May Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – EEO Audit Responses, Comment Deadlines on Emergency Broadcasting Matters, Effective Date for Zonecasting with FM Boosters, LUC Windows, and More

While May is one of those months that does not have any routine, scheduled FCC filing deadlines, there are still a number of regulatory dates and deadlines for broadcasters that are worthy of note.  As detailed below, this includes comment deadlines in several FCC rulemaking proceedings, a response deadline for broadcasters caught in the first random EEO audit of 2024, and the effective date of the FCC’s order allowing FM boosters to originate limited amounts of programming (when interested parties can file for experimental authority to begin such programming).  As always, remember to keep in touch with your legal and regulatory advisors to make sure that you don’t overlook any other regulatory deadlines we may have missed here or ones that are specific to your station.

May 6 is the deadline for radio and television stations listed in the EEO audit notice released by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau last month to upload their audit responses to their online public inspection files.  The FCC randomly audits approximately 5% of all broadcast stations each year regarding their EEO compliance.  Audited stations and their station employment units – which are commonly owned stations serving the same area – must provide to the FCC their last two years of EEO Annual Public File Reports and documentation demonstrating that the stations did everything that is required under the FCC’s EEO rules.  See our article here for more detail on EEO audits and how seriously the FCC takes broadcasters’ EEO obligations.

May 6 is also the deadline for reply comments on the FCC’s February Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, in which it proposes to adopt a system to facilitate multilingual alerts for the Emergency Alert Service (EAS).  The FCC proposes that public safety and other groups that originate alerts would be provided pre-scripted, pre-translated alert messages covering various emergencies.  These pre-scripted alerts would be provided in thirteen non-English languages that alert originators can distribute during emergencies to TV and radio broadcasters, cable service providers, and other EAS participants.  Among other questions, the FCC is seeking comment on whether a station receiving these pre-scripted alerts in multiple languages would have to broadcast the alert only in the language of its programming, or whether it would have additional obligations to broadcast alerts in other languages common in its service area. 

May 13 is the deadline for filing reply comments in another proceeding dealing with emergencies – the FCC’s January Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in which it proposes to require TV and radio stations to file reports with the FCC regarding station operational outages in the FCC’s Network Outage Reporting System (NORS) database and on their operating status during disasters in the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) database.  While DIRS reporting is currently voluntary for broadcasters, NORS reporting is not currently required or available to broadcasters.  Reply comments are due June 12.

May 20 is the deadline for filing comments in a third proceeding dealing with emergency broadcast matters.  That is the deadline for comments on the FCC’s March Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in which it proposes the creation of a new EAS event code for missing and endangered persons.  In the Notice, the FCC is seeking comment on whether to apply the new EAS alert code to individuals over the age of 17, missing adults with special needs or circumstances, and missing adults who are endangered or who have been abducted or kidnapped.  Reply comments are due June 17. 

On matters not dealing with emergency communications, LPFM applicants have until  the end of a settlement window on May 14 to resolve mutually exclusive (MX) new LPFM construction permit applications filed during the December 2023 filing window, a list of which can be found here.  Last month, the Bureau identified these MX application groups (conflicting applications which cannot all be granted consistent with the FCC’s technical rules) and announced the settlement window in which applicants can file settlement agreements, time-share agreements, or technical amendments to resolve their conflicts.  Further information on the settlement window’s requirements can be found here and here

May 16 is the effective date of the FCC’s April Report and Order authorizing experimental program origination on FM booster stations – allowing the initiation of “zonecasting” or “geocasting” service.  This means that, beginning on May 16, a licensed FM station may seek experimental authority to originate programming on up to 25 FM booster stations for up to one year – subject to extension if the FCC has not adopted final service rules for these boosters by the end of the experimental period.  Petitions for reconsideration of the Report and Order are also due May 16.  Comments are due on that same date to address the FCC’s proposals for processing, licensing, and service rules to permit the use of FM booster program origination on a permanent basis.  Reply comments on the proposal for final service rules are due June 17.  See our article here for our discussion of that decision.

Looking ahead to June, June 3 (as June 1 is a weekend day) is the deadline for radio and television station employment units with five or more full-time employees licensed to communities in Arizona, District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming to upload their Annual EEO Public File Reports to station online public inspection files.  The FCC’s Mid-Term EEO Reviews also commence on April 1 for all radio station employment units in Michigan and Ohio with eleven or more full-time employees. Radio clusters in those states, as part of the uploading of their annual public file reports, will need to note if they have between 5 and 11 full-time employees in their employment unit, as those units EEO performance is not reviewed at the mid-point of their renewal. 

The political season continues in May, and broadcasters serving Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, and Virginia should be aware of the opening of the following political windows for primaries and elections scheduled to occur in June – meaning that Lowest Unit Rates apply to sales to candidates and their authorized committees (see our article here on the basics of computing LUR): 

LUR Date Election Date State/Territory Election Type
May 4, 2024 June 18, 2024 Oklahoma Federal (House) and State Primary
Virginia Federal (House/ Senate) and State Primary
May 7, 2024 July 6, 2024 Delaware Municipal Election (Slaughter Beach)
May 11, 2024 June 25, 2024 Colorado Federal (House), State, County, and Municipal Primary
New York Federal (House/ Senate) and State Primary
Utah Federal (House/ Senate) and State Primary
May 22, 2024* June 18, 2024 Georgia Federal (House), State, County, and Municipal Primary Runoff

* Runoff election with an abbreviated LUR period due to date of preceding election.

As a refresher, in the 45 days before a primary election, and 60 days before a general or special election, broadcasters must extend to legally qualified candidates their lowest unit rate and continue to follow all other applicable political broadcasting rules.  So, the lowest unit rate period will be in effect at some point next month for stations serving states that have primaries or elections in June.  For a deeper dive on how to prepare for the 2024 elections, see our post, here, which also includes a link to our comprehensive Political Broadcasting Guide.  Also take a look at our 2024 Broadcasters’ Calendar to see if your state has an upcoming primary, general, or special election (though confirm these dates locally as some dates have changed since the calendar was prepared). 

As always, check with your attorneys and advisors to see if there are other dates not mentioned here that are of importance to your station.  Always stay on top of all regulatory requirements.