Articles Posted in Radio

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

Earlier this year, the FCC voted to clear 280 MHz of spectrum that will be used for new wireless services.  A key component in clearing the spectrum is the reimbursement of expenses for the existing licensees that must now move to the remaining 200 MHz of spectrum reserved for satellite services.  The FCC has taken numerous steps to identify the number of licensees that require relocation and reimbursement, including the recent publication of a final draft list of earth station licensees eligible for relocation expenses.

The release of the cost schedule is a significant step for the FCC in its effort to provide relocation expense estimates, and permits those relocating C-Band earth stations to determine whether they should elect to receive a lump sum payment, or seek reimbursement for their actual relocation costs.  Earth station licensees that elect to receive lump sum payments can use these funds to either (i) relocate to the 4000-4200 MHz band, or (ii) acquire alternative technology (i.e., fiber), as best serves their needs.

To that end, the FCC’s cost schedule established the following Base Lump Sum Payments for each earth station antenna that is registered with the FCC:

  • Receive-Only Earth Station with a Single-feed Antenna – $8,948;
  • Receive-Only Earth Station with a Multi-feed Antenna – $16,997;
  • Small Multi-beam (2-4 beams) Earth Station Antenna – $42,062;
  • Large Multi-beam (5+ beams) Earth Station Antenna – $51,840;
  • Gateway Earth Station Antenna (bi-directional) – $20,854; and
  • Temporary Fixed Earth Station Antenna (e.g., mobile ENG trucks) – $3,060.

In response to confusion among parties that submitted comments on the FCC’s draft cost schedule, the Commission made clear that eligible earth station licensees will be able to seek a lump sum payment for each antenna that is specifically identified and included on their earth station license registration.  The FCC released the final list of eligible licensees on August 3, 2020, establishing which earth station licensees are eligible for reimbursement, and reminding parties with red-light holds on pending applications to pay all required FCC fees by September 2, 2020, or be disqualified from participating in the reimbursement process.

Earth station licensees electing to receive the lump sum payment will need to submit their information through the FCC’s ECFS system in IB Docket 20-205 .  In addition to providing the licensee’s basic information, the election notice requires confirmation of the total lump sum amount, whether the earth stations will be relocating to the remaining available spectrum or ceasing operations, and several certifications, including confirming that the licensee’s acceptance of a lump sum payment will release the FCC from all claims that the licensee may have with respect to the sufficiency of the amount received.

Earth station licensees should take a close look at the requirements for making the election notification, and consider whether the lump sum payment will be sufficient to meet their needs.  In light of the FCC’s requirement that lump-sum payment recipients affirmatively release the FCC from all future claims for relief, earth station licensees should also closely review the cost schedule of estimated costs to determine if taking the FCC’s version of the standard deduction is a better option than itemizing their expenses.

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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

The Six Decrees of Compliance: Major Radio Broadcasters Settle with FCC Over Political File Violations

Last week, the FCC announced that it had entered into settlements with six large radio broadcasters over violations of the political file rules.  In a flurry of Consent Decrees, the FCC settled investigations into various political file recordkeeping violations.  Combined, these broadcasters operate roughly 1,900 stations across the country.

Section 315(e)(1) of the Communications Act (“Act”) requires broadcast stations to retain records of requests to purchase political advertising time made (1) by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate for public office; or (2) by third parties whose ads communicate a message relating to “a political matter of national importance.”  Under the Act and Section 73.1943 of the FCC’s Rules, stations must upload such records to their online political files “as soon as possible”, which means “immediately absent unusual circumstances.”  According to the FCC, maintaining a complete and current political file is critical, in part, because the information affects opposing candidates’ right to an equal opportunity to purchase airtime.  The FCC has also stated that political file disclosures promote the First Amendment goal of fostering an informed electorate capable of holding political interests accountable.

The six Consent Decrees are nearly identical, and concern the failure of the broadcasters’ respective stations to timely upload requests to purchase political advertising time.  Earlier this year, the broadcasters had voluntarily disclosed to the Commission that many of their stations had not timely uploaded the required documents.  One case, however, was prompted by a separate investigation involving an allegation that three New York stations had violated the “lowest unit charge” requirement, which prohibits stations from charging a candidate more than they charge their most favored advertiser for a spot of the same length, class, and daypart during certain periods before an election.  The investigation included a review of the stations’ political files and revealed wider recordkeeping issues.

According to the FCC, all of the stations’ political file violations were “consistent” with disclosures the broadcasters had made in past license renewal applications.

During the spring of 2020, the broadcasters had voluntarily adopted short-term compliance plans, which the FCC noted led to improvements in the stations’ compliance with the political file obligations during that time.  Citing this cooperation and the voluntary disclosures, as well as the significant stress on the radio industry brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission ended its investigation by entering into settlements with the parties, declining to impose fines for these violations.

Under the terms of the settlements, the broadcasters agreed to implement additional measures, including: (1) a more comprehensive compliance plan, (2) periodic compliance reports to the Commission, and (3) cooperation with the National Association of Broadcasters and state broadcasters associations to encourage and promote education and training for all radio broadcasters on political file obligations.

Since late last year, the FCC has issued a series of decisions and clarifications involving stations’ obligations under the political broadcasting rules.  As FCC guidance in this area continues to evolve, stations are advised to work with counsel to ensure compliance with these complicated rules, particularly as political ad buying picks up in the course of this year’s election cycle.  Additional information on the recordkeeping requirements and other political broadcasting rules is included in our Advisory on the subject.

No-Win Situation: Pair of Texas Radio Stations Face Proposed Fines Over Contest Rule Violations

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau recently issued Notices of Apparent Liability (“NAL”) against the licensees of an El Paso and a Houston-area FM station, each proposing fines for violations of the Commission’s rules governing on-air contests.

The FCC regulates on-air contests conducted by broadcasters to protect against practices that may deceive or mislead the public.  Section 73.1216 of the FCC’s Rules requires a licensee to “fully and accurately disclose the material terms of the contest” and the contest must be conducted consistent with those terms (“Contest Rule”).

The FCC’s investigation into the El Paso station’s contest began in March 2017, when it received a complaint alleging that the station failed to award concert tickets to the winner of an on-air contest that occurred at the end of the prior year.  The contest winner claimed that after being crowned the winning caller, they were informed by the station that the tickets were not yet available, and despite repeated requests over the next several months leading up to the concert, the station never awarded the prize.  The day after the concert, the caller filed their complaint.

In response, the Enforcement Bureau issued a Letter of Inquiry (“LOI”) to the station seeking additional information about the contest.  The station responded by acknowledging that it had held the contest and had no record of issuing the prize to the contestant, but maintained that the failure to award the tickets was due to “human error.”  The station further claimed that it was unaware of the issue altogether until it received the LOI, at which point it sought to remedy the error by offering the winner tickets to see the same performer in Las Vegas, along with complimentary travel accommodations.

In response, the FCC concluded that the station’s remedial efforts did not negate its violation of the Contest Rule, noting that the award of additional prizes does not excuse a rule violation.  Under the Commission’s forfeiture guidelines, the base fine for a Contest Rule violation is $4,000, which the FCC may adjust upward or downward based on the facts of a particular case.  In this case, the FCC proposed an upward adjustment in light of an unrelated 2012 enforcement action against a commonly-owned station.  Deeming this a “history of prior violations” by the station’s parent company, the FCC increased the proposed fine to $6,000.

The complaint against the Houston-area station similarly alleged that the station failed to timely award an advertised prize, this time in the form of an all-expenses-paid vacation, to the winner of a 2016 fantasy sports contest.  In October 2018, the Enforcement Bureau issued an LOI to the station seeking information and documents related to the contest.  According to the station, the resort operator withdrew its commitment and the station employee overseeing the contest failed to inform station management or otherwise take action to make good on the prize.  Though the contestant eventually accepted a $3,600 cash replacement prize in return for withdrawing the FCC complaint, the Commission determined that this occurred only after the station received the LOI, and did not warrant ending the investigation.

Consistent with Commission precedent, the FCC found that the remedial measures taken did not negate the rule violation, as the station failed to promptly respond to the contestant’s inquiries about the prize, allowing the issue to remain unresolved for two years.  As a result, the FCC proposed an upward adjustment to the $4,000 base fine, resulting in a total proposed fine of $5,200.

Ads on Colorado Noncommercial LPFM Station Lead to Proposed $15,000 Fine

In an NAL issued this month, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau proposed a $15,000 fine against the licensee of a Colorado low power FM (“LPFM”) station for violating the underwriting laws, which prohibit commercial advertisements on stations with noncommercial authorizations.

While noncommercial stations may broadcast announcements acknowledging their financial supporters, Section 399B of the Communications Act and Section 73.503(d) of the FCC’s Rules prohibit such stations from airing paid advertisements on behalf of for-profit entities.  The FCC has explained that these rules are meant to preserve a locally focused, commercial-free service, and in turn, these stations benefit from access to spectrum designated for their service and fewer regulatory requirements.  Although the Commission permits noncommercial licensees to exercise reasonable “good faith” judgment in determining whether an announcement complies with the Commission’s underwriting requirements, it has also established categorical prohibitions on certain forms of announcements.

Since 2015, the FCC had received complaints from local listeners alleging that the licensee was airing advertisements on the station.  After reviewing these complaints, local FCC field agents began monitoring the station, and recorded what sounded like commercial announcements for 14 different sponsors.  The FCC followed up with an LOI, to which the licensee responded.  The response acknowledged that more than 1,600 advertisements were aired on the station over a three-month period in late 2018, and that the licensee had entered into contracts to air paid announcements for over a dozen for-profit entities.

The FCC identified 14 announcements which violated its underwriting rules that had been aired repeatedly by the station.  It noted that these spots contained numerous prohibited promotional practices, including the use of comparative language to describe products or services, the inclusion of pricing information, references to “menu listings” of products or services, and announcements exceeding 30 seconds in length.  With respect to the length of the announcements, the Commission previously determined that longer announcements are more likely to exceed the limited purpose of merely identifying underwriters, instead becoming promotional in nature.

The FCC’s forfeiture guidelines establish a base fine of $2,000 for underwriting violations, which may be adjusted upward based on the specific facts of the case.  In light of the protracted period of time over which the violations occurred, and the number of announcements at issue, the FCC proposed a $15,000 fine.

A PDF version of this article can be found at FCC Enforcement Monitor ~ July 2020.

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This Pillsbury Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in the areas noted above, and highlights upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

August 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin 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 application submissions due by August 3. 

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, August 1, 2020 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 the station records file.

These Reports will cover the period from August 1, 2019 through July 31, 2020.  However, Nonexempt SEUs may “cut off” the reporting period up to ten days before July 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 August 1, 2019 through July 22, 2020 for this year’s report (cutting it off up to ten days prior to July 31, 2020), then next year, the Nonexempt SEU must use a period beginning July 23, 2020 for its report. 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.

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The Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) for each of the First Quarter and Second Quarter of 2020 must be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by July 10, 2020, reflecting information for the months of January through March, and April through June, respectively.  The deadline for the First Quarterly Issues/Programs List was extended to July 10 to coincide with the filing of the Second Quarterly Issues/Programs List, thereby allowing stations three additional months in light of the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 normally required to be placed in the Public Inspection File by January 10, April 10, July 10, and October 10 of each year.  Because of the unusual extension granted this year due to COVID-19, however, the Quarterly Lists covering the First and Second Quarters of 2020 are both required to be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by July 10, 2020, covering the periods from January 1, 2020 through March 31, 2020, and April 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020, respectively.

Stations should keep the following in mind:

  • Stations should maintain routine outreach to the community to learn of various groups’ perceptions of community issues, problems, and needs. Stations should document the contacts they make and the information they learn. Letters to the station regarding community issues should be made a part of the station’s database.
  • There should be procedures in place to organize the information that is gathered and bring it to the attention of programming staff with a view towards producing and airing programming that is responsive to significant community issues.  This procedure and its results should be documented.
  • Stations should ensure that there is some correlation between the station’s contacts with the community, including letters received from the public, and the issues identified in their Quarterly Lists. A station should not overlook significant issues.  In a contested license renewal proceeding, while the station may consider what other stations in the market are doing, each station will have the burden of persuading the FCC that it acted “reasonably” in deciding which issues to address and how.
  • Stations should not specify an issue for which no programming is identified. Conversely, stations should not list programs for which no issue is specified.
  • Under its former rules in this area, the FCC required a station to list five to ten issues per quarter. While that specific rule has been eliminated, the FCC has noted that such an amount will likely demonstrate compliance with the station’s issue-responsive programming obligations.  However, the FCC has indicated that licensees may choose to concentrate on fewer than five issues if they cover them in considerable depth.  Conversely, the FCC has noted that broadcasters may seek to address more than ten issues in a given quarter, due perhaps to program length, format, etc.
  • The Quarterly List should reflect a wide variety of significant issues. For example, five issues affecting the Washington, DC community might be: (1) the fight over statehood for the District of Columbia; (2) fire code violations in DC school buildings; (3) clean-up of the Anacostia River; (4) reforms in the DC Police Department; and (5) proposals to increase the use of traffic cameras on local streets.  The issues should change over time, reflecting the station’s ongoing ascertainment of changing community needs and concerns.
  • Accurate and complete records of which programs were used to discuss or treat which issues should be preserved so that the job of constructing the Quarterly List is made easier.  The data retained should help the station identify the programs that represented the “most significant treatment” of issues (e.g., duration, depth of presentation, frequency of broadcast, etc.).
  • The listing of “most significant programming treatment” should demonstrate a wide variety in terms of format, duration (long-form and short-form programming), source (locally produced is presumptively the best), time of day (times of day when the programming is likely to be effective), and days of the week.  Stations should not overlook syndicated and network programming as ways to address issues.
  • Stations should prepare each Quarterly List in time for it to be placed in their Public Inspection File on or before the due date.  If the deadline is not met, stations should give the true date when the document was placed in the Public Inspection File and explain its lateness.
  • Stations should show that their programming commitment covers all three months within each quarter.

These are just some suggestions that can assist stations in meeting their obligations under the FCC’s rules.  The requirement to list programs providing the most significant treatment of issues may persuade a station to review whether its programming truly and adequately educates the public about community concerns.

Attached is a sample format for a “Quarterly Issues/Programs List” to assist stations in creating their own Quarterly List.  Please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys in the Communications Practice for specific advice on how to ensure your compliance efforts in this area are adequate.

Class A Television Stations Only

Class A television stations must certify that they continue to meet the FCC’s eligibility and service requirements for Class A television status under Section 73.6001 of the FCC’s Rules.  While the relevant subsection of the Public Inspection File rule, Section 73.3526(e)(17), does not specifically state when this certification should be prepared and placed in the Public Inspection File, we believe that since Section 73.6001 assesses compliance on a quarterly basis, the prudent course for Class A television stations is to place the Class A certification in the Public Inspection File on a quarterly basis as well.

Sample Quarterly Issues/Programs List [1]

Below is a list of some of the significant issues responded to by Station [call sign], [community of license], [state of license], along with the most significant programming treatment of those issues for the period [date] to [date].  This list is by no means exhaustive.  The order in which the issues appear does not reflect any priority or significance.

2nd-Quarter-Issues

[1] This sample illustrates the treatment of one issue only.

A PDF version of this article can be found at First and Second Quarter 2020 Issues/Programs Lists Advisory for Broadcast Stations.

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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:

  • Time Off the Air Leads to License Termination for North Dakota Radio Station
  • FCC Enters Into Consent Decree With Tech Company Imposing $250,000 Civil Penalty for Unlawful License Transfers and Failure to Disclose a Felony
  • Virginia Radio Station Faces Proposed $7,000 Fine and Reduced License Term Over Failure to Timely File its Renewal Application

The Sound of Silence: North Dakota Radio Station Faces License Termination After Prolonged Period Off-Air

After going off the air and remaining silent due to financial concerns, an FM station’s license was revoked for failure to timely resume operations.

Section 73.1740(a)(4) of the FCC’s Rules permits a licensee to temporarily discontinue operations for up to 30 days provided that the licensee: (1) notifies the FCC by the tenth day of discontinued operations, and (2) requests authorization from the Commission to remain silent for any period beyond 30 days. However, Section 312(g) of the Communications Act of 1934 provides that a broadcast station’s license automatically expires if it does not transmit a broadcast signal for 12 consecutive months. The FCC may extend or reinstate a license terminated by virtue of this provision if doing so would “promote equity and fairness.”

On August 15, 2018, the North Dakota licensee took the station off the air due to financial concerns. After several months of radio silence, the station finally requested special temporary authority (STA) to remain silent on October 30. Despite the delay, the FCC granted the STA for a period of 180 days, cautioning that the station’s license would expire as a matter of law if operations did not resume by 12:01 a.m. on August 16, 2019, when the station would reach 12 months of silent status. The Commission also noted that the STA request had failed to meet both the 10-day notification requirement and the 30-day deadline for seeking authorization for discontinued operations. At the end of the authorized 180 days, the licensee sought an extension of the STA, which the FCC granted, again reminding the licensee of the August 16, 2019 deadline to resume operations. 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:

  • Wireless Internet Provider Hit With $25,000 Proposed Fine for Interference Caused by Network Equipment
  • Unauthorized License Transfers Lead to Consent Decree and $70,000 Civil Penalty
  • FCC Issues Notice of Violation to AM Daytimer Operating Past Sunset

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This Pillsbury Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in the areas noted above, and highlights upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

June 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, New Mexico, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming 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 application submissions due by June 1.

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This afternoon, the FCC released a brief Order looking toward the day when life in the U.S. hopefully returns to normal, and broadcast stations begin rehiring furloughed workers.

In the two-page Order, the FCC waived the requirement in its EEO Rule that broadcasters and MVPDs engage in “broad outreach” when filling each full-time job position.  Making clear that this relief is restricted to the circumstances of COVID-19, the FCC limited application of the waiver to the rehiring of station employees that were laid off due to the pandemic, and only where the employee is then rehired within nine months of being laid off.

The FCC reasoned that:

Given the unique importance of broadcasters and MVPDs in providing access to breaking news and critical information relating to the pandemic, the public interest, convenience, and necessity would be best served by encouraging these entities to maintain, or quickly resume, normal operations. Facilitating the expeditious re-hiring of full-time employees laid off as a result of the pandemic to job vacancies created by the pandemic supports this important goal.

While the FCC has long recognized a narrow exception to its broad recruitment requirement where a hire occurs under “exigent circumstances” (and it’s hard to imagine more exigent circumstances than a station bringing its employees back on board after a pandemic), today’s waiver avoids the need for stations to have to prove exigent circumstances existed when facing an EEO audit or other EEO review down the road.

The good news is that today’s waiver gives broadcasters and MVPDs one less thing to worry about during the pandemic.  The bad news is that it still leaves about 999,999 others for them to address in the coming months.

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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:

  • Radio Skit Gone Wrong Draws $20,000 Proposed Fine for False Emergency Alert
  • Wireless Microphones Operating on Unauthorized Frequencies Generate Hefty Proposed Fine
  • FCC Issues Citation to Convenience Store Over Errant Surveillance Equipment

No Laughing Matter: Emergency Alert Parody Leads to Proposed $20,000 Fine Against New York FM Station

The FCC recently issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture proposing a $20,000 fine against a New York radio station for airing a false emergency alert.  As we have written in the past, the FCC strictly enforces its rules against airing false Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) tones, arguing that false alerts undermine public confidence in the alert system.

The EAS system is a public warning system utilizing broadcast stations, cable systems, satellite providers, and other video programming systems to permit the President to rapidly communicate with the public during an emergency.  Federal, state and local authorities also use the EAS system to deliver localized emergency information.  The FCC’s rules expressly forbid airing EAS codes, the EAS Attention Signal (the jarring long beep), or a recording or simulation of these tones in any circumstance other than in an actual emergency, during an authorized test, or as part of an authorized public service announcement.  Besides desensitizing the public to alerts in cases of real emergencies, the data embedded in the codes can trigger false activations of emergency alerts on other stations.

On October 3, 2018, FEMA, in coordination with the FCC, conducted a nationwide test of the EAS and Wireless Emergency Alert (“WEA”) systems.  Shortly afterwards, the FCC received a complaint that a New York FM station transmitted an EAS tone during an on-air skit lampooning the scheduled test.  The FCC issued a Letter of Inquiry to the station, demanding a recording of the program and sworn statements regarding whether the tone was, in fact, improperly transmitted.

In response, the station confirmed that it aired the EAS Attention Signal as part of a skit produced by a station employee.  When reviewing the skit before airing, the station spotted an improper EAS header code in it, and told the employee to delete it.  However, the employee merely replaced the header code with a one-second portion of the EAS Attention Signal.  The station then approved and aired the program.

In response, the FCC found that the segment violated its rules, noting that the “use of the Attention Signal in a parody of the first nationwide test of the EAS and WEA is specifically the type of behavior section 11.45 seeks to prevent.”  The FCC also noted that the brief duration of the tone aired was not a defense to a finding of violation.

As a result, the FCC proposed a $20,000 fine.  Although the base fine for airing a false EAS alert is $8,000, the FCC concluded that the circumstances surrounding this case warranted an upward adjustment.  In particular, the FCC stressed the gravity of the situation, noting that the broadcaster aired the false alert on one of the highest-ranking stations in New York City, which itself is the nation’s largest radio market.  Given these facts, the FCC proposed a $20,000 fine.  The station has thirty days to either pay the fine, or present evidence to the FCC justifying reduction or cancellation of it.

A Broad Spectrum of Violations Creates Problems for Wireless Microphone Retailer

In a recently-issued Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, the FCC proposed a $685,338 fine against a seller of wireless microphones, asserting that the retailer advertised 32 models of noncompliant wireless microphones.

The FCC allocates radiofrequency spectrum for specific uses, with particular attention given to the potential for harmful interference to other users.  The FCC has made certain bands available for use by wireless microphones, with technical rules varying depending on the particular band used.  For manufacturers and retailers, this means their devices must be designed to operate only within the permitted frequency bands.

Under Section 302(b) of the Communications Act, “[n]o person shall manufacture, import, sell, offer for sale, or ship devices or home electronic equipment and systems, or use devices, which fail to comply with regulations promulgated pursuant to [FCC Rules]”.  Section 74.851(f) of the FCC’s Rules requires devices that emit radiofrequency energy (like wireless microphones) to be approved in accordance with the FCC’s certification procedures before being marketed and sold in the United States.  Such devices are also subject to identification and labeling requirements. Continue reading →