This Week in Broadcast Regulation:  December 12, 2020 to December 18, 2020

Here are some of the regulatory developments in the last week of significance to broadcasters -and a few dates to watch in the week ahead – with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC issued an order that locks in its authority to assess higher penalties against pirate radio operators and allows those penalties to be levied more quickly as the FCC does not need to first issue notice to the suspected pirate of its violation before imposing a fine. Under this authority granted by the PIRATE Act, operators of stations that do not have an FCC license could face fines of $100,000 per day, up to a total of $2 million.  Landlords who are found to have “willfully and knowingly” allowed pirates to broadcast from their properties can also be subject to penalties.  Two New York landlords this week received notices of illegal pirate radio broadcasting.  Read the letters, here.  We wrote about the PIRATE Act, here.  (Order)
  • The FCC’s new rules for voluntary all-digital AM radio, except new procedures for notifying the Commission of a station’s intent to transition from analog to all-digital operations which still need Paperwork Reduction Act approval, will go into effect on January 4, 2021. We looked at the new rules, here.  (Public Notice)
  • Nathan Simington was sworn in virtually by Chairman Ajit Pai as the newest FCC Commissioner. His term runs through June 30, 2024.  Commissioner Simington joins Ajit Pai and Brendan Carr to form the Republican majority that will hold until Pai leaves the agency on January 20, 2021.  Not much is known about the new Commissioner’s views on broadcast matters, but it is thought that he will favor deregulation.  The broadcast industry will be watching closely to see who he names to his staff and how familiar those people are with broadcast issues.  Simington can be found on Twitter at @SimingtonFCC.  (Commission Simington Bio)
  • Commissioner Pai, in a virtual speech to the Media Institute, reviewed the changes made during his watch in FCC broadcast regulations. He also called for further relaxation of the broadcast ownership rules.  He said these rules no longer make sense, as they restrict the growth of broadcasters, making it harder to compete for audience and advertisers with broadcasters’ new adversaries – the essentially unregulated tech giants.  These digital competitors are some of the biggest companies in the US economy and dwarf the size of the biggest broadcast company. (Pai Speech).  Look for our thoughts on those issues, particularly for the radio industry, on our blog on Monday.
  • In the latest step in the Supreme Court’s review of the FCC’s 2017 media ownership rules, Prometheus Radio Project and its partners submitted their reply brief arguing for the Court to uphold the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ rejection of the 2017 rule changes. The Court will hear oral argument on January 19.  (Prometheus Brief).
  • In connection with the Supreme Court’s review, which could reinstate the FCC’s 2017 abolition of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules (a decision overturned by the Third Circuit’s opinion), the FCC extended Fox’s authority to operate two TV stations in New York City where a commonly controlled company operates a daily newspaper. The continuing authority would stay in effect at least until the Supreme Court releases its decision and, if the Court does not resolve the issue, until the FCC completes its next Quadrennial Review of the ownership rules assessing whether there is a continuing need for the newspaper cross-ownership rule. (Order)
  • New procedural rules for filing carriage complaints against multichannel video programming distributors (MVPD) go into effect on January 19, 2021. The new rules require a carriage complaint to be filed within one year of the event that triggers the complaint, not within one year of a party notifying the MVPD of its intention to file a complaint.  (Federal Register)

Looking ahead to next week, we will learn what items will be on the agenda for the Commission’s January 13, 2021 meeting and should see drafts of those items.  The January meeting will be Chairman Pai’s final Open Meeting and Commissioner Simington’s first.  There are also comments due by December 24 in two proceedings. By that date, interested parties should submit their comments on the FCC’s plan to enhance and standardize on-air sponsorship identification of programming provided to US stations by foreign governments.  Also due on December 24 are comments in the proceeding that seeks to clarify which TV licensee is legally responsible when simulcast programming from one licensee is broadcast on the subchannel of a station owned by 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).  We covered this issue in more detail, here.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog