This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters:  June 26 to June 30, 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.

  • The FCC released late on Friday a Third Report and Order and Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking resolving many regulatory issues related to the ATSC 3.0 “Next Gen” television conversion.  Among the issues addressed were the following:
    • The FCC generally adopted the proposals it advanced in 2021 in its Next Gen Multicast TV Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking dealing with the responsibility for programming on “lighthouse” signals – multicast streams of programming from a station that has converted to ATSC 3.0 that are aired on a “host” station still broadcasting in the current ATSC 1.0 transmission system so that viewers who do not yet have TV sets capable of receiving the new transmission standard can continue to receive their favorite TV programming (for more background on this issue, see our blog article here). Among other things, the modified rules clarify that the originating station (and not the host station) is responsible for regulatory compliance for the multicast lighthouse stream being aired on the host station, and they give the Commission clear enforcement authority over the originating station in the event of a rule violation on the hosted multicast programming stream.  
    • In addition, the FCC extended through July 17, 2027 the rule that required that the lighthouse signal be “substantially similar” to the primary video stream of the ATSC 3.0 signal.  That rule had been set to expire this year, but the FCC believed that viewers needed more time to be guaranteed that they can watch the same programming they watch today whether or not they have a TV that can receive the new ATSC 3.0 signal.
    • It also retained the current A/322 standard for new ATSC 3.0 transmissions. That standard was also supposed to expire this year, but as no party is ready to adopt a new standard, it was retained with the FCC believing that it “remains essential at this time for protecting both innovators and investors in the 3.0 space, allowing stakeholders to develop and purchase equipment with confidence.”  Developers of ATSC 3.0 want to be able to update the standard without FCC approval in the future (the same flexibility that other tech companies, including mobile phone operators, have) but, until July 17, 2027, the current standard will remain in place.
    • The FCC also asked for additional comments on whether it needs to regulate essential patents requiring that patent holders commit to licensing them on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.  Commenting parties are asked to address a variety of matters to as to whether these essential patents need to be regulated; how the FCC proposal could promote or inhibit advances in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; and whether the FCC has authority to regulate in these areas.
  • The Media Bureau announced a filing window for applications for construction permits for new low power FM stations. The filing window will open at 12:01 am EDT on Wednesday, November 1, 2023, and close at 6:00 pm EST on November 8, 2023. The window is available for LPFM proposals in the entire FM band (channels 201-300). This will be the first LPFM filing window since 2013, and thus the Bureau encourages potential applicants to begin familiarizing themselves with the application process, including updated forms. The Bureau will provide detailed information about filing procedures by public notice in advance of the filing window.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Anna Gomez to fill the current vacancy on the FCC.  The hearing also addressed the renominations of current Commissioners Starks and Carr.  Questions on broadcast matters included whether the FCC had properly handled the now terminated proposed acquisition of TEGNA by Standard General.  The agenda and a recording of the hearing are available on the Committee’s website, here.  The Chair of the Judiciary Committee suggested that the Gomez nomination could be approved in July, though Republican Senators reserved judgment.  We wrote about some of the issues that a full FCC might consider, here
  • The Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held an oversight hearing on FCC matters, asking the current FCC Commissioners questions about a variety of issues.  On broadcast matters, the Chairwoman said that she did not currently have any plans to revisit Media Modernization matters that eliminated a number of broadcast rules during the administration of past FCC Chairman Pai.  The Chairwoman also said that she could not comment on the recently ended Standard General TEGNA acquisition as there were still pending contested issues in that proceeding. Opening statements and other materials related to the June 21 hearing are available on the Subcommittee website here.
  • The FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in which it proposes to require cable operators and direct broadcast satellite providers to specify the “all-in” price for video service in their promotional materials and on subscribers’ bills.  Comments and reply comments will be due 30 days and 60 days, respectively, after publication of the Notice in the Federal Register.  Concurrent with the release President Biden issued a statement praising the action noting that it is “only the latest action taken by my Administration to crack down on junk fees in order to increase transparency and bring down costs for hard working Americans.”   The Federal Trade Commission also is looking at “junk fees” in a separate proceeding.
  • The Media Bureau entered into a Consent Decree with the licensee of an FM station in Hawaii to resolve two unauthorized transfers of control of the station’s license.  The licensee was comprised of four 25% stockholders.  In 2017, the estate of one the stockholders transferred its 25% interest to one of the licensee’s other 25% stockholders, thus giving that stockholder negative control (50%) of licensee, without seeking the FCC’s prior consent as required.  Subsequently, in 2020, the two remaining 25% stockholders executed a stock transfer agreement whereby the first stockholder agreed to transfer all of his stock to the second stockholder and give him negative control, also done without required FCC consent.  The Consent Decree directs the licensee to pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury.
  • The Media Bureau also proposed to fine the licensee of three digital television translator stations in the state of Washington a total of $4,500 ($1,500 per station) for filing the stations’ license renewal application over two months late.  The FCC normally requires a base fine of $3,000 per station in this situation, but the Bureau reduced the fine “because, as digital television translators, the Stations are providing a secondary service” and an “important ‘fill-in’ service to areas that otherwise may be unable to receive over-the-air television signals.”  In separate decisions, the Bureau proposed to issue the same fine to a second licensee of three digital television translator stations (again in the state of Washington) and to a digital television translator licensee in Oregon for filing untimely renewals.
  • The Media Bureau denied an Oregon FM licensee’s request for reconsideration of the dismissal of its license renewal application.  The licensee had Special Temporary Authority (STA) to operate at a transmitter site that expired on December 1, 2018, but apparently continued to operate at the STA site well after the expiration date of the STA. The Bureau held that held that the station’s license had expired pursuant to section 312(g) of the Communications Act because the licensee was not operating with authorized facilities at an authorized location for more than 12 months.  On reconsideration, the Bureau rejected all of the licensee’s arguments for renewing its license, finding that the result was consistent with the FCC’s prior decisions that a station operating for more than a year from an unauthorized site, even one that had once been authorized by an expired STA, still triggered the Section 312(g) cancellation of a license not operating for more than a year.
  • The Media Bureau dismissed a Florida LPFM station’s request that the Bureau reconsider, on grounds of harmful interference, its grant of the license application of an FM translator station.  The Bureau dismissed the LPFM station’s request on procedural grounds, finding that the station had failed to participate during earlier stages of the proceeding as required under the FCC’s rules.  In a related but separate decision, the Bureau proposed to fine the same LPFM station $2,500 for operating with facilities at variance with its license.  The station’s license required operation with a single bay antenna, but the station had been operating with a two-bay antenna for its entire license term.  The Bureau was not persuaded by the station’s explanation that it had mistakenly specified a single bay antenna on its license application.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog