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

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

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

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

Overview

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

The license renewal application (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 303-S) primarily consists of a series of certifications in the form of Yes/No questions.  The FCC advises that applicants should only respond “Yes” when they are certain that the response is correct.  Thus, if an applicant is seeking a waiver of a particular rule or policy, or is uncertain that it has fully complied with the rule or policy in question, it should respond “No” to that certification.  The application provides an opportunity for explanations and exhibits, so the FCC indicates that a “No” response to any of the questions “will not cause the immediate dismissal of the application provided that an appropriate exhibit is submitted.”  An applicant should review any such exhibits or explanations with counsel prior to filing.

When answering questions in the license renewal application, the relevant reporting period is the licensee’s entire 8-year license term.  If the licensee most recently received a short-term license renewal, the application reporting period would cover only that abbreviated license term.  Similarly, if the license was assigned or transferred via FCC Form 314 or 315 during the license term, the relevant reporting period is just the time since consummation of that last assignment or transfer.

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

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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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On April 2, 2020, the FCC established the COVID-19 Telehealth Program (Program), which will guide the disbursement of $200 million to health care providers for connected care services to their patients. We published our summary of the Program on April 3, 2020, and followed up with a discussion of the FCC’s application procedures on April 9, 2020, and a review of the first wave of proposals granted on April 16, 2020.

With the fourth tranche of proposals approved on April 29, 2020, the FCC has now granted 30 funding proposals in 16 states. The FCC has pledged to review and grant eligible proposals on a rolling basis until either the FCC runs out of funds or the national pandemic ends.

As discussed in our prior alerts, the CARES Act of 2020 provided $200 million for the FCC to distribute to eligible parties with proposals to provide connected care services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds could be used for (i) telecommunications services and broadband connectivity services, (ii) data and information services, and (iii) internet-connected devices and equipment.

While the FCC has not released for public review most of the approved proposals, based on the public notices that have been released, it is clear that the FCC is willing to provide funding for proposals to implement connected care services and devices. Most of the approved proposals requested funding for a combination of:

  • Remote patient monitoring;
  • Portable equipment for screening at remote centers and nursing homes;
  • Video services including patient visits; and
  • Connected devices (tablets) for staff and high-risk patients.

On May 1, 2020, the FCC announced that, as of May 3, 2020, all applicants must submit their applications through the online portal.

Recently, there has been a push by groups to expand the pool of eligible entities. The American Hospital Association requested that the FCC reconsider its decision to only provide funding for nonprofit applicants. Other organizations like HCA Healthcare and the American Dental Association supported the expansion of eligible entities, arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all health care providers (including dentists) and that the CARES Act did not require the nonprofit limitation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also supported the expansion of funding opportunities, noting that 20 percent of the nation’s hospitals are prevented from filing proposals for COVID-19 funds.

It is unclear whether the FCC will adjust its eligibility standards to include for-profit hospitals and medical practices, especially in light of the availability of funds that have yet to be allocated. We will continue to monitor the program’s progress and report any changes in the FCC’s rules.

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The Federal Communications Commission released a Public Notice reminding broadcast licensees that the filing window for Broadcast Biennial Ownership Reports (FCC Form 323 and 323-E) will open on November 1, 2019.  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 January 31, 2020.

We previously reported that the FCC had modified the dates for the filing window.  At that time, the FCC explained that there would be “additional technical improvements” that required the FCC to delay the opening of the filing window.  Now, we know more about those improvements.

In particular, the FCC modified its filing system to permit parties to validate and resubmit previously-filed ownership reports, so long as those reports were submitted through the current filing system.  Further, filers will be able to copy and then make changes to information included in previously-submitted reports.  The FCC also created a new search page dedicated solely to reviewing submitted ownership reports.

As a reminder, biennial ownership reports submitted during this filing window must reflect the ownership interests associated with the facility as of October 1, 2019, even if an assignment or transfer of control was consummated after October 1, 2019.

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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 special issue takes a look at the government’s renewed efforts to scuttle Pirate Radio operations.

Since the government first began regulating the airwaves, it has struggled to eliminate unlicensed radio operators.  In its latest effort, the FCC is taking a hardline approach to this illegal behavior and is partnering with local and federal law enforcement, as well as Congress, to accomplish the task. While Chairman Pai has made clear that pirate radio prosecutions are once again a priority at the FCC, it is Commissioner O’Rielly who has been the most vocal on this front, calling for more aggressive action against unauthorized operators.  The continued prevalence of pirate radio operations has been chalked up to several factors, including insufficient enforcement mechanisms and resources, the procedural difficulties in tracking down unregulated parties, and lackadaisical enforcement until recently. Regulators and broadcast industry leaders have also expressed frustration with the whack-a-mole nature of pirate radio enforcement—shutting down one operation only to have another pop up nearby.

Real Consequences

Congress has also begun to take an interest in the issue, with the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology holding a hearing last week discussing the subject.  One of the witnesses was David Donovan, president of the New York State Broadcasters Association.  In his testimony, he listed numerous risks that unlicensed operations present to the public, including failure to adhere to Emergency Alert System rules and RF emissions limits (which can be critically important where a pirate’s antenna is mounted on a residential structure).  Pirate operators also create interference to other communications systems, including those used for public safety operations, while causing financial harm to legitimate broadcast stations by diverting advertising revenue and listeners from authorized stations.

Despite these harms, pirate operations continue to spread.  This past month, the FCC issued a Notice of Unlicensed Operation (“NOUO”) to a New Jersey individual after the FCC received complaints from the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) that an FM station’s broadcasts were causing harmful interference to aeronautical communications operating on air-to-ground frequencies.  FCC agents tracked the errant transmissions to the individual’s residence and confirmed that he was transmitting without authorization.

Days later, the FCC issued an NOUO to another New Jersey resident who was transmitting unlicensed broadcasts from a neighborhood near Newark Airport.  Once again, FCC agents were able to determine the source of the signal and found that the property owner was not licensed to broadcast on the frequency in question.

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No, I’m not referring to the fact that physically writing a letter seems to have joined button hooks and slide rules in the dustbin of history.  Instead, another relic of history–the requirement that letters and emails from the public be kept in the public file–disappeared from the FCC’s rulebook today.  Even more consequentially, that change means that it is now possible for a station that has uploaded all of its other public file materials to the FCC’s online database to eliminate its local public file, ending a requirement adopted over fifty years ago.

That news may confuse many, as our regular readers know that the FCC voted to eliminate the requirement at the first meeting of the Pai FCC on January 31, 2017.  At the time, the news was reported in many publications as “FCC eliminates letters from the public from public file.”  As a result, many assumed that the requirement had ceased to exist five months ago.

However, because the change affects what information the government requires of broadcasters (or in this case, no longer requires), it had to first be approved by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995.  News of the OMB approval then needed to be published in the Federal Register, along with the effective date of the rule change (only in government would a statute called the Paperwork Reduction Act actually require more paperwork).

OMB approval has now been received, and the Federal Register duly reported that today, along with the corresponding effective date of the change: June 29, 2017.  So, for stations that have already uploaded all other public file documents to the FCC’s public file database, including political file documents, the requirement to maintain a local “paper” file is no more.

That in turn has at least two ripple effects.  First, as the FCC noted in eliminating the requirement, stations will now be able to secure their facilities at a time when the media finds itself increasingly the target of threats and violence.  No longer will potentially unstable or violent individuals be able to make it past the front door merely because they know the phrase “I’d like to see the public file.”

Second, such stations will no longer need to ensure they have sufficient staff continuously on hand to guarantee a visitor can immediately inspect the local public file at any time during regular business hours, including lunchtime.

So if your station has uploaded all of its other public file documents to the FCC’s database, today, for the first time since 1965, you can hang a sign saying “Out to Lunch” on the front door.  Go have a bite with your station colleagues, and regardless of where you eat, it will no doubt be a particularly tasty and very memorable lunch.

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April 2013

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:

  • Assignment of Paired AM Stations Denied by the FCC
  • Use of Illegal Cell Phone Jammers Leads to Fines in Excess of $125,000

FCC Denies Two Assignment Applications of Paired AM Stations

Early this month, the FCC issued two letters denying several assignment applications seeking to separately assign jointly-operated AM stations to different licensees, contrary to the FCC’s rules.

In the 1990s, the FCC expanded the AM band frequencies and permitted AM licensees to operate both existing AM band stations and expanded band AM stations in order to improve the quality of the AM service. However, this dual operating authority was contingent upon the surrender of one of the two licenses within five years from the grant of the license for the expanded band station.

In September 1999, one of the licensees filed an assignment application to assign two paired AM band stations to a second licensee. The FCC granted this assignment application, but the receiving licensee only consummated the assignment of one of the two AM stations due to “environmental issues.” Several years later, the two licensees filed several new assignment applications requesting FCC approval to separately assign the stations to new licensees, including one application in 2006 and two applications in 2012. In none of these applications did the licensees mention that the stations were part of a jointly-operated pair or that any additional special conditions might apply.

In its letters, the FCC denied all of the pending assignment applications and declined to grant a waiver of the FCC’s rule requiring the surrender of one of the two licenses. In its decisions, the FCC stated that the grant of the applications would be contrary to the public interest and would “(1) constitute a further violation of a Commission-imposed processing policy; (2) bestow a further benefit on a party that knowingly engaged in such violation; (3) be unfair to those licensees that have returned one of the paired licenses; and (4) be inconsistent with the expanded band licensing principle that each licensee surrender one license at the expiration of the dual operating authority period.” In other words, the FCC made clear that the only assignment application it would be willing to accept is one resulting in both AM stations being held by a single licensee.

Use of Cell Phone Jammers to Prevent Cell Phone Use during Working Hours Does Not Pay Off

The FCC has long kept a careful eye on the sale and use of illegal cell phone jamming devices that interfere with cellular communications. This month, the FCC continued to take action against the use of illegal cell phone jammers by issuing two hefty Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) against two companies, one in Alabama and one in Louisiana, both of which used several cell phone jamming devices at their worksites.

As described in the two NALs, each company purchased four cell phone jammers from various Internet sources (and a fifth jammer as a backup) and installed them throughout their worksites to prevent their employees from using cell phones while working. In both instances, agents from the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau responded to anonymous complaints and inspected the worksites.

Using direction finding techniques, the agents discovered strong wideband emissions on the cellular bands and determined that the source of these emissions was from signal jammers.

The Enforcement Bureau agents then inspected the worksites and interviewed the managers of the two companies, both of whom admitted that they had purchased the jammers online and operated them at their worksites–one company for a period of two years and the other for a period of a few months. Both managers showed the agents the locations of the jamming devices and voluntarily surrendered them.

Sections 301, 302(b), and 333 of the Communications Act generally prohibit the importation, use, marketing, and manufacture of cell phone jammers because jammers are designed to impede authorized communications and can disrupt safety communications, such as 911 calls. Moreover, since the primary purpose of a jammer is to interfere with authorized communications, jamming devices cannot be certified and cannot comply with the FCC’s technical standards for operation.

In response to the use of illegal jamming devices, the FCC issued substantial forfeitures to both companies. The relevant base forfeiture amounts are $10,000 for operating without FCC authorization, $5,000 for using unauthorized or illegal equipment, and $7,000 for interference with authorized communications. The base forfeiture for violations of the prohibition on signal jamming is $16,000 per violation or per day, up to a maximum of $112,500 for a single violation. For the company in Alabama that operated four jamming devices for a period of two years, the FCC found that the company committed 12 total violations, representing three violations for each of the four jamming devices in use. Thus, the fine would normally be $16,000 per violation, for a total fine of $192,000. However, since the company immediately surrendered the jamming devices and was cooperative with the Enforcement Bureau agents, the FCC reduced the penalty by 25% to $144,000. The FCC applied the same type of calculation to the company in Louisiana that operated four jamming devices for a period of a few months, resulting in a fine of $126,000 after a 25% reduction in the total fine amount. The FCC also ordered both companies to submit sworn written statements providing contact information for the sellers of the jamming devices and all information regarding the sources from which the jamming devices were purchased.

In addition, the FCC cautioned the companies that while the FCC chose not to impose separate forfeitures for the illegal importation of the jamming devices, the FCC has the power to impose “substantial monetary penalties” on individuals or businesses who illegally import jammers. The FCC further warned the companies and other individuals and businesses that the FCC “may pursue alternative or more aggressive sanctions, should the approach set forth [here] prove ineffective in deterring the unlawful operation of jamming devices.”