Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC released additional public notices in connection with the upcoming September 28 deadline for submission of annual regulatory fees. Specifically, the FCC issued a Public Notice setting out the procedures for paying the fees. The Notice addressed matters including the required use of the CORES system and the permissible methods of payment. The FCC also announced that broadcast licensees can look up their Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 regulatory fee amounts by logging onto the FCC’s website at http://fccfees.com and clicking on the “View Fee Information and Exempt Status for any Broadcast Property” link. In some instances, it may be necessary to clear your browser before logging onto the website. After clicking on this link, licensees will be able to view their fee amounts, fee codes, facility identification numbers, and other information pertinent to the filing of their FY 2022 regulatory fees. Another Public Notice announced that, as it did for FY2020 and FY2021, it is streamlining and easing its processes through which fee payors suffering pandemic-related financial hardship may request and obtain waiver, deferral and installment payment relief for FY 2022 regulatory fees. Further details about this process, the required showings, and the evidence that must be submitted when requesting relief are provided in the Public Notice. The FCC also issued a Fact Sheet providing information about those entities, including noncommercial broadcasters, that are exempt from payment of regulatory fees.
  • The FCC’s Media Bureau issued a decision in which it determined whether certain expenses were reimbursable to an FM station moved to a new channel to facilitate the upgrade of another station. To make it possible to upgrade a station, one licensee can force another station to change channels if it reimburses the station that is forced to move for the reasonable expenses of the move, and as long as the new channel is technically equivalent and can work at the station’s current transmitter site. Noting that the station seeking reimbursement bears the burden of proving whether an expense is legitimate and prudent, and whether its cost is reasonable, the Bureau conducted a detailed analysis of the extent to which the station in question’s engineering and equipment expenses, legal fees, printing expenses, promotional expenses (including those for promoting the station’s new frequency), and miscellaneous expenses. For further details on how the Bureau resolved these matters, see the Bureau’s decision available here.
  • The Media Bureau issued a reminder that, as required under the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (“NDAA”), United States-based foreign media outlets providing video programming must submit by October 12 their next semi-annual report disclosing their relationships with their foreign principals, including a description of the legal structure of such relationships and any funding the outlets receive from their foreign principals. The reminder sets out who is covered by this requirement and the specific means to be used by such outlets to provide these reports.
  • The FCC’s Media Bureau issued an Order granting the license renewal of an FM station is Arizona for only one year, instead of the normal eight year period, because the station had been silent for extended periods. The Bureau found that the station was silent for 27% of its license term and 33% of its extended term (the license term plus the period after the license expired while the renewal was pending). This is another case where the Bureau has concluded that it needs a shorter term to assess whether the station will continue to operate and serve the public, which it cannot do when silent. For more on the Media Bureau’s emerging policy on renewals for stations that had been silent for extended periods, see our article
  • In a major First Amendment decision, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas law forbidding large social media platforms from censoring speech based on the viewpoints of the individuals posting on the site. The Court determined, among other things, that regulating censorship is not subject to the same First Amendment protections as regulating speech and that Texas was justified in concluding the platforms were “common carriers” required to allow all people to access their services without discrimination. This decision seems to contradict that of the 11th Circuit finding a similar Florida statute to be unconstitutional (which we mentioned in a prior weekly summary here). These contradictory holdings may well lead to the Supreme Court resolving the extent to which states can regulate the content moderation policies of tech platforms.
  • On our Broadcast Law Blog, we wrote about the bill introduced in Congress by Senator Rand Paul to eliminate the FCC’s multiple ownership rules that limit the number of broadcast stations that one company can own in any market. This bill would also require that, in any antitrust review of a broadcast merger, the reviewing authority recognize that tech companies provide many of the same services as broadcasters and are increasingly becoming competitors with broadcasters, and that the impact of any broadcast merger be assessed in the broader media marketplace, rather than in isolation by looking solely at broadcasting as a stand-alone market that is immune from broader marketplace competition.