By David Oxenford
Partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP
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 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. 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.
David Oxenford represents broadcasting and digital media companies in connection with regulatory, transactional and intellectual property issues. He has represented broadcasters before the Federal Communications Commission, the courts and other government agencies for over 30 years.