December Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: License Renewals, EEO Filings, DTV Ancillary/Supplementary Fees, Comment Deadlines and More

December is a busy month for broadcasters with routine filings to complete and action on FCC proceedings that will carry over to the next administration.  Keep on top of these dates and deadlines even as your calendar fills up with holiday celebrations.

We start at the beginning of the month, with December 1 being the deadline for the filing of applications for the renewal of license of radio stations in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, and TV stations in Alabama and Georgia.  These stations should have already reviewed their public file (as we noted here, stations should pay particularly close attention to their political files) and be putting the finishing touches on their renewal application (see our article about license renewal preparation here).

These December 1 stations are the first group to file license renewal applications subject to the FCC’s new rules for post-filing announcements.  The FCC has eliminated the previous announcement schedule that required announcements on the 1st and 16th of each month during specific time periods for three months and now requires six announcements over a four-week period, beginning on the date the FCC announces that the renewal application has been accepted for filing.  The new rule also requires commercial and noncommercial stations that are not operating when their renewals are filed to post a notice on their websites or, if the station does not have a website, on the website of a parent or affiliated company, or if the station does not have such a site, on some publicly accessible site (like a community bulletin board, local newspaper site, or that of a state broadcasters association).  Stations with translators also need to post online notice about the translator’s renewal its primary station’s website.  Check out all the new local public notice rules, here, and read our posts providing more details about these requirements here and here.

Stations filing for license renewal must also submit FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396, also known as the Broadcast Equal Employment Opportunity Program Report, even if they are not part of a station employment unit with five or more full-time employees.  A station employment unit is one or more commonly controlled stations in the same geographic area that share at least one employee.

On or before December 1, full power radio and TV stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Connecticut, Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont with five or more full-time employees in their station employment unit must upload to their online public file an annual Equal Employment Opportunity report detailing the employment unit’s hiring and outreach efforts from December 1, 2019 to November 30, 2020.

By December 1, digital television stations that provided ancillary or supplementary services between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020 must submit FCC Form 2100, Schedule G, and pay in fees 5% of the gross revenue derived from any ancillary or supplementary services provided.  Ancillary and supplemental services do not include non-subscription video channels delivered directly to the public but do include any other services provided over the station’s spectrum from which the station receives compensation, including “computer software distribution, data transmissions, teletext, interactive materials, aural messages, paging services, or audio signals, [and] subscription video.”  Stations that provided no such services are no longer required to file a report.

At the Commission’s December 10 Open Meeting, the Commissioners will vote on new rules for Broadcast Internet (ATSC 3.0) services.  The principal changes addressed in the FCC’s draft order are clarifications of the rules on the annual ancillary and supplementary services fee.  The changes in the draft order include reducing the fees to be paid by noncommercial television stations that offer new noncommercial, non-broadcast services through their ATSC 3.0 operations.  Ancillary services are not allowed to “derogate” the broadcast service and, in the draft order, the Commission would retain its current interpretation of “derogate” as meaning that a station must continue to offer at least one standard definition television programming channel.

By December 10, radio stations that entered into a consent decree with the Media Bureau over violations with their online political file in the first round of consent decrees that were released in August and September must submit their first compliance report.  This report documents compliance with the political file rules from October 4, 2020 through Election Day on November 3, 2020.  These stations must email their compliance spreadsheet to the FCC’s political programming staff.  The spreadsheet does not get uploaded to the station’s public file.  Review your consent decree closely for any other requirements applicable to your operations.  We wrote about the consent decrees, here.

Reply briefs in the FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project case are due to the Supreme Court by December 16.  This case is a review of a lower court’s decision to reject the FCC’s 2017 broadcast ownership changes.  These briefs follow the briefs filed in November (you can read them here) by the FCC (through the Solicitor General), the National Association of Broadcasters, and other broadcast industry parties.  The Court is set to hear oral arguments on January 19, 2021 and then issue a decision later in the year.  See our post on this case, here.

Comments are due by December 24 in two FCC proceedings.  The first proceeding is a proposal to enhance and standardize sponsorship identification requirements for broadcast programming that is paid for, or provided by, foreign governments or their representatives.  The proposed rules set out specific disclosure obligations to inform audiences of a foreign government’s influence over the programming to which they are listening or viewing.  Reply comments are due by January 25, 2021.

The second proceeding is an attempt to resolve an open question raised by the NAB about which licensee is legally responsible for the simulcasted programming from another licensee, including programming that airs on a host station’s subchannel as the ATSC 1.0 “lighthouse” signal of another station that has converted to NextGen TV (ATSC 3.0).  See our blog post, here, for more details.  Reply comments are due by January 25, 2021.

We are also expecting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the FCC on the proposal to allow FM boosters to transmit limited amounts of programming different than that being broadcast on their primary station.  This “zonecasting” proposal would allow for different commercials or news reports to be broadcast in different parts of a station’s service area.  See our articles here and here on the initial FCC request for comments on this proposal.

The FCC may also adopt an order on its proposal to expand the use of television distributed transmission systems, as a draft item was circulated among FCC Commissioners for their review last week.  See our article here on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on this proposal adopted by the FCC earlier this year.

Be sure to check with your station counsel for more details about these dates and whether there are any other important dates this month applicable to your station’s operations.  We wish you a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season – but keep watching for additional regulatory matters that may arise as we count down the remaining days of this year (and as we anticipate the start of a new administration at the FCC in January).

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog