New FCC Online Public File Requirements Approved by OMB; Effective Date Coming Soon

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

This morning, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the FCC’s new online public file requirements for radio stations, cable systems, DBS operators, and SDARS operators.  The rules are not yet effective, but will become effective on a rolling basis on the schedule below after an approval notice is published in the Federal Register.  Based on past experience, we expect Federal Register publication to occur within a few days to a few weeks.  When Federal Register publication occurs, the FCC will announce the actual effective date of the new rules.  The FCC has also said that it will schedule tutorial sessions (as it did when the television online public file was implemented) prior to the effective date of the new rules.

  • Within 30 days of the publication of approval of the rules by OMB: Commercial broadcast radio stations in the top 50 markets with five or more full time employees in their station employment unit, cable systems with 1,000 or more subscribers, DBS providers, and SDARS licensees must begin uploading new public inspection file material and new political file material to the online public file. Cable systems with between 1,000 and 5,000 subscribers initially will be exempt from the requirement to upload new political file material.
  • Within six months of the publication of approval of the rules by the OMB: Commercial broadcast radio stations in the top 50 markets with five or more full time employees in their station employment unit, cable systems with 1,000 or more subscribers, DBS providers, and SDARS licensees must complete the process of uploading their existing public file material to the online public file.
  • March 1, 2018: Commercial broadcast radio stations outside the top 50 markets or with fewer than five full-time employees in their station employment unit and all NCE radio broadcast stations will have until March 1, 2018 to upload their existing public inspection file material to the online public file. From that date forward, such stations must also upload new public inspection file material and new political file material to the online public file. Additionally, cable systems with between 1,000 and 5,000 employees must begin uploading new political file material to the online public file by this date.


What to Make of the 126 MHz Incentive Auction Clearing Target

Posted in Spectrum

auction-block-150x140This morning, the FCC announced that the initial clearing target for the reverse auction will be 126 MHz, which is at the high end of expected clearing targets (although the FCC adopted potential band plans up to 144 MHz, its agreements with Mexico and Canada limited the utility of band plans above 126 MHz).  The high clearing target reflects robust broadcaster participation in the auction.  In a statement, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said: “The wireless industry has said it needs additional spectrum to meet growing customer demand and usher in the age of 5G. The broadcasters have stepped up and done their part to fulfill that demand.”

Under the 126 MHz clearing target, the new UHF television band will be 14-29.  Although the FCC has not announced how many television stations will be repacked on channels above 29 (and within the new 600 MHz band), based on the other information that the FCC released, the number of such stations appears to be low (which will come as a relief to many broadcasters that did not submit bids to participate in the auction).

With the initial clearing target out of the way, much attention will turn to the forward side of the auction and whether there will be sufficient demand to allow the auction to close in the first stage.  Under the Spectrum Act and the FCC’s rules, the auction can only close if forward auction revenues are sufficient to cover the cost of clearing broadcasters and the FCC’s auction costs, as well as to fund the $1.75 billion TV broadcaster repacking fund.  If the forward auction falls just short, the FCC will hold an extended round in an effort to close the auction in that stage.  Otherwise, the FCC will advance to a second stage of the auction at a 114 MHz clearing target.  Continue Reading

FCC to Reimburse Repacking Expenses Incurred Before Auction Close — But With a Catch

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Broadcast Technology

prepareThe FCC has some good news for broadcasters that want to get a jump on the repacking process.  In a Declaratory Ruling issued today, the Commission announced that “costs reasonably incurred” by broadcasters prior to the close of the Incentive Auction and the issuance of the Channel Reassignment Public Notice may be eligible for reimbursement under the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund.  The Declaratory Ruling removes a potential barrier for stations that wanted to take certain actions in preparation for the repack, such as conducting tower studies.

However, there are three constraints on obtaining reimbursement for expenses incurred before the auction is complete: Continue Reading

Five Things Television Broadcasters Should Know About ATSC 3.0

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Broadcast Technology

UPDATE (4/27/16):  The FCC has solicited comments on the Petition for Rulemaking.  Comments are due by May 26, 2016 and reply comments are due by June 27, 2016.

There is a lot of buzz in the bATSC 3roadcast industry about ATSC 3.0.  Yesterday, a coalition of groups representing broadcasters and equipment manufacturers took an important step in the transition to the next generation broadcast standard, asking the FCC to adopt rules allowing television stations to begin broadcast transmissions utilizing the rapidly evolving new standard.  And at the NAB Show next week, there will be countless displays showing off the potential of “Next Generation TV.”  With that backdrop, we thought that it would be a good time to highlight several things that broadcasters should know about ATSC 3.0. Continue Reading

FCC Proposes Expanding Video Description Requirements

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, MVPD Regulation

communicationOn April 1, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on whether to expand its video description requirements to cover additional networks, to increase the number of hours of programming that must be video described, and to improve consumer access to video description information. Comments are due thirty days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register; Reply Comments are due sixty days after Federal Register publication.

The Commission’s current video description rules require commercial television stations affiliated with the top four networks and located in the top 60 television markets to provide 50 hours per calendar quarter of video described prime time or children’s programming. In addition, multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) that serve 50,000 or more subscribers must provide 50 hours of video description per calendar quarter during prime time or children’s programming on each of the top five national nonbroadcast networks (currently USA, TNT, TBS, History, and Disney Channel). The current rules also require all network-affiliated broadcast stations regardless of market size, and all MVPDs regardless of numbers of subscribers, to pass through video description if the station or network has the technical capacity to do so. The current rules were adopted pursuant to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), which authorizes the FCC, subject to certain limitations, to issue additional regulations, if the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.

As detailed further below, the Commission proposes increasing both (1) the number of hours of programming that must be video described, and (2) the number of covered networks. It also proposes to adopt rules designed to enhance consumer access to information about video described programming and to increase the availability of such programming. The NPRM does not propose to expand video description obligations beyond the top 60 DMAs (in part because the CVAA prohibits the Commission from doing so until 2020) or any changes to the pass through requirement. Continue Reading

FCC Rejects Petition to Expand Multilingual EAS; Imposes New Reporting Requirement for EAS Participants

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

MM900297089The FCC has rejected a petition by a group of organizations seeking to make emergency information more accessible to non-English speakers. In an Order released on March 30, 2016, the Commission declared that it “support[s] the general goal of making emergency alert content distributed over the Emergency Alert System (EAS) more accessible to persons whose primary language is not English.” However, the agency determined that state and local authorities are best positioned to distribute multilingual alerts.

Nevertheless, “consistent with the stated purpose” of the petition, the Commission is requiring State Emergency Communications Committees (SECCs) to obtain information from EAS Participants—which include radio stations, television stations, cable systems, wireline video systems, wireless, direct broadcast satellite service providers, and digital audio radio service providers —about how they provide emergency alerts to persons speaking language other than English and to include such information in state EAS plans. Continue Reading

The Auction Block: It’s March 29 – Now What?

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Spectrum

auction-block-150x140Like an episode of Seinfeld, this is a blog post about nothing.

Today marks the official start of the FCC’s broadcast television incentive auction.  Auction-eligible stations have just hours left (until 6:00 p.m. EDT) to submit their initial commitments through the FCC’s auction system.

So you have a full power or Class A television station and submitted your initial commitment—what happens next?  Nothing.  That’s right, nothing.  Okay, not exactly nothing, but it will feel like nothing for auction participants.  FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will not be showing up on anyone’s doorstep tomorrow morning with an oversized check and a camera crew in tow (call it a missed PR opportunity for the Commission). Continue Reading

Proposed Changes to Emergency Alert System Could Impose New Burdens on Broadcasters, MVPDs, and Wireless Providers

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Broadcast Technology

warningOn March 24, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) published in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on a number of proposed changes to the infrastructure and rules supporting the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA).  Although many of the proposed changes relate to the organization of the systems themselves, others directly involve broadcasters, multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), and wireless providers.  Comments on the proposed changes are due by May 9, 2016, and reply comments are due by June 7, 2016.

The NPRM divides the proposals into four categories: (1) improving alerting organization and the state and local levels; (2) building effective community-based public safety exercises; (3) ensuring that alerting mechanisms are able to leverage advancements in technology; and (4) securing the EAS against accidental misuse and malicious intrusion.  Although the latter two categories are most relevant to broadcasters, MVPDs, and wireless providers, because all of the proposals could affect broadcast operations, we address them in turn. Continue Reading

FCC Allocates Responsibility for Closed Captioning Quality Between Video Programmers and Video Programming Distributors and Establishes Complaint Procedures

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Captioning

CCAt its February 18, 2016 Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) adopted the Second Report & Order on Closed Captioning Quality (Order), which amends its closed captioning rules. Among other things, the Order allocates responsibility for the quality of closed captions between video programmers and video programming distributors (VPDs), makes video programmers’ certifications of compliance mandatory and requires that they be filed with the FCC, establishes a burden-shifting framework and three-tiered compliance ladder for the resolution of captioning complaints, and requires video programmers to register with the Commission.

Shared Responsibility for Captioning Quality

The Order amends the Commission’s captioning rules to allocate responsibility for captioning quality between VPDs and video programmers. The new rules place “responsibility on each entity for those aspects of closed captioning quality over which they primarily have control.” VPDs will be held responsible for captioning problems related to faulty equipment or the failure to pass through captions. Video programmers will be responsible for captioning problems stemming from the production or transmission of captions up to the point where they are handed off to distributors. However, VPDs will continue to have primary responsibility for the provision of closed captions, including the obligation to pass through programming with the original closed captioning data intact in a format that can be recovered and displayed by consumers.  Continue Reading

Modernized Contest Rule Now Effective

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Contests

MM900236467With its publication in the Federal Register on February 12, 2016, the FCC’s modernized Contest Rule is now in effect.

As we previously noted, the modernized Contest Rule gives radio and television stations the option to disclose material contest terms online, provided that they satisfy certain requirements. Specifically, stations choosing to disclose material contest terms online must announce on-air the web address where individuals can find material terms disclosures. These announcements must contain “information sufficient for a consumer to find those terms easily,” for example, “for contest rules go to kxyz.com and then click on the contest tab.”

The FCC’s rules mandate that broadcasters announce the website address “periodically.” The Commission declined to specify a minimum number of times per day that such announcements must be made, suggesting instead that the number of announcements should increase with the frequency with which a contest is mentioned or advertised. However, because state law and the FTC generally require contest advertisements to include information about how to obtain official rules, broadcasters should include the website address where material terms can be found in all contest promos. Continue Reading