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FCC Issues Procedures Governing Competitive Bidding in First-Ever Broadcast Television Spectrum Incentive Auction; Sets March 29, 2016 Deadline for Television Stations to Submit Initial Bids

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

auction-block-150x140On August 11, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) released a Public Notice that sets forth the procedures that will govern competitive bidding in Auction 1000, the first-ever incentive auction of broadcast television spectrum.  As we mentioned previously, the Procedures PN establishes March 29, 2016 as the “date on which bidding will begin” in the auction, although active bidding rounds actually will begin at a later date.  The Commission affirms that the decisions detailed in the Procedures PN implement its overarching objective for the auction: to allow market forces to determine the highest and best use of spectrum.  The Procedures PN establishes rules for the following key elements of the auction: (1) Initial Clearing Target Determination Procedure; (2) Opening Prices; (3) Reverse Auction Bidding; (4) Forward Auction Bidding; (5) Assignment Round (Forward Auction); and (6) Final TV Channel Assignments

We have prepared a detailed summary of the Procedures PN.  Please contact any of the attorneys listed above, or the attorney who regularly handles your FCC matters, if you are interested in obtaining a copy.

Understanding What Will Happen on March 29 in the Incentive Auction

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Spectrum

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Updated 8/14/2015:  We have learned that the initial application to participate in the reverse auction will NOT constitute a binding commitment.  This post has been revised to reflect that new information.

One of the most common questions that we have received over the past several weeks is what exactly will happen on March 29, 2016.  Several weeks ago, the FCC announced (through the title of the Auction Procedures Public Notice) that the Incentive Auction will “begin” on March 29, 2016.  But it has remained a mystery what the Commission meant by “begin” – until now.

According to the Auction Procedures PN, March 29, 2016 “will be the deadline for reverse auction applicants to commit to an initial bid option.”  An explanation of the registration process will help put this in context.  The process of registering for the reverse auction will include several steps: Continue Reading

Biennial Ownership Report Deadline Extended to December 2

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

calendarIn a post last week, we told you that it is Time to Start Thinking About Ownership Reports.  Now, commercial broadcasters will have an extra month to think.

On August 6, 2015, the FCC’s Media Bureau adopted an Order extending the deadline for filing biennial ownership reports to December 2, 2015.  The Bureau explained that “some licensees and parent entities of multiple stations may be required to file numerous forms, and the extra time is intended to permit adequate time to prepare such filings.”

Although an extension of the filing deadline has become commonplace, many broadcasters will appreciate the advance notice.  Now, you can enjoy that extra month of summer before you start to think about ownership reports.

Time to Start Thinking About Ownership Reports

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

prepareIt’s still summer, but it’s never too early for commercial broadcasters to start thinking about Biennial Ownership Reports.  Because 2015 is an “odd year,” Ownership Reports will be due on November 2, 2015 (the 1st is a Sunday).  (NCE stations are required to file Biennial Ownership Reports every two years on the station’s renewal anniversary date or, with the proper notice to the FCC, on the renewal anniversary date of a commonly owned station.)  Broadcasters who have been through Ownership Reports before know that the drafting process is tedious and time consuming.  As such, it’s a good idea to start planning early.

Ownership Reports are currently filed in CDBS on FCC form 323.  As the FCC continues its transition from CDBS to the new Licensing and Management System (LMS), however, it’s likely 2015 Biennial Ownership Reports will be filed in LMS using form 2100 and a designated schedule.  Fortunately (or not) there shouldn’t be any substantive differences between the schedule and form 323.  A separate form 323/schedule must be filed for each “level” of a company’s ownership structure (for example, separate 323s/schedules must be filed for the licensee of a TV or radio station, the parent of the licensee, the parent’s parent, etc.).  Individuals and entities with an “attributable interest” in the entity for which the form/schedule is filed must be reported.  Individuals with an attributable interest must disclose their name, FRN, gender, ethnicity and race.  If any attributable individual or entity has an attributable interest in another broadcast station or certain newspapers outside the “ownership chain” for which the Report is filed, that too must be reported.

The Commission has also started to think about Ownership Reports.  On July 30, 2015, the Commission announced that it will host an all-day public workshop on Wednesday, September 9, 2015 to “discuss access to, and use of, the FCC’s commercial broadcast ownership data.”  The workshop will be targeted at public interest organizations and members of the public interested in mining ownership data.  As such, the workshop will address topics such as data that the FCC collects; how members of the public can access those data; and mechanisms for querying, studying, and visualizing the data, including in combination with data available from non-FCC sources.  Because much of the content will be technical in nature, the Commission encourages attendees to bring their own laptops.  The workshop will be held in the Commission Meeting Room at FCC Headquarters, 445 12th Street, SW, Washington DC, 20554.  The workshop will also be broadcast live on the Internet at www.fcc.gov/live.

Auction Update: Confirm Your Station Coverage and Population Data

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Spectrum

Auction BlockIn a Public Notice released yesterday, the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) announced that the final version of the TVStudy software, which calculates television stations’ coverage areas for use in the Incentive Auction and subsequent repacking, is now available on the Commission’s LEARN website.  OET also released a preliminary table showing the baseline coverage area and population served by all full-power and Class A television stations currently eligible for protection in the repacking process and participation in the Incentive Auction, as calculated using this final version of the TVStudy software,.

We emphasize, however, that the list of stations included in the table is not the final list of stations eligible to participate in the auction and receive protection in the post-auction repack.  The table just provides the baseline data for those stations that were included in last month’s preliminary list of auction-eligible stations (see our earlier post here), based upon the technical information currently in the FCC’s databases.  This technical information is subject to update based on licensees’ Pre-Auction Technical Certifications (Schedule 381), which are due by July 9, 2015.  The table may also be updated with any previously omitted stations who are successful in petitioning the FCC for inclusion.  Such petitions are also due by July 9.

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D.C. Circuit Upholds FCC Incentive Auction Order, Allowing Auction Process to Continue Forward

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Spectrum

auction-block-150x140 Marking a win for the Federal Communications Commission (Commission or FCC) in the latest incentive auction battle, on June 12, 2015, the D.C. Circuit sustained the Commission’s Incentive Auction Order and a related Declaratory Ruling. As we explained before, the Order, adopted on May 15, 2014, sets forth the rules of the upcoming reverse and forward auctions, and also lays out the FCC’s repacking plan. The Declaratory Ruling, released September 30, 2014, clarifies the Commission’s approach to repacking. Rejecting the arguments presented by Petitioners—the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (Sinclair)—a three-judge panel upheld the Commission’s decisions, allowing the incentive auction process to continue forward.

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FCC Releases Preliminary List of Auction-Eligible Facilities; Asks Stations to Certify Accuracy of Technical Data By July 9, 2015

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Spectrum

Auction BlockOn June 9, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) issued a Public Notice identifying a preliminary list of 2,202 full power and Class A television stations that are eligible to participate in the Incentive Auction and receive protection in the post-auction repack.  Specifically, the list includes those stations found to be subject to protection in accordance with the Commission’s June 2014 Report and Order.

We say that the list is preliminary for two reasons.  First, the Public Notice explains that the list is not intended to pre-judge the outcome of pending petitions for reconsideration of the Report and Order, which could lead to the inclusion of additional stations.  Second, any licensee who believes its station was omitted from the list in error may file a “Petition for Eligible Entity Status” by July 9, 2015 explaining why it believes its station is entitled to protection.

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FCC Media Bureau Allows Pandora to Acquire Radio Station, Approving Pandora’s Plan for Compliance with Waiver of Communications Act’s 25% Foreign Ownership Limit

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Foreign Ownership, Transactions

Just over a month after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) adopted its Declaratory Ruling (Pandora Ruling) allowing Internet streaming music provider Pandora to exceed the Communications Act’s 25% benchmark for foreign investment in broadcast licensee parent companies, the FCC’s Media Bureau granted Pandora’s application to acquire South Dakota radio station KXMZ. The Bureau took this action over the objection of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (“ASCAP”), one of the major music performance royalty organizations, which had taken issue with Pandora’s certification of compliance with the foreign ownership limits and its motivations for acquiring the radio station.

In the Pandora Ruling, the FCC authorized foreign investors to hold up to an aggregate 49.99% voting and/or equity interest in Pandora Media, the parent company of Pandora Radio, without additional Commission approval, provided that a majority of its Board of Directors remain United States citizens and subject to certain conditions. However, the FCC ordered Pandora to take certain steps to ensure that foreign shareholders do not obtain significant influence over Pandora without prior Commission approval and without giving Pandora the opportunity to take preventative or remedial actions. The FCC also ordered Pandora to submit a compliance plan in connection with its application to acquire KXMZ, outlining the steps it has taken and intends to take to comply with the Pandora Ruling.

As required, Pandora submitted a compliance plan to the FCC, which it later revised. In its revised compliance plan, Pandora committed to engage in the following steps to monitor its foreign ownership levels:

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FCC Grants Petitions for Waiver of Audible Crawl Rule

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

fcc-logoThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting two Petitions for Waiver of certain provisions of Section 79.2(b)(2)(ii). This rule section requires that emergency information provided visually during non-newscast video programming be made accessible audibly to individuals who are blind or visually impaired through the use of a secondary audio stream (Audible Crawl Rule).

National Association of Broadcaster (NAB) Petition

The Commission granted the request of the NAB for a six-month extension of the deadline for the Audible Crawl Rule. Broadcasters now have until November 30, 2015 to come into compliance with the Audible Crawl Rule requirements. Further, the Commission granted an eighteen-month extension of the requirement to aurally describe visual but non-textual emergency information – such as maps or other graphics. Finally, broadcasters were granted a waiver from the requirement to include school closing information in the audible crawls. NAB committed to working with consumer groups to find a more efficient alternative to communicate school closing information.

American Cable Association (ACA) Petition

The Commission also granted the request of the ACA for waiver of the Audible Crawl Rule for two classes of cable systems. First, hybrid digital/analog systems that lack the equipment to pass through secondary audio streams on their analog service will be allowed to comply with the requirement by providing consumers free set-top boxes. Second, analog-only systems were granted an extension until June 12, 2018 to comply with the secondary audio stream pass-through requirement.