This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters:  June 12, 2021 to June 18, 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.

  • The FCC this week adopted revisions to certain EAS rules. Among other actions, the new rules (1) will change the name of Presidential alerts to “National Alerts” which can be originated not only by the President but also by the FEMA Director (and noted that these alerts need not be directed to the whole country but can also be sent regionally), (2) set out new requirements for State Emergency Communications Committees to require regular meetings and the filing and review by the FCC of state EAS plans (which will now be kept confidential for security reasons), and (3) allow reporting to the FCC of false EAS alerts not only by broadcasters themselves, but also by local, state and national officials (and encourages the reporting not just of alerts broadcast when there was no emergency, but also of emergency alerts broadcast in a location where they would not be relevant, e.g. an alert about a New York snowstorm broadcast on an Arizona station).  We wrote about some of these changes before they were adopted, here.
    • The FCC also opened a proceeding which seeks comment on several EAS changes suggested by FEMA, including whether to delete, redefine, or replace certain EAS codes that are no longer relevant or may cause confusion, and whether to update EAS to support “persistent” alerts that continue to be transmitted through EAS as long as an emergency that could lead to loss of life lasts. (News Release) (Order).  Separately, the FCC continues to consider whether to expand the requirement for EAS alerts to streaming services.
    • The 2021 version of the FCC’s Emergency Alert System Operating Handbook is now available, replacing the 2017 version.  FCC rules require that a copy of the Handbook be maintained by stations and be immediately available to staff responsible for authenticating messages and initiating actions. Download the Handbook, here. As part of the preparations for the upcoming August nationwide EAS test, the FCC has reminded stations of their obligation to download this new version of the Handbook.  See our article here for more on the upcoming test.
  • The FCC denied two petitions asking it to reconsider its 2020 order adopting changes to certain technical rules for low-power FM stations. The Order rejected a request to increase maximum LPFM power to 250 watts as well as requests to do away with the requirements for directional antenna proofs and that LPFM transmitters be type-accepted. (Order). The proposal for the 250-watt power increase has already been revived in a more recent proposal currently under review by the FCC.  See our article here.  Comments on that new proposal are due on June 21.
  • The FCC published its final rules on sponsorship identification requirements for foreign government-provided programming.  The new rules adopt specific disclosure requirements for broadcast programming that is sponsored, paid for, or provided by a foreign government or its representative pursuant to program “leasing agreements.” While this publication means that the rule changes will be effective next month, the changes will not be enforced until approved by the Office of Management and Budget after a Paperwork Reduction Act review, at which time a date for required compliance will be announced by the FCC.  (Federal Register).  These rules will have an impact on any broadcast station that sells any blocks of program time to third parties, as stations will be required to check the Foreign Agents Registration Act database maintained by the Department of Justice to be sure that every broker is not a representative of a foreign government – even if you know the broker, the database must be consulted.
  • There is a new program to address the Homework Gap through which schools and libraries can receive federal funds to buy equipment that allows students, teachers, and library users to receive broadband transmissions of educational content. Funding for equipment to receive educational content transmitted by public television station through datacasting may be available where there are no other broadband Internet options for delivery of that content.  The window for requesting funds opens for applications on June 29 for a 45-day period.  Though public TV stations apparently cannot themselves apply for funding, they may be able to partner with schools and libraries eligible for funding.  (News Release)  A June 25 webinar will explain the program.  Check with your counsel to determine if there may be opportunities for your station.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog