FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the commission was revoking a number of orders and reports issued in previous Chairman Tom Wheeler’s term, what Pai called “midnight regulations.” Pai said, “In the waning days of the last administration, the Federal Communications Commission’s bureaus and offices released a series of controversial orders and reports. In some cases, commissioners were given no advance notice whatsoever of these midnight regulations.”
Among the repealed orders was one requiring tougher scrutiny of any joint sales and shared services agreements proposed by the broadcasters. NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said: “NAB is pleased that Chairman Pai is eliminating unlawful and arbitrary processing guidelines governing broadcast joint sales and shared service agreements. These regulations unfairly punished smaller broadcasters attempting to conserve resources to reinvest in localism and high quality programming.”
According to a report by TVNewsCheck, FCC Chairman Pai on February 7, released a “process reform measure” that changes previous commission procedure that he said he has sometimes found “inappropriate and disrespectful.”
Pai said, “I started a pilot program under which the Federal Communications Commission publicly released the text of two items to be voted upon at the agency’s upcoming Feb. 23 meeting. This program is designed to give Americans greater insight into the commission’s thinking about meeting items. Accordingly, I pledge that during my tenure as chairman, my office will share with every commissioner’s office every item that will be considered at an open meeting before anyone in my office discusses the content of those items publicly or the FCC releases the text of those documents.”
According to a report in Broadcasting & Cable, the FCC lifted the quiet period and enabled broadcasters who participated in the incentive auction to talk freely and negotiate among themselves to buy or sell their stations.
In January of 2016, the FCC imposed the gag order to prevent broadcasters from colluding before or during the reverse auction bidding. The FCC stated that the prohibition is no longer necessary as the reverse auction part of the spectrum auction is now closed. “Broadcasters are free to negotiate assignments or transfers of broadcast licenses or other transactions involving a transfer of control of a licensee that has been involved in the reverse auction,” the FCC said in a public notice. The quiet period is still in effect for wireless carriers bidding for spectrum in the forward auction.
U. S. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) issued a press release commending FCC Chairman Pai on taking steps to increase the agency’s transparency by releasing the text of two proceedings for public comment.
The lawmakers wrote, “This is the type of transparency we’ve been urging the FCC to implement for the last several Congresses. Then-Commissioner Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly had long pushed for greater transparency during Chairman Wheeler’s tenure…We applaud Chairman Pai’s decision to release the text of the FCC’s proposed AM revitalization and next generation broadcast items. We’re glad to see these items being advanced and look forward to working with Chairman Pai to create a more open, transparent and accountable FCC.”
In January, the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 290, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2017, sponsored by Chairman Walden. H.R. 290 contained provisions that would make the FCC more efficient, transparent and accountable through reforming the commission’s processes and ensuring the FCC regulates in an innovative and dynamic way. Part of the bill included the transparency reform FCC Chairman Pai announced.
New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai chaired his first Commission meeting with a Commission consisting of two Republicans (Pai and Michael O’Rielly) and one Democrat (Mignon Clyburn). The Commissioners unanimously approved a proposal to eliminate a rule requiring commercial TV and radio broadcast stations to maintain copies of correspondence (both letters and emails) from the public in a locally maintained public file. Full language of the Report and Order is available here.
The Commissioners stated that, in today’s world of social media, the requirement for the retention of letters in a paper public file is no longer necessary. National Association of Broadcasters’ EVP/Communications Dennis Wharton commented, “NAB applauds the FCC for its bipartisan decision to eliminate archaic correspondence file requirements and we thank Commissioner O’Rielly for his leadership on this issue. The order serves as a strong demonstration of Chairman Pai’s commitment to curtailing burdensome regulations that hinder broadcasters’ ability to operate, create jobs and serve the public interest.”
David Oxenfordwrites that the change will become effective once published in the Federal Register, following approval of rule change by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act. Until that publication, the rule remains in effect, so stations shouldn’t rush to the dumpster with their correspondence files just yet.
Scott Flick, in the CommLawCenter, notes that TV stations have been required to have all other portions of their public file online for a while now. Radio stations, on the other hand, have only recently begun to move their public files online, with commercial stations that are located in the top 50 markets (and which have five or more full-time employees) having to have uploaded all documents (except for the political file) by December 24, 2016. Because such stations have only had to upload their political file documents on a going-forward basis since June 24, 2016, unless such a station elects to also voluntarily upload all of its last two years of political documents (the political file retention period), it cannot eliminate its physical public file until June 24, 2018, at which point the station will have uploaded on a going-forward basis two years of political file documents.
All other radio stations, including noncommercial stations, are not required to upload their public file documents until March 1, 2018, and again, that excludes political file documents, which only must be uploaded on a going-forward basis beginning on that date. As a result, radio stations in this “Second Wave” won’t have all of their public file documents (including political file documents) online until March 1, 2020. Consequently, these stations won’t get the benefit of eliminating their physical public file until 2020 unless they elect to upload all public file documents, including the political file, earlier than that.
Michigan House of Representatives held a bi-partisan press conference last week announcing reintroduction of the legislation to expand open record laws to include the Legislature and Governor’s office. Last session, the House overwhelmingly passed the legislation, but it stalled in the Senate.
The 11-bill package is the first major initiative announced by the new House. The bills would mostly end the exemption the governor has always had from the Freedom of Information Act and create the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA) that declares what records of the Legislature would become newly public.
LORA contains several exemptions from open records requests, including:
Constituent communications due to privacy concerns;
Personnel records that are personal in nature, such as human resources files;
Records relating to an ongoing internal or legislative investigation or litigation;
Advisory communications within the public body or between public bodies;
Trade, commercial or financial records that are provided confidentially to assist in public policy;
Communications regarding bill drafting, sergeant-at-arms security issues and auditor general records; and
Records exclusively maintained by legislative caucuses.
According to the press release by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced legislation to roll back the FCC’s requirement that non-commercial broadcasters, in connection with the Biennial Ownership Reports that are due by December 1 of this year, get an FCC Registration Number for every person who has an attributable interest in a non-commercial licensee.
The press release states, “The FCC last year voted to overhaul their ownership requirements to improve minority ownership of broadcast stations. While most of the changes were reasonable, the FCC imposed unnecessary and burdensome ownership rules on non-commercial educational (NCE) broadcasters. Under these reporting requirements NCEs are required to include their board members as owners, raising privacy concerns, among other things. This legislation would repeal the new reporting requirements for NCE board members but will continue to require NCEs to report basic ownership information.”
As the incentive auction enters its closing stages, the FCC has issued a basic plan and detailed procedures for repacking TV stations into the smaller TV band.
The repacking involves moving hundreds of stations to new channels within 39 months.
The FCC said it will manage the channel migration in phases as several stakeholders had suggested.
In a statement, the FCC said “Recognizing that resources needed for the transition process are limited, the commission determined that a phased construction schedule would facilitate efficient use of these resources, eliminate the need for all stations to obtain their equipment or schedule tower crews at the same time and could account for the complexities that stations may face.”
Under the plan, stations will be assigned to one of 10 transition phases, each with its own testing and completion deadline, the FCC said. The completion deadline will be the last day a station may operate on its pre-auction channel.
Quiet Period Remains
The plan also clarifies, but does not lift the prohibition on broadcasters discussing any aspect of the incentive auction among themselves or publicly even though the reverse auction in which broadcaster sold spectrum is closed. The FCC imposed the so-called quiet period to prevent collusion among broadcasters that could corrupt the auction.
Last week, House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-93) announced committee assignments for the 2017-2018 term. A new committee focused on Michigan’s competitiveness was created and added to the roster this legislation session.
The full roster of policy committees and appropriations subcommittees is available here and here, respectfully.
In an article published just after noon eastern time today (1/23), Broadcasting and Cable reports that the FCC’s spectrum auction isn’t finished quite yet.
In round 4 of stage 4 (in what is essentially the clean-up phase of the spectrum incentive auction), forward auction bidders upped their bids by about $35 million, from $18,299,482,587 in round 3 January 19, the most recent bidding day, to $18,354,882,127, during a two-hour round this morning.
Round 5 of stage 4 was scheduled to continue at 2 p.m. today.
The publication notes that broadcasters’ take is already fixed at $10,054,676,822, so anything above that (and the $1.9 billion to cover auction and repacking) goes to the treasury and deficit reduction.