June Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: License Renewal and EEO Filings, Comments and Replies, Auction Upfront Payments, Streaming Rates Announcement, and More

As the calendar flips to June, pandemic restrictions across the country continue to loosen, and we inch closer to summer.  Broadcasters could be forgiven for not having regulatory dates and deadlines on the top of their minds.  There are, however, many important dates and deadlines to keep track of during June – we provide details of some of them below.  As always, be sure to stay in touch with your FCC counsel for the dates and deadlines applicable to your operations.

Radio stations in ArizonaIdahoNevadaNew MexicoUtah, and Wyoming and television stations in Michigan and Ohio should be putting the final touches on their license renewal applications, which are due by June 1.  See our article, here, about preparing for license renewal.  These stations must also file with the FCC a Broadcast EEO Program Report (Form 2100, Schedule 396) and, if they are part of a station employment unit (a station or a group of commonly owned stations in the same market that share at least one employee) with 5 or more full-time employees, upload to their public file and post on their station website a link to their Annual EEO Public Inspection File report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities for the twelve months from June 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021.

In addition to the stations noted above filing for license renewal, radio stations in Michigan and Ohio, TV stations in ArizonaIdahoNevadaNew MexicoUtah, and Wyoming, and radio and TV stations in the District of ColumbiaMarylandVirginia, and West Virginia must, if they are part of a station employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees, upload to their public file and post on their station website a link to their Annual EEO Public Inspection File report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities for June 1, 2020 through May 31, 2021.

On or before June 3, interested parties are invited to submit comments regarding the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act.  The FCC’s call for comments is broad in scope and asks if the rules that were put in place more than ten years ago have been effective at preventing loud commercials.  More specifically, the FCC wants to hear from consumers about their experiences with loud commercials and from industry on whether the rules still serve their intended purpose or need to be updated.  Reply comments are due by July 9.  We wrote more about the CALM Act and this comment period, here, including the congressional letter that jump-started this new look at CALM Act rules.

June 3 is also the due date for comments on the FCC’s proposed increase in broadcast regulatory fees, which will be due before October 1.  We wrote here and here about the FCC’s tentative plan that raises the fees to be paid by most broadcasters.  The docket is likely to attract comments from parties, like the National Association of Broadcasters, that will argue that broadcasters are bearing a greater financial burden than they should be based on how the FCC allocates the time spent on regulating each industry it oversees – an allocation that is used to determine the amount of the fees paid by each industry.  Reply comments are due by June 18, so parties watching the docket that want to submit replies need to be prepared to turn them around quickly.

Commenters have through June 7 to submit comments on the FCC’s rules which arose after the passage of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA).  The CVAA was designed to make broadcasts and other communications channels more accessible and has resulted in requirements like audio description of television programming and captioning of TV programming delivered over the internet.  Reply comments are due by July 6.  We wrote more about the CVAA and the request for comments, here.

By June 14, the Copyright Royalty Board should release its decision in the webcasting proceeding that was due to wrap up last year, but which has been delayed due to the pandemic.  At issue are the rates to be paid for 2021-2025 to SoundExchange by webcasters, including broadcasters who simulcast their programming on the internet, for the digital public performance of sound recordings.  Though the rates are being announced six months into 2021, they are likely to be retroactive to January 1, with a true-up period set out for catch-up payments, if necessary.  We took an in-depth look at the ongoing proceeding, here.

Potential bidders in Auction 109 that have submitted short-form application have until June 16 to submit their upfront payment.  An upfront payment is required under the auction rules for a bidder to be eligible to bid during the auction.  Payments must be made by wire transfer and be received by the FCC by 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time on June 16.  An FCC Form 159 (Remittance Advice Form) must accompany each upfront payment.  Potential bidders that fail to submit an upfront payment will be disqualified from the auction, which is scheduled to begin on July 27.  See, here, for the procedures that will govern the auction.  Note that we are now in the “quiet period” of the auction, meaning that applicants are prohibited from cooperating or collaborating with respect to, communicating with or disclosing, to each other in any manner the substance of their own, or each other’s, or any other applicant’s bids or bidding strategies (including post- auction market structure), or discussing or negotiating settlement agreements, until after the auction down payment deadline.

The FCC is seeking public comment through June 21 on a proposal to increase the maximum allowable power of low power FMs from 100 watts to 250 watts.  LPFM advocates have raised this proposal many times and each time the proposal has been rejected by the FCC (we wrote about a prior attempt, here).  The Petition for Rulemaking is available here and the accompanying appendix is available here.

Reply comments are due by June 21 on the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry looking at the feasibility of delivering Emergency Alert System alerts through the internet, including over streaming services.  The Notice asks if streaming services do have the capability to deliver EAS alerts, which services should be required to do so.  We wrote more about the notice, here.

Looking ahead to July, by July 10 all full-power radio stations, and all full-power and Class A TV stations, must upload their Quarterly Issues Programs lists to their online public file.  So they should be looking at the issues that faced their communities in the last 3 months, and the programs that they broadcast to address those issues, and preparing those reports for inclusion in their online public file.  We have written about the importance of these quarterly reports to the FCC as they are the only officially-required records to show how a station served the public interest in its service area.

These are just some of the dates and deadlines to watch for in June.  Stay tuned throughout the month to our blog, the FCC website, industry publications, advisories from your legal counsel, and other information sources for updates and other dates that are important to your station.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog