Category Archives: Legislative Update

FCC To Review Media Regulations

Ajit Pai

According to a report in Broadcasting & Cable, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that he will be launching a major review of broadcast, cable and satellite regulations at the May 18 public meeting of the FCC. The chairman also promised that under his chairmanship, broadcasting and broadcasters will not be a “speed bump” but an indispensable part of the communications landscape.

Pai’s comments were part of the keynote address during the general session at the NAB Show. The chairman addressed restoring the UHF discount, signaling fewer restrictions on joint sales agreements, enacting process reforms, including eliminating cross-ownership rules, small-market duopoly restrictions, raising the 39% national ownership cap and swift action on rolling out the new ATSC 3.0 next gen transmission standard.

Representative Introduces Voter Bill of Rights

State Representative Jon Hoadley (D-60) has introduced a constitutional amendment to include a voter bill of rights. The amendment, HJR O, includes the right to no-reason absentee voting and in-person early voting up to 15 days before an election, and would automatically register any eligible person issued a state driver’s license or identification card. American citizens living or working overseas, including those in military service, would automatically be sent an absentee ballot under the proposal.

The resolution was sent to the House Elections and Ethics Committee. It would need a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate and would then need to be voted on statewide to become law.

May Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Incentive Auction, ATSC 3.0 and Broadcast Deregulation

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
www.broadcastlawblog.com

May is one of the few months without the normal list of quarterly filings and EEO public file reports. But, just because there are none of these regular filings due, that does not mean that the month will be a quiet one for broadcasters on the regulatory front. In fact, far from it. There are obligations for television broadcasters in connection with the incentive auction and the subsequent repacking of the TV spectrum, an FCC meeting that will start two proceedings that could dramatically reduce the regulatory burdens of broadcasters, and comments due on the FCC’s proposal for the next generation of television broadcasting.

In connection with the incentive auction, on May 11, stations that are relinquishing their channels in exchange for compensation from the FCC must file an FCC Form 1875 detailing where payments for that relinquishment will go. After that information is received and processed, the FCC will send an email to the payee asking for bank account information that must be entered into the “CORES Incentive Auction Financial Module.” Stations looking for their auction payouts need to observe these details so the FCC knows where to send their money.

In addition to these steps to ensure that relinquishing stations are properly compensated, those stations that are remaining in operation, but which will have a change in channel as part of the FCC’s compression of the TV band, may elect to forego the reimbursement of their expenses in exchange for a waiver of the TV service rules to allow these stations to offer a non-broadcast service. What exactly this means is open to some question, as all TV stations can already offer some non-broadcast services through the excess capacity provided by their digital channel. Whatever it may mean, stations choosing to take advantage of this provision of the legislation that authorized the auction must file, by May 15, a statement of intent to rely on this provision. The FCC has been urging stations thinking about such filings to contact the FCC to discuss their plans before submitting the request. For more information about upcoming deadlines for stations that are surrendering their licenses or ones that are being repacked, see the FCC’s Incentive Auction Closing and Channel Reassignment Public Notice, here.

The capacity to expand their offerings of non-broadcast services is one of the benefits for TV broadcasters advanced by advocates of the new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard. The transition to the new standard was much discussed at last week’s NAB Convention, and we are sure to write more about it on these pages. But the first step is adopting rules for the service. The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, available here, sets out those proposed standards and asks a number of questions about the regulations that should apply both to the conversion to the new transmission system and to the actual operations of stations once they convert to the new standard that is adopted. Comments on the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking are due on May 9, with replies to be submitted by June 8.

Also up for consideration in May, at the Commission’s May 18 meeting, are the two steps toward the further deregulation of broadcasting that we wrote about here. One is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking to eliminate the main studio rule. The second is a Public Notice, starting the FCC’s Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative, looking at what broadcast rules should be revised or eliminated. Many broadcasters will be interested in commenting on these matters, assuming that they are adopted as proposed in the draft documents released last week.

As always, there are many other regulatory deadlines that we haven’t covered here, including some that apply to specific stations. So pay attention to those deadlines that apply to your operations to make sure that you remain in compliance with the rules that exist – and take the opportunity to comment on proposals to change rules that may impact your operations.

For more information about other upcoming regulatory dates, see our Broadcasters’ Regulatory Calendar, here.

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.

Pai Moves to Modernize the FCC

Ajit Pai

According to a report in TVNewsCheck, the FCC Chair Ajit Pai announced the introduction next month of an overarching review of the commission’s broadcasting, cable and satellite rules. “Broadcasting remains an indispensable part of America’s communications landscape. And under my chairmanship, broadcasting won’t be seen as a speed bump. We’ll want to hear which rules you think should be modified or repealed as part of this review, and why.”

In a speech at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the FCC would undertake a “comprehensive” review of the 1,000 pages of broadcasting, cable and satellite TV rules with the goal of slashing or changing those that are “no longer needed or counterproductive.” Pai said a draft of the review has been sent to the other commissioners with the expectation that the FCC would vote to order the review at the FCC’s next meeting on May 18.

Bill to Give Student Journalists More Autonomy

State Representative Darrin Camilleri (D-23) has introduced legislation that safeguards the rights of student journalists to exercise free speech and freedom of the press. HB 4551 would make Michigan the 10th state to pass such protections for student journalists. Some schools currently require administrative approval before their publications can go to print. The legislation would remove that ability, provided the content being printed isn’t libel, invades privacy or incites readers to violence.

Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Massachusetts and Oregon have passed legislation to protect student journalists.

FCC Releases Names of TV Repack Regional Coordinators

According to MAB’s Washington, D.C. Attorney David Oxenford, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing FCC staff members who will help to coordinate the repacking of the TV spectrum. Each of these FCC staff members has been assigned a particular geographic area in which they will be responsible for contacting broadcasters to help to coordinate the repacking of their stations. These frequencies were changed in order to fit all the remaining stations into the smaller TV band left after the end of the incentive auction. The notice also lists stations that will be assigned a new channel in the post-auction repacking.

The Full Closing and Channel Reassignment Public Notice can be found here.

FCC Finds Online Sources Satisfy EEO Requirements for Wide Dissemination of Job Openings by Broadcasters and MVPDs

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
www.broadcastlawblog.com

The FCC on Friday (4/21) released a declaratory ruling making it significantly easier for broadcasters and MVPDs to meet their EEO obligations imposed by FCC rules. These rules for broadcasters and MVPDs (cable and satellite TV providers) require that these businesses, when filling job openings, widely disseminate information about the openings in a manner that is expected to reach members of all community groups in the area from which employees are likely to be found. In the past, under the rules adopted in 2002, the Commission has not allowed recruitment to be conducted solely through online sources. Instead, the 2002 order suggested that the daily newspaper would, in many communities, be an outlet that would reach the diverse groups within a community – though most broadcasters supplemented newspaper publication with notifications to numerous schools, community organizations, educational institutions and others who might possibly refer employee candidates. Stations that relied solely on online sources faced substantial fines from the FCC (see the cases we summarized here and here).

The decision on Friday recognized that we are in a different world than when these rules were adopted almost 15 years ago. Now, most recruiting is done online. Thus, in response to a petition I filed on behalf of clients (summarized here), the FCC determined that a broadcaster or MVPD can rely solely on online sources in its recruiting. It no longer needs to use the newspaper, reach out to community groups or even use its own airwaves to give notice of job openings to satisfy the wide dissemination obligation. The FCC encouraged stations to continue to use some of these outreach methods, but it is no longer required. The broadcaster or MVPD needs to be reasonable in picking online sources that are likely to reach the members of various groups within its community – though the decision as to exactly which online employment sources to use will be left to the good-faith discretion of the broadcaster or MVPD. The Commission went so far as to say that, depending on the circumstances, a single online source could reasonably be found to be sufficient.

Note that this ruling does not change any other EEO requirement. Even though broadcasters no longer need to reach out to community groups to meet the requirement of wide dissemination of job openings, a separate “prong” of the FCC’s EEO policy still requires that broadcasters notify community groups of job openings when a group specifically asks to be notified of such openings. So all outreach to community groups is not over. Also, this ruling does not disturb the requirement that broadcasters engage in efforts to educate the public about broadcast employment opportunities and how to find those opportunities and to train for them. This requirement for non-vacancy specific outreach requires that a broadcaster conduct a certain number of menu options every two years – things like attending job fairs, participating in internship or scholarship programs and having employees speak at educational institutions or before community groups about broadcast employment.

Nor does the ruling lessen the paperwork requirements of completing an annual EEO public file report and otherwise retaining information about a station’s hiring practices. Random EEO audits will also continue (see our post here about the last EEO audit notice). For more about the FCC’s EEO rules, see our posts here and here. Even though some EEO obligations must continue to be observed by broadcasters, this is one step supported both by broadcasters and members of the minority community to bring FCC-required recruiting practices into the modern day.

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.

Proposal to Eliminate Main Studio Rule

According to a report in Inside Radio, the FCC is circulating a proposal to relax radio’s Main Studio Rule. A law firm, Garvey Schubert Barer (GSB) has formally petitioned the Commission to repeal the regulation for all radio and television stations. The firm says in the petition, that doing away with the Main Studio Rule won’t reduce broadcasters’ “bedrock obligation” to serve the local community. “Instead, it is meant to recognize the technological and economic realities of today’s broadcast marketplace—that stations can serve their communities while realizing substantial and necessary cost savings by maintaining fewer offices and smaller staff.”

FCC chair Ajit Pai has not announced whether he’d support abolishing the rule, but he supports modernizing the agency’s regulations. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly called the Main Studio Rule “outdated and unnecessary” saying it “should be eliminated or severely modified.” The Media Bureau is believed to be evaluating the Main Studio Rule’s future as part of its ongoing AM revitalization initiative. Pai has said he’s most likely to act first on items which have broad support. GSB’s petition could be a mechanism to test how much consensus there is for abolishing the rule.

NMU Professor to run for Congress

Dwight Brady

A Northern Michigan University professor has announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives 1st Congressional District. Department of Communications and Performance Arts Professor Dwight Brady made his announcement  April 24 at the Marquette County Courthouse.

The seat is currently held by Republican Rep. Jack Bergman.

The 1st District covers the Upper Peninsula and the northern third of the lower peninsula. A primary election is expected, as another Democrat, retired Marine Lt. Col. Matthew W. Morgan of Traverse City, last month declared his candidacy.

Brady teaches multimedia journalism and media law at NMU. He has worked with students to create award-winning documentaries on topics from gray wolves to renewable energy. He won an Emmy Award for “Michigan’s Green Energy Economy” and was appointed to the Michigan Climate Action Council by then-governor Jennifer Granholm. The Mining Journal listed him as one of the “Movers and Shakers” of 2016 for his documentary “Boxed In” which looks at the Dark Store issue.

Lawmaker’s Bill Will Eliminate Daylight Saving Time

State Representative Pete Lucido (R-36) introduced legislation (HB 4011) to place the entire State of Michigan under the Eastern Time Zone (EST), and do away with the Daylight Saving Time (DST). Currently, only two other states in the nation, Alaska and Hawaii, do not have DST. If passed, HB 4011 would direct Governor Snyder to petition the U.S. Department of Transportation to make these changes. The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) oversees the nation’s time zones and the uniform observance of Daylight Saving Time.

According to the USDOT website, the principal standard for deciding whether to change a time zone is the convenience of commerce, which is defined very broadly to include consideration of all of the impacts upon a community that would result in a change in its standard of time, including a question of where does the community receive TV and radio broadcasts from. The bill has been sitting in the House Commerce and Trade committee since January with no pending action.

MAB Wants to Hear From You! Let us know what you think about this legislation by emailing gov@michmab.com.