Regulatory Fee Deadline Extended for Those Affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Photo courtesy of the Creative Commons License via CIRA from Flickr.

As readers should know by now, annual FCC Regulatory Fees are due to be paid by no later than September 26 by all FCC regulatees. However, in recognition of the havoc caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma the FCC has has extended the deadline for regulatees in the areas impacted by those storms (which the FCC describes as Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as portions of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia) to 11:59pm on September 29, 2017.

Why only a three day extension, you may ask?

Well, that is almost certainly because the FCC is required to collect fees by no later than the end of its fiscal year, which falls on September 30.

For any regulatees who are still unable to meet the extended deadline, the FCC also reminded those parties that they may be able to take advantage of the Commission’s existing procedures and policies for granting waivers, reductions, and deferments of regulatory fee obligations.

Fall FCC Broadcasting and Telecommunications Deadlines

Note our list is not comprehensive. Other proceedings may apply to you. Please do not hesitate to contact FHH if you have any questions. 

September 26, 2017 – Annual Regulatory Fees – These will be due and payable for Fiscal Year 2017, and will be based upon a licensee’s/permittee’s holdings on October 1, 2016, plus anything that might have been purchased since then and less anything that might have been sold since then.  The fees must be paid through the FCC’s online Fee Filer, and once again this year, the FCC will not accept checks as payment of the fees but will require some form of electronic payment (credit card, ACH transfer, wire transfer, and the like).  Please keep in mind that timely payment is critical, as late payment results in a 25 percent penalty, plus potential additional interest charges.

September 27, 2017 – EAS National Test – Participants’ ETRS Form Two Due – All EAS participants must be prepared for the national EAS test on September 27 at 2:20 p.m. EDT.  Additionally, all participants must prepare and file in the EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) a Form Two for each station by 11:59 p.m. EDT on September 27.  This form is scheduled to become available at 2:20 p.m. EDT, immediately following the EAS test, and will provides information as to results of the test.

October 2, 2017 – EEO Public File Reports – All radio and television stations with five (5) or more full-time employees located in Alaska, American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, Mariana Islands, Missouri, Oregon, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Washington must place EEO Public File Reports in their public inspection files.  TV stations must upload the reports to the online public file.  For all stations with websites, the report must be posted there as well.  Per announced FCC policy, the reporting period may end ten days before the report is due, and the reporting period for the next year will begin on the following day.

 October 2, 2017 – All radio stations with eleven or more full-time employees in Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, the Mariana Islands, Oregon, or Washington, and all television stations with five or more full-time employees in Iowa or Missouri must electronically file a mid-term EEO report on FCC Form 397, with the last two EEO public file reports attached. 

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Online Public File to Bring New Scrutiny to Issues/Programs Lists

Believe it or not, the date by which all radio stations must have their complete public files online is now less than six months away. Television stations have been dealing with this reality for several years now, as have large stations in large markets for the past couple of years. Now, every radio station, both commercial and noncommercial, must have its complete public file posted on the Commission’s website by March 1, 2018. This posting must include all previously prepared documents still required to be in the public file, with the sole exception of the political file, which may be uploaded on a going-forward basis only.

The obvious big change here is that online posting will make each station’s public inspection file available to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Now, anyone with a little time on their hands can scrutinize both the content of documents in the file and the timeliness of their filing. Television stations have already experienced the more thorough review the FCC staff can do at license renewal time, and the same approach is likely to be applied to both radio and TV stations in the next renewal cycle.

Thus, a station’s quarterly issues/programs lists have taken on a new importance, as they can no longer hide, safely unread, in a paper public file. While the political portion of the public file often attracts attention, particularly among competing candidates, issues/programs lists are less noticed and may even be overlooked at times. Still, those quarterly reports are a required element of the public file, and the FCC staff continues to view them as quite important to demonstrating a record of public service. In fact, the Commission has emphasized that issues/programs lists are the primary means by which a station may establish a sufficient record of serving the public interest to support grant of a license renewal.

Of course, these requirements are nothing new. Stations should have been routinely preparing quarterly reports, placing them in the appropriate public file, and retaining there all reports required since the grant of the station’s last license renewal.  Still, we have found that some broadcasters could use a little refresher on at least some aspects of the rule related to issues/programs lists.  Accordingly, the following is designed to be a primer to cover all the basics you need to know.

Beginning with basic timing, all broadcast stations must place issues/programs lists in their local public inspection file four times a year. The lists must be filed by January 10, April 10, July 10, and October 10, and must cover the issue-oriented programming broadcast by a station during the preceding quarter. Thus, the pertinent three-month periods are: January through March, April through June, July through September and October through December.

Keep in mind that the quarterly list is not merely illustrative, but must include details about programs which have provided a station’s most significant treatment of issues a licensee believes to be of community concern (more on what applies here later). While licensees are not required to maintain comprehensive (i.e., all inclusive) quarterly lists, programs included in the list will be considered a station’s best and most significant issue-responsive programming. Conversely, excluded programs will simply be unknown. It, therefore, makes sense to include as many programs as possible in order to minimize vulnerability to programming challenges.

Let’s walk you through how this process all works. Continue Reading

Busy Times Lie Ahead in Telecomm as Pai Lays Out Modernization Plans

As we wrote about last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is planning to make some major overhauls at the FCC. Eight months into his term, Pai is preparing to “modernize [the FCC’s] rules to match the realities of today’s marketplace.” At this year’s National Broadcast Association’s Radio Show, Pai announced he would present to his fellow FCC Commissioners at least one Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) every month, starting in September.

Photo courtesy of the Creative Commons Licsence

These monthly NPRMs are intended to address concerns that Chairman Pai has assessed are part of those ”outdated or unnecessary media regulations that should be eliminated or modified.” Of course, one might ask whether it wouldn’t expedite his objective by getting all of the reform initiatives going at once rather then dribbling them out in a series of monthly NPRMs that will each require separate comment cycles and separate Commission analysis. If something needs reform, why not do it right away?

Pai’s statements at NAB focused on broadcasting, while his statements via a blog post go into more detail on what’s ahead outside of the broadcast industry. With the tentative agenda for the Commission’s upcoming September meeting posted, it’s shaping up to be a busy time at the FCC for the foreseeable future.

So what does this all mean for non-broadcasting entities? Quite a lot actually. Continue Reading

FCC’s September Agenda Packed with Proposed ‘Modernizations’

Main Studio and Paper Rules on the Chopping Block, AM Revitalization on the Way

It’s shaping up to be a busy few months for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. And did you know September is Modernization Month? Well, at least according to Chairman Pai it is.

Photo by Lance Cheung and used under the Creative Commons License

Today, the Chairman announced a new initiative to curtail, or modify, many existing rules. Speaking at a luncheon at the annual National Broadcasters Radio Show, Pai said the decision is part of the FCC’s recent mission to, as the Chairman said, “modernize our rules to match the realities of today’s marketplace.” Thus, each month starting in September, Chairman Pai will present to his fellow FCC Commissioners at least one Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which addresses concerns that he has assessed are part of those ‘outdated or unnecessary media regulations that should be eliminated or modified.’

This means that it’s about to get a lot busier at the FCC, as set forth in the tentative agenda for the Commission’s September meeting.

One such cumbersome rule the Chairman proposes to repeal is the elimination of the main studio rule the requirement that each AM, FM, and television broadcast station needs to maintain a studio that is located in or near its community license. However, as Pai argued on Thursday, “… the reality is that local access to a physical station is simply no longer necessary to satisfy those public interest goals. Broadcasters’ public inspection files are either currently available or will soon be available online.” (Since we converted our Memo to Clients publication from paper to digital a few years back, we can only ask “what took you so long”.)

Chairman Pai also championed the need for the FCC to move towards the digital age by literally getting rid of physical copies of its rules. The FCC guidelines require broadcasters and cable operators to maintain physical paper copies of the FCC rules. With FCC rules available online, the Chairman has proposed eliminating “this outdated requirement.”

The Commission will also vote on an Order to update the signal quality and signal leakage regulations for cable, and vote on an AM revitalization Order, to relax or eliminate certain rules pertaining to AM broadcasters employing and maintaining directional antenna arrays.

With all of this and more on the FCC’s plate, keep an eye on the blog for more analysis on what you need to know (there will be no paper-based updates).

FCC Activates DIRS for Second Time in Two Weeks as Irma Approaches

Just a week after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc in Texas and Louisiana, Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, has already hit parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. This is a major storm, with wind gusts measured at 155 mph in Barbuda. This weekend Irma is set to make its way into Florida and parts of the American Southeast.

Photo courtesy of the Creative Commons License via CIRA from Flickr.

In order to ensure effective communications, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has activated the Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS). The Commission has asked all communications providers to report the status of their communications equipment, restoration efforts, and power through the DIRS. This applies to wireless, wireline, broadcast, cable, and other wireline telecommunications (such as VoIP) services.

During this time, the Network Outage Reporting System obligations have been suspended until the DIRS is deactivated.

DIRS reports are requested to begin at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 7 and made every day thereafter by 10:00 a.m. until the DIRS is deactivated.

Additional information on DIRS reporting can be found here.

The Commission has also publicized procedures for broadcasters and wireless/wireline telecommunications operators to resume and maintain operations impacted by Hurricane Irma. Special procedures for quickly obtaining Special Temporary Authority (STA) can be found here.  Reach out to us if you have any questions on submitting reports to the DIRS or other disaster related issues. Keep an eye on our blog and our Twitter page to stay up to date on all DIRS items.

Above all: please stay safe as you continue to provide much-needed public safety updates to your communities!

FCC Releases Annual Regulatory Fee Order – Payments Due Sept. 26, 2017

Now that summer and beach season is over, the Commission has finally released the final listing of regulatory fees for 2017 and their due date. While it might not be as big of news as a Taylor Swift release, this is an important time for the Commission which has announced the final amounts due for each category of fees and has opened up its Fee Filer system for acceptance of payments.

Photo courtesy of the Creative Commons License via PT Money (ptmoney.com)

Fees must be paid by exactly three weeks from today, by September 26, 2017.  As is normally the case, the fees adopted by the Commission all track reasonably closely with the fees as proposed in May, with certain broadcast and satellite fees decreasing slightly and submarine cable landing license fees increasing slightly. The biggest change from years past is the raising of the so-called de minimis fee threshold – if a licensee’s total regulatory fee obligation is $1,000 of less, no payment will be due.

As has always been the case, failure to pay regulatory fees on time can have dire consequences, including: a late payment penalty of 25% of the unpaid amount assessed immediately after the deadline; additional processing charges for collection of late fees; and administrative penalties, such as withholding of action on any applications from delinquent parties, eventual dismissal of such applications, and even possible revocation proceedings.

Consistent with recent procedure, don’t bother reaching for your checkbook when you’re ready to pay. Under the electronic filing regime, regulatory fee payments must be made electronically (i.e., by online ACH payment, online credit card, or wire transfer). That means, no checks, money orders, bags of pennies, monopoly money, or anything else physical.

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Online Public Inspection Files: A Refresher Webinar

Photo by GotCredit using the Creative Commons License

While 2017 isn’t even close to being over yet, we’re already looking ahead at next year’s deadlines. TV stations and a large first batch of commercial radio stations have already had to move their public inspection files online. But starting on March 1st of 2018, noncommercial radio stations, as well as the remaining commercial that were exempt from last year’s deadline will now have to go online with their public files. To help stations successfully navigate the process, we’ll be hosting a FREE webinar.

Presented in partnership with the Colorado Broadcasters Association, our own Steve Lovelady and Frank Montero will be hosting a FREE one hour webinar on October 12 at 12 p.m. EDT entitled “Online Public Inspection Files: A Refresher Webinar.”

The webinar will address these questions and many more:

  • When does my station’s public file have to go online?
  • Does this apply to noncommercial stations?
  • How do I move my public file on line and what goes into the public file?
  • How will this impact my FCC license renewal that’s due in the next few years?
  • What will happen if I blow this off and go to fishing instead?
  • And for those special few (you know who you are…..), what exactly is a public file?

All of this, and more, will be covered in this webinar where attendees will be able to ask questions of Professors Lovelady and Montero. For those unable to join us, we will be recording the webinar which will be made available on our website shortly after.

Whether you’re new to the online public file game or a battle-hardened veteran, this webinar will help you with the tools to stay ahead of the curve.

Free registration for the webinar is available here.

Tech Advisors to Assist FCC in Faster Approvals for New Devices

Photo courtesy of the Creative Commons License via jeanbaptisteparis from Flickr.

The FCC’s Technological Advisory Council (TAC) has initiated a Technical Inquiry into reforming the FCC’s technical regulations. Comprised of very smart industry engineers, academics, and other technological leaders who provide technical advice to the FCC, the TAC aims to provide useful guidance to the FCC on its technical rules and the status of emerging technologies. The issue it aims to address in the Technical Inquiry is the FCC’s constant struggle with the question of how to provide for fast regulatory approvals of new technologies, while still meeting its statutory obligation to protect the public interest, including the well-being of consumers and the efficient use of spectrum.

The Technical Inquiry is focused on obtaining feedback about technical rules that are obsolete or in need of updates or consolidation, and necessary changes to better reflect the current needs of the industry. It seeks general comment on how the FCC’s regulatory process “can be made more efficient and timely,” and poses specific questions on whether a mediation-type process could be created to more quickly address conflicts between parties. It also raises questions about how the FCC can better handle a growing issue of how to deal with the frequent changes in technical specifications made by private standards setting bodies. Many FCC technical rules specify compliance with particular industry standards, which often are updated soon after the FCC has adopted a rule specifying that standard, leaving the FCC rule “outdated” in that it requires compliance with an outdated standard.

The TAC is a federal advisory committee, which means that its work is only advisory in nature and the FCC does not need to accept its recommendations. But in this instance, the FCC, especially in recent years, has worked very closely with the TAC; both to set its agenda of issues to study, based on the areas where the FCC requires industry input, and to implement many of the TAC’s ideas and suggestions.

We here at CommLawBlog are hopeful that this latest initiative will generate good ideas that truly will speed up regulatory approvals of new technologies.

Comments are due Oct. 31, 2017 in Docket No. 17-215.

FCC Media Bureau Postpones Filing Deadline for Biennial Ownership Reports

The FCC on Sept. 1 postponed the due date for the submission of 2017 biennial broadcast ownership reports to the FCC until March 2, 2018. Biennial ownership reports are required to be filed every two years by all commercial and (starting this year) noncommercial AM, FM, TV, Class A, and LPTV stations and entities holding attributable ownership interests in those stations. This year’s reports had initially been due to be filed by Dec. 1, 2017, which is now the date on which the filing window for those reports will open, instead of closing.  The reports now due on March 2, 2018 include FCC Forms 323 and 323-E, which will now need to be filed in the Licensing and Management System (LMS). Despite the delay in the filing window, these biennial ownership reports must still describe stations’ ownership as it existed on Oct. 1, 2017.

The start of the filing window was postponed, according to the FCC, “… to provide sufficient time to properly implement the electronic versions of the revised Forms 323 and 323-E in the Licensing and Management System (LMS)” and to work around upcoming holidays. The extended window the FCC says will “ensure that filers have sufficient time to complete and submit their reports.”

While that remains to be seen, at the least, the delay may give many filers reason to give thanks this Thanksgiving, as they now will not need to spend that holiday weekend preparing ownership reports.

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