On the heels of the expiration of the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, the FCC has announced that they too will be rescinding some pandemic-related relief measures. As of Monday, May 15th, the FCC issued a Public Notice announcing that, effective immediately, broadcasters will no longer be permitted to exclude free time that they provide to commercial advertisers when calculating a station’s lowest unit charge (“LUC”).
Broadcast licensees are typically required by the FCC to charge legally qualified candidates no more than the LUC for the same class and time for advertising in connection with their campaigns. However, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, broadcasters faced broad cancellations of commercial contracts. With excess advertising time inventory, broadcasters sought to give advertising time away for free, but such donations would have lowered a station’s LUC to zero. As such, in March of 2020 the FCC issued guidance allowing broadcasters to air free advertisements without impacting the LUC calculations of stations.
With today’s Public Notice, the FCC announced the end to this policy noting that the unprecedented circumstances that prompted the 2020 pandemic guidance were no longer present. Accordingly, broadcasters and other regulatees that are subject to section 315(b) of the Communications Act should immediately begin to include free time that they provide to commercial advertisers when calculating their LUC.
If you have any questions about what this means for your station, please contact your friendly FHH attorney.