Opinions and Legal Insights

This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: October 10, 2020 to October 16, 2020

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.

  • The FCC set the comment dates for its proposal for changing the cost to file various broadcast applications. The new schedule of fees the FCC has proposed are meant to better reflect the actual legal and engineering labor resources spent processing the applications.  Because of this, some applications that take up more resources to process see a proposed fee increase, while other applications that are easier to process see a proposed fee decrease.  Interested parties should review the fee schedules and submit their comments and reply comments by November 16 and November 30, respectively.  (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking)
  • Chairman Pai announced his intention to open a rulemaking to clarify the meaning of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. This provision grants broad immunity to online platforms for civil liability (including defamation claims) that arises from content that users post on those platforms.  In the last few months, Section 230 has become a hot-button issue following President Trump’s Executive Order calling for the examination of Section 230’s liability shield.  Nathan Simington, the President’s nominee for FCC commissioner, is said to have played a role in the advancing that order.  We wrote here and here about Section 230.  (News Release)
  • The FCC this week proposed that three VHF stations be allowed to move to channels in the UHF band. Each waiver contains a waiver of the current filing freeze on changes to the television Table of Allotments.  More than nine years ago, the Commission put in place a channel change freeze while it worked through the mechanics of the incentive auction and repack.  These waivers indicate at least some thawing of the freeze as the auction and repack are substantially complete.  The waivers note that VHF transmissions can sometimes be difficult for viewers to receive due to VHF’s signal propagation characteristics and thus allowed these channel change proposals to move forward.  (Channel change proposals for Portland, Oregon; Mesa, Arizona; and Minneapolis, Minnesota)
  • With only a couple of days left until the November Election, we wrote on the Broadcast Law Blog about the importance of compliance with the online political file rules and the steady stream of consent decrees that have been issued by the FCC’s Media Bureau over the last few months. (Broadcast Law Blog)
  • It’s official: The FCC, though its workforce is still largely working remotely, has moved to its new headquarters. The new headquarters, at 45 L Street NE, is close to Union Station and steps from NPR headquarters.  (Public Notice)
  • It was announced this week that Nathan Simington, the President’s nominee to fill Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s seat at the FCC, will have a confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on November 10 in the next step in the Senate’s consideration of his nomination. (Nominations Hearing)
  • On the Broadcast Law Blog, we also wrote about the apparent heightened interest of the recording industry in music used in podcasts, where demand letters from an industry association have recently resulted in the shutdown of two podcasts. Anyone making available music on-demand (including in a podcast or in any video production) needs to clear the rights directly from copyright holders – ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, GMR and SoundExchange licenses are not enough.  (More details available in this article on the Broadcast Law Blog).