This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: April 17 to April 21, 2023

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • At the NAB show last week, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced a new public-private initiative led by NAB to guide the next steps in the development of NextGen TV.  Per the FCC’s associated press release, “The Future of TV” initiative “will work to identify a roadmap to orderly transition ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0-based services as smoothly as possible for consumers. . . Working groups are expected to focus on addressing backwards compatibility and its impact on consumers; the final conditions needed to complete the national transition to ATSC 3.0; and consideration of the post-transition regulatory landscape.”  Further details about the initiative will be provided in future FCC announcements.
    • In remarks delivered to the NAB Convention, Commissioner Simington suggested that current broadcast regulation was a result of an outmoded picture of the competitive landscape and that, rather than viewing broadcasters as adversaries, regulators should work with broadcast companies to help them overcome some of the current regulatory headwinds to allow them to take advantage of the new technical opportunities.
  • In the continuing battle by Standard General to acquire TEGNA’s television stations (find previous updates on this proceeding on our Broadcast Law Blog noted here), the US Court of Appeals denied the parties request for “mandamus,” a request which had asked for a Court Order telling the FCC to terminate the hearing ordered by its Media Bureau and immediately act on the pending application for approval of the sale.  Thus, the hearing will continue despite Standard General’s claim that, if the deal is not closed in May, its financing commitment will run out. 
  • The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued an advisory reminding regulated entities (including broadcasters) of the need to seek and receive Commission approval prior to assignments or transfers of control through mergers, sales or otherwise and prior to other changes in ownership that result in reportable new foreign interest holders or reportable increases in existing foreign ownership interests.  The advisory cautions that failure to comply with these requirements may result in monetary fines, divestiture of ownership, continuing reporting obligations, and/or revocation of the underlying license(s).  As we’ve noted in past articles on our Blog (see, for instance, our articles here and here), when foreign ownership of broadcast stations has been approved by the FCC, changes in that foreign ownership may need FCC approval even when they do not constitute a change in control. 
  • On April 18, 2023, the FCC announced in the Federal Register that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved changes to FCC forms which allow LPTV, TV translator, and Class A stations to operate with a Distributed Transmission System (DTS).  On January 19, 2021, the FCC released an Order creating new DTS rules that permitted DTS signals to spill over beyond a broadcast station’s authorized service area.  The rule changes afforded broadcasters more flexibility in the placement of their DTS transmitters to enhance their signal capabilities (for more details about the new DTS rules, see our Blog article here.)  The rules became effective May 24, 2021, except for LPTV, Class A, and television translator stations where changes to FCC Forms were necessary, and those changes had to be approved by OMB.  With this week’s notice, effective May 18, 2023, LPTV, television translators, and Class A stations may propose DTS operations by filing the appropriate new Schedule of FCC Form 2100. 
  • The FCC adopted a Report and Order in which it updated its Part 74 rules for LPTV and TV translator stations, to reflect the termination of analog operations of LPTV/translator stations as of July 13, 2021.  The rule changes do not materially affect the basic regulatory obligations of LPTV or TV translators now operating with digital facilities. The Report and Order does make changes including updating geographic coordinates in the rules for purposes of protecting land mobile stations; requiring LPTV stations to comply with station identification requirements with some modifications, including an amendment for LPTV/translator alphanumeric call signs to account for exhaustion of all two letter call sign combinations for some channel numbers; retaining the rule related to the LPTV Pilot Project Digital Data Services Act; and requiring a minor modification application for all station relocations not just those over 500 feet. Some rules will become effective 30 days after publication of the Order in the Federal Register, while others requiring new forms or new paperwork will become effective after OMB approval when the FCC publishes notice of that approval in the Federal Register.  
  • The Media Bureau dismissed one of two mutually exclusive applications for a construction permit for a new NCE FM station at Darien, Georgia.  The applications were filed during the November 2021 NCE FM filing window.  In a petition to deny, the surviving applicant contended, with unrefuted documentary evidence, that its competitor was ineligible to hold an NCE FM license because it is neither incorporated in the state of Georgia nor recognized as an unincorporated association under Georgia law.  The Bureau agreed and dismissed the competing applicant’s application.
  • The Media Bureau, in response to a third-party objection, dismissed an application to assign an FM translator license, rescinded the grant of that station’s authorization, and deleted the station’s call sign.  The assignor of the FM translator had initially obtained its authorization by filing, in 2017, a contingent construction permit application for a new FM translator to be used with an AM station that it had just filed to acquire.  The Bureau granted the translator permit application conditioned on common ownership of the FM translator and AM stations.  The Bureau found that notice of the consummation of the assignment of the AM license to the translator applicant had not been filed by the FCC-specified deadline and that the parties had not requested an extension of that deadline.  The Bureau thus found that the applicant had not complied with the terms of its conditional authorization, rescinded its grant of the translator’s authorization, and terminated the translator’s operating authority.
  • As it has over the past several weeks with respect to various television translator licensees that filed their renewal applications late, the Media Bureau proposed to fine a Nevada television translator licensee a total of $7,500 ($1,500 per license) for late-filed renewals.  The Bureau noted that its rules specify a base fine of $3,000 for such violations, but in this case (as in the other recent cases) decided to reduce the fine to $1,500 because translators only provide secondary service and provide important “fill-in” service to areas that otherwise may be unable to receive over-the-air television service. 
  • The Media Bureau entered into a consent decree with CSN International (CSN) to terminate the Bureau’s investigation into CSN’s compliance with Section 1.17 of the Commission’s rules in connection with its acquisition of certain radio station licenses.  Section 1.17 prohibits any person from providing, in any written statement of fact to the FCC, material factual information that is incorrect.  On each of the assignment applications, CSN listed only the members of its governing board’s executive committee and did not disclose the remainder of its governing board.  As it had not reported all the Board members who each has an attributable interest in the licensee, its certifications that all statements made in the applications were complete was false.  As a result, the consent decree requires CSN to pay a fine of $10,000.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog