FCC Open Meeting on April 21st

On April 21, 2022, the FCC will be hosting its monthly open meeting. The docket includes improving receiver performance, wireless emergency alerts, and two restricted adjudicatory matters.

The FCC will consider a Notice of Inquiry to promote more efficient use of spectrum through improved receiver interference immunity performance, thereby facilitating the introduction of new and innovative services. The Notice of Inquiry would develop an up-to-date record on the role of receivers in spectrum management. This notice would also lay the foundation for future Commission actions that can promote improvements in receiver performance.

The FCC will also consider a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Since its launch one decade ago, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) has become an essential part of America’s emergency preparedness. WEAs have been used more than 61,000 times to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children, and other critical situations through alerts on compatible cell phones and other mobile devices. On the 10th anniversary of WEA, the FCC seeks to further improve the effectiveness of this critical public safety tool by building on the Commission’s prior proposals and refreshing the record on whether it should require participating wireless providers to file public reports with the Commission on WEA’s reliability, speed, and accuracy.

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

Update to FCC’s Covered List: The Commission Identifies Three New Companies as National Security Risks

Last Friday, the FCC expanded its list of companies it believes pose a risk to U.S. national security. The new additions include equipment and services from three companies: Russia’s AO Kaspersky Lab, China Telecom (Americas), and China Mobile International USA Inc.

Since March of 2021, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has maintained a list of companies (often called the “Covered List”) it believes pose threats to national security pursuant to Section 2 of the Secure Networks Act. The latest additions to the Covered List are part of an ongoing effort to clamp down on risks associated with foreign government-controlled companies.

“Today’s action is the latest in the FCC’s ongoing efforts, as part of the greater whole-of-government approach, to strengthen America’s communications networks against national security threats, including examining the foreign ownership of telecommunications companies providing service in the United States and revoking the authorization to operate where necessary,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

With last Friday’s additions, the Covered List now contains eight companies, which means money from federal subsidies, including the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, may not be used to purchase, rent, lease, or maintain any of these companies’ (or their affiliates’ or subsidiaries’) products or services.

To view the Covered List in full, visit: List of Equipment and Services Covered By Section 2 of The Secure Networks Act | Federal Communications Commission (fcc.gov).

FHH Attorneys on the Faculty of the NAB Leadership Foundation’s Broadcast Leadership Training Program

On March 25th our very own Frank Montero and Seth Williams presented on the subject of broadcast station acquisitions to the most recent class of industry leaders. This training was part of the NAB Leadership Foundation’s Broadcast Leadership Training Program (BLT). FHH is a proud sponsor and provides several faculty members to the BLT program.

The BLT program is a 10-month Executive MBA-style program created by the National Association of Broadcasters Leadership Foundation to provide rising executives with the specific knowledge and skills necessary to assess, buy, own, and operate radio and television stations. BLT is highly competitive and provides “a blueprint for talented business people to become a greater part of the broadcast industry and increase the diversity of voices available to the public.”

For more information about the program, review the BLT website. Applications are due by May 31. If you’re selected for next year’s class you too could be rocking a pair of CommLawBlog sunglasses!

New FCC Foreign Sponsorship Identification Rules for Broadcasters Effective Today

FCC rules requiring radio and television stations to broadcast disclosures for programming provided by foreign governmental entities go into effect today over the objection of some broadcast groups. Broadcasters are required not only to fully comply moving forward, but must also ensure that their existing airtime lease agreements come into compliance as soon as reasonably possible.

These new rules require broadcasters to identify sponsors for programming content aired on a station, pursuant to a lease of airtime, if the sponsor qualifies as a “foreign governmental entity.”

Let’s break that down:

Who meets the definition of a “foreign governmental entity”?

This includes governments of foreign countries, foreign political parties, certain agents of foreign principals, and U.S.-based foreign media outlets.

How will you know if you’re dealing with a “foreign governmental entity”?

We recommend following these steps:

  1. Inform the programmer of your foreign sponsorship disclosure obligations;
  2. Directly ask the programmer whether they fall into one of the above categories;
  3. Ask the programmer whether anyone involved in producing/distributing the programming qualifies as a foreign governmental entity;
  4. If the programmer denies any connection to a foreign governmental entity, independently verify their status by consulting the Department of Justice’s FARA website and the FCC’s semi-annual U.S.-based foreign media outlets reports; and
  5. Document and maintain a record of steps 1-4 above in case of future FCC inquiry.

What are you required to say, and when?

“The [following/preceding] programming was [sponsored, paid for, or furnished,] either in whole or in part, by [name of foreign governmental entity] on behalf of [name of foreign country].”

This message must be read (or displayed by television stations) at both the beginning and end of the programming, unless either: (a) it is five minutes or less in total, in which case, it can be provided at either the beginning or conclusion, or (b) the program exceeds sixty minutes in duration, which would require it to be read at regular intervals, at least once every hour.

Whether or not these new rules will remain in place is still unclear, however, as an appeal has been filed jointly by the NAB, MMTC and NABOB. As always, we will keep you updated here with any developments.

You can read the original order at this link.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call us here at FHH.

FCC License Renewal Applications due on April 1st for Radio Stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and TV Stations in Texas

FCC License renewal applications and associated EEO Program Reports are due on or before Friday, April 1st for radio licensees located in Delaware and Pennsylvania and television licensees in Texas. 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 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.

Political Broadcasting Webinar Now Available On Line

On February 24, 2022, Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth attorneys Frank Montero and Sara Hinkle teamed up with Bobby Baker, Gary Schonmen, and Sima Nilsson of the FCC’s Political Programming Staff to present a webinar on the FCC’s political broadcasting rules. The webinar, presented in collaboration with over twenty state broadcast associations, addressed a number of topics, including equal time, issue ads, lowest unit charge, political file maintenance and the most recent FCC revisions to the political broadcasting rules.

You can watch the webinar on Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth’s YouTube channel. Be sure to subscribe to Commlawblog to receive the latest in our legal webinar series and feel free contact us if you have any questions.

FCC Eliminates Outdated Radio Technical Rules

On Wednesday, February 16, the FCC adopted a Report & Order to eliminate and amend “outdated or unnecessary” broadcast radio technical rules. As you will see, some of the rule changes do not create new policy or requirements. Rather, the primary purpose of this proceeding is to ensure that all of its rules are consistently with each other. The other changes will have little impact on broadcasters’ current operations.

The FCC voted to eliminate the Transmitter Power Limit Rule for AMs, concluding that it is outdated given its reliance on actual operating antenna input power. The FCC agreed with all 5 commenters submitted by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) that argued that elimination of the restriction will allow AMs of any class to use transmitters of any rated power. This would allow the market for transmitters to expand including the secondary market and reduce the number of transmitters that need to be disposed of.

The coverage requirement for NCE stations was clarified by harmonizing an inconsistency between several rules. Originally NCE stations were not required to place a city grade signal over the community of license. When the NCE service was created, the FCC envisioned that the stations would be licensed primarily to institutions of higher learning. The FCC reasoned that even though the Communications Act required stations to be licensed to specific communities, it was also important that the institution itself be able to receive the strongest signal possible. As a result, the FCC’s rule did not require a specified level of signal over the community of license. However, the FCC decided to change that rule in 2000 since most NCE stations are not licensed to educational institutions resulting in a 60 dBu signal over the community rather than the 70 dBu signal in place for commercial stations. The FCC did not update all of its rules at that time to reflect this change and has now amended one its rules to ensure that this requirement is consistent throughout.

The FCC modified the second adjacent protection requirement for the few remaining NCE Class D stations to be consistent with all other NCE station classes. With this change, the less restrictive 100 dBu interfering contour cannot overlap the 2nd adjacent station’s 60 dBu contour (rather than the current 80 dBu contour) when applying for new or modified facilities.

The FCC also amended one of its rules which failed to reflect that the requirement that a FM translator rebroadcasting an AM radio broadcast station must be contained within the greater (rather than the lesser) of either the 2 mV/m daytime contour of the AM station or a 25–mile (40 km) radius centered at the AM transmitter site.

The Report & Order also updates the Border FM Rules affecting radio stations near the Mexican and Canadian borders, and adopting an NAB suggestion about how distances are calculated for border agreements. It updates the rules and eliminates language inconsistent with the terms and requirements of the 1992 U.S.-Mexico FM Broadcasting Agreement and the 1991 U.S.-Canada FM Broadcasting Agreement.

These rule changes will become effective 30 days after Federal Register publication.

For more information on these rule changes contact Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth.

FCC Announces Effective Date of New Political Programming Rules

Recently we posted a blog alerting that the FCC was updating aspects of its political programming and recordkeeping rules.  That FCC Order revised the definition of “legally qualified candidate for public office”, and also amended the political file rules.  The revised rules are effective 30 days after publication of a summary of the order in the Federal Register, except for portions of the rules requiring OMB approval.

The Federal Register published a summary of the order on February 10, 2022.  Therefore, the amendments to the definition of “legally qualified candidate” will take effect on March 14, 2022.  The amendments to the political file requirements still require OMB approval and will become effective after a future publication in the Federal Register.  We will alert you when that occurs.

With an election year ahead, Fletcher Heald will be teaming with several state broadcast associations, led by the Arkansas Broadcasters Association to present a webinar on the FCC’s political broadcasting rules on Thursday, February 24th at 1 pm EST.  Presenting will be Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth attorneys Frank Montero and Sara Hinkle, accompanied by the FCC’s Political Broadcasting team, Bobby Baker, Gary Schonman and Sima Nilsson.  You may register at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Du_aP8LTTmG4A8kMhGXdzw. The FCC Q&A will be “off the record”.

In the meantime, if you have questions about compliance with the FCC’s political rules, please contact us.

FCC Announces Procedures and Deadlines for Upcoming Auction of Full Power TV Construction Permits

The FCC announced this week that Auction 112, an auction of 27 construction permits for full power TV stations, is set to begin on June 7, 2022.  The auction procedures were set forth in a Public Notice, and participation will require certification that “the applicant has read the public notice adopting procedures for the auction and that it has familiarized itself both with the auction procedures and with the requirements for obtaining a construction permit for a television broadcast station.”

The filing window for Short-Form Applications (on FCC Form 175) will open on March 17th at 12:00 pm EST and close at 6:00 pm on March 30th.  If you participate in the auction, remember that the FCC’s prohibited communications rule kicks in after the deadline for filing a Short-Form Application.  Under this rule, applicants are prohibited from cooperating or collaborating with each other regarding, communicating about, or disclosing the substance of an applicant’s bids or bidding strategies, and may not discuss or negotiate settlement agreements with each other until after the down payment deadline.  Upfront payments with a complete Remittance Advice Form (FCC Form 159) must be submitted by May 6th at 6:00 pm. A practice “mock” auction will be held on June 3rd.

After bidding closes, winning bidders will be required to file in LMS a more detailed, Long-Form Application for Media Bureau Video Service Authorization to construct the new commercial TV station (on FCC Form 2100, Schedule A).

The auction is targeted to commence on June 7th.  Detailed application instructions will be made available in the Education section of the Auction 112 website. But, as always, contact us at Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth if you have any questions or if you would like assistance participating in the auction.

FCC Set to Decide Fate of Idaho License

The Federal Communications Commission is cracking down on stations that are off the air for a majority of its license term.  In June of 2021, Snake River Radio, LLC, applied to renew the license of KPCQ (AM) in Chubbuck, Idaho. However, the FCC’s review of the application and station records found that the station had been off the air for a great majority of the license term.  The station’s prolonged periods of silence and apparent inconsistencies in the explanations provided for such silences led the FCC to designate the station for hearing to determine whether renewal of KPCQ’s license is justified.

Snake River acquired KPCQ (then KRTK) on February 1, 2018. From that point until June 14, 2021, KPCQ was off the air 80% of the time for a total of 1,077 days – 350 between 2018 and 2019; 363 between 2019 and 2020; and 364 between 2020 and 2021.

The station initially went silent on June 30, 2018 because the leased tower “was sold to a housing developer” who demanded “removal” of the tower. Just shy of one year later, on June 26, 2019, Snake River filed a Resumption Notice stating, without further explanation, that it had resumed operations at its licensed facilities on June 15, 2019. However, around the same time, Snake River also reported that it went silent again on June 17, 2019 because one of the station’s guy wires had been “clipped and severed.”

The FCC is apparently unconvinced that KPCQ in fact returned to the air for a two-day period just before reaching 12 months of silence, at which point the license would automatically have expired as matter of law.

“Because it is improbable that [Snake River] was able to resume operation with the Station’s licensed facilities after dismantling its tower, we are designating an issue to determine whether the Station’s license expired . . . because the station failed to operate with its authorized facilities for more than 12 months,” Media Bureau Chief Holly Sauer wrote in the Hearing Designation Order released this week.

If the FCC finds that KPCQ was in fact off the air for 12 consecutive months, Snake River’s license would be deemed to have expired at the end of that 12 month period by operation of law. While the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by Congress, allows licenses to be extended or reinstated for any reason that would “promote equity and fairness,” making a showing to overcome the 12-month off-air rule is a very heavy lift.

For more information, contact Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth.