This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters:  October 24, 2020 to October 30, 2020

It has been a busy week for regulatory actions affecting broadcasters.  Here are some of the significant developments of 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 held a virtual Open Meeting on Tuesday, voting to approve an order authorizing voluntary all-digital AM transmission, an order expanding requirements for audio description of video programming to 40 more television markets over the next four years, and an order allowing the expanded use of higher-powered TV white spaces devices. The Commissioners also approved a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to examine whether to modify its rules to permit the use of terrain-based models to determine available TV channels for the operation of white space devices.  We took a closer look at these three items when the drafts were released. (All-Digital AM order) (Audio Description order) (White Spaces order and Further Notice)
  • Rule changes designed to standardize the text and scheduling of local public notices about the filing of certain broadcast applications (including license renewals and applications to sell a station) became effective October 30. In our article here, we highlighted many of the rule changes, including the new requirement that commercial stations include a permanent “FCC Applications” link on their station’s website homepage whether or not they have any applications pending at the FCC.  Stations will want to review the Report and Order for all of the rule changes and the FCC’s Public Notice released on Friday outlining the new obligations and the transition to the new public notice process.
  • The FCC announced the lifting of the freeze that has been in place since 2004 on most applications that would expand a TV station’s protected contour and on channel change petitions. The freeze had been imposed first to provide a stable TV database so that the FCC could plan for the DTV transition, and then extended to facilitate the broadcast incentive auction and subsequent repacking of the TV band.  When the freeze is lifted, parties will be able to file petitions for rulemaking for DTV channel changes and new DTV allotments, requests for changes to communities of license, and modifications to increase a full-power TV or Class A station’s service area.  The freeze will be lifted 15 days after this week’s Public Notice is published in the Federal Register.  (Broadcast Law Blog) (Public Notice)
  • The FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking advancing rules requiring the on-air identification of the sponsor of broadcast programming that is funded by a foreign government or an entity controlled by a foreign government, whether a broadcaster is paid to air that programming or where the programming produced by the foreign entity is provided to the station for free. (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking)
  • A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to allow FM stations to use their boosters to originate limited amounts of programming different from their primary stations could be coming soon. A statement by Commissioner Geoffrey Starks says that Chairman Pai has circulated a draft among Commissioners.  For his part, Starks approves of the plan and points to benefits gained by minority-owned stations and small businesses having the ability to geotarget news, weather, advertising, and emergency alerts to diverse communities.  (Starks Statement)  Earlier this year, when the FCC asked for initial comments, we wrote here and here about this “zonecasting service” proposed by GeoBroadcast Solutions.
  • A Florida low power FM station is facing a $25,000 fine for failing to operate within its licensed power limits, for transmitting from an antenna type other than the type specified on the station’s license, for transmitting from a site different than its licensed site, and for failing to produce evidence that the station had installed EAS equipment. This is another good reminder to be sure your station is operating in accordance with its license and all FCC rules and regulations.  (Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture)
  • The FCC released the agenda and drafts of the items the Commissioners will consider at their November 18 Open Meeting. There are no pure broadcast items, though some broadcasters may be interested in a proposal to change the procedures for filing program carriage complaints by cable programmers against a multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD).  The proposals would clarify the time limits for the filing of such actions and adopt processes to speed their resolution (Draft Report and Order)
  • On Thursday, Makan Delrahim, the head of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, at a virtual event sponsored by Competition Policy International, said that he hoped that the Division would issue a report on its review of the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees before the end of his term, which could be this year. From some of his prior statements, it had been feared that the Division was looking to end the decrees.  From his statements this week, it appears that any changes suggested will be much more modest given the continued reliance of broadcasters and other music users on the existence of these decrees for the operation of their businesses.  (Video of Delrahim’s comments – discussion of the consent decrees beginning at about 10:50 into the video).

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog