Category Archives: Legislative Update

PIRATE Act Passes the House

The Pirate Act which imposed federal penalties on pirate radio stations was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill creates penalties of up to $100,000 a day for violations up to a total maximum fine of $2 million. It also obligates the FCC to report to Congress annually on its activities to crack down on pirate radio and coordinate with the U.S. Attorney’s office and other government officials to seize the equipment of illegal operators of pirate stations.

Michigan Congressman Tim Walberg (R-7) took to the House Floor to speak out in favor of the Pirate Act to protect over the air broadcasters. Thank you, Congressman Walberg.

The bill was referred to the Senate for consideration.

House Committee Advances Open Records Bill

Legislation expanding the Freedom of Information Act to the Executive Office and creating a Legislative Open Records Act (LORA) for the Legislature was voted out of the House Government Operations committee this week and sent to the House Floor. In their current version, the bills provide parity between exemptions in LORA and the Executive Office’s exemptions under FOIA.

‘Constituent communications’ continue to be exempt under reported versions of the bills, but communications involving lobbyists, state employees or appointed state officials would be considered open records.

The document retention period outlined in the bills was also extended from 30 days to two years. Despite criticism, appeals under LORA will still be handled by the Legislative Council instead of a court, as it is done under FOIA. The bills, if passed, would take effect on January 1, 2020.

FCC Sends More Warnings to Radio Stations that Are Not Compliant with Online Inspection Public File Obligations – Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists are the Biggest Target

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP

The FCC has once again started sending out email notices to broadcast stations that are not in compliance with their online public file obligations. This follows a set of notices sent in early December, where the FCC first warned specific stations that there were issues with their online public inspection files (see our article here). The new email notices seem to be sent to two classes of stations – those that have done nothing to their online public files, and those that have activated the files, but not uploaded their Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists to those files. Some of the new notices follow up on notices sent in December. Both sets of notices ask for reports to the FCC from the stations that received the notice of corrective actions that they have taken.

We have been warning of the FCC’s concern about incomplete or inactive online public files for some time, and the potential impact that noncompliance could have on license renewals, which start for radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia in June 2019, with pre-filing public announcements of those filings due to begin on April 1. The renewal obligation for radio moves across the country with stations in a few specific states filing every other month in this three-year renewal cycle (for more information see, for instance, our articles here and here). Clearly, this set of emails is a warning to stations that the FCC is watching their public files, and that compliance problems will bring issues, and probably fines, if the files are not complete by license renewal time. The emails that have been sent out do not target every station in noncompliance with the public file obligations – but instead seem to just be a sampling of those stations – so do not relax and assume compliance simply because you did not receive any contact from the FCC.

As we have written before (here and here), the biggest issues will likely be with stations not uploading Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists and, for stations that are part of clusters with 5 or more full-time employees, Annual EEO Public Inspection file reports. Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists were the biggest source of fines in the last license renewal window – resulting in fines of from $10,000 to $15,000 for stations missing lists for multiple quarters in the 8-year long renewal term. In the last renewal term, those fines were issued when stations self-reported violations, before the FCC staffers could check on compliance from their Washington DC offices just by looking at the online public file of renewal applicants. So we expect more fines this time around. As we wrote here, the Quarterly Issues/Programs lists are the only official documents demonstrating how a station served the public interest – so take them seriously, as the FCC certainly does.

Look at your online public file now and make sure that you are in compliance with all public file obligations to insure that you do not have issues that will cost you at renewal time – or at any other time that the FCC decides to use its enforcement authority to start issuing fines.

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.

MI Supreme Court Moves Closer on Uniform Statewide E-Filing

Last week, the Michigan Supreme Court issued rules aimed at preparing state trial courts for the uniform e-filing standards. The goal is to require all court documents to be filed electronically throughout the state.

Among the proposals is a requirement that every county provide at least one computer workstation for individuals who are representing themselves but do not have access to a computer to file pleadings and receive notices from the court. The Supreme Court also filed a proposed rule allowing for an exemption to let people file paper documents and receive paper documents for good cause. Such a cause would include people held in custody in a jail, prison, juvenile facility or mental health facility.

The Supreme Court also required each court to establish a grievance procedure. Justice David Viviano said requiring e-filing across the state “is the best way to ensure that all residents have uniform access to local courts and resources.” The Supreme Court is taking comments on the proposed rules changes until May 1 and will hold a hearing on those proposed changes in May.

NAB State Leadership Conference and MAB Call on Congress

(L-R) Mac Edwards (Beasley Broadcast Group/Detroit); Catherine Badalamente (Graham Media Group/Detroit); Mike Murri (E.W. Scripps/Detroit); Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-12); Marla Drutz (Graham Media Group/Detroit); Mike Renda (Fox Television Stations/Detroit); Robert Davidek (Entercom Communications/Detroit).
(L-R) MAB Director of Government Relations Elena Palombo, Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-8th) and MAB Chairman Gary Baxter (E.W. Scripps/Lansing).
(L-R) Scott Shigley. Liggett Communications/Radio First (Port Huron); Mike Renda, Fox Television Stations (Detroit), Congressman Paul Mitchell (R-10th); MAB President/CEO Karole White.

 

On February 26-27, members of the MAB Board of Directors traveled to Washington, D.C. for the 2019 National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership Conference and MAB Call on Congress.

MAB members met with the Michigan Congressional delegation and their telecommunication staff to discuss:

(1) the need to oversee the FCC as it moves through the repacking timeline to ensure that no stations are forced off the air due to the circumstances outside their control;

(2) ask the Congress to ensure that any changes to the C-Band spectrum protect the existing users and their audiences from harmful interference;

(3) broadcasters’ opposition to the performance tax and MAB’s support of the Local Radio Freedom Act;

(4) broadcasters’ opposition to the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) that harms some viewers who are being denied access to their local television stations.

(L-R) Dan Boers, WOOD-TV (Grand Rapids); Bruce Goldsen, Jackson Radio Works (Jackson); Peter Tanz, Midwest Communications (Michigan); Congressman Fred Upton (R-6th); MAB President/CEO Karole White.
(L-R) MAB Director of Government Relations Elena Palombo; Tim Feagan (iHeartMedia/West Michigan); Congresswoman Haley Stevens (D-11); Rob David (Handyman Productions/Novi); Mike Murri (E.W. Scripps/Detroit).

SOS Benson: No-Reason Absentee Begins for May Election

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced that Michigan voters will not have to provide a reason to get an absentee ballot to vote starting in May 2019 election and all upcoming elections. This comes as a result of the ballot proposal that approved changes to the Michigan Constitution.

Absentee ballot applications for the May 7 election were released last week and are available at www.michigan.gov/vote.

Michigan Republican Party Elects Cox As New Chair

Laura Cox

This past weekend, former Michgian Representative Laura Cox was elected the next Michigan Republican Party chair at the party’s state convention.

Ms. Cox was the favorite going into the convention, with broad support from Republican leadership and other popular figures in the party, including the unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate John James.

Gina Barr, who has worked in party outreach at both the state and national level for women and urban voters, was also seeking to succeed outgoing GOP Chair Ron Weiser.

Terry Bowman, a longtime Republican activist, will serve as co-chair.

FCC To Set up Rules for $1 Billion Repack Disbursement

According to a report in Broadcasting and Cable, on March 15 the FCC will be voting on a proposal to formulate the rules for disbursing the additional $1 billion Congress approved for post incentive-auction.

The additional funding is allocated for the TV stations and some radio stations repack and moving expenses. FCC Chair Ajit Pai outlined the meeting agenda in his blog post.

The new funding was appropriated through the Ray Baums Act, which freed up additional funding on top of the $1.75 billion initially allocated by the Congress. The incentive auction closed April 13, 2017, with 84 MHz of spectrum raising almost $20 billion, including $7 billion for deficit reduction. The stations being repacked into new channels have until July 3, 2020 to move, so the 84 MHz can be used by wireless carriers.

GMR Interim Music License for Radio to be Extended – Yet Again

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP

To hear more from David Oxenford about issues coming before the FCC that impact your station attend his session at the Great Lakes Media Show.  David will be speaking Wednesday, March 6 at 9:00 a.m.  More on the #MABshow here.

This week, the Radio Music License Committee issued a press release that states that Global Music Rights (“GMR”), the new performing rights organization that collects royalties for the public performance of songs written by a number of popular songwriters (including Bruce Springsteen, members of the Eagles, Pharrell Williams and others) has agreed to extend their interim license for the performance of their music by commercial radio stations until September 30, 2019. The notice says that GMR will be contacting stations that signed their previous extension (through March 30). If you don’t hear from GMR, the RMLC suggests that you reach out to them about this extension.

As we have written before (see our articles here and here), GMR and the RMLC are in litigation over whether or not the rates set by GMR should be subject to some sort of antitrust review, as are the rates set by ASCAP, BMI and even SESAC (see our article here on the SESAC rates). In the interim, there is no license to play the GMR music outside the Interim license offered to all commercial stations, or individually negotiated licenses with the company. Commercial stations that play GMR music should either have a license or should discuss carefully with counsel their potential options and liabilities if they continue to play GMR music. Do not ignore the potential liability as, under copyright law, there are substantial “statutory damages” of up to $150,000 per song for infringement. Noncommercial stations are not covered by this license being offered by GMR to RMLC members, as public performance royalties for noncommercial broadcasting are set by the Copyright Royalty Board (see our article here for more details on the royalties for noncommercial stations). Those stations should also discuss their obligations for royalties under the CRB decision with their counsel.

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.

MAB Board Members to Travel to Washington, D.C. for the Annual Fly-In

On February 26-27, members of the MAB Board of Directors will travel to Washington, D.C. for the 2019 National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership Conference and MAB Call on Congress. MAB members will meet with the Michigan Congressional delegation and their telecommunication staff to discuss: (1) the need to oversee the FCC as it moves through the repacking timeline to ensure that no stations are forced off the air due to the circumstances outside their control; (2) ask the Congress to ensure that any changes to the C-Band spectrum protect the existing users and their audiences from harmful interference; (3) broadcasters’ opposition to the performance tax and MAB’s support of the Local Radio Freedom Act; (4) broadcasters’ opposition to the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) that harms some viewers who are being denied access to their local television stations.