This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: July 3, 2021 to July 9, 2021

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.

  • This week all but ends analog television operations in the US. The FCC’s Media Bureau reminded all low power television and television translator stations that their digital transition must take place by Tuesday, July 13, 2021.  By that date, LPTV and translator stations must terminate all analog television operations.  All permittees and licensees with a July 13, 2021 expiration date on their digital construction permits must complete construction of their new facilities by that date or their license or permit will be automatically cancelled unless they have received an extension from the FCC giving them more time to construct these digital facilities.  If your operations are affected by the transition deadline, read the Public Notice for more details.  (Public Notice)
  • Revised fees for broadcast applications will take effect July 15. As we noted in early January when the fees were adopted, they were adjusted to reflect the FCC’s estimation of the amount of legal, engineering, and supervisory resources spent on reviewing an application.  One of the changes was that FM translator minor modifications will now, for the first time, require a fee.  (Public Notice)
  • The FCC proposed a fine of $518,283 to Gray Television for allegedly violating the FCC’s rule that prohibits ownership of two top-four TV stations in a market. Gray was already the licensee of the NBC affiliate in Anchorage when it purchased the CBS affiliation agreement from another station and moved that affiliation to another Gray station, which resulted in the company owning two of the top-four stations in the Anchorage market.  The Commission went through a detailed analysis of its 2016 rulemaking that clarified its rules on combinations of Top 4 stations to justify its conclusion that the transaction in this case was prohibited. The amount of the proposed fine is an indication of the seriousness with which the FCC regards violations of its ownership rules.  (Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture)
  • An auction of LPTV construction permits in 17 markets is on the horizon. A Public Notice released on Friday asked for comments on the rules that will govern the auction to be held among mutually exclusive applicants for these 17 channels.  These applicants had not been able to resolve their conflicts when previously given the chance by the Commission (though the Notice indicates that there will be another potential for settlements before the auction).  The applications that will be involved in this auction were initially filed in 2009.  (Public Notice)(List of channels and mutually exclusive applicants).
  • Wireless microphone company Shure has asked the FCC to reconsider its 2020 decision to expand white space device use in portions of the TV band (channels 2-35). Shure takes issue with an FCC decision on white space devices that Shure contends will limit opportunities for wireless microphones and suggests that the relaxed rules on these white space devices apply only in rural areas with less spectrum congestion.  Comments will be due within 15 days of publication of this week’s Public Notice of the filing of this petition in the Federal Register, but interested parties can read the petition now and start developing their comments.  (Public Notice)
  • The Media Bureau gave notice that the licenses of eleven Texas radio stations that did not timely file a license renewal application will be cancelled on August 1 if they do not file a renewal by that date. In recent months, the FCC fined stations that had, like these stations, filed late renewals only after an FCC reminder that they had missed the license renewal filing deadline in their state.  This notice serves to remind radio stations in California and TV stations in Illinois and Wisconsin that they should be preparing now to file their license renewal applications on or before August 2.  We wrote more about preparing for license renewal, here.  (Public Notice)
  • Prompted by dissenting opinions released this month by two Supreme Court Justices, last week we wrote on our Broadcast Law Blog about a growing debate on changes to the law governing liability for defamation of public figures, and the impact that any change would have on broadcasters in connection with their news and political sales operations. (Blog)

Next week, keep an eye out for an action by the FCC at its regular monthly Open Meeting on July 13 when it is scheduled to consider whether to seek public comment on proposals to change or delete several technical rules governing radio station operations.  The proposed changes are detailed in the FCC’s draft of the proposal, here.  The meeting will be streamed, here.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog