This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: February 27 to March 3, 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.

  • FCC Commissioner Simington issued a statement supporting a recent letter from former FEMA leaders to the Department of Transportation highlighting AM radio’s importance for public safety.  The letter was to address the concern about AM radios being left out of electric cars.  He said that the issue “deserves urgent attention”; that “as adoption of electric vehicles increases, we must not leave behind those in rural areas who depend upon radio for their news and alerts”; and that the FCC must “be good stewards of the AM radio band” by “safeguarding reception of AM radio from arrogation by incidental and unintentional radiation.”
  • The FCC’s Media Bureau proposed to assess a fine of $3,000 against the licensee of a full power television station that, without explanation, filed its license renewal application five weeks late ($3,000 is the base fine in the FCC’s rules for an untimely renewal application).  At the same time, the Bureau proposed to assess a fines of $1,500 against each of two low power television stations, in one case for filing the license renewal applications nearly four months late (two days before the license expiration date), and over six weeks late in the other case. In both cases, the Bureau reduced the proposed fine to $1,500 from the $3000 base fine because the stations were LPTV stations and thus only provided a secondary service.
    • The Bureau also entered into a Consent Decree with an AM station to resolve the station’s admitted failure to timely file its renewal application (the licensee filed five months late) and timely upload any issues and program lists to its online public inspection file.  The Bureau did not impose a fine, citing difficult economic circumstances within the radio industry generally and the illness and death of the station’s sole owner.  Instead, the Bureau mandated that the licensee implement a compliance plan to ensure the station’s compliance with the FCC’s rules pertaining to filing deadlines and the online public inspection file.
  • The Bureau proposed to fine an LPTV station $3,500 for its failure to file an application for a “license to cover” its construction permit until over a year after its displacement construction permit had expired and almost nine months after commencing operations.  As we’ve noted before, upon completion of the construction of new technical facilities authorized by a construction permit, a station must file a license application specifying details of the facilities that were built and certifying that those facilities align with those authorized by the construction permit.  The station also had engaged in unauthorized operation on two separate occasions for a cumulative period of approximately 14 months for operations after the construction permit expired and before the license application was filed.  The Bureau rejected the licensee’s claim that its violations were due to “administrative oversight.”  The base forfeiture in the FCC’s rules for the licensee’s violations was $10,000, but the Bureau reduced the proposed fine to $3,500, citing the fact that, as an LPTV facility, the station only provided a secondary service.
  • The Bureau continues to substitute UHF channels for VHF channels in local markets to improve reception of over-the-air television channels, recognizing the preference for UHF channels for digital operations, the most recent examples being its proposed substitution of channel 17 for channel 9 at Kalispell, Montana; its substitution of channel 31 for channel 7 at Odessa, Texas; its substitution of channel 24 for channel 9 at Lufkin, Texas; and its proposed substitution of channel 20 for channel 10 at Elko, Nevada.
    • In another allocations decision, the Bureau issued a Report and Order amending the FM Table of Allotments (section 73.202(b) of the FCC’s rules) by allotting a new FM channel, Channel 233C, at Ralston, Wyoming as its first local service.  Ralston is listed in the 2020 U.S. Census as a census-designated place having a population of 240 persons, although the Bureau also noted that Ralston has its own post office, zip code, and a variety of local and area businesses and event venues.  This channel will be available for application in a future window for filing applications to be considered in an auction for new FM stations. 
  • Via its “points system” for selecting among mutually exclusive applicants for NCE FM stations filed in the 2021 window for new NCE stations, the Bureau awarded a construction permit to an applicant for a new station at Willows, California.  The Bureau did so notwithstanding a petition to deny filed by one of the other mutually exclusive applicants, which alleged that the winning applicant’s application should have been denied for reasons including diversity of ownership; whether the winning applicant was an “established local applicant”; public inspection file and local public notice requirements; and violation of the FCC’s technical rules. The Bureau conducted a factual analysis of the claims of the petitioner as to the localism of the application and found them to not be sufficiently supported by the facts, and it found the technical and application preparation issues to be insubstantial, not justifying the denial of the application.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog