This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: July 10 to July 14, 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 Senate Commerce, Science, and Technology Committee this week approved the nomination of Anna Gomez to fill the current vacancy on the FCC.  The Committee also approved the renominations of current Commissioners Starks and Carr.  These nominations now move to the full Senate for consideration.  If approved by the Senate, the appointments would be effective.  Timing on the consideration of the nominations by the full Senate is currently unclear.  We wrote on our Broadcast Law Blog about some of the issues that the Commission might consider if it has a full five members for the first time during the Biden Administration.
  • The Media Bureau released a Public Notice announcing that, commencing on July 26, 2023, all of the remaining broadcast applications not yet available in the FCC’s LMS database would be transitioning to that database. Thus, for the first time, the following applications should be filed in LMS starting on July 26:
    • Application for Construction Permit for AM Broadcast Station
    • Application for AM Broadcast Station License
    • Application for Direct Measurement of AM Broadcast Station
    • AM Engineering Special Temporary Authorization (STA)
    • Extension of AM Engineering STA
    • Application for Construction Permit for New Class D Noncommercial Educational FM Broadcast Station
    • Application for Construction Permit for New Low Power FM Station
    • Equipment Test Authority Notification
    • Program Test Authority Notification
    • Restoration of Licensed Operation
  • The Commission announced its tentative agenda for its August 3, 2023 regular monthly meeting.  Among the items to be considered at the meeting will be a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to increase the power of the digital signals transmitted by FM radio stations, and to consider other changes in the rules for these “HD Radio” digital operations, including possibly simplifying the process for FM stations to have asymmetric side band power levels.  See the draft of the Proposed Rulemaking to be considered at the August meeting, here, and our blog article on the proposals by the NAB and Xperi for these changes when they were advanced late last year, here.  
  • FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel issued a Press Release announcing that she has circulated for review by the other Commissioners, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to initiate an FCC review of the video programming marketplace. Comments would be sought on the obstacles faced by independent programmers seeking carriage by multichannel video programming distributors and on online platforms, how this impacts consumers, and whether there are actions the Commission could take to alleviate such obstacles. The FCC regularly assesses the state of competition in the Media Marketplace for its required annual report to Congress, and has been asking about the impact of online video providers in those annual reviews for over a decade (see our article here).  How this review will differ from those annual studies will be clearer when details of this proposal are available, once the Commissioners vote on the commencement of this proceeding. 
  • The FCC Media Bureau entered into a Consent Decree with the licensee an AM/FM/FM translator combination in New York state because of a transfer of control of the stations without FCC approval.  The licensee agreed to pay a penalty of $8,000 for its failure to seek FCC approval for the transfer of the controlling shareholder’s stock in the licensee to a trust which he controlled, and then appointing a new trustee to administer that trust soon after the trust was formed, all without FCC approval.  The majority shareholder died two months later, and thereafter the company sought FCC approval for the final disposition of the stock to the shareholder’s beneficiaries.  The fine was imposed because both the transfer of the stock to the trust and the subsequent appointment of a new trustee required prior FCC approval.  This case reminds broadcasters to check with counsel about the need for FCC approval for any transfer of a majority of the stock of a broadcast company, even when that transfer is to a trust for estate planning purposes. 
  • The Media Bureau issued a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing to fine the licensee of two digital television translator stations in the state of Colorado a total of $3,000 ($1,500 per station) for filing the stations’ license renewal application over a month late.  The FCC normally requires a base fine of $3,000 per station in this situation, but the Bureau reduced the fine “because, as television translators, the Stations are providing a secondary service” and an “important ‘fill-in’ service to areas that otherwise may be unable to receive over-the-air television signals.”

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog