This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: March 26, 2022 to April 1, 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 US House of Representatives, in a bipartisan vote, passed the MORE Act, a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level (HR 3614). For this action to be effective, the Senate would need to also vote on this bill to take the drug off Schedule I, which currently makes its possession and distribution (and the use of radio to promote it), a federal felony. Then the President would have to sign the bill. As federal licensees, because of the federal criminal statute, broadcasters have been advised to avoid marijuana advertising, even as the states in which they operate have relaxed their marijuana laws.  As we wrote on our Broadcast Law Blog in 2020 in connection with the passage of an earlier version of this bill, the House action should not be seen as a signal for broadcasters to start accepting marijuana advertising unless and until the Senate and President also act on this legislation.
  • The FCC’s Video Division notified the permittee of a new Low Power TV station of a violation of the FCC’s rules. The notice said that the permittee, for almost three years after the facilities were constructed (about six months after the permit expired), failed to file the required application for a license to cover its construction permit.  An application for license is filed upon completion of the construction of a new station and informs the FCC of the specific facilities that were built and certifies that these facilities track what was authorized by the construction permit.  Without filing a license application, the station was operating for this period without authority.  The permittee faces a $6,500 fine for these violations. (Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture)
  • Owners of a tower in Virginia were cited by the FCC Enforcement Bureau for tower lighting failures. Acting on a complaint, enforcement agents visited the site and found that the tower, which exceeds 200 feet (the height at which towers generally must be lit), did not have its required lights operating after sunset and that the FAA had not been notified of the lighting outage.  The tower owners also had not kept the FCC appraised of its current ownership through updating the tower’s FCC Antenna Structure Registration.  The Notice made clear that, even though the tower is no longer used for licensed radio operations, the owners are still required to maintain the tower until it is dismantled.  (Notice of Citation)
  • The FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) and financial systems were scheduled to undergo maintenance this weekend that will make both unavailable. ECFS was to be unavailable from 12 am Saturday, April 2 through no later than 7 am Monday, April 4.  As this outage occurred outside normal business hours, filing deadlines will not be routinely extended.  The FCC’s financial systems, including the system used to process application payments, are expected to be unavailable through 5 am on Tuesday, April 4.  (ECFS Public Notice)
  • A radio company’s request to amend the FM Table of Allotments by allotting Channel 284A to Bruce, Mississippi was rejected, showing some of the FCC’s considerations in making FM channel changes. The request was denied as the proposed allotment would not allow the construction of a station that could cover the proposed city of license with the required city-grade signal.  In addition, the company seeking the allotment was planning to use it as a “back-fill,” that would allow it to move another FM channel to which it had rights from Bruce to another community.  The FCC said that its “Rural Radio” policy prohibits the use of a new vacant allotment to justify the removal of a community’s only radio service.  As vacant allotments often go unsold in auctions, the FCC said that they cannot realistically be considered as an alternative service to the community.  (Letter)
  • The House Communications Subcommittee held an oversight hearing with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioners Brendan Carr, Geoffrey Starks, and Nathan Simington. Testimony by the Chairwoman and Commissioners and questions from the committee members were light on broadcast issues.  In response to a question about removing market obstacles for diverse and small independent programmers, Chairwoman Rosenworcel indicated that more independent voices are needed on screen and that a new proceeding may be necessary to review current viewing habits.  Commissioner Starks, in support of modifying FM booster rules, said that geotargeting technology has great potential in improving the local radio experience, and better positions small broadcasters and broadcasters of color to compete for advertising dollars and for listeners.  (Hearing Video and Testimony)

In case you missed it, we published our monthly look at the upcoming regulatory dates and deadlines for broadcasters.  Read our blog post for more information on upcoming important dates in April, including the deadline for the required uploading of Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists to the online public inspection file of all full-power radio and TV stations (including Class A TV stations).  (Broadcast Law Blog)

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog