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FCC Public Notice Asks What Media Regulations to Eliminate

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, MVPD Regulation

On May 18, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a Public Notice initiating a review of its rules applicable to television and radio broadcasters, cable operators, and satellite television providers. The stated purpose of the review is “to eliminate or modify regulations that are outdated, unnecessary or unduly burdensome.” In addition to seeking comment on what rules should be modified or repealed generally, the FCC also asked if there are specific rules from which small businesses should receive regulatory relief.

This proceeding almost certainly will cover familiar territory for media entities, including operational rules, notification requirements, the retransmission consent regime, and the program carriage and program access rules. At the same time, given the FCC’s obligation to review its media ownership rules quadrennially, those rules are excluded from the instant review, as are the FCC’s recently adopted video accessibility requirements.

Comments are due by July 5, 2017 and replies are due by August 4, 2017.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the review is designed to overcome “regulatory inertia.” Democrat Commissioner Mignon Clyburn dissented from the Public Notice, however, claiming that “the FCC’s majority starts with a premise that advancing the public interest can only be achieved by clearing the books of rules for the benefit of industry.”

If you are interested in submitting comments, please contact the Wiley Rein attorney who regularly handles your FCC matters or one of the authors of this post.

FCC Proposes Elimination of Broadcast Main Studio Rule

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

Update 6/2/2017: Based on today’s publication in the Federal Register, comments are due on July 3, with reply comments due July 17.

On May 18, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in which it proposed to eliminate the main studio rule for all services (including the associated minimum staffing requirements). Comments will be due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, with reply comments due 15 days later.

Under the main studio rule, AM, FM, and television broadcast stations must maintain a main studio in their community of license, within the station’s principal community contour, or within 25 miles from the reference coordinates of the center of its community of license. Traditionally, the main studio served as the hub for the station’s records and its contact with the community.

The NPRM concludes that “technological innovations have rendered a local studio unnecessary as a means for viewers and listeners to communicate with or access their local stations and to carry out the other traditional functions that they have served.” Accordingly, the NPRM proposes to eliminate the requirement to maintain a main studio with production and transmission facilities and the associated staffing requirements.

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FCC Releases Orders Eliminating FRN/RUFRN Requirement for NCEs and Allowing NCEs More Flexibility to Conduct Third Party Fundraising

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

On April 20, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission released the final text of two items adopted at the Commission’s April OpenMC910217216 Meeting that reduce regulatory burdens on noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcasters. The first item is an Order on Reconsideration (Recon Order) that allows NCE filers to utilize so-called “Special Use” FRNs (SUFRNs) when filling out ownership reports. Unlike FRNs or Restricted Use FRNs, SUFRNs do not require disclosure of personal information. The second item is a Report and Order that revises the FCC’s rules to allow NCE stations that do not receive CPB funding to conduct limited on-air fundraising activities that interrupt regular programming to benefit third-party non-profit organizations.

The text of each item is largely the same as the proposed text released by the Commission on March 30, 2017, which we summarized here. However, in the final Recon Order, the Commission added a sentence affirming that its “prior decision to collect data on the race, ethnicity, and gender of individuals holding attributable interests in NCE licensees remains undisturbed, and this data will be available to the Commission and researchers for purposes of evaluating ownership diversity issues.” Meanwhile, in the final Report and Order, the Commission appears to have narrowed the scope of the waiver available to CPB-funded stations seeking to conduct third-party fundraising. Because all but one CPB-funded station submitted comments in opposition to more permissive third-party fundraising, the Commission exempted CPB-funded stations from the new rule. However, in the draft Report and Order, the Commission specified that individual CPB-funded stations could request a waiver of the exemption generally (so as to be able to conduct fundraising for any third-party non-profit) via the long-standing waiver process used under the old rules. In the final Report and Order, that language is deleted and replaced by language suggesting that waivers under the long-standing process will be available to CPB-funded stations only in the context of disaster relief efforts or catastrophic events.

FCC Chairman Proposes to Eliminate the Main Studio Rule . . . And Possibly More

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

filingcabinetFCC Chairman Ajit Pai formally unveiled two proposals on Thursday to remove outdated broadcast regulations.  First, the Commission released a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would eliminate the main studio rule for all services (including the associated minimum staffing requirements).  Second, the Commission released a draft Public Notice seeking comment on media-related rules to modify or repeal.  Both items are on the agenda for the FCC’s May 18 open meeting (where they will share the dais with Chairman Pai’s proposal to remove Title II regulation of broadband Internet access service).

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Now Effective – The FCC’s Streamlined Broadcast Foreign Ownership Rules and New Rules Governing Foreign Ownership Compliance

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Foreign Ownership, Transactions

With the publication of an announcement in the Federal Register on April 20, 2017, the FCC’s new foreign ownership rules, originally adopted on September 30, 2016, are now finally effective. The FCC’s September 2016 order made two significant changes to the agency’s foreign ownership rules. First, the new rules contain “streamlined” procedures that broadcasters must follow when filing a petition for declaratory ruling seeking FCC approval to exceed the foreign ownership limits set forth in Section 310(b)(4) of the Communications Act. Second, the FCC reformed the methodology for publicly traded broadcasters and common carriers to assess compliance with the statutory foreign ownership limits set forth in Sections 310(b)(3) and 310(b)(4) of the Act, and made clear that private companies are expected to have full knowledge of the extent of their foreign ownership.

The effectiveness of these new rules clears the way for additional foreign investment in broadcast companies, by extending to broadcasters procedures for declaratory rulings that are similar to those which have long applied to common carriers. The new rules also set forth a uniform methodology for publicly traded companies subject to the foreign ownership restrictions to assess their compliance with those restrictions. Although this new methodology provides increased transparency regarding the steps that the FCC expects public companies to take, it also heightens the need for such companies to exercise due diligence by monitoring foreign investments consistent with the new requirements.

FCC Releases Draft Orders that Would Eliminate FRN/RUFRN Requirement for NCEs and Allow NCEs More Flexibility to Conduct Third Party Fundraising

Posted in Broadcast Attribution, Broadcast Regulation

On March 30, 2017, the FCC or Commission released two draft items that, if adopted at the Commission’sFCC April Open Meeting, would reduce regulatory burdens on noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcasters.

FCC Form 323-E and Permissive Use of SUFRNs

The first item is a draft Order on Reconsideration (Draft Recon Order) that would roll-back a requirement that officers, directors, and other individuals with attributable interests in NCE stations obtain FRNs or “Restricted Use” FRNs (RUFRNs) for purposes of completing and filing ownership reports. To obtain an FRN or RUFRN, an individual must disclose his/her social security number, date of birth, or other personal information. NCE broadcasters objected to the requirement, adopted in January 2016, and argued that such disclosure would discourage volunteers from serving on the governing boards of NCE stations and pose unique challenges for board members who are politically elected or appointed. Continue Reading

Draft FCC Order Would Restore UHF Discount

Posted in Broadcast Regulation

calculatorOn Thursday afternoon, the FCC released the text of a draft Order that would grant a Petition for Reconsideration and reinstate the “discount” applied to UHF television stations when calculating compliance with the 39% national TV ownership cap.  The Commission will vote on the Order at its April 20, 2017 open meeting.

The FCC adopted the UHF discount in 1985, explaining that it compensated for the fact that the signal strength of a UHF television signal decreased more rapidly with distance, resulting in smaller coverage areas and smaller audience reach.

In September, the Commission voted to eliminate the UHF discount, finding that there is “there is no remaining technical justification” for the discount.

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FCC Grants First Petition for Declaratory Ruling Allowing 100% Foreign Ownership of Broadcast Station Licensees

Posted in Broadcast Regulation, Foreign Ownership, Transactions

The Media Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released the first-ever decision permitting foreign citizens to own 100% of broadcast station licensees. In the declaratory ruling, the FCC authorized two Australian citizens each to own 50% of Frontier Media, LLC, the parent company of broadcast licensees owning seven AM radio stations, eight FM radio stations, thirteen FM translators, and one TV translator in Alaska, Arkansas, and Texas.  As a condition of approval, the owners must obtain prior consent for any additional foreign owners, but the ruling imposes no other significant conditions.  Continue Reading

A Regulatory Play-By-Play Of Intel’s Super Bowl Drone Show

Posted in Broadcast Technology

Originally posted on WileyConnect, the Internet of Things Blog by Wiley Rein LLP.

It’s time to answer the most important question on everyone’s mind after Super Bowl LI: what type of regulatory approvals and deviations were required to enable Intel’s massive display of 300 choreographed unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that kicked off Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show?

Image source: https://www.drones.nl/media/wysiwyg/images/1486361360-super-bowl-2017-lady-gaga-drones.jpg

The halftime show begins with Gaga singing a mashup of “God Bless America” and “This Land Is Your Land” while standing on the open roof of Houston’s NRG Stadium.  The camera pans out to reveal a sky of 300 UAS shimmering like stars behind the headliner.  Still swirling around the sky, the white lights of the UAS fade to red and blue.  The aircraft then shift to form the image of an American flag to accompany the patriotic number.  After concluding with a line from the Pledge of Allegiance, Lady Gaga appears to jump into the stadium, and the sky fades to black.  At the end of the performance, the drones return to form the logos for Pepsi (the sponsor of the halftime show) and Intel. Continue Reading