This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: September 18-September 22, 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 Media Bureau released a Public Notice reminding commercial and noncommercial broadcasters of their upcoming obligation to file biennial ownership reports.  The ownership report filing window opens on October 2, 2023, and all reports must be submitted by December 1, 2023. Licensees of commercial and noncommercial full power television, Class A television, low power television, and AM/FM radio stations are required to file biennial ownership reports.  The Notice explains that the FCC is seeking accurate ownership information: (1) to ensure that the public knows who owns, operates, and controls broadcast stations; and (2) to understand the levels of diversity in the broadcast industry.  The FCC’s staff may pursue enforcement action against licensees that fail to file their biennial ownership reports in a timely or complete manner.  For more on this requirement, see our Broadcast Law Blog article here.
  • The House of Representatives this past week again failed to decide how to address the funding of the federal government after the September 30 end of the current fiscal year.  Government agencies were, at the end of the week, told to begin to make plans for a potential government “shutdown” as of October 1.  If these funding issues are not resolved in the coming days, watch for FCC guidance on how a shutdown will affect filing deadlines and other FCC operations after October 1.  
  • There were two announcements concerning the government’s review of artificial intelligence.  The Copyright Office announced an extension in the date for comments on its Notice of Inquiry asking for comment on the copyright issues triggered by the use of AI, including the question of whether machine-generated content is entitled to copyright protection and the copyright implications of AI’s use of copyrighted materials (including books and music) to “learn” how to perform certain tasks.  Comments are now due on October 30, 2023, with Reply Comments due by November 29.  Also, the Federal Trade Commission announced that, on October 4, 2023, it would hold a virtual roundtable discussion on AI issues that can be viewed online by the public.  The session will consider how AI may impact open and fair competition or enable unlawful business practices across markets, including in creative industries. The listening session will focus on different issues posed by generative AI, including concerns raised by musicians, actors, and other content creators about the use of AI to create entertainment and other content.
  • The FCC issued a Report and Order updating its rules for full power and Class A stations to reflect their transition from analog to digital-only operations and the post-incentive auction transition to a smaller television band with fewer channels (for more background on this proceeding, see our Blog article here). The Report and Order restructures a portion of the rules largely dealing with the technical licensing, operating, and interference rules for full power television. The updated rules, which for the most part do not change substantive requirements, are scheduled to go into effect 30 days after their publication in the Federal Register, except those involving paperwork changes which require Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act.
  • The Bureau also announced that changes in its rules for LPTV and translator stations which imposed new paperwork requirements requiring Paperwork Reduction Act approval went into effect on September 19.  These rule changes, like the TV rule changes mentioned above, were largely non-substantive amendments to reflect the transition of these services to digital operation and the termination of their analog operations (we reported on these changes earlier this year when the FCC issued its Report and Order).  Most of the amended rules went into effect on June 12, 2023. 
  • The Media Bureau proposed to assess a $1,500 fine against a low power television (LPTV) station for failing to file a timely license renewal application.  The FCC’s rules normally require a base fine of $3,000.  However (consistent with recent practice), the Bureau reduced the proposed fine to $1,500, citing the fact that the LPTV station provided a secondary service. 
  • The Bureau also entered into separate consent decrees (available here and here) with the licensee of an AM/FM combination, in which the licensee agreed to pay (1) a $3,000 penalty because the FM station had failed to upload material to its online public inspection file, failed to include a link to its online public inspection file on its website, and falsely certified that its online public inspection file contained the documentation required by the Online Public Inspection File Rule; and (2) a $6,000 penalty for the AM station because it committed the same violations in addition to operating at a variance from its licensed daytime and nighttime parameters for more than 30 consecutive days without FCC approval.  The licensee was also directed to adopt compliance plans to ensure that the stations do not commit similar violations in the future.
  • The Media Bureau proposed to assess a $6,000 fine against a full power television station for by failing to timely upload its quarterly issues/programs lists to its online public inspection file.  The Bureau alleged that the station had failed to timely upload copies of these lists for a total of 12 quarters, i.e., two lists more than one year late, six lists between one month and one year late, and four lists between one day and one month late.
  • The Media Bureau tentatively awarded a construction permit to an applicant for new NCE FM station at Riesel, Texas, instead of a mutually exclusive applicant for an NCE FM station at Golinda, Texas.  Both applications had been filed in the FCC’s November 2021 window for new NCE FM facilities.  The decision largely deals with procedural issues concerning how the FCC interprets the limited one-time opportunity for an applicant in a filing window for new stations to correct certain initial defects in its application.
  • With the 2024 election looming, broadcasters are already receiving requests for political advertising time, from candidates, PACs and other issue groups trying to make an early impression on voters.  Some of these potential buyers advance unique policy positions and, sometimes, unusual ad buying strategies.  See our Broadcast Law Blog article published last week for a discussion of the legal issues and courses of action broadcasters need to consider when handling such inquiries.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog