Articles Posted in Radio

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The deadline to file the 2021 Annual Children’s Television Programming Report with the FCC is January 30, 2022, reflecting programming aired during the 2021 calendar year.  Note that because this deadline falls on a weekend, this filing may be made on January 31, 2022.  In addition, commercial stations’ documentation of their compliance with the commercial limits in children’s programming during the 2021 calendar year must be placed in their Public Inspection File by January 30, 2022.

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 2022 will be the second year that annual filings are submitted.

Commercial Television Stations

Commercial Limitations

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

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

Core Programming Requirements

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

Under these rules, the FCC generally defines “core programming” as television programming that has as a significant purpose serving the educational and informational needs of children 16 years old or under and which is aired between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.  In addition, commercial stations must also identify each core program by displaying an “E/I” symbol onscreen throughout the program.  Licensees must also provide information identifying each core program they air to publishers of program guides, though they no longer need to indicate a program’s intended age range.

There are three ways to satisfy the Commission’s processing guidelines:

  • Category A1: Stations can meet their obligation by airing at least three hours per week (as averaged over a six-month period) of core programming, all of which is regularly scheduled, weekly, and at least 30 minutes in length.  To satisfy Category A1’s three-hour-per-week minimum, at least two hours must air on the primary stream and up to one hour may air on a multicast stream.
  • Category A2: Stations can meet their obligation by airing at least 156 hours of core programming per year, including at least 26 hours per quarter that is regularly scheduled, weekly, and 30 minutes in length, and up to an additional 52 hours of programming throughout the year that is not provided on a regularly scheduled basis, but is at least 30 minutes in length.  To the extent a station airs more than two hours per week of regularly scheduled core programming, it has the flexibility to air such additional regularly scheduled programming on a multicast stream.  However, all non-regularly scheduled programming aired to satisfy the Category A2 minimum must air on the primary stream.
  • Category B: Stations can meet their obligation by airing at least 156 hours of core programming per year, including at least 26 hours per quarter that is regularly scheduled, weekly, and 30 minutes in length, and up to an additional 52 hours of programming throughout the year that is not provided on a regularly scheduled basis, and may be less than 30 minutes in length, such as PSAs and interstitials. To the extent a station airs more than two hours per week of regularly scheduled core programming, it has the flexibility to air such additional regularly scheduled programming on a multicast stream.  However, all non-regularly scheduled programming aired to satisfy the Category B minimum must air on the primary stream.

These processing guidelines, as well as other changes the Commission introduced regarding rebroadcasts and the rescheduling of preempted programming, provide stations greater flexibility in scheduling children’s television programming.  However, they require that stations understand these requirements and document them accurately in their Annual Children’s Television Programming Report filings.

Filing the Children’s Television Programming Report

The next Children’s Television Programming Report must be filed electronically with the FCC by January 31, 2022 (because, as noted above, the actual January 30 due date falls on a weekend).  Broadcasters must file their Children’s Television Programming Reports via the Licensing and Management System (LMS), accessible at https://enterpriseefiling.fcc.gov/dataentry/login.html.  Once filed, the FCC’s electronic filing system will automatically place the Children’s Television Programming Report into the station’s Public Inspection File.  However, each station should confirm that has occurred to ensure that its Public Inspection File is complete.

Noncommercial Educational Television Stations

Because noncommercial educational television stations are precluded from airing commercials, the commercial limitation rules do not apply to them.  Accordingly, noncommercial television stations have no obligation to place commercial limits documentation in their Public Inspection File.  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 Children’s Television Programming Reports.  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.

Please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys in the Communications Practice for specific advice on compliance with these rules or for assistance in preparing any of the above documentation.

A PDF version of this article can be found at Meeting Your Annual Children’s Television Programming Reporting Obligations.

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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.

Deadline for the Annual EEO Public File Report for Nonexempt Radio and Television SEUs

Consistent with the above, February 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 February 1, 2021 through January 31, 2022. However, Nonexempt SEUs may “cut off” the reporting period up to ten days before January 31, 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 February 1, 2021 through January 21, 2022 for this year’s report (cutting it off up to ten days prior to January 31, 2022), then next year, the Nonexempt SEU must use a period beginning January 22, 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 Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York must have earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between February 1, 2020 and January 31, 2022, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt radio station SEUs licensed to communities in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma must earn at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two year “segment” between February 1, 2021 and January 31, 2023, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt television station SEUs licensed to communities in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma must have earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between February 1, 2020 and January 31, 2022, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license term.
  • Nonexempt television station SEUs licensed to communities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York must earn at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between February 1, 2021 and January 31, 2023, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license term.

Additional Obligations for Stations Whose License Renewal Applications Are Due by February 1, 2022 (Radio Stations Licensed to Communities in New Jersey or New York, and Television Stations Licensed to Communities in Kansas, Nebraska, or Oklahoma)

February 1, 2022 is the date by which radio stations in New Jersey or New York and television stations in Kansas, Nebraska, or Oklahoma 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.

[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.

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

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

February 1, 2022 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:
New Jersey and New York

Full Power TV, Class A, LPTV, and TV Translator Stations:
Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma

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 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 Radio and 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, and Section 73.561 of the Rules establishes minimum operating hours for noncommercial educational FM 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 Forms 323 and 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 commercial and noncommercial radio and LPFM stations, and 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 radio and TV station and Class A TV station license renewal applicants should complete the attached Statement of Compliance and place it in the station’s Public Inspection File. LPFM and LPTV license renewal applicants should complete the attached Statement of Compliance and place it in their station records file.

Online Public Notice Required for FM Translator, TV Translator, and Certain LPTV Stations

FM translator, 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 FM translator, 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.

[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.

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

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The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by January 10, 2022, reflecting information for the months of October, November, and December 2021.

Content of the Quarterly List

The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station.  The FCC gives each station the discretion to determine which issues facing the community served by the station are the most significant and how best to respond to them in the station’s overall programming.

To demonstrate a station’s compliance with this public interest obligation, the FCC requires the station to maintain and place in the Public Inspection File a Quarterly List reflecting the “station’s most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period.”  By its use of the term “most significant,” the FCC has noted that stations are not required to list all responsive programming, but only that programming which provided the most significant treatment of the issues identified.

Given that program logs are no longer mandated by the FCC, the Quarterly Lists may be the most important evidence of a station’s compliance with its public service obligations.  The lists also provide important support for the certification of Class A television station compliance discussed below.  We therefore urge stations not to “skimp” on the Quarterly Lists, and to err on the side of over-inclusiveness.  Otherwise, stations risk a determination by the FCC that they did not adequately serve the public interest during their license term.  Stations should include in the Quarterly Lists as much issue-responsive programming as they feel is necessary to demonstrate fully their responsiveness to community needs.  Taking extra time now to provide a thorough Quarterly List will help reduce risk at license renewal time.

The FCC has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Quarterly Lists and often brings enforcement actions against stations that do not have complete Quarterly Lists in their Public Inspection File or which have failed to timely upload such lists when due.  The FCC’s base fine for missing Quarterly Lists is $10,000.

Preparation of the Quarterly List

The Quarterly Lists are required to be placed in the Public Inspection File by January 10, April 10, July 10, and October 10 of each year.  The next Quarterly List is required to be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by January 10, 2022, covering the period from October 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021. Continue reading →

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In a yuletide tradition that goes back farther than any of us can remember, each December Pillsbury releases its Broadcasters’ Calendar cataloging the regulatory dates and deadlines facing broadcasters in the coming year.  This past December was no different, with the publication of the 2022 edition of the Pillsbury Broadcasters’ Calendar.  Covering the entire year rather than just a month at a time (ever been blindsided when you flipped to the next month in your calendar only to discover an important deadline falls on the first of the month?), the Broadcasters’ Calendar gives broadcasters the regulatory landscape for the entire year ahead.

And it promises to be an interesting year, with the FCC potentially gaining a fifth commissioner, “no-longer-Acting and now permanent” FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel having the opportunity to place her imprint more firmly upon the FCC, and the 2022 elections having a big say in how the FCC is treated on Capitol Hill thereafter.  Stay tuned for these and other developments, but in the meantime, take a look at the 2022 Pillsbury Broadcasters’ Calendar.  In a year that will likely be full of unexpected developments, knowing what won’t be a surprise is uniquely reassuring.

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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 Proposes $20,000 Fine for Broadcast of False EAS Alert Tone
  • Mississippi Television Station Fined $18,000 for Late Issues/Programs Lists and Failure to Disclose Violation
  • Illinois High School Agrees to Consent Decree for Violations Relating to Periods of Silence, Late Issues/Programs Lists, and Failing to File a Biennial Ownership Report and EEO Program Report

Nevada Radio Licensee Receives Proposed Fine of $20,000 for Transmitting False EAS Tone

The FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) to a radio station licensee for violating the Commission’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules—specifically Section 11.45 of the Commission’s 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 an emergency. In order to maintain the effectiveness of such emergency alerts, EAS tones may only be aired in specific circumstances, such as an actual emergency, an authorized test, or a public service announcement educating the public about EAS. Section 11.45 strictly prohibits airing an EAS tone, or simulations thereof, except in connection with of one of these permitted uses.

In October 2020, the FCC received a complaint alleging that a Nevada radio station had transmitted EAS tones during a talk show that were not connected to an actual emergency. In January 2021, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau sent a Letter of Inquiry to the broadcaster seeking information regarding the potential violation.

The broadcaster responded that the tones had indeed aired, and included an audio recording of the program in question. The broadcaster indicated it did not review the program containing the EAS tones prior to broadcast as the program was part of a programming block purchased by the talk show’s host.  It noted that the program containing the EAS tones was also simulcast on the digital subchannel of another co-owned radio station and on an FM translator.

Based on the broadcaster’s admissions and the FCC’s review of the audio recording, the Commission found that the broadcaster willfully violated Section 11.45 of the Commission’s Rules. The FCC also 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 repetitions, the duration of the violation, the audience reach of the transmission, and the public safety impact.

In this instance, the FCC emphasized the stations’ sizeable audience reach, noting that the violation was exacerbated by rebroadcasts on the digital subchannel and FM translator. Because all three stations are located in Las Vegas, a top 50 market, the audience reach was substantial. The FCC therefore concluded that an upward adjustment was warranted, proposing a total fine of $20,000. The company has 30 days from release of the NAL to pay the fine or file a written statement seeking reduction or cancellation of the proposed fine.

FCC Proposes $18,000 Fine for Mississippi Television Station’s Late-Filed Issues/Programs Lists

The FCC fined a Mississippi television station $18,000 for failing to timely upload all of its quarterly Issues/Programs Lists to its Public Inspection File. The station recently filed a license renewal application, and an FCC staff review of the station’s Public Inspection File revealed that during the license term, the station uploaded twenty-one of the Lists late and failed to properly disclose these violations in its application.

Section 73.3526(e)(11)(i) of the FCC’s Rules requires every commercial television station to place in its Public Inspection File “a list of programs that have provided the station’s most significant treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period.” The list must include a brief narrative of the issues addressed, as well as the date, time, duration, and title of each program addressing those issues. The list must be placed in the Public Inspection File on a quarterly basis within 10 days of the end of each calendar quarter.

The FCC noted that six of the Lists created during the license term were uploaded more than one year late, eleven Lists were uploaded between one month and one year late, and four Lists were uploaded between one day and one month late. The licensee also did not disclose the violations in its license renewal application. When the licensee failed to provide an adequate explanation for the late uploads, the Commission concluded that the licensee willfully and repeatedly violated Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s Rules. The FCC also found that the failure to report the violations constituted an apparent violation of Section 73.3514(a) of its Rules, which requires that applications filed with the Commission be accurate and complete.

Section 1.80(b)(10) of the FCC’s Rules establishes a base fine of $10,000 for Public Inspection File violations and a base fine of $3,000 for failure to file a required form or information. However, the Commission may adjust the amount upwards or downwards based upon factors such as the “nature, circumstances, extent and gravity of the violation,” in addition to the licensee’s “degree of culpability” and “any history of prior offenses.” Taking those factors into account, the FCC proposed a fine of $15,000 for the late-filed Lists and a fine of $3,000 for the failure to disclose those violations in the license renewal application, resulting in a total proposed fine of $18,000. Noting that the violation did not constitute a “serious violation” nor a pattern of abuse that would prevent renewal of the station’s license, the FCC indicated it would grant the license renewal application by separate action if no other issues arose.

Illinois High School Enters Into Consent Decree for Violations Relating to Periods of Silence, Late Issues/Programs Lists, and Failure to File a Biennial Ownership Report and EEO Program Report

An Illinois High School, the licensee of a noncommercial radio station, recently entered into a Consent Decree with the FCC for failing to (i) promptly notify the Commission that the station was silent for more than ten days, (ii) request Commission authorization to remain silent for more than 30 days, (iii) file required Biennial Ownership Reports, (iv) submit an EEO Program Report, and (v) timely upload its quarterly Issues/Programs Lists to its Public Inspection File throughout the license term.

Section 73.561(d) of the FCC’s Rules permits stations to limit or discontinue operation for a period of no more than 30 days, but requires licensees to notify the Commission no later than the 10th day of limited or discontinued operation. If the station needs to remain silent beyond 30 days, a licensee must request Special Temporary Authority (an “STA”) from the FCC to do so. In this case, the station discontinued operations on June 1, 2019 but did not notify the FCC until September 24, 2019, when it sought an STA.

The FCC granted the STA request on October 10, 2019 for a period of no longer than 180 days. The licensee requested an STA extension on March 10, 2020 which was granted on March 17, 2020 for a period ending June 1, 2020.  Citing reasons associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the licensee filed a final extension request on June 1, 2020 which the FCC granted on July 15, 2020 for a period ending December 1, 2020. During this time, the licensee filed the station’s license renewal application on August 3, 2020. The station resumed operations on November 14, 2020.

In October 2020, an informal complaint was filed against the license renewal application, arguing that the station was silent for longer than 12 months and that granting the application would be unfair to other high school stations in the region. The complaint also pointed out that the application falsely certified that the station had not been silent for any consecutive 12-month period.  Section 312(g) of the Communications Act states that a license shall automatically expire if a broadcast station “fails to transmit broadcast signals for any consecutive 12-month period.”

In response, the FCC noted its discretion under Section 312(g) to extend or reinstate a license “to promote equity and fairness.” The FCC also noted that the station did resume operations on November 14 – prior to the STA expiring on December 1. The Commission agreed that the licensee incorrectly certified compliance with Section 312(g), but indicated it did not believe the licensee’s incorrect certification was intentionally false, as the station had an STA allowing it to remain silent. However, the FCC did conclude that the licensee violated Section 73.3615(d) (failing to file required Biennial Ownership Reports), Section 73.2080(f)(1) (failing to submit an EEO Program Report with the license renewal application), and Section 73.3527(b)(2)(i) (failing to timely upload Issues/Programs Lists to the Public Inspection File).

In light of the Commission’s findings, the licensee elected to enter into a Consent Decree with the FCC to resolve the matter rather than face an extended FCC proceeding. Pursuant to the Consent Decree, the licensee admitted the violations and agreed to pay a civil penalty of $1,000. The Consent Decree also requires the licensee to file an EEO Program Report within 10 days, and implement a compliance program, including appointment of a compliance officer, development of a compliance manual, implementation of a training program, filing of a compliance report with the FCC a year after entering into the Decree, and reporting to the FCC any violation of the Consent Decree, the Silent Notification Rule, the Ownership Report Rule, the EEO Program Report Rule, or the Public Inspection File Rule within 10 days of discovering a violation.

A PDF version of this article can be found at FCC Enforcement ~ December 2021.

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As the trades have reported, a rather unusual spot appearing to be a FOX NFL promo aired during yesterday’s NFL pre-game show.  What made it particularly unusual was that it included an EAS-like tone, and had a URL at the bottom of the screen for “WWW.FOXNFLEMERGENCYALERT.COM.”  That URL currently links to a “Let’s Go Brandon” website that I don’t encourage you to visit because our own spam software blocks access to it on the stated grounds of “Risky-Sites.”

We’ve written about the regulatory risks of transmitting false EAS alert tones on multiple occasions (see here, here and here), with the most recent post being about a proposed $272,000 fine against CBS for an EAS tone that was briefly heard in an episode of Young Sheldon.  The principal issue in such circumstances is Section 11.45(a) of the FCC’s Rules:

No person may transmit or cause to transmit the EAS codes or Attention Signal, or a recording or simulation thereof, in any circumstance other than in an actual National, State or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS; or as specified in §§ 10.520(d), 11.46, and 11.61 of this chapter.

In this case, since it was a live broadcast, it would be difficult for an affiliate to move quickly enough to spot and delete the tone before it aired.  Recognizing that this is often the case, the FCC has typically focused inquiries involving network programming on the network’s owned and operated stations rather than on the network’s affiliates.  However, that isn’t always the case, as the FCC has fined individual stations for Children’s Television rule violations even where those violations occurred in network programming.

So an affiliate’s natural reaction in such circumstances might be to lay low and let the network deal with any potential ramifications at the FCC.  However, that isn’t an option, as Section 11.45(b) of the FCC’s Rules states that:

No later than twenty-four (24) hours of an EAS Participant’s discovery (i.e., actual knowledge) that it has transmitted or otherwise sent a false alert to the public, the EAS Participant shall send an email to the Commission at the FCC Ops Center at FCCOPS@fcc.gov, informing the Commission of the event and of any details that the EAS Participant may have concerning the event.

That means remaining silent and hoping it all blows over isn’t an option once an affiliate becomes aware that it has transmitted a false EAS tone.  Section 11.45(b) requires stations to basically hold up their hand and volunteer to the FCC that they aired the tone, and the 24-hour time limit doesn’t give a station much time to contemplate it.  While the FCC and FOX will hopefully resolve any issues with the broadcast itself, stations don’t want to dodge that bullet only to expose themselves to an FCC claim that they failed to promptly report the incident.

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With many of their employees either off today or working a half-day in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday, broadcasters were settling in for what would hopefully be a couple of slow news days and a long weekend. However, as so often happens, the path out of the station to a Thanksgiving feast has been blocked by a regulatory development. Fortunately, it is one that has a relatively easy fix.

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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:

  • Florida Broadcaster Pays $20,000 for Unauthorized Tower Construction Work
  • Colorado Broadcaster Issued Notice of Violation for Operating FM Translator on Wrong Frequency
  • Telecommunications Company Receives Cease-and-Desist Letter From FCC for Transmitting Illegal Robocalls

FCC Fines Florida Broadcaster $20,000 for Commencing Tower Construction Prior to Completing Required Environmental Review

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau and a Florida broadcaster entered into a Consent Decree to resolve an investigation into whether the broadcaster began clearing land for a wireless telecommunications tower before it completed the required environmental review. Environmental reviews are required by the FCC’s Rules, including rules implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). To settle the matter, the broadcaster admitted violating the FCC’s environmental and antenna structure rules, and agreed to implement a compliance plan while making a $20,000 penalty payment.

The FCC’s Environmental Rules require applicants and licensees to assess whether proposed facilities may significantly affect the environment. Under Section 1.1307(a)(3) of the Commissions Rules, an applicant must prepare an Environmental Assessment for facilities that could have a significant environmental effect. When considering whether an action may have a significant environmental effect, one of the factors an applicant must consider is whether the proposed site may affect threatened or endangered species or designated critical habitats.

Additionally, the FCC’s Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) rules require the owner of a proposed or existing antenna structure to follow registration procedures prior to constructing or altering a tower. If an Environmental Assessment is required by the rules, it must be included in the ASR application.

In July and August of 2020, the broadcaster hired contractors to perform the necessary environmental review and construct a wireless communications tower located within the designated critical habitat of the endangered Florida bonneted bat. When the broadcaster filed its ASR application in November 2020, it included an Environmental Assessment depicting premature clearing and admitted to preconstruction activities.

Although the environmental review was later completed and the FCC authorized construction of the tower, the FCC issued a Letter of Inquiry to the broadcaster in April 2021 asking a series of questions related to its compliance with the Commission’s Environmental and ASR rules. The broadcaster responded in July 2021, admitting that it began construction by clearing vegetation from the tower site around August 3, 2020 – before it prepared an Environmental Assessment and before applying for an ASR.

To resolve the investigation, the broadcaster agreed to enter into a Consent Decree in which it admitted its actions violated the FCC’s Environmental and ASR rules. As part of the Decree, the broadcaster must designate a compliance officer, implement a multi-part compliance plan, including developing a compliance manual and compliance training program, disclose within fifteen days any violations of the Consent Decree or the Environmental and ASR rules, file annual compliance reports with the FCC for the next three years, and pay a $20,000 civil penalty.

FCC Issues Notice of Violation to Colorado Licensee for Operating FM Translator on Unauthorized Frequency

Earlier this month, the FCC issued a Notice of Violation to the licensee of a Colorado FM Translator asserting violations of Sections 1.903(a) and 74.14(a) of the FCC’s Rules by operating a station on a channel for which it wasn’t licensed.

Section 1.903(a) requires stations to be used and operated only in accordance with the rules applicable to their particular service and with a valid authorization granted by the Commission. Pursuant to Section 74.14(a), once an FM Translator has been built in accordance with the terms of its construction permit and a license application has been filed showing the station is in satisfactory operating condition, it may commence service or program tests.

On three different dates between October 2020 and January 2021, an agent of the Denver Office of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau observed the FM Translator operating on Channel 282 despite being licensed to operate on Channel 272. While the licensee had obtained a construction permit authorizing it to modify the station to operate on Channel 282, at the time of the three separate observations, it had not yet filed an FM Translator License Application. Until a license application is filed, the facility lacked authority to operate with the parameters outlined in the construction permit, and any such operation would violate Section 74.14(a).

The Notice of Violation seeks additional information from the broadcaster concerning these apparent violations. It instructs the broadcaster to submit within 20 days a written response fully explaining each apparent violation and all relevant surrounding facts and circumstances, including the specific actions taken to correct any violations and prevent them from recurring. The Notice also requires the broadcaster to include a timeline for completing any pending corrective actions.

FCC Issues Cease-and-Desist Letter to Telecommunications Company for Transmitting Illegal Robocalls

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a cease-and-desist letter to a telecommunications company for apparently transmitting illegal robocalls. The letter instructs the company to investigate, and if necessary, cease transmitting any illegal robocall traffic immediately and take steps to prevent its network from being used to transmit illegal robocalls.

The Enforcement Bureau issued the letter after an investigation revealed the company apparently originated multiple illegal robocall campaigns. The Bureau works closely with the USTelecom Industry Traceback Group (“Traceback Consortium”), which is the consortium selected pursuant to the TRACED Act to conduct tracebacks. The Traceback Consortium investigated prerecorded voice message calls that voice service providers and customers of YouMail flagged as illegal robocalls made without consent of the called party.

Between August 24, 2021 and October 15, 2021, the Traceback Consortium conducted tracebacks and concluded that the company originated over 80 calls that appeared to be illegal robocalls, including substantial numbers of government imposter scam calls such as posing as the Social Security Administration and the Federal Reserve, as well as calls threatening utility discontinuation, offering fake credit card rate reductions, and arrest warrant scams. Furthermore, the Traceback Consortium notified the company about the calls and provided access to supporting data identifying each call prior to the cease-and-desist letter being sent.

The FCC noted that in addition to the Traceback Consortium previously notifying the company, the numerous tracebacks to the company as an originator indicated that the company is apparently knowingly or negligently originating illegal robocall traffic. The letter instructs the company to take steps to “effectively mitigate illegal traffic within 48 hours” and inform the FCC and the Traceback Consortium within 14 days of the date of the letter of the steps it has taken to “implement effective measures” to prevent customers from using the network to make illegal calls.

If the company fails to properly take the actions listed in the letter or fails to take sufficient mitigating actions to prevent customers from using its network to make illegal robocalls, downstream U.S.-based providers may block calls transmitted by the company. Additionally, the FCC may find that the company’s certification in the Robocall Mitigation Database is deficient and direct the removal of its certification from the database. If its certification is removed from the Robocall Mitigation Database, all intermediate and terminating voice service providers would be required to immediately cease accepting calls from the company.

A PDF version of this article can be found at FCC Enforcement ~ November 2021.

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The filing window for broadcast Biennial Ownership Reports (FCC Form 323 and 323-E) opened on October 1, 2021. All licensees of commercial and noncommercial AM, FM, full-power TV, Class A Television and Low Power Television stations must submit their ownership reports by December 1, 2021.

To save parties from preparing an ownership report from scratch, the filing system permits parties to validate and resubmit previously filed ownership reports, so long as those reports were submitted through the current filing system and remain accurate.  Parties also have the ability to copy and then make changes to information included in previously submitted reports.  There is also a search page which allows a party to search for and review previously-submitted Ownership Reports.

For additional information on preparing and filing a biennial ownership report, the FCC hosted a video information session which is available at Information Session on Filing Biennial Ownership Reports, Forms 323 and 323-E and a PDF copy of the presentation is available here.

As a reminder, Biennial Ownership Reports submitted during this filing window must reflect the ownership interests associated with the station as they existed on October 1, 2021, even if an assignment or transfer of control was consummated after October 1, 2021. Should you need assistance preparing and filing your Biennial Ownership Report, please contact your Pillsbury counsel or any of the attorneys in Pillsbury’s Communications Practice.

A PDF of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports Are Due by December 1, 2021 for All Broadcast Stations.