This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: October 2 – October 6, 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 re-nominations of FCC Commissioners Geoffrey Starks and Brendan Carr were approved by the Senate late the week before last (see Starks and Carr statements on Senate approval).  Starks’ term expired at the end of 2022, but Commissioners are allowed by the Communications Act to hold over for a year if no successor has been approved, so he could have served through the end of 2023.  Now that his renomination has been approved by the Senate, he can serve through 2027.  Carr’s term was to end this year, and he has now been approved to serve through 2028.  With the recent approval of the nomination of Anna Gomez to fill the long vacant fifth seat on the Commission, the FCC (barring the early departure of one of the Commissioners) will have its full complement of Commissioners at least through next year’s presidential election.  See our Broadcast Law Blog article here on some of the broadcast issues that the now full Commission may now tackle.
  • The Nationwide Test of the EAS system was conducted on Wednesday, October 4.  Just before the test, the FCC and FEMA issued a News Release reminding the public about the test and reminding broadcasters planning news reports about the test to avoid using the EAS alert tones during their newscasts.  The use of the EAS tones outside actual tests is prohibited.  All licensees should have filed ETRS Form Two by the end of the day on October 5, reporting whether the test was received, and they must file Form Three by November 20 providing more information about the results of the test.  
  • The FCC released its quarterly Broadcast Station Totals Press Release.  The release shows that, compared to the same release from a year ago, there are 38 fewer AM stations, and 7 fewer FM stations, but 55 more noncommercial FM stations. There were single digit increases in UHF television stations, while VHF stations decreased by a similar amount.
  • The FCC’s Media Bureau continued to address proposed changes to the TV Table of Allotments.  Once the repacking of the TV band following the incentive auction was complete, the FCC in 2021 lifted the freeze that had been imposed on changes to the Table, allowing TV stations to propose channel changes for existing stations, and others to ask for allotments for new TV stations.  This week, the FCC’s Media Bureau took two such actions:
    • It issued a Report and Order substituting UHF channel 21 for VHF channel 7 at Knoxville, Tennessee, to address signal receptions suffered by the channel 7 licensee, continuing the move of TV stations from VHF to UHF channels which are superior for reception of digital signals. 
    • The Bureau also requested comment on a proposal submitted by the permittee of an unbuilt television station on channel 31 at Wittenberg, Wisconsin, to reallocate the channel to Shawano, Wisconsin, and modify the proponent’s  construction permit to specify Shawano as its community of license.  The FCC may modify a station’s community of license without affording other interested parties an opportunity to file competing expressions of interest, provided that the new allotment (1) will be mutually exclusive with the proposing station’s existing allotment; (2) will result in a preferential arrangement of the allotments according to the FCC’s television allotment priorities; and (3) will not deprive a community of its sole local transmission outlet.  As to criterion (3), the Wittenberg proponent argued that Wittenberg would not lose any existing service because its station has not commenced operations, and thus no viewers have come to rely on the station for television service.  The Wittenberg proponent also contends that providing Shawano (a community nine times larger than Wittenberg) with its first local television service is the type of “rare circumstance” which justifies a waiver of the general prohibition on the removal of a community’s sole first local service. 
  • In re-evaluating three mutually exclusive applications from the 2021 window for new NCE FM stations, , the Media Bureau dismissed the application that had previously been preferred for a construction permit at St. Michaels, Arizona because of that applicant’s failure to comply with the FCC’s “signature rule,” and sent the remaining two applications to the full Commission to conduct a second comparison under its points system analysis. Under the “signature rule,” an application filed by a corporation must be signed by an officer or director.  The signatory to the dismissed applicant’s application was its general manager, who was neither an officer nor a director of the company.  The Bureau ruled that the FCC’s rules did not permit the dismissed applicant to cure this defect by amending its application.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog