This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: March 12, 2022 to March 18, 2022

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, and a look ahead at an important deadline next week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • New FCC sponsorship identification rules that impose obligations on almost all broadcast licensees took effect on March 15. The new rules require that programming that has been sponsored, paid for, or furnished by a “foreign governmental entity” include a clear, standardized disclosure. The rules also set “reasonable diligence” steps a broadcaster must take to determine whether a foreign government entity is the source of programming aired pursuant to a “lease agreement.” This includes asking program suppliers if they are representatives of foreign governments and confirming their answers by checking specified government websites.  The new rules are now effective for all new or updated leases of program time.  Stations have six months to review existing contracts for the sale of program time to determine if there is foreign-government involvement and to come into compliance with the disclosure requirements.  Short-form advertising, like 30- and 60-second spots, is exempt from the rules.  Stations with questions on the new rules should read our post at the Broadcast Law Blog and reach out to their FCC attorney.  (News Release) (Public Notice) (Report and Order)
  • The FCC rejected an appeal of $512,228 fines it imposed on 18 different TV stations for violations of the FCC’s rules requiring “good faith negotiation” of retransmission consent agreements. The fines were originally handed down in September 2020 after the Media Bureau found that the stations, through a shared consultant, had not operated in good faith in negotiating retransmission consent agreements with a satellite TV provider. The penalties were based, among other things, on the stations’ failures to meet and negotiate the terms of these agreements and to respond to proposals of the other party, including providing the reasons for the rejection of any such proposal.  The decision implied that the negotiations for these stations were put on hold until some other agreement was reached, when the FCC requires each station to negotiate in good faith.  This week’s order found that the parties had fair notice of how the FCC would enforce the good faith negotiation standards and how much of a financial penalty could be imposed. We wrote more about the earlier stages of this proceeding, here.  (Order and Order on Reconsideration).
  • Several changes to the FCC’s radio technical rules that clean up inconsistent, outdated, or inaccurate rules will take effect on April 18. The changes eliminate the rule on the maximum rated power of AM transmitters, clarify city-coverage requirements for NCE FM stations, lessen second-adjacent channel interference protections for Class D NCE FM stations, and update some FM spacing requirements in border areas to conform to Mexican and Canadian treaty obligations.  See more on these changes in this article on our Broadcast Law Blog.  (Federal Register)
  • The Media Bureau fined the licensee of a Chicago FM translator $8,000 for failing to request special temporary authority when it discontinued operations, failing to notify the FCC of changes to the primary station the translator was rebroadcasting, and for failing to update its pending license renewal application with accurate information. The failures were raised in an objection filed against the renewal application. (Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture)
  • The FCC announced that it would be holding a forum on March 28 to discuss the accessibility of online programming, this time to discuss whether audio description requirements, like those that apply to television stations and MVPDs, could or should be extended to online video programming. Audio description requires that television stations provide audio descriptions of the principal visual elements of a television program during natural breaks in dialog in the program.  Details for online viewing of the forum are in the FCC’s Public Notice (Public Notice).  More on the latest expansion of those audio description rules for television stations and MVPDs is available in articles on the Broadcast Law Blog, here and here.  We looked at the FCC’s authority over online video in a blog post here when the FCC hosted another forum last year on other accessibility issues for that programming.
  • A Media Bureau Order announced that certain cable systems have been requested to provide information on the prices paid by consumers for cable television services, and the costs the systems incurred in providing those services, including the amount of retransmission consent fees paid to broadcast stations for the rebroadcast of their signals. This information is required so that the FCC can provide its annual report to Congress on the state of the communications marketplace.  (Order)

As a reminder for the coming week, full power and Class A TV stations that were assigned repacking completion dates in phases 6-10 following the incentive auction must submit all remaining invoices for reimbursement by March 22.  See a reminder about this deadline, here.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog