FCC Outlines TV Translator Displacement Process

According to a post in CommLawCenter on the issue of displacement of TV Translators during the post-auction repacking process, the FCC has outlined how the displacement application process will work. Included among these efforts is the FCC’s creation of a new category of translator for full-power TV stations to fill-in loss areas, a special filing window for LPTV, TV Translator and analog-to-digital replacement translator stations seeking displacement channels, and rules permitting LPTV and TV Translator stations to channel share, both among themselves and with full-power stations.

For more information, please click here.

FCC Officially Starts Proceedings to Abolish Main Studio Rule and Review All Other Broadcast Rules

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP

As expected, at its monthly open meeting May 18, the FCC started two proceedings of particular importance to broadcasters. The first looks at the abolition of the main studio rules. The second asks for comments on all of the other rules affecting broadcasters and other media companies to see which are ripe for appeal. For the most part, the proposals as adopted mirrored the draft orders released for public review back at the end of April, which we summarized here.

The proposal to review all media rules – referred to as the Modernization of Media Regulation – will look at all media-related FCC rules with the idea of eliminating or modifying those that no longer make sense in the modern media environment. Only the multiple ownership rules, already under review in separate proceedings (see our posts here, here and here) are excluded from this review. Comment dates for proposals to change specific rules are due by July 5, with replies due August 4. The two Republican commissioners supported this proposal. Commissioner Clyburn, the FCC’s lone Democrat, dissented from the adoption of the Public Notice launching the inquiry, not necessarily because she is opposed to review of existing rules, but because she felt that the notice presupposes that the public interest can only be achieved by abolishing rules that limit industry operations. She suggests that many FCC rules remain important – including EEO rules, Biennial Ownership Reports, and certain rules governing access to cable programming. The Republican commissioners, on the other hand, point to the efficiencies that can be gained by abolishing rules that no longer make sense, or which require filings that serve no particular purpose (see Commissioner O’Rielly’s statement here). No doubt, these differing perceptions of the rules will be reflected in comments filed by various parties in this proceeding.

The proposal to abolish the main studio rule very closely tracked the draft order that we summarized back in April, here, asking a number of questions about the impact that the abolition would have on station’s ability to serve their communities. A few additional questions were added to the final order, the most substantive of which dealt with the requirement that would be retained that stations maintain local telephone numbers that local residents can call to address issues about station operations or to respond to community needs and emergencies that may arise. Included among the new questions was the question of whether the phone line needed to be manned during all business hours, or perhaps even during all hours of operation of the station. Even if a live person is not required to answer the phone, the FCC asked whether there should be some requirement that all calls be answered within a given time frame, principally so that no emergency go unreported. In effect, if adopted, these would be new requirements that a broadcaster giving up its main studio would have to live with.

The apocryphal story of the station in Minot, North Dakota where no one was home when a train carrying dangerous chemicals spilled was brought up in one Commissioner’s comments, suggesting that a specific rule on response time was needed – even though the owners of that station have repeatedly said that the story was not true and the station was covering the emergency even though local authorities, working with some outdated contact list, didn’t know where to call. Regardless of the truth of that story, the issue remains the one that appears to be the most controversial on this issue – how will a station with no physical local presence maintain ties with its community. Broadcasters and other interested parties can file comments thorough a date to be announced 30 days after the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is published in the Federal Register, with reply comments due 15 days later.

These two proceedings again demonstrate that Chairman Pai is serious about his deregulatory agenda for the FCC. Interested parties should comment on these proceedings and stay involved so that their viewpoints can be reflected in the FCC’s ultimate decisions – and in connection with the next deregulatory proposals that may arise from the Modernization of Media Regulation proceeding.

David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline.  Access information here. (Members only access).

There are no additional costs for the call; the advice is free as part of your membership.

Congressional Support to Maintain Tax Deductibility for Advertising

Over 100 members of Congress have voiced their opposition to changes in the tax deductibility treatment of advertising as expenses. The legislators sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), with Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) as leading signatories, asking that they “maintain the current tax treatment of advertising as a fully and immediately deductible business expense.”

The letter asserts that any “measure that would tax advertising – and therefore would make it more expensive – cannot be justified as a matter of tax or economic policy…. Advertising has been accorded the same treatment as all other regularly occurring business expenses, such as employee wages, rent, utilities and office supplies, throughout the 114-year life of the tax code.”

NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith said, “The National Association of Broadcasters thanks Representatives Yoder and Engel and the bipartisan group of 124 House members who have signaled strong opposition to a job-killing tax on advertising. Across America, advertising is an engine for economic growth that creates and supports millions of high-paying jobs. Advertising on local radio and TV stations and broadcast networks supports popular entertainment and provides listeners and viewers with trusted sources of news. In order to sustain our nation’s economic recovery and growth, it is imperative that tax laws continue to allow advertising expenses to be fully and immediately deductible.”

“We are grateful that so many Representatives in Congress have joined in this letter to acknowledge the important role advertising performs in our marketplace today,” said The Advertising Coalition Executive Director Jim Davidson. “Advertising does so much more than sell goods and services. It keeps our radio stations, newspapers, websites, television and cable broadcasts running and provides open access to information.”

Report Recommends FOIA Review

The State of Michigan Law Revision Commission is considering a report that recommends Legislative review of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The report does not include any recommended changes to the law, but, suggests the Legislature consider new definitions in the act based on recent court rulings. Among the language reviewed in the report, the law does not include as public bodies, committees formed by local governments, nor does it include elected local officials. The report notes that the law does not include electronic documents as “writing.” The report recommends the Legislature consider other forms of storage, such as flash drives, as legitimate ways to return records.

The law also appears to use “granted” and “fulfilled” interchangeably, though the Court of Appeals ruled last year that they are not synonymous and that an agency must actually produce the requested records in the time allowed, not merely approve the FOIA request. If an agency does not comply and a court finds there was bad faith, the law provides for fines between $2,500 and $7,500.  However, that does not indicate what an “occurrence” means and how that determines how many times a fine can be imposed. The board also declined to issue an opinion on whether the Legislature should create an entity to monitor access to records, but says the Legislature should review the issue.

Pai Proposes To Add Blue Alerts To EAS

Chairman Ajit Pai

On May 19, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced a proposal to add an alert option to the nation’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) to help protect our nation’s law enforcement officers.

Called a “Blue Alert,” the option would be used by authorities in states across the country to notify the public through television and radio of threats to law enforcement and to help apprehend dangerous suspects. The Chairman unveiled the proposal at an event hosted by the Department of Justice announcing the nationwide rollout of the National Blue Alert Network.

“As we have learned from the very successful AMBER Alert initiative for recovering missing children, an informed public can play a vital role in assisting law enforcement,” Chairman Pai said. “By expanding the Emergency Alert System to better support Blue Alerts, we could build on that success – and help protect those in law enforcement who risk their lives each day to protect us.”

Blue Alerts can be used to warn the public when there is actionable information related to a law enforcement officer who is missing, seriously injured or killed in the line of duty, or when there is an imminent credible threat to an officer. As a result, a Blue Alert could quickly warn you if a violent suspect could be in your community, along with providing instructions on what to do if you spot the suspect and how to stay safe.

Chairman Pai’s proposal would amend the FCC’s EAS rules by creating a dedicated Blue Alert event code so that state and local authorities have the option to send these warnings to the public through broadcast, cable, satellite, and wireline video providers.

Suzanne Goucher, EAS representative for the National Association of State Broadcast Associations (NASBA) said “the new code would be voluntary, so if states or stations didn’t want to use the new code for Blue Alerts, they could still use LEW, Law Enforcement Warning, for other incidents/situations.”

House Holds Hearing on Modernizing EAS

On May 20, Representative Greg Walden, (R-OR), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (and a former broadcaster), led a hearing on modernizing America’s emergency alert system.

“As we move forward, we want to make sure that our first responder community, and the citizens they serve and protect, have access to the latest technologies. And, we want to make sure that it is an evolving force, not something that is simply locked in place,” said Walden.

Broadcasters made their case for the importance of advanced emergency alerts via the new next gen ATSC 3.0 standard and the necessity for the FCC to approve NAB’s request, along with noncommercial broadcasters and tech companies, to roll out the new standard on a voluntary basis.

Sam Matheny, Chief Technology Officer for the National Association of Broadcasters told lawmakers: “All NAB members, the thousands of free, local radio and television broadcasters in your hometowns, take seriously their role as the most trusted source of news and emergency updates. Whether it’s preparing listeners and viewers for the coming storm, directing them to needed supplies and shelter during the disaster, or helping towns and cities rebuild in the aftermath, local stations are part of the communities they serve. And, local radio and TV stations are sometimes the only available communication mediums in an emergency when cell phones and wireless networks fail. In fact, a new poll was released by Morning Consult, reaffirming that broadcasters are the number one medium that the American People turn to in times of emergency, by a factor of nearly four to one.”

“This unique combination of trust and reliability is why, in addition to our ongoing, comprehensive news coverage of emergencies, broadcasters form the backbone of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). EAS connects over-the-air broadcast radio, television and cable systems to communicate critical safety information to the public during sudden, unpredictable or unforeseen events. These capabilities can be enhanced by a station’s voluntary upgrade to Next Gen TV, which will enable significant life-saving advances in emergency communications. One need look no further than the recent and tragic fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, or the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy to appreciate the vital role of a reliable communications infrastructure during a time of crisis. ”


Busy Times for Broadcasters and the MAB

Debbie Kenyon

By: Debbie Kenyon, MAB Chairman and Senior VP/Market Manager, CBS Radio Detroit

This has been quite a year legislatively. There are attacks on FOIA, claims of “Fake News,” Performance Royalty, National Ad Tax and the Spectrum Auction. The National Association of Broadcasters has done a terrific job keeping these issues at bay and we thank them.

Did you know that the NAB is the first to admit that they depend on strong state associations like the MAB to help with the grassroots lobbying efforts? A lawmaker trusts the NAB completely, but always wants to know, “What do my local broadcasters think about this?” Enter the MAB.

The MAB is well known among the Michigan Congressional Delegation. MAB schedules individual meetings during the Call on Congress in DC, as well as in-district Congressional meetings to discuss issues identified by the NAB. Because of these meetings and the overall lobbying efforts, many of our Congressional delegation have signed the Radio Freedom Act and three have signed a letter urging Congress to continue to treat advertising as an essential business expense.

The MAB board will continue to meet one of our core missions of advocacy. We need your help to do so. In order to speak with authority for the state, we need your station to be a member of the MAB and air the Public Education Messages (PEP). Though we do not lobby with the PEP funds, it helps fund our other missions, including continuing education and training, Legal Helpline, P1 Sales, and Broadcast Compliance Service, just to name a few. To date 98% of TV stations and 76% of all radio stations in the state are members of the MAB. Lets try to make that membership 100% of all Michigan radio and television stations.

In its 68 years of existence, the MAB is one of the most respected state broadcast associations in the nation and is a model for other states. President Karole White has been at the helm of MAB for just a little less than half of that time. Along with her excellent staff she has helped the MAB board build a strong organization with ever stronger advocacy efforts and member services.

It has been my honor to serve as Chairman this year and I look forward to seeing all of you at the MAB summer Advocacy Conference and Annual Meeting August 22-23 at Crystal Mountain Resort, Thompsonville.

Annual EEO Public File Report Deadline for Stations in Michigan

June 1, 2017 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection file and post the report on their station website.

In addition, a certain group of these stations, as detailed below, must electronically file their EEO Mid-term Report on FCC Form 397 by June 1, 2017.

For more information, please read the advisory from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP here. (PDF download via MAB)

Traffic Director Tips: Joni Reed (Black Diamond Broadcasting/Cheboygan)

(L-R) MAB’s Denise Weston, Black Diamond’s Joni Reed and Lynne Peck.

Joni Reed is Traffic Director for Black Diamond Broadcasting’s WMKC-FM, WGFM-FM, WQEZ-FM and WCBY-AM.  Joni works with Traffic and Billing Director Lynne Peck and both are based at the company’s Cheboygan, Michigan location.  Joni has been in traffic for 10 years.

Joni:  I started at the radio station 11 years ago, and sent out the billing before I was actually a traffic director. Within a year or two, I became a traffic director.  As we have several stations, we would print all of the invoices, go through them, sign and notarize, then fold and keep them in alphabetical order, adding each station’s invoice, so we could mail them all together for each client.

Later, we started printing monthly statements, so we added that into the same process.

Recently we were bought by Black Diamond Broadcasting, adding 2 more stations to our overall billing group.  During the transition of adding them to Marketron, we got some information from the trainer about something available. You can earmark all your invoices that have special instructions, or are co-op, as you enter your orders in ‘Remarks’ in the Header Field.  After you create your batches and post them, you can create an invoice report for the day of your invoices and when you print them, all the orders that you earmarked as special will print first and the rest will be in alphabetical order for you!

For us it has been a great time saver. We only have to pull out the agency invoices as the agency statements print at the end of the statement batch, but the agency invoices print in alphabetical order by agency.

We will NEVER GO BACK!!!! Can’t believe we didn’t know this earlier! We have A LOT of ‘special’ people, so it has saved time in more ways than one.

Hope this helps someone else save time!