This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: August 8, 2020 to August 14, 2020

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

  • The FCC released two Public Notices tied to extreme weather events.
    • In one Notice, the FCC reminded video programming distributors—including broadcasters—of their obligations to make televised emergency information accessible to persons with disabilities. Commission rules define “emergency information” as “[i]nformation, about a current emergency, that is intended to further the protection of life, health, safety, and property, i.e., critical details regarding the emergency and how to respond to the emergency.”  The Public Notice cites deadly tornadoes in Tennessee, earthquakes in Puerto Rico, and the COVID-19 pandemic as events that would be covered by this rule.  The Notice details the accommodations that must be made to reach individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or visually impaired.  This includes the need to provide actionable emergency information available visually when it is provided aurally in a TV broadcast (e.g. through open captions or other visual means) and, when a television station provides emergency information in a visual crawl during entertainment programming, it must also provide that information aurally on a subchannel.  We took an in-depth look at some of those accommodations, here.  (Public Notice)
    • In another Notice, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau announced activation of the Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) in response to Iowa’s recent derecho and encouraged communications providers like broadcast stations, cable, and wireless companies that serve at least one of the 24 designated Iowa counties to update the Commission on their operational status. As of Friday morning, nine broadcast stations (8 FM, 1 AM) reported being out of service.  The Bureau often activates DIRS in advance of or in the aftermath of extreme weather events and, as we are in hurricane season and DIRS is likely to be activated again this year, broadcasters should become familiar with the system and be prepared to report their operational status if extreme weather hits their area.  (Public Notice)
  • The Media Bureau sided with a Colorado TV broadcaster in a dispute with a satellite TV carrier over delivery of the station’s signal. The Bureau concluded that the change in the method for the delivery of the station’s signal to the satellite provider’s uplink facility from a closed circuit fiber line to over-the-air delivery via a subchannel on the licensee’s low power TV is permitted.  The FCC concluded that a must-carry broadcaster can deliver its signal to the uplink facility in any way it chooses so long as the cost of the delivery is borne by the broadcaster.  (Memorandum Opinion and Order).
  • Tied to the announcement that the Local Radio Freedom Act in now being cosponsored by a majority of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives, we published to the Broadcast Law Blog a look at what is ahead in the music licensing debate over the possibility of imposing a sound recording performance royalty on over-the-air broadcasting. (Broadcast Law Blog)

Next week or the week after, we will be looking for the FCC to release its Order setting the Annual Regulatory Fees that broadcasters will have to pay to the FCC before October 1.  The NAB and other broadcast organizations have been arguing that fees to broadcasters should not be increasing, as the FCC initially proposed several months ago.  As we wrote in our summary of broadcast issues last week, FCC Chairman Pai indicated that there will be some opportunity for broadcasters whose economics have been significantly disrupted by the pandemic to defer payments – paying those fees over time.  Each week, the FCC updates its list of orders that have been written and are circulating among the Commissioners for a vote – and this week that update lists the Regulatory Fee Order as one now circulating at the Commission leading to our expectation that we will see it soon.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog