Category Archives: Legislative Update

Congress Proposes Increases for Pirate Radio Fines

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act or “PIRATE” Act to allow the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fine someone who “willfully and knowingly” operates an unlicensed radio station up to $100,000 for each day they’re on the air –  up to a maximum $2 million per incident. The current maximum fine is $19,246 per day for each violation or each day up to a statutory maximum of $144,344.

The landlords and any business providing “physical goods or services” to the unlicensed station would also be subject to the fines – this provision is meant as an indirect deterrent aimed at advertisers buying time on some of the more sophisticated pirate stations.

The National Association of Broadcasters said it “strongly supports” the legislation. “Pirate radio is a real threat to public health and safety, causes interference to legal radio broadcasts and flouts the rule of law,” spokesman Dennis Wharton said.

The bill has been sent to the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

MAB Holds State Capitol Advocacy Day

On May 15, the Michigan Association of Broadcasters held its State Capitol Advocacy Day in Lansing.  MAB members met with state lawmakers to discuss the need for public notice reform, extending FOIA to the Legislature and the Governor’s Office, and to educate the lawmakers on the economic benefits of the broadcast industry in Michigan.

A press conference was hosted in the Capitol Rotunda as part of the day’s events to highlight the broadcasting industry’s positive impact of on the state economy.  Michigan broadcasters created more than 8,000 jobs in last year and accounted from$1.5 billion of the state GDP, according to the findings of a 2017 survey by the Washington, D.C., based Woods & Poole Economics, Inc.

Cable Pushes for Centralized Retrans Election

According to a report in Multichannel, executives from Comcast, Charter and NCTA-The Internet & Television Association met with the Media Bureau Chief Michelle Carey and other FCC staffers last week to talk up their proposal for centralized retrans elections.

The agency, in one of its moves to ease regulatory paperwork, proposed to allow more electronic delivery of information, like subscriber notices and retrans/must carry elections, rather than the current certified mail requirement for retrans elections.

Broadcasters have asked the FCC to allow them to post retransmission consent elections in their individual online public files, which presumably means MVPDs would have to look for them there, creating a new burden at odds with the FCC deregulatory efforts.

FCC Considers Eliminating Broadcast License Posting Requirements

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday launched a proceeding to consider eliminating various rules that require the maintenance and posting of broadcast licenses and related information in specific locations.

The Commission originally adopted broadcast license posting rules in 1930. Over the years, it expanded these rules to apply to new services that were deployed by broadcasters.

Because the vast majority of the information contained on these licenses is now available through the Commission’s electronic databases, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asks whether regulations requiring broadcast licenses and related authorizations to be physically posted are outdated and no longer necessary.

This marks the 10th proceeding that has been launched as part of the Commission’s ongoing effort to modernize its rules by eliminating or modifying regulations that are outdated, unnecessary or unduly burdensome.

Senate Provision Can End Healthy Michigan Eligibility after 4 Years

The Michigan Senate version of the Department of Health and Human Services budget for the Fiscal Year ’19 could have major implications on Healthy Michigan recipients who have been on the program for four years.

The state now  keeps individuals on Healthy Michigan if they show they have adopted a healthy behavior, but the Senate provision would end Healthy Michigan participation for any person who had been with the program for four years and had an income of at least 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

If adopted into the final 2018-19 budget, this provision will affect 10,000 people initially. However, the early estimates are that about 110,000 people on Healthy Michigan who have incomes of more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, so the total population affected will grow over time. The budget provision passed in the Senate last week and now heads to the House.

License Renewal Cycle Starts in a Year – Crackdown on Silent Stations and Online Public File Signal Warnings to Broadcasters

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP,

Starting June 1, 2019, just over a year from now, the next broadcast license renewal cycle will begin. By that date, radio stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia must file their renewal applications. Every other month for the next 3 years will bring the filing of radio license renewals in another set of states. And television stations will begin their renewal cycle a year later (June 1, 2020). The FCC’s schedule for radio license renewals can be found here and here. For TV stations, the schedule of renewal filings by state is in the same – just one year later than for radio. Every eight years, broadcast stations have to seek the renewal of their licenses by the FCC by demonstrating their continuing qualifications to be a licensee, including showing that they have not had a history of FCC violations and that they have otherwise served the public interest.

We have already written several times about how, with all broadcasters – both radio and TV – now required to have an online public file, it is important for stations to make sure that those files are complete and are kept up to date on a regular basis (see our articles here, here and here). Given that the contents of the online public file can be viewed by anyone, anywhere, just by launching an Internet browser, we would expect more complaints about incomplete files, and more scrutiny by the FCC of the contents of files that rarely were subject to FCC review in the past. FCC staffers can review public file compliance from their offices or homes, and do not have to rely on the rare field inspection to discover a violation. Thus, stations should be reviewing the contents of their files now to be sure that they are ready for the scrutiny that they will receive in the upcoming renewal cycle. But that is not the only issue about which stations need to be concerned, as illustrated by a decision released by the FCC yesterday, deciding to hold an evidentiary hearing as to whether the license renewal of a broadcast station that had been silent much of the last license renewal term should be granted.

In the Hearing Designation Order released May 7, the FCC went through the history of a Wyoming radio station that had operated for only days during its last license term, and since then had each year operated for only a few days each year to avoid forfeiting its license under Section 312(g) of the Communications Act (which says that the license of a station that is off the air for more than a year is forfeited unless the FCC finds that the public interest calls for an exception – see our articles here and here). Only since last August, well past the end of the license renewal term under review, did the station come back on the air on a full-time basis. The FCC asks the station’s licensee to produce all records of how it served the public interest during the renewal term (including all logs and records of EAS tests) and otherwise provide evidence as to why its renewal should be granted.

We wrote here about the FCC launching a similar hearing proceeding for another station last year, and about a number of other cases where the FCC has imposed short-term renewals or other penalties on stations that had a history of long periods of silence during the license term (see our articles here and here). While the FCC’s dividing line between stations that get a short-term renewal and those that get designated for hearing and possible loss of license is not entirely clear, yesterday’s decision reinforces the warning to broadcasters who currently have silent stations that they need to get those stations operational as soon as possible so as to be able to demonstrate a record of public service during the current license term so as to justify a renewal when their applications are filed during this upcoming renewal cycle.

The renewal cycle starts next year. The time for getting into compliance is now, as last minute fixes may not solve all problems – and that last minute may already be upon or be imminent for many stations.

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.

May Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – FCC Meeting, FM Translator and LPTV Filing Windows, Political Windows and More Consideration of Music Reforms

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP,
BroadcastLawBlog.com

May is one of those months where there are neither deadlines for EEO Public File Reports nor for any of the quarterly filings of issues/programs lists and children’s television reports. But the lack of these routine filing deadlines does not mean that there are no dates of interest in the coming month to broadcasters and other media companies. As seemingly is the case every month, there are never times when Washington is ignoring legal issues potentially affecting the industry.

May 10 brings an FCC meeting where two items of interest to broadcasters will be considered. One is a proposal to abolish the requirement for posting licenses and other operating authorizations at a broadcaster’s control point and to eliminate the requirement that FM translators post information about the station’s licensee and a contact phone number at their transmitter sites (see our post here for more details). The second is a proposal to modify the processing of complaints about new or modified FM translators causing interference to existing stations. See our summary of that proposal here. If adopted at the May 10 meeting, these proposals will be available for public comment after they are published in the Federal Register.

The process that will lead to the issuance of construction permits to some of those new FM translators is still underway, as the window runs from May 24 through June 14 for filing settlements or engineering resolutions for mutually exclusive applications filed in the second window for AM stations to obtain authorizations for new FM translators (see our article here). Translator applications that cannot resolve their mutual exclusivity during this window will end up in an auction. Applications that were not mutually exclusive with any other application filed in this second window have until May 9 to file their “long-form” applications detailing the technical facilities that they plan to build out once their construction permit is granted (see our article here).

TV translators and Low Power TV stations also are in the middle of their own window for submitting displacement applications by those stations that either operate on TV channels above Channel 37 (which will no longer be part of the TV band after the repacking following last year’s incentive auction) or on channels subject to new interference from full-power and Class A TV stations that were repacked onto new channels. That window is now open, and TV translators and LPTV stations have until June 1 to find new channels and submit applications for those channels to the FCC. See our articles here, here, and here for more information.

Comments in another FCC rulemaking, the one looking to do away with the requirement for the filing with the FCC of the Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Report were due April 30, with replies due on May 15. The FCC suggested that this is no longer necessary, as all the information required by the Commission is already in station’s online public file. See our article here summarizing that proposal.

In May, there will also be activity at other government agencies that broadcasters and other media companies should be watching. We summarized here the Music Modernization Act passed by the House of Representatives last week. That bill is supposed to get a hearing in the Senate on or about May 16 looking toward the possible passage of that legislation by the Senate.

The Federal Election Commission, in a rulemaking that it is conducting, is looking at requiring sponsorship identification on online audio and video political ads in the same format as those found on radio and TV ads (including the “I’m John Smith and I approved this message”). Comments on proposals made in that rulemaking are due May 26. We’ll have more on that proceeding later this week. Speaking of political broadcasting, stations in many states will soon be in lowest unit rate windows, if they are not already, for primary elections occurring this summer (see our article here on your LUC obligations). Watch for those windows as they come up in your state, and remember all of the political obligations that arise not only during the window, but as soon as you have legally qualified candidates (see our article here). For more information on the FCC’s rules on political broadcasting, you can check out our Political Broadcasting Guide here.

For a month without any of the “standard” FCC obligations, there are still lots of issues for broadcasters to consider. Make sure you pay attention to any of these issues that may affect you, and to any that are unique to your own station.

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.

FCC May Take Tiered Approach To Loosen Ownership Caps

According to a report from Inside Radio, the Federal Communications Commission is set to launch its quadrennial media ownership review later this year.

The agency is setting a course for allowing radio operators to not only own more stations in some markets, but also change the mix of what’s allowed on each band. Specifics are still undetermined; however, the tentative proposal would potentially offer a tiered approach to radio ownership rules.

In the largest metro areas, the current eight-station cap would only be loosened slightly, such as with a repeal of the AM/FM subcaps. A bit more deregulation would be cleared in mid-sized markets, such as raising the current six-station cap to allow an owner to operate seven or eight stations.

Morgan Committed to Write-In in the 1st Congressional District

Matt Morgan

Matt Morgan, Democratic candidate for the 1st Congressional district, stated that he would ask the Board of State Canvassers to put his name on the August primary as a write-in candidate.

He announced his write-in candidacy after the Bureau of Elections recommended that his petitions be found insufficient because he listed a post office box for his home address. The Department of State requires candidate’s home address, not his campaign address to certify the petitions.

Matt Morgan is the only Democratic candidate in the 1st Congressional district. To be the nominee through a write-in campaign, Mr. Morgan would have to receive votes equaling more than 0.0015 percent of the population of the district.

El-Sayed Running First TV Ad

Abdul El Sayed

According to a report in Gongwer, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has taken to the airwaves by releasing a 30-second ad calling for voters to join the “people’s summer.”

The ad is to run in the Detroit media market, on both broadcast and cable stations. The total ad buy is $150,000 according to Mr. El-Sayed’s campaign.  In contrast, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar already spent millions of dollars on his ads that have been running throughout the state for several months. A third Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer has not stated when her campaign will begin running television ads.