This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: January 1, 2022 to January 7, 2022

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

  • The FCC this week announced that it will vote on two items of interest to broadcasters at its next Open Meeting on January 27.
    • The FCC will likely make two minor changes to its political broadcasting rules.
      • The first will add use of social media and creation of a campaign website to the factors to consider when determining if a write-in candidate has made a “substantial showing” of a bona fide campaign for office so that the candidate can be considered a “legally qualified candidate.” Legally qualified candidates are entitled to all the protections of the FCC’s political rules, including equal opportunities, lowest unit rates and, for federal candidates, reasonable access to buy advertising time on commercial broadcast stations.  In the current rules, the factors that a broadcaster is to consider in assessing if a substantial showing has been made are matters including whether the candidate is actively campaigning by making speeches and hosting rallies, if they are passing out literature and putting up yard signs, and whether they have a campaign headquarters.  Digital media activity will now be considered – though the FCC is poised to say that websites and social media will never, alone, be sufficient to show that a write-in candidate is legally qualified.
      • The same order will also update the FCC’s rules on the political file to require that stations upload to their online political file information about any request to buy federal issue advertising. Stations already are required to upload this information, as it’s mandated by the Communications Act, but the FCC rules were never updated to reflect this 20-year-old statutory requirement.  The FCC will not be making any substantive changes to the requirements, but instead will only be updating its rules to spell out what is already required by the Act.
      • The FCC’s Draft Report and Order spells out the proposed changes to be considered at the January 27 meeting. We wrote about both proposed changes when they were first announced, here.
    • The FCC plans changes to how white space devices that operate in unused portions of the TV band would receive operational information from white space databases about the use of wireless microphones in the areas where the devices operate.  The new rules would require that the devices check the databases at least once per hour, replacing a current rule that has not been enforced which requires the databases to push information about wireless microphone use whenever there is new microphone use in the area.  The FCC believes this will better protect wireless microphones (used for newsgathering and other unplanned purposes) as push notifications might not be received by all the white spaces devices (and verifying receipt of such notices might not be technically feasible).  (Draft Second Order on Reconsideration)
  • Performing rights organization Global Music Rights and the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) announced a confidential settlement this week in their long-running dispute over the royalties that GMR can charge commercial radio stations. (Letter to Radio Broadcasters). The terms of the settlement have not been disclosed, but commercial stations represented by RMLC should have received a proposed license agreement to review. The settlement depends on enough stations agreeing to the terms of the license agreement by January 31, so don’t delay checking with your station’s counsel and advisors to see if signing the agreement makes sense for your operation.  We wrote at length about the settlement, here.
  • The FCC reported that there were about 100 fewer broadcast stations licensed at year-end 2021 than there were at the end of 2020. Decreases were seen mostly in the number of AM, commercial FM and low power FM stations.  (Station Totals as of December 31, 2021)

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog