June 2020 Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: License Renewals, EEO Reports, Broadcast Internet Consideration, and Comments on Significant Viewing, DTS, White Spaces, Regulatory Fees, and Video Description

With many people now entering their third month of complying with stay-at-home orders and social distancing and summer being right around the corner, it would be easy for broadcasters to look past their regulatory obligations to focus on the day when they can ramp up operations and profits.  As you can read below, however, June is a busy month with important obligations for many stations.

June brings the start of summer and the start of the license renewal cycle for television stations.  By June 1, full-power TV, Class A TV, TV translator, and LPTV stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia and full-power AM and FM stations and LPFM and FM translators in Michigan and Ohio must file their license renewal applications. Those stations should already be close to completing their renewal applications, looking to file them on or before the June 1 deadline.  See our article here on the FCC’s announcement of the newly-revised procedures for filing TV license renewal applications.  On June 1 and again on June 16, stations filing renewals need to broadcast their post-filing announcements informing their audiences of the filing of the renewal application.

All radio and TV stations in Arizona, DC, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming that have five or more full-time employees in their station employment unit (i.e., commonly owned stations serving the same area that share at least one employee) must upload to their online public file, and post a link to that report on the homepage of their station’s website, an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) report documenting their hiring from June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020.  Additionally, the full-power radio and TV stations, Class A TV, and LPTV stations that are filing for license renewal by June 1 must also file with the FCC a Form 396, the Broadcast EEO Program Report.  As a reminder, the license renewal application cross-references the file number of the EEO report, so the EEO report must be filed first.

The next set of license renewals will be filed by August 3 (as the 1st is on a Saturday).   On or before that date, full-power AM, FM, LPFM, and FM translator stations in Illinois and Wisconsin and full-power TV, Class A, TV translator, and LPTV stations in North Carolina and South Carolina, will file their license renewal applications.  Until recently, stations filing renewals would have had to begin airing pre-filing announcements on two months before their filing deadline – thus stations with an August 3 filing date would have had to start those announcements on June 1.  But that obligation has been abolished.    This requirement was temporarily waived in April and subsequently eliminated in May as part of the FCC’s broadcast local public notice proceeding, which we wrote about here.  Stations must still, as noted above, air post-filing announcements.  Note that the new rules on local public notice will change the timing and content of post-filing announcements.  But, until the new rules become effective, stations should continue following the current post-filing announcement requirements.

The FCC will hold its Open Meeting on June 9 and there is one item in particular that will interest TV stations that have adopted or plan to adopt the ATSC 3.0 (Next Gen TV) standard.  Acknowledging that the surplus spectrum unlocked by 3.0 transmission is often not used to its full potential, the Commission will consider an item that, if adopted, should ease TV stations’ worries about teaming with other stations in their market to offer so-called Broadcast Internet” services This ruling would clarify that stations that partner to lease their spectrum for IP-based data delivery are not subject to the Commission’s attribution and ownership rules (the FCC envisions one scenario where a non-broadcaster leases spectrum from a consortium of broadcasters in one or more markets to create a local, regional, or national data delivery footprint).  Also up for consideration is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment generally on other ways the Commission can change its rules to promote Broadcast Internet services and, more specifically, on how broadcasters might use Broadcast Internet services and the rule changes needed to make those ideas reality.  We took a deeper look at Broadcast Internet and the FCC’s proposals in our article here.

Notwithstanding the virus’s disruption of much of daily life, the FCC is still moving forward with many proposed rule changes and accepting comments in ongoing proceedings—and June has six dates to watch.  First, reply comments in the FCC’s TV White Spaces proceeding are due June 2.  That proceeding looks to potentially increase the coverage of unlicensed “white spaces devices” offering wireless services in unused portions of the television band.  See our article here for a summary of the FCC proposals.

Comments are due by June 12 in the FCC’s Distributed Transmission System (DTS) proceeding.  The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks input on technical changes to the DTS rules that could give TV broadcasters more flexibility as they deploy the ATSC 3.0 standard.  We wrote here about some of the specific questions being asked in the NPRM.  Interested parties can submit comments in MB docket number 20-74.

On or before June 12, comments are due in the FCC’s annual regulatory fee proceeding.  The Commission is seeking comment on its proposed fees for all of its regulated entities including broadcasters.  It also asks for ideas for relief the FCC can extend to licensees that are suffering COVID-19-related financial hardship.  We wrote briefly here about the questions asked in the NPRM.  Reply comments are due on or before June 29.

Reply comments are due by June 15 in the FCC’s Significant Viewing proceeding.  As we wrote about here, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looks at updating the methodology for determining whether a station is “significantly viewed” in a community outside of its local market, and thus may be treated as a local station in that community for certain broadcast carriage purposes.  You can read the comments that were submitted in the first round of commenting and submit replies here.

Finally, on June 22, comments are due in the FCC’s video description proceeding (for those unfamiliar, video description refers to the insertion in TV programming of spoken narration of what is happening on the screen to aid blind or visually impaired persons).  This proceeding seeks comment on expanding the video description rules to require more stations to provide described programming.  Under the current rules, ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC stations in the top 60 TV markets have to deliver 50 hours of video-described programming per quarter during prime time or children’s programming and an additional 37.5 hours of video-described programming per quarter between 6 a.m. and midnight.  The FCC is looking to expand these requirements to television markets 61 through 100 starting January 1, 2021, followed by an additional 10 TV markets each year for the next four years.  See our summary of the FCC’s proposals, here.  Comments can be submitted in MB docket number 11-43.

Stay tuned to the blog throughout the month for highlights of what else is happening in the world of broadcast law and regulation.  And, as always, be sure to talk to your own counsel and advisors about these issues and about any other dates that might be of importance to your operations.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog