At its meeting yesterday, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking suggesting the abolition of the EEO Mid-Term Report, FCC Form 397. That form is filed at the mid-point of the renewal term of TV stations with 5 or more full-time employees and radio clusters with 11 or more full-time employees (see our post here about the form). As the content of the report is principally made up of the broadcaster’s last two EEO Public Inspection File Reports, and those reports are available in a broadcasters online public inspection file (which should be in place for virtually all broadcast stations when the final radio stations covert to the online public file next week, see our post here), the FCC concluded that there is no real reason that these reports need to be separately submitted, and thus proposed its elimination.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking did suggest that there were issues on which comments would be appropriate. The one bit of information that would not be readily available without the filing of the Form 397 would be which TV stations have 5 full-time employees and which radio clusters have more than 11 full-timers. That is important as Congress required the mid-term review of the EEO performance of stations meeting these employment thresholds. So the FCC asks how that information should be tracked. It is also noteworthy that the FCC will continue to conduct the EEO mid-term review of stations meeting these employment thresholds even without the filing of the Form 397 reports.
As the FCC says that they will continue to conduct that mid-term review, it is interesting that the FCC also asks in the NPRM what other EEO review should be conducted to assess the EEO performance of stations, seemingly at the insistence of Commissioner Clyburn who feared that the abolition of the Form 397 might send the wrong message about the FCC’s commitment to EEO even if its retention served no useful purpose. Commissioner Clyburn’s comments are available here. Seemingly, as the Commission will continue to do the EEO mid-term review, and continue audits and complaint-based reviews, many methods of assessment are already in place.
Comment dates on this proposal will be set when it is published in the Federal Register. This is one more proposal for procedural reform advanced as part of Chairman Pai’s Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative. As we wrote earlier this week, we are looking forward to more substantive proposals in the months to come.
Note, for all of you who are trying to complete your Biennial Ownership Reports that are due for commercial and noncommercial stations on March 2 (see our post here about the March 2 filing date), the FCC yesterday posted a notice on the log-in screen for its LMS electronic database, in which the ownership reports are filed, that it will be off-line for maintenance during parts of the upcoming 3-day weekend. As the system has had glitches in recent weeks, that maintenance may be overdue, but if you are running late on completing the Biennial Ownership Reports, this may not be welcome news. Plan accordingly.
As we wrote here, MMTC (a DC-based public interest group) had petitioned the US Court of Appeals for a Rehearing on its decision (about which we wrote here) upholding the FCC decision deciding not to impose any multilingual EAS obligations on broadcasters. The full Court of Appeals has just issued a one sentence order denying that reconsideration request. While, theoretically, MMTC’s next appeal would be to the Supreme Court, lacking an issue of major significance or constitutional importance, that is unlikely.
Thus, as we wrote here, the next step in any attempt to deal with multilingual EAS alerts will be with the FCC, which has agreed to further consider a survey of state EAS coordinators (“SECCs”) to see how best to insure that EAS alerts are distributed widely to the entire population. By May, SECCs are supposed to integrate information about non-English speaking groups within their states into their State EAS plans, and file those revised plans with the FCC. After that has occurred, we will see if the FCC takes further action in this area. So stay tuned, as the issue continues to evolve.
On a day when the rest of the country is thinking about chocolate and Champagne, many radio stations need to be considering the FCC requirement that their public inspection file be made available online in a system hosted by the FCC. From the calls I have received in the last few days, it appears that, even though the FCC adopted the requirements two years ago (see our post here), and station groups with 5 or more employees in the Top 50 markets had to covert to the online file soon thereafter, many smaller stations are only now realizing that the March 1 mandatory conversion date for all stations – commercial and noncommercial – is fast approaching.
We recently conducted a series of seminars for state broadcast associations on the online public file obligation. The slides from last of these, conducted for the Iowa and Indiana Broadcasters, are available here. In addition to those slides which provide an outline of the online public file obligations, there are many resources on the FCC’s own website about the public file. To summarize some of the last minute issues being faced by broadcasters, the Indiana Broadcasters posed 5 questions about the requirements – and our answers are shared below.
With the March 1 deadline fast approaching for having your online file up and activated , stations should now be actively uploading the required material to the FCC file, and making sure that the information automatically uploaded by the FCC is accurate. We have already heard reports that the FCC system for hosting the online public file is running slowly, especially during business hours, making uploads difficult. That is likely to get even worse as we get closer to the March 1 deadline. So if a station has not started to get its online public file ready, it needs to do so immediately.
For a station that has done nothing, it needs to start by registering to get a password for the FCC’s site that hosts the file. A station first needs to go to the “Owner Sign In” page here. Using the station’s FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password will allow it to log in and set up a passcode for the public file. If a station doesn’t know its FRN or has forgotten its password, it can call the FCC’s FRN Help Line: 877-480-3201 (Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-6 p.m. ET). Once the station has its passcode, a station uses that passcode to log into the FCC-hosted platform, here, and start uploading its documents.
The FCC has a good set of Frequently Asked Questions about the online public file process here.
2. Are all radio stations now going to be required to use an online Public File?
The online public inspection file is required for all stations, commercial and noncommercial, unless the station has obtained a waiver. Few if any waivers have been granted. Unless you are a very small station with real provable issues with Internet access, I would not expect waivers at this point, so late in the game.
3. What are the most important uploading obligations?
The FCC has already uploaded many of the required documents, and those documents should be found already in the folders when you first log into the FCC’s hosting platform. The information already uploaded by the FCC includes pending applications, ownership reports, a contour map showing the stations coverage, The Public and Broadcasting procedure manual, and copies of the station’s license and renewal authorization. Look these over carefully and determine which of the FCC-uploaded documents need to be made available to the public. The FCC will upload all applications filed for your station going back many years – when only pending applications need to be made visible to the public. So you need to select which ones will be made available to the public by keeping them in the “On” position and toggling the rest to the “Off” position so that the public can’t see them. We have also heard reports that there have been instances where the FCC has not uploaded the most recent license into the authorization folder, so you should check to make sure that what has been uploaded reflects accurately your current operations.
A station will have two sets of documents that will take a significant amount of time to manually upload. Any station that is part of a Station Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees needs to upload all of its Annual EEO Public Inspection File Reports, back to the start of the current renewal term for the state in which the station is located. There will likely be 4-6 of these reports, depending on the license term for the state in which the station is located.
In addition, stations need to upload all of their Quarterly Issues Programs lists going back to the start of the license term. All stations, commercial and noncommercial, should have these reports. These are the only documents that the FCC requires to show how your station met the needs and interests of its community of license (for more information on these reports, see our article here). As all of the Quarterly Issues Programs lists going back to the start of the license term need to be uploaded, you are looking at uploading more than 20 of these quarterly reports. Because there are so many, these will likely take more time than anything else to upload.
Unlike the EEO Reports and Quarterly Issues Programs lists referenced above, the FCC has said that you only need to upload “new” political file documents (i.e. those created after the file goes live to the public). If you decide not to upload the old political documents, you must maintain all “old” political file documents in a paper public inspection file for two years from the date that the document was created. If you are thinking of no longer maintaining a main studio open during normal business hours, you may want to consider uploading all political documents now so you no longer need to maintain a paper file available to local residents.
There are other documents commonly to be included in the file that station employees will need to manually upload. These include licensee organizational documents, contracts relating to ownership rights (e.g. options, pledges or voting proxies), and other contracts that restrict a licensee’s control over station operations (all of which are supposed to be listed on your ownership report) either need to be uploaded or included on a list of documents available for inspection upon request (with information as to how to contact someone at the station that can provide the documents within 7 days). Time brokerage or joint sales agreements need to be uploaded. And, for noncommercial stations, a list of donors contributing to support the broadcast of a specific program (as opposed to general station donors) is to be included in the public file.
The FCC has published a complete list of all of the documents that you need to have in your file here.
4. After uploading the documents, how long do I need to keep copies of these files?
Retention periods vary for the various documents that need to be in the file. As noted above, EEO Public Inspection File Reports and Quarterly Issues Programs lists for the entire license term need to remain in the file until your next license renewal is granted. Applications need to be in the public file only until the application is granted and the grant is final (no longer subject to any appeal or review). Only the most recent ownership report needs to be in the file (as a reminder, the next biennial ownership report is due by March 2, 2018). Documents in the political file need to be maintained for two years from the date of their creation. Certain contracts and agreements (like time brokerage agreements) need to be maintained for the life of the agreement. So review the FCC’s rules on the retention of documents. In the slide deck we prepared here, many of the retention periods are provided.
5. What advantages and disadvantages of the online file?
The obvious advantage is that you no longer have to maintain a paper file and give physical access to your studio to anyone who wants to see the file. Of course, by putting the file online, you make the contents of the file available for review by anyone, anywhere, any time. So public interest groups and the FCC itself can use it to assess your compliance – including looking at electronic date stamps on documents to determine whether documents were timely included in the file. Late filings could become a real issue for documents like Quarterly Issues Programs lists which were rarely if ever reviewed by the FCC when they were kept in the paper public file. Remember, on the next renewal application, you will likely be asked to confirm that you placed all required materials in the public file on time. The FCC and the public will now know whether your response is accurate or not.
The March 1 deadline is fast approaching. If you have not already completed the process and made your file available to the public, start working on that file soon. It will take longer than you think, so don’t run out of time to comply.
The FCC’s Audio Division yesterday issued “Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture” to five radio stations; all owned by Cumulus Licensing. Each of these notices proposed a fine (called a “forfeiture” in FCC-speak) of either $10,000 (here) or $12,000 (here, here, here and here), all for violations of the FCC public file rules. All of these stations, located in close proximity in eastern South Carolina, were missing numerous sets of Quarterly Issues Programs lists that should have been included in their public files in the last license renewal term. The stations voluntarily reported that the lists were missing in their license renewal applications filed in 2011. In clearing up these long-pending renewals, the FCC proposed to issue these fines – again emphasizing that even this deregulatory FCC does not hesitate to enforce the rules that remain on the books (see our previous warnings here and here).
The release of these proposed fines also sends a warning to broadcasters about to convert to the online public inspection file (as all radio stations will need to have their public file online by March 1 – see our discussion of the online public file here), that these reports will be able to be viewed by anyone, anywhere, to see if they have been prepared and timely placed into the stations online public file. Each document deposited in the public file is date-stamped as to when it was uploaded. So anyone trying to assess a station’s compliance with the public file rule can see whether the Quarterly Issues Programs list was uploaded to the file and whether the upload was timely – within 10 days of the end of each calendar quarter.
This warning takes on added significance as, believe it or not, we are approaching the beginning of another license renewal cycle. The first radio license renewal applications in the next license renewal cycle will begin with the filing of license renewal applications by stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia in June, 2019 – just over a year away. TV license renewal will start a year later. During the 3-year radio renewal cycle, every other month a group of stations in certain states will have to file their renewal (see the calendar for filing radio renewals here – TV is in the same order, just one year later).. In the last cycle, the largest single cause of fines was missing Quarterly Issues Programs lists. And these violations were all self-reported by stations or, on occasion, discovered by interested local residents who actually visited the paper public file maintained at the station’s main studio. This time around, the FCC, or interested public-interest groups, will be able to raise questions about a station’s compliance with the rules from afar – just by looking at the online public file.
These Quarterly Issues Programs lists are taken seriously by the FCC, as they are the only official station records of how broadcasters served the public in their local service area. 30 years ago, stations were required to keep more detailed records of all their public service programming – in the form of program logs and other documents that itemized news and public affairs programs, PSAs, commercials and all other aspects of station performance. At license renewal time, the FCC would pick 7 days from the previous license renewal term, and a station would have to report on the amount of news and public affairs programming it carried on those days, and the number of PSAs that were run on the station. When, during a prior deregulatory period in the 1980s, the FCC did away with specific requirements for the amount of non-entertainment programming required to be broadcast by every station (and the requirement that stations maintain program logs as official FCC records), it left stations with more discretion as to how they addressed local issues. But the FCC substituted for the detailed paperwork that it used to require the Quarterly Issues Programs lists as the document in which broadcasters would show how they served the public interest. These lists are now the only officially-mandated document to show how you served the interests of your community (and, as we noted here, they take on added importance to demonstrate local service by stations that decide to no longer maintain a manned main studio).
So, by the 10th day of April, July, October and January, each station (commercial or noncommercial) is supposed to list the most important issues that faced its community in the prior quarter, as determined by station management, and the programs that the station aired to address those issues. We always suggest that stations have multiple programs that address each issue, and that some of the programs that address each issue contain in-depth discussion of the issue. While the FCC has said that even a PSA campaign may be listed as programming that addresses an important issue, such spots should never be the only program that addresses an issue of importance in any quarter (see our summary here of a case where the FCC made this clear).
Any program that addresses an issue of importance in a serious manner can be listed as being issue-responsive, even if the program where the discussion takes place might normally be considered an entertainment program. So, if one of your issues is an increased aging population, it is possible that a serious discussion of the issues facing the aging that takes place in an entertainment TV program could be considered issue-responsive. Similarly, if your morning DJ who normally spins records gets incensed by traffic issues on his way to work one morning and decides to turn his program into a call-in show to discuss local problems with the roads, that discussion can be considered issue responsive. News segments and public affairs programs are of course issue-responsive.
Make sure that multiple programs address each issue in a serious manner. For each issue that you have found in your community, list all of the programs that you aired that addressed the issue. For each program, include the name of the program on which the issue-responsive segment aired, the duration of the discussion, the time and date that it aired and a brief description of what the segment was and how it addressed the issue. As you are giving the time and date, it probably does not look good if all of your issue-responsive programming airs at 5 AM on Sunday morning.
While there have been some calls to change the way that issue-responsive programming is addressed, at this point, the Quarterly Issues Programs lists are all that we have. So treat them seriously to avoid the kinds of issues (and the accompanying fines) that are being faced by the stations who received the notices of apparent liability yesterday.
Nevada Broadcasters Association – News Release
February 1, 2018
Viola Cody, SVP of Integrated Marketing Solutions for Entravision Reno TV & Radio, and Chairman of the Nevada Broadcasters Association announced today that long-time Nevada broadcaster Mitch Fox has been selected as the next President and CEO of the Nevada Broadcasters Association. Fox succeeds Mary Beth Sewald, who left the organization to become President and CEO of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Fox was selected after an extensive, nationwide search. He brings more than 30 years of broadcasting experience to the position including his first job at KABC-TV in Los Angeles, at KTNV-TV in Las Vegas as a general assignment reporter and as director of production and programming for Vegas PBS. He is most well-known as a debate moderator, legislative/political reporter and host of “Nevada Week in Review.”
Fox was also communications director for the City of North Las Vegas and Nevada State Director for the Porter Group, a Washington DC-based lobbying firm. In that role Fox represented the Nevada Broadcasters Association at the Nevada State Legislature and before members of Congress.
“We’re thrilled to have Mitch on board as our new President,” said Ms. Cody. “His extensive broadcasting and government affairs experience combined with his knowledge and credibility throughout the state comes at a great time for our organization. We appreciate his passionate advocacy for broadcasters and broadcasting issues and we look forward to his leadership.”
“I’m honored to be selected as the next President of the Nevada Broadcasters Association,” said Fox. Former President Mary Beth Sewald, and the NVBA Board have positioned the organization as one of the most respected broadcasting associations in the country. I look forward to working with NVBA staff members and board members to build upon that success, and to raise the visibility and increase the influence of broadcasters throughout Nevada.”
About Nevada Broadcasters Association
The mission of the NVBA is to promote and advocate for the Broadcasters of Nevada while serving the public. We help improve and preserve, on a national and statewide basis, an economic, legal and regulatory environment that best enhances the ability of each Station to be financially strong, to remain free from governmental control of programming, and to excel in the public service roles that each Station plays in Nevada. The NVBA offers a robust Public Education Partnership program providing government agencies and non-profits, the ultimate in public outreach and awareness. We seek to educate Nevada’s local, state and federal officials along with other community leaders about important broadcasting issues, concerns and challenges, in an effort to create increasingly strong and healthy communities.
For more information about NVBA please call 702-794-4994, or visit http://nevadabroadcasters.org.
Please like us on Facebook.com/Nevada Broadcasters.
Interviews are available upon request.
NVBA Office: 702-794-4994
Viola Cody: 775-741-7969
Nominations for induction into the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame are now open until April 30, 2018 or until we have reached 35 qualified nominees. To qualify a person must have at least 20 years in the broadcast industry, with 5 of those years in Nevada.
Nominations are reviewed on a First Come First Served basis and the number of inductees will be limited to the first 35 qualified nominees.
The 23rd Annual Hall of Fame Gala will be held at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas on August 18, 2018.
If you have any questions please feel free to call our office at (702)794-4994.
The countdown toward implementation of Blue Alerts has begun.
EAS device manufacturers now have 12 months to make it possible for Blue Alerts — characterized by the three-character BLU code — to be delivered over the nation’s Emergency Alert System. It was in December that the Federal Communications Commission adopted a Report and Order that required EAS devices to have the capability to transmit the newly adopted Blue Alert code, which can be used by state and local authorities to notify the public of threats to law enforcement.
Now, with a notice filed in the Federal Register, the deadline is set for Jan. 18, 2019. (The wireless industry has a bit longer — 18 months — to ensure that a wireless alert can be delivered over the nation’s Wireless Emergency Alert system.)
What do stations need to do to prepare? Radio World spoke to two manufacturers of EAS equipment — Monroe Electronics, maker of Digital Alert Systems EAS products, and Sage Alerting Systems — to ask their opinions on what’s ahead for the broadcast industry when it comes to Blue Alerts.
Click HERE to read the full article
Regardless, the EAS system isn’t designed to be second guessed, he says. “One of the biggest questions I get from broadcasters is, ‘If this happens again, how do we confirm it?’ And my response is you can’t, and you shouldn’t,” says [Courtney] Harrington.
Read the entire article here:
Hawaii EAS/WEA False Alarm—“Could it happen here?”
In light of this morning’s false alarm warning situation in Hawaii, here is some information on how the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) work in Nevada.
EAS activations are broadcast messages, issued by radio and television stations as well as cable operators and IPTV providers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires broadcasters, cable operators and IPTV providers to have EAS equipment in place and operational. The FCC also requires regular EAS tests. WEA messages are issued through cellphone providers and there is no provision for WEA testing.
Both state and local emergency, law enforcement and public safety officials in Nevada have the ability to issue EAS activations and WEA messages to their local areas as well as the entire state through the use of a program established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System office (FEMA IPAWS). That program is called Common Alerting Protocol, or CAP. CAP provides emergency officials the ability to use the internet to issue public alerts and warnings across a wide variety of message platforms, everything from radio and TV (EAS), to cellphones (WEA), highway message signs and even community sirens. There are various vendors who provide these CAP programs for state and local use. Nevada uses a CAP program from AlertSense, an Idaho-based company which specializes in public alert and warning products. Hawaii officials mistakenly used a CAP program to issue this morning’s warning about a missile attack to both EAS and WEA.
Nevada broadcasters, cable operators and IPTV providers all conduct the regular EAS tests required by the FCC. Most of these tests are launched by state and local officials who are authorized to use the AlertSense CAP program. This is a necessary training process to ensure that officials are always able to send timely, accurate and credible emergency information when it’s needed. It’s important to note that through our AlertSense program, emergency officials also have access to a “training bed” which allows them to send both EAS and WEA activations during a drill and those activations are never seen by the public.
Could something like today’s false alarm in Hawaii happen here? Yes, that is a remote possibility of which the EAS community is very aware. It is at the top of our minds whenever we are asked to send an emergency activation, whether it’s an AMBER Alert or an Evacuation Warning or any other message. It’s important to remember that broadcasters do not originate EAS and WEA messages.
EAS activations and WEA messages come from state and local, authorized emergency officials, according to a pre-determined protocol. These officials receive training from the state EAS Committee and our CAP vendor, AlertSense. FEMA provides only minimal training in the use of EAS and WEA and no funding for additional training. The FCC provides no training for EAS and WEA and no funding for training. It is up to broadcasters to work with our state and local emergency officials to provide training and security in the EAS and WEA CAP testing and activation process.
As news broadcasters, you will find EAS equipment in your station, in or near Master Control in TV stations, or the on-air studio in radio stations.
Emergency Alert System