Here are some of the regulatory developments of the last week of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations. We also note an upcoming event to which broadcasters will want to pay attention.

  • After a multi-year review of the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees, Makan Delrahim, the outgoing head of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, announced that the DOJ will not seek changes to the decrees. Instead, the Division laid out principles that the incoming Biden Administration should consider in future reviews of the decrees. The review found that, while there was a desire by ASCAP and BMI and some in the music industry for reforms to the decrees, music users believe that they are generally working well. The consent decrees are important as they allow ASCAP and BMI to license a broad array of musical works to users, including broadcasters, on terms that cannot discriminate between similar users, at rates subject to judicial review to ensure that they are reasonable. (Remarks of Mr. Delrahim) See our blog article on the initiation of the review, describing the issues which the DOJ explored.
  • The FCC published in the Federal Register its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that looks at allowing zonecasting by FM boosters, setting the comment dates in this proceeding. The FCC proposes allowing FM boosters to originate up to three minutes of hyperlocal programming (news, weather, advertising, etc.) per hour and seeks comment on the concept and on the proposed rules to implement the idea. Comments and reply comments are due by February 10 and March 12, respectively. We wrote about the proposal, here. (Federal Register)
  • Rules designed to increase unlicensed wireless device use in TV “white spaces” will go into effect on February 11. The rules expand the ability of unlicensed white space devices to operate in unused portions of the TV band (channels 2-35) to provide rural broadband services and Internet of Things applications. We wrote about the new rules, here. (Federal Register)
  • Cumulus Radio was fined $233,000 for airing paid programming without the required sponsorship identification and for failing to abide by the terms of a 2016 consent decree that required the company to timely notify the FCC of such violations. Broadcasters are required to disclose information about the sponsors of programming for which they receive payment or other valuable consideration. (Forfeiture Order)
  • The FCC released a report on the relationship between the number of independent local television news operations in a market and market size. The report concludes, among other things, that there is a strong relationship between the market size, number of television households, and the number of independent local TV news operations. This information may be considered in future reviews of the FCC’s ownership rules. (Working Paper)

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Federal Communications Commission, et al. v. Prometheus Radio Project, et al., the Court’s review of the FCC’s 2017 media ownership rule changes. Live audio of the January 19 proceeding will be available on C-SPAN at 10 am EST and a downloadable recording should be available by January 22 on the Supreme Court’s website. A decision is expected in early summer. To get caught up on this case and other media ownership issues, see our blog post, here. (Case Docket)