August Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters:  Reg Fee Order, EEO filings, HD Power Increase Proposal, and More

August may be a light month for regulatory dates, as everyone enjoys the end of the summer with many, including Congress, taking the last of their summer vacations.  But there are still dates to which broadcasters should be paying attention.  One that most commercial broadcasters should be anticipating is the order that will set the amount of their Annual Regulatory Fees, to be paid sometime in September before the October 1 start of the federal government’s new fiscal year.  Sometime in August (or possibly in the first days of September), the FCC will make a final determination on the amount of the fees, and then announce the deadlines for the payment of the fees.  As we wrote here, the FCC has proposed to decrease fees for broadcasters from the amounts paid in prior years, but there have been some comments filed in opposition to that proposal. An Order concerning regulatory fees is currently on circulation among FCC Commissioners, so watch for the FCC decision making a final determination on those fees.

August has other routine regulatory deadlines.   August 1 is the deadline for Radio and Television Station Employment Units in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin with 5 or more full-time employees to upload to their online public inspection file their Annual EEO Public File Report. A station employment unit is a station or cluster of commonly controlled stations serving the same general geographic area having at least one common employee.  For employment units with 5 or more full-time employees, the annual report covers hiring and employment outreach activities for the prior year.  A link to the uploaded report must also be included on the home page of each station’s website, if the station has a website. 

For those radio employment units in North Carolina and South Carolina, the Annual EEO Public File Report brings a new requirement, as this is the mid-point of those stations’ renewal term.  As we wrote here, this means that the FCC will conduct its EEO Mid-Term Review of those radio employment units with 11 or more full-time employees.  When radio stations in these states upload their Annual EEO Public File Reports, they must also check a new checkbox in the Settings section of the FCC-hosted public inspection file stating whether or not they have 11 or more full-time employees in their employment unit, so the FCC knows which clusters to review as part of the Mid-Term Review. 

At its August 3 regular monthly open meeting, the FCC will consider one issue of importance to radio broadcasters.  The Commission will be considering a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to increase the power of the digital signals transmitted by FM radio stations, and to consider other changes in the rules for these “HD Radio” digital operations, including possibly simplifying the process for FM stations to have asymmetric side band power levels.  See the draft of the Proposed Rulemaking to be considered at the August meeting, here, and our blog article on the proposals by the NAB and Xperi for these changes when they were advanced late last year, here.  

August 7 is the deadline for the FCC to respond to the DC Circuit in connection with the NAB’s petition asking the court to order the FCC to issue a decision in the still-pending 2018 Quadrennial Review of media ownership rules.  The NAB’s reply to the FCC’s filing is due by August 16.  These comments are on the NAB’s petition filed in April asking the Court for a “writ of mandamus” to force the FCC to resolve its 2018 Quadrennial Review.  As we wrote on our Broadcast Law Blog, the FCC started its 2022 Quadrennial Review in December despite not having concluded its 2018 review.  The 2018 Review addresses issues including whether to relax the local radio ownership rules, whether to provide specific guidance as to when one entity can acquire two TV stations in the same market (rather than the ad hoc waiver standard currently in effect), and whether to abolish the rule that prohibits an ownership combination of any two of the Top 4 TV networks. Even if successful, the Court’s mandamus order likely would not require that the FCC reach any particular decision in the 2018 review.  Instead, an order would just require that the Commission reach a conclusion in the proceeding. 

Reply comments are due on August 29 on the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on All-In Pricing for Cable and Satellite Television Service.  The Notice proposes to require cable operators and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) providers to specify the “all-in” price for video service in their promotional materials and on subscribers’ bills.  Cable operators and DBS providers could supplement the aggregate price with an itemized explanation of the elements that compose that single price, but the single aggregate price would have to be made clear.

Generally, it is a quiet month for regulatory matters for broadcasters.  But there will no doubt be plenty of dates of importance through the next few months, including the submission of regulatory fees, TV stations completing their must-carry/retransmission consent elections by October 1, biennial ownership reports to be filed between October 2 and December 1, a possible test of the National EAS alerting system, a low power FM filing window from November 1-8 (with a possible freeze on the filing of FM modifications during the period prior to the window, in order to provide the FCC and applicants with a stable database), and many other routine and non-routine items in the coming months.  And, of course, these are just some of the regulatory dates coming up.  Always check with your own attorneys and advisors to discuss any dates of importance to your own operations. 

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog