This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters:  October 16 to 20, 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’s Enforcement Bureau released a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing a $25,000 fine on two commonly-owned clusters of broadcast stations for their apparent failure to comply with the FCC’s EEO rules.  The proposed fine was based on two EEO Annual Public File Reports at one cluster being uploaded late (one 5 months late, the other 17 months late) and one Annual Report at the other cluster being uploaded over a year late.  The FCC also found that, in two cases, the stations had not publicized job openings in a manner likely reach the entire community served by the stations, as the rule requiring that broadcasters “widely disseminate” information about job openings requires – relying solely on a recommendation from a departing employee in one case, and on the licensee’s on-air announcements on its own stations in the other.  The Bureau also faulted the broadcaster for not keeping adequate paperwork to document its EEO efforts and for not conducting the kind of required “self-assessment” that would have uncovered the issues.  We wrote more on this decision, and whether it signals more robust EEO enforcement in the future, on our Broadcast Law Blog, here.
  • The FCC’s Media Bureau issued a Public Notice extending the scheduled window for filing applications for new Low Power FM stations from early November until December.  The LPFM Filing window will now open at 12:01 am EST on December 6, and close at 6:00 pm EST on December 13.  The Bureau also extended the freeze on LPFM and FM translator minor modification applications until the close of the filing window on December 13.  For more on the extension and the procedures for filing applications in the window, see our Blog article here
  • The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau issued a Public Notice seeking comment on the proposed deadlines for the submission of reimbursement claims by earth station operators affected by the C-band transition.  The goal is to conclude the reimbursement program by the current target of June 30, 2025.  Comments will be due 15 days after the Public Notice is published in the Federal Register on the following proposed deadlines: 
    • February 5, 2024 – For all reimbursement claims for costs incurred and paid by claimants as of December 31, 2023, including all lump sum election claims by incumbent earth station operations.
    • September 30, 2024 – For all reimbursement claims for costs incurred and paid by claimants after December 31, 2023, which must be submitted on a rolling basis within 30 days of being incurred.
  • The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau issued a Public Notice announcing that it will co-host with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Emergency Communications Division a public roundtable on the security of the nation’s public alert and warning systems, including EAS.  The roundtable is scheduled for 9:30 am EDT on October 30 and will include a discussion among representatives of the government and private industry on issues raised in the FCC’s October 2022 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which proposed, among other things, mandatory cybersecurity programs at all broadcast stations as well as regular reports to the FCC by broadcasters on their programs.  The roundtable will focus on the costs and benefits of these proposals.  We wrote about the FCC’s October 2022 NPRM here.  Registration is free and open to the public.  Interested participants may register here for the event.
  • The FCC issued an Order expanding the FCC’s audio description requirements to commercial broadcast television stations affiliated with one of the top four television broadcast networks (i.e., ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) in Designated Market Areas 101-210.  Currently, the FCC’s audio description requirements apply only to the top 90 DMAs and will be extended to DMAs 91-100 as of January 1, 2024.  As a result of the FCC’s Order, the audio description requirements will now expand to DMAs 101-210 beginning with DMAs 101-110 on January 1, 2025, and ending with DMAs 201-210 on January 1, 2035.  Audio description provides narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements during natural pauses in the program’s dialogue, for the benefit of individuals who are blind or visually impaired.  Covered TV stations must pass through 87.5 hours of audio described programs each calendar quarter.
  • The Media Bureau allotted new television channels reserved for noncommercial operations in the following communities: Tulare, California (channel *3), Colusa, California (channel *2), and Alamogordo, New Mexico (channel *4). It also allotted FM Channel 277C2 at Wharton, Texas.  Applications for new stations on these newly allotted channels can be filed during windows that will be announced in the future.  The Media Bureau also granted the request of an existing TV station in Las Vegas to move to UHF channel 26 instead of its current VHF channel 13, reflecting the perceived superiority of UHF channels for digital operations.

On our Broadcast Law Blog, we published an article warning broadcasters of the trademark issues that can arise from the use of the words “World Series” in any baseball themed advertising or promotions without permission of Major League Baseball. 

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog