FCC Adopts Affordable Connectivity Program

On Friday, January 14, 2022, the FCC voted to adopt a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that provides detailed guidance for a long-term internet discount program: the Affordable Connectivity Program. The new rules take effect upon publication in the Federal Register, or after the appropriate publication period has passed – either 30 or 60 days depending on the specific rule at issue.

The Affordable Connectivity Program will distribute $14.2 billion to qualifying households through a discount on internet service bills and a discount on a computer or tablet from participating providers. In particular, the program will provide eligible households with discounts of up to $30 a month for broadband service and up to $75 a month if the household is on Tribal lands. It also will provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households.

Under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Affordable Connectivity Program is open to households that meet one of the following criteria:

(1)   Have incomes at or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines;

(2)   Participate in certain assistance programs, such as Lifeline, Medicaid, SNAP, federal public housing assistance, WIC, or SSI, Tribal specific programs such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;

(3)   Households with kids receiving free and reduced-price lunch or school breakfast;

(4)   Pell grant recipients; or

(5)   If they meet eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income program.

The Report and Order includes provisions for consumer protection including the establishment of a dedicated FCC complaint process for Program participants. The Report and Order also establishes a roadmap to assist transitioning households in the legacy EBB program to the Affordable Connectivity Program.

In the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC seeks comments on the structure of and objectives for an outreach partner grant program, as well as on a mechanism with which an eligible household in a high cost area would receive an increased benefit up to $75 per month. Comments and reply comments are due 30 days and 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, respectively.

Customers can sign up by contacting a participating provider, enroll online at https://ACPbenefit.org/, or sign up via mail.  If you have any questions about this program’s requirements, please contact your friendly attorneys at Fletcher Heald & Hildreth.

FCC License Renewal Applications due on February 1st for Radio Stations in New York and New Jersey, and TV stations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma

FCC License renewal applications and associated EEO Program Reports are due on or before Tuesday, February 1st for radio licensees located in New Jersey and New York and television licensees in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Radio and television stations must file renewals regardless of commercial or noncommercial status in the FCC’s licensing Management System (LMS).  Both television and radio licensees must include Schedule 396, the Broadcast Equal Employment Opportunity Program Report, in their renewal application.

The FCC also requires radio and television licensees to provide local post-filing public notice of their renewal applications. Pre-filing announcements are no longer required.  Listeners and viewers may review the station’s filing and file comments regarding renewal applications

For more details on the procedures and timing requirements for public notice, licensees should review the Commission’s Local Public Notice Requirements on their Broadcast Radio License Renewal Page and the Broadcast Television License Renewal Page.

As we have noted, a major focus of the FCC’s review is a thorough inspection of the station’s on-line public inspection file (OPIF).  For that reason we urge all stations with upcoming license renewals to begin a thorough review of their OPIFs.  Any incomplete filings or late filings in the station’s OPIF will have to be disclosed in the renewal application.  Fletcher Heald maintains an archive of resource materials on public file maintenance.

For more information on upcoming license renewal deadlines, licensees can view the complete deadlines by state for radio and deadlines by state for television.

FCC Ends the CDBS Filing Era with switch to LMS

Effective at 5 p.m. EST today, Wednesday, January 12, the FCC’s Media Bureau will no longer accept filings in the Consolidated Database System (CDBS). This move by the Media Bureau is part of the ongoing transition to the Licensing and Management System (LMS) database. The Media Bureau’s sunsetting of CDBS filings will be permanent.  The public, however, still will be able to access CDBS filings previously submitted.

In the case of filings that cannot be submitted using LMS, the form should be submitted as an attachment to audiofilings@fcc.gov  in the “pdf” format. Attachments in any format besides “pdf” will not be accepted for filings. Commercial applicants must remit their fees using the Commission Registration System (CORES) and submit an electronic copy of the proof of payment.

Any filings that may currently be submitted in a paper format will continue to be accepted using existing procedures for paper filing.

To find more information about the LMS system and which filings are currently supported you can visit The Media Bureau’s LMS Help Center or contact your friendly broadcast attorneys at Fletcher Heald & Hildreth.

Attention Webcasters: January 31 Deadline for Filing Minimum Fee for Webcasting is Rapidly Approaching

The January 31, 2022 deadline for filing your annual minimum fee and related statement of account with SoundExchange under the webcasting statutory licenses under 17 U.S.C. § 112 and 114 allowing radio broadcasters and others to stream sound recordings (the “statutory licenses”) is just around the corner.  The easiest way to pay this fee is to log in to SoundExchange’s “Licensee Direct” online filing portal.

IMPORTANT:  As a result of a determination by the Copyright Royalty Judges setting sound recording webcasting rates for the 2021-2025 license term, the minimum fee and per-performance fees have increased for all commercial and noncommercial webcasters except for Noncommercial Educational Webcasters (see the penultimate paragraph below) and Public Broadcasters affiliated with National Public Radio (“NPR”), whose rates were set pursuant to settlements with SoundExchange.  Specifically, the annual minimum fee increased for both Commercial and Noncommercial Webcasters from $500 to $1,000, and the usage (aka “per performance”) fee charged for webcasting in excess of that permitted by the minimum fee is $0.0022 for 2022 for nonsubscription services and $0.0028 for subscription services.  (These per-performance fees are subject to additional changes in later years based on cost-of-living adjustments.)  Commercial Webcasters owe additional usage fees once their performance liability exceeds $1,000; Noncommercial Webcasters owe additional usage fees once their monthly webcasting exceeds 159,140 aggregate tuning hours.)  Those additional usage fees are due 45 days after the end of the month in which they were incurred and must be accompanied by a monthly statement of account.  These fees have been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Religious Broadcasters Noncommercial Music License Committee, and SoundExchange but must be paid in the interim unless and until they are altered by that appeal and any follow-on remand proceedings.

Except for Noncommercial Educational Webcasters and Public Broadcasters, you also must file Reports of Use informing SoundExchange of the sound recordings that your stations have played.  If you owe more than the $1,000 minimum fee for the year, you must file census reports on a monthly basis.  If you do not owe more than the $1,000 minimum fee, you may file sample reports on a quarterly basis.  Each sample report must include sound recording usage information pertaining to two 7-day periods in that quarter.  Reports of Use are due no later than 45 days after the end of the relevant month or quarter.

If you are a Noncommercial Educational Webcaster, your annual minimum fee for 2021 is $600 (a $50 increase from 2021) and is due on January 31, 2022.  It will continue to increase in $50 annual increments through 2025.  If you are a Noncommercial Educational Webcaster that webcasts at or below 80,000 aggregate tuning hours per month, you remain able to pay a $100 proxy fee by January 31, 2022 to avoid having to file Reports of Use.  You must pay this fee and elect this option by January 31 for each year in which you wish to invoke this provision.  If you are a Public Broadcaster affiliated with NPR, check with NPR for further details regarding the requirements that apply to you.

Political Broadcast Rules on the Agenda for FCC’s January Open Meeting

On January 27, 2022, the FCC will hold its monthly open meeting. The meeting will address increasing the transparency of internet access service providers, amending the definition of a library to clarify that Tribal libraries are eligible for support from the E-Rate program, and resolving issues associated with white space devices and databases. The most pertinent item on the agenda, however, is the Revision to Political Programming and Record-Keeping Rules.

This revision applies to broadcast licensees, cable television system operators, Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) service providers, and Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service (SDARS) licensees. The Report and Order, if adopted, will revise the definition of “legally qualified candidate for public office” to add the creation of a campaign website and the use of social media to promote or further a campaign for public office. The Report and Order also will revise the political file rules to extend the political record-keeping requirements to any advertising-time purchase requests.

The meeting will be available for public viewing via live feed on the FCC’s website.

Beasley Media Looking at $20k Fine for Airing Radio Show with EAS Tones

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) has issued a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing to fine Beasley Media Group Licenses, LLC $20,000.00 after KDWN(AM) in Las Vegas, Nevada apparently transmitted Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) Tones during one of its radio shows – without there being an actual emergency, EAS test, or PSA.

Broadcasters are not permitted to use EAS Tones unless permitted by virtue of an actual emergency, EAS test, or PSA.  Broadcasters should be careful not to air any sounds that could cause a listener to reasonably mistake the sound for an actual EAS Tone either – doing so is also illegal and could cause the Enforcement Bureau to fine the station.

Stations are not prohibited from airing alarms, bells and police or fire sirens.  But the FCC warns that any such attention-getting noises that are broadcast need to be significantly different from EAS Tones.  If they are not, a fine may follow.

This is just one more installment in the Enforcement Bureau’s long line of actions fining stations for improper use of EAS Tones.  Just last year, the FCC fined Entercom’s station WNEW-FM $20,000 for a similar offense.

Should you have any questions about the FCC’s EAS rules, please contact your friendly broadcast attorneys at Fletcher Heald & Hildreth.

Senate Confirms Rosenworcel as First Woman to Head the FCC

On Tuesday December 12, the Senate voted 68 to 31 confirming Jessica Rosenworcel for a third five-year term. The vote came just weeks before her term ended and officially confirmed Rosenworcel as the first female chair of the FCC in the 86-year history of the agency. Although the confirmation of Rosenworcel blocked the GOP from gaining an FCC majority, there is still a 2-2 deadlock among commissioners.

In a tweet after the vote, Rosenworcel stated, “There’s work to do to make sure modern communications reach everyone, everywhere. Now let’s get to it.”

While Rosenworcel gained the support of key Republicans, including Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Gigi Sohn has not been as lucky. In October 2021, President Biden nominated the longtime net neutrality advocate for the open Democratic seat at the FCC, but she may not receive a full Senate vote until after the new year. Until then Rosenworcel will lack a Democratic majority as she begins her term as the first woman to be confirmed as FCC Chair.

Now your renewal is filed….don’t forget your post-filing announcements.

Last Friday, the Federal Communications Commission released a Public Notice listing radio and television licensees from whom the FCC has accepted applications for license renewal filed on or before the December 1 deadline.  Radio licensees located in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont and television licensees in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota were subject to the deadline.

Broadcasters from these states who filed an application should review the list to determine whether the FCC has accepted their application.  Listed licensees are required to provide either on-air or online post-filing notice of their renewal application, depending on the type of station subject to the renewal application.

Should you have any questions about this, please contact your friendly broadcast attorneys at Fletcher Heald & Hildreth.

Broadcasters Check your Online Public File Links!

Recently, many broadcasters have been discovering that their stations’ on-line public file hyperlinks are failing to connect.  We have learned that this is likely due to recent modifications to the FCC’s internal servers. The hyperlinks currently direct viewers to a webpage that reads as follows: “We’re Sorry. We couldn’t find the page you were looking for.” To resolve this issue, broadcasters who maintain public files should update the on-line public file hyperlink on their website homepage as soon as possible.   To do this go to your public file’s hyperlink and copy it on to your station’s home page.  Now many may say…  “so what…this problem is the FCC’s fault”.  But remember that maintaining a current and functioning on-line public file as well as the link to the file is the obligation of the broadcasters.

Should you have any questions about this, please contact the FCC or your friendly broadcast attorneys at Fletcher Heald & Hildreth. Happy Holidays!

November Open Meeting

On Thursday, November 18, 2021, the FCC will host its November Open Meeting. The headlining item this month addresses the ability to text 988, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 3-digit number.  The FCC adopted an item that assigned 988 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and required certain providers to support calling to that number just last year.

In addition, the FCC will consider rules to enhance competition incentives to make spectrum more readily available to small carriers and Tribal Nations. This item seeks comment on steps the FCC could take to promote diversity of spectrum access and availability of rural service, as outlined in the MOBILE NOW Act. In particular, the proposed Enhanced Competition Incentive Program would modify the Commission’s existing partitioning, disaggregation, and leasing incentives. The program also would motivate stakeholders to engage in qualifying transactions that make spectrum available to qualifying entities and in specified areas.

The FCC also is considering a proposal to verify the directional antenna patterns of FM radio stations using computer modeling rather than real-world testing. Computer modeling is a cheaper alternative to the physical modeling and measurements currently required under FCC rules. This proposal would harmonize FM antenna pattern modeling rules with those of AM radio and TV/DTV stations, which are already permitted to use computer modeling.

The meeting will be available for public viewing via live feed on the FCC’s website.