full Power AM and FM, Low Power FM, and FM Translator Stations:
Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota

Full Power TV, Class A TV, LPTV, and TV Translator Stations:
Alabama and Georgia

Overview

The FCC’s state-by-state license renewal cycle began in June 2019 for radio stations and in June 2020 for television stations.  Radio and TV stations licensed to communities in the respective states listed above should be moving forward with their license renewal preparation.  This includes familiarizing themselves with not only the filing deadline itself, but with the requirements for this important filing, including recent 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 generally the time since consummation of that last assignment or transfer. Continue reading →

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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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Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations, licensed to communities in Iowa and Missouri, and full power TV and Class A TV stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, must file their license renewal applications by October 1, 2020.

October 1, 2020 is the license renewal application filing deadline for commercial and noncommercial radio and TV broadcast stations licensed to communities in the following states:

Full Power AM and FM, Low Power FM, and FM Translator Stations:
Iowa and Missouri

Full Power TV, Class A, LPTV, and TV Translator Stations:
Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands

Overview

The FCC’s state-by-state license renewal cycle began in June 2019 for radio stations and in June 2020 for television stations.  Radio and TV stations licensed to communities in the respective states listed above should be moving forward with their license renewal preparation.  This includes familiarizing themselves with not only the filing deadline itself, but with the requirements for this important filing, including recent 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.

Stations can find more detail on the FCC’s license renewal application process in our most recent Advisory on the subject. 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:

  • FCC Settles with Six Major Radio Groups Over Political File Violations
  • Texas Radio Stations Face Proposed Fines for Contest Rule Violations
  • $15,000 Fine Proposed for LPFM Station Airing Commercial Ads

Continue reading →

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Full power commercial and noncommercial radio stations and LPFM stations, licensed to communities in Illinois and Wisconsin, and full power TV and Class A TV stations, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, licensed to communities in North Carolina and South Carolina, must file their license renewal applications by August 3, 2020.

August 3, 2020 is the license renewal application filing deadline for commercial and noncommercial radio and TV broadcast stations licensed to communities in the following states:

Full Power AM and FM, Low Power FM, and FM Translator Stations:
Illinois and Wisconsin

Full Power TV, Class A, LPTV, and TV Translator Stations:
North Carolina and South Carolina

Overview

The FCC’s state-by-state license renewal cycle began in June 2019 for radio stations and in June 2020 for television stations.  Radio and TV stations licensed to communities in the respective states listed above should be moving forward with their license renewal preparation.  This includes familiarizing themselves with not only the filing deadline itself, but with the requirements for this important filing, including recent 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.

Stations can find more detail on the FCC’s license renewal application process in our most recent Advisory on the subject.

Certifications for Full Power and Class A TV Stations Only

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

The Children’s Television Act of 1990 provides that commercial full power and Class A TV stations must: (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, the Rules require such stations to 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 and revise the text of the announcements themselves.  While these changes are subject to Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) approval and therefore have not yet gone into effect, such approval could be received at any time.  Accordingly, stations should continue to follow the prior rule for the moment, but remain alert for an announcement that the new rules have gone into effect.

As such, full power radio and LPFM stations, and full power TV and Class A TV, as well as LPTV stations capable of local origination, must broadcast six post-filing license renewal announcements.  These announcements must air once per day on August 1,[2] August 16, September 1, September 16, October 1, and October 16, 2020.

For full power radio and LPFM stations, at least three of these announcements must air between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and/or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.  At least one announcement must also air in each of the following time periods: between 9:00 am and noon, between noon and 4:00 pm, and between 7:00 pm and midnight.  For commercial stations not operating between either 7:00 am and 9:00 am or 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm, at least three of these announcements must air during the first two hours of operation.

For full power TV and Class A TV stations, at least three of these announcements must air between 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm (Eastern/Pacific) or 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm (Central/Mountain).  At least one announcement must also air in each of the following local time periods: between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm, between 1:00 pm and 5:00 pm, and between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm.  LPTV stations capable of local origination must broadcast these announcements at these times or as close to the above schedule as their operating schedule permits.

The text of the post-filing announcement is as follows:

On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until December 1, 2020.  [Stations that have not received a renewal grant since the filing of their previous license renewal application should modify the foregoing to read: “(Call letters) is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee.”]

Our license will expire on December 1, 2020.  We have filed an application for renewal with the FCC.

A copy of this application is available for public inspection at www.fcc.gov.  It contains information concerning this station’s performance during the last eight years [or such other period of time covered by the application, if the station’s license term was other than a standard eight-year term].

Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the FCC by November 1, 2020.

Further information concerning the FCC’s broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of the station] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554, www.fcc.gov.

Continue reading →

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With much of the United States under COVID-19 stay-at-home directives, and frost warnings still in the forecast, it’s as good a time as any to review the upcoming cable and satellite carriage election process for television broadcasters. The FCC recently completed an overhaul of its rules governing how eligible television broadcasters provide notice of their carriage elections to cable and satellite companies. The first deadline under those new procedures is July 31, 2020, when broadcasters must update their online contact information at the FCC as a precursor to implementing the FCC’s new paperless MVPD carriage notification procedures.

Continue reading →