May is somewhat lighter on broadcast regulatory dates and deadlines than some recent months, but there are still dates to note. Among other things, the FCC will begin the process of auctioning 140 construction permits for new AM and FM radio stations across the country. Also, broadcasters in several states, with an eye on the June 1 deadline, should be preparing now to file applications for license renewal or to prepare and upload to their public inspection file EEO public file reports, demonstrating their compliance with the FCC’s equal employment opportunity requirements. So let’s take a look at some of the important dates for May (and early June). As always, be sure to consult with your communications counsel on the dates and deadlines applicable to your operation.
The Auction 109 window for “short-form” applications to participate in the auction of 136 FM construction permits and 4 AM construction permits began at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time on April 28 and will close at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time on May 11. By that deadline, interested parties must file with the FCC their short-form applications (FCC Form 175) setting out information including their ownership and the channels on which they are interested in bidding. The auction is scheduled to begin on July 27. A freeze on the filing of FM minor modification applications remains in effect until the end of the auction filing window. This freeze was imposed to ensure that Commission staff and auction bidders have a stable database to work with during the auction. Read more about the auction and freeze, here and here.
On May 24, new rules for distributed transmission systems (DTS, also known as single frequency networks) will go into effect. These new rules are designed to give broadcast TV stations greater flexibility in the placement of multiple transmitters throughout their protected service area to provide a stronger, more uniform signal throughout their markets. This is seen as important to facilitate the provision of the additional services that can be offered through the new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard (NextGen TV). Note that, although the rules for full-power stations go into effect on May 24, the rules that apply to Class A, low power TV, and TV translator stations have to undergo additional review by the executive branch and will become effective sometime after May 24. For more information, see our article here.
Looking ahead to early next month, by June 1, radio stations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming and television stations in Michigan and Ohio must submit applications for renewal of their license. See our article, here, about preparing for license renewal. These stations must also file with the FCC a Broadcast EEO Program Report (Form 2100, Schedule 396) and, if they are part of a station employment unit (a station or a group of commonly owned stations in the same market that share at least one employee) with 5 or more full-time employees, upload to their public file and post on their station website a link to their Annual EEO Public Inspection File report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities for the twelve months from June 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021.
In addition to the stations noted above filing for license renewal, radio stations in Michigan and Ohio, TV stations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, and radio and TV stations in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia must, if they are part of a station employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees, upload to their public file and post on their station website a link to their Annual EEO Public Inspection File report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities for June 1, 2020 through May 31, 2021.
By June 3, comments are due in the FCC’s new proceeding looking at the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (“CALM Act”), which is meant to regulate the volume of commercials on broadcast TV and radio. After inquiries from a Member of Congress, the FCC is asking the public and industry to weigh in on the current rules and whether changes need to be made. Reply comments are due by July 9. We wrote more about the CALM Act, here.
Be sure to watch our blog, FCC releases, trade press, and advisories from your legal counsel throughout the month for updates on these dates and other regulatory developments of importance to broadcasters.