January Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP,

The holidays are over, and while the regulation never stops, it is time to once again buckle down and look at what is on the horizon for broadcasters. While, in the next few days, we will have our typical look ahead at the broadcast regulatory agenda in Washington for the New Year, we also need to look at more immediate deadlines in the month of January. As we are at the beginning of a calendar quarter, the tenth of the month is the date for broadcasters to add their Quarterly Issues Programs Lists for the just completed quarter to their public file – whether it be the online public file for TV broadcasters and the many radio groups that have already converted to the online file, or into the paper file for those radio broadcasters waiting until the last minute before making the conversion to the online file as required by March 1. These Quarterly Issues Programs lists are the only FCC-required documents showing how a broadcaster has met its public interest obligations to serve their communities and, as we have written many times (see, for instance, here and here), the FCC considers them to be very important, and thus have led to numerous substantial fines for broadcasters who have not met the FCC’s requirements.

TV broadcasters also need to file their Children’s Television Reports with the FCC by the 10th of the month, and place information into their public file about how they complied with the commercial limits on children’s television programming. As we have written before (see our articles here and here), these, too have been the subject of numerous FCC enforcement actions when the Commission becomes aware that the reports were not filed, or were submitted late. So be sure to timely file these reports with the FCC, and place the information about compliance with the commercial limits in your online public file by the deadline.

TV stations that are being repacked to a new post-auction channel also must file their quarterly FCC Form 2100, Schedule 387 Transition Progress reports by the 10th of January. See our article here about the initial FCC reminder on these reports.

For AM broadcasters, the second window for filing for new FM translators to pair with their AM stations is open from January 25 through January 31. This window is for Class A and B AM stations who were not allowed to file in the window that opened earlier this summer but only if the stations did not buy a translator and use a 250-mile waiver in the window that the FCC had opened for moving translators last year. See our article here on this upcoming window. We would also expect to begin to see applications granted for many of the FM translator applicants that filed long-form applications last month for their translator applications filed in the window earlier this year for Class C and D AM stations. And keep in mind that, in connection with the upcoming window, there will be a freeze on the filing of minor change applications for FM translators, FM booster stations and low power FM stations from January 18-31.

The effective date of the elimination of the FCC’s main studio rules is January 8 (see our article here). So we would expect some broadcasters to begin to take advantage of the flexibility that this rule change provides as to the location and staffing of their station operations. Obviously, station operators still need to serve the public interest in their communities (and demonstrate it in the Quarterly Issues Programs Lists mentioned above), but their local studio and staffing requirements will disappear as of January 8.

For broadcasters who stream their signals on the Internet and other webcasters, as we wrote here, January 1 brings higher royalties to be paid to SoundExchange, as the royalties set by the Copyright Royalty Board at the end of 2015 for the period from 2016 through the end of 2020 have been adjusted for inflation. Also, under many of the royalty regimes in place under the CRB decision, minimum fees for the year must be paid to SoundExchange by the end of the month.

As in any month, these are just some of the highlights on the regulatory calendar. Every station should be on alert to make sure that they address those compliance issues that need to be addressed, when they need to be addressed, to avoid regulatory issues down road.

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 MAB membership.

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