The thinning of the ranks of Class-A television stations continues. The FCC has begun downgrading a number of these stations to LPTV status, thereby making them vulnerable for displacement — presumably to make more room for wireless broadband operations on current television channels.
The stations targeted in the first round of this effort had failed to file Children's TV Reports, as required for Class A but not LPTV stations, and also failed to respond to FCC inquiries about why such reports had not been submitted. The FCC later fined a number of other Class-A television stations which, although failing to file the requisite reports, avoided downgrading because they had at least responded to the FCC's inquiries.
In a later round of inquiries, 16 more Class-A stations are facing the prospect of being demoted to secondary LPTV status. Like the first group, they have been targeted for not filing Children's TV Reports. In response to the FCC inquiry about those missing reports, each of the licensees acknowledged their failures to file the reports. In so doing, they told the FCC their respective stations had operated, at most, sporadically over the last several years.
Two blamed the economy for the extended darkness. One claimed that the non-operation of its two stations was due to the need to locate permanent transmitter sites. Others said their stations no longer had main studios and, thus, no public files located at main studios.
In order to qualify for Class-A status, a licensee must maintain a main studio and broadcast a minimum of 18 hours per day, with an average of at least three hours weekly of locally produced programming and three hours of children's programming. From the responses described above, the commission concluded that none of the 16 stations still qualified to be Class A; accordingly, they are likely to be downgraded.
The FCC suggests that Class-A stations that find themselves temporarily unable to meet the minimum regulatory requirements for Class-A status may, in some circumstances, be eligible for special temporary authority to operate at variance from those requirements. But such STA would be only temporary and would not cover extended time periods of noncompliance, particularly when the reason for the STA is financial distress. The commission is particularly skeptical about stations that close their main studios or abandon their transmission facilities. The result of this strict approach, of course, is to impose the greatest hardship on the most vulnerable stations.
Of course, the FCC is not proposing to take away licenses. Rather, the agency's initiative against Class-A stations involves, at least at this point, only a status downgrade from Class A to LPTV. However, at this point the FCC has no plan for accommodating LPTV stations when the processes of band clearing and repacking are completed. Class-A stations, on the other hand, will be protected when the television band is reduced by as much as 20 channels.
Status quo remains for “specialty stations”
The U.S. Copyright Office recently updated its list of “specialty stations” — those which, when carried on cable systems as distant signals, trigger lower royalty burdens for the cable operator than do other distant stations. Despite protests from MPAA, the Copyright Office refused to provide an opportunity for protests with respect to the stations that certify to specialty status. Such certifications are based on the “honor system.” Thus, for the foreseeable future, challenges can be brought only against individual cable systems when they submit their copyright royalty payments and accompanying statements of account.
- On or before June 1, 2012, noncommercial television and Class-A stations in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming must file their biennial ownership reports.
- On June 1, 2012, television stations, Class-A television, LPTV stations and television translators in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia must file their license renewal applications. Television and Class-A television stations in those locations must begin their renewal post-filing announcements on June 1, 2012.
- On June 1, 2012, television and Class-A television stations in North Carolina and South Carolina must begin their pre-filing renewal announcements in anticipation of an Aug. 1, 2012, renewal application filing date.
- On June 1, 2012, television and Class-A television stations must place their 2012 EEO reports in their public files and post them on their websites: Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Harry C. Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, PLC.
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