Religious Broadcasters: The FCC License Renewal Cycle is Underway
The current broadcast station license renewal cycle started in 2011. Broadcast radio license renewal applications started June 1, 2011, with applications filed before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and will continue for the next few years. Television station renewal applications will start June 1, 2012. Failure to file a license renewal application timely may cause significant regulatory problems, including possible loss of license. This alert summarizes key details regarding FCC license renewal applications for broadcast stations.
Radio and television broadcast stations must apply for license renewals to the FCC at least every eight years. In conjunction with the filing of these applications, the FCC also imposes certain other obligations. These include filing a “Broadcast Equal Employment Opportunity Program Report”1 (FCC Form 396 ) shortly before filing renewal applications, broadcasting on-air notifications both before and after filing renewal applications, and ensuring that appropriate copies of these filings and notifications are maintained in stations’ public inspection files.
When to File
Usually, broadcast licenses expire on the first day of a particular month, which varies by state. For each state, radio licenses expire exactly one year prior to television licenses. For instance, in Maryland, all radio licenses expired on October 1, 2011, and all television licenses will expire on October 1, 2012. Under FCC rules, a license renewal application must be filed at least four months before the expiration date of the current license. Thus, for example, the radio license renewal applications due on (or before) June 1, 2011 were for those licenses expiring on October 1, 2011. Chart 1 provides an alphabetical list, by state, of license renewal application filing deadlines and license expiration dates for radio stations (including full-power AM and FM, FM translator, and low-power FM stations). Chart 2 is a similar list for television licenses (including full-power, commercial, noncommercial, Class A, other low-power and TV translator stations).2
Prior to Filing
Each station should be completely aware of the exact deadlines facing it. However, the general timing for license renewal obligations is as follows:
- Pre-filing broadcast renewal announcements start 60 days before filing.
- The EEO Program Report, and then the license renewal application, are filed no later than the deadline, and, preferably, in advance of it.
- Post-filing broadcast renewal announcements begin after filing and continue for 90 days.
- The petition to deny deadline is 90 days after the filing due date.
- Renewal applications become grantable by the FCC approximately 120 days after filing, and should be granted around that time if all goes well.
Steps to Take Now
1. Records. Good record-keeping is critical to completing a license renewal application that is likely to pass muster with the FCC’s staff. We suggest that all stations confirm that their public inspection files are complete and in good order. (Please let us know if you need information about compliance with FCC public inspection file requirements.) Recent participation in state broadcast association compliance review programs is a good idea.
Any records missing from the public file should be replaced as soon as possible. Determine if an item was properly and timely placed in the public inspection file, but is currently missing because it was removed incorrectly. If an item was not timely placed in the file, that omission must be reported as part of the license renewal application. This can be difficult, because some kinds of records required to be kept in the public inspection file have to be maintained since the last license renewal grant. The license renewal application specifically requires the licensee to certify that all public inspection file items have been placed in the file and that they were filed “at the appropriate times.” In other words, a renewal applicant must report if a document was filed late.
Public inspection files may vary from one station to another, but there are a number documents that should be maintained in all of them. For example, any public inspection file should include: quarterly issues/programs lists, biennial ownership reports, a copy of “The Public and Broadcasting,” and a copy of the station’s current FCC license. These obligations apply to all AM, FM and TV broadcasters, whether commercial or noncommercial.
2. Television Records. For television licensees, if the station received any written (paper or email) comments or suggestions from the public characterizing the station’s programming as violent, then it must offer a summary of such comments. Otherwise, the licensee must certify that it received no such comments. For Class A television licensees, applicants must certify to continuing Class A eligibility.
A significant portion of a television license renewal application is devoted to children’s programming. Licensees should confirm that all reports were timely filed, that the minimum three-hour weekly average of educational and informational programming was broadcast, and that the station observed the hourly commercial time restrictions.
3. Legal Matters. The license renewal application asks for certifications about several matters. Although licensees will be able to certify compliance with most of these questions, they still require careful consideration. Every licensee should be satisfied about the integrity of its responses. If necessary, confirm proposed responses with counsel. If answers are clear now, then only a simple update would be needed shortly before submission of the renewal application. The certifications specifically requested in the license renewal application include the following:
- Character Issues. This certification concerns issues before the FCC that question the fitness of an applicant to hold an FCC license.
- Adverse Findings. This certification concerns issues of fitness to hold an FCC license that may be before a court or administrative body.
- FCC Violations. This certification concerns violations of the Communications Act and the FCC’s rules.
- Alien Ownership. This certification concerns compliance with the legal restrictions on foreign ownership and control of FCC licenses.
- Anti-Drug Abuse. This certification is an update to the long-standing requirement that parties to an FCC application not have been denied federal benefits due to drug abuse convictions.
- Advertising Sales. This is new for this license renewal cycle. The FCC’s 2008 diversity order prohibited licensees from unlawfully discriminating (race, ethnicity) in their advertising sales practices, and required licensees to include a nondiscrimination clause in their advertising agreements. For the first time in license renewal applications, licensees must certify compliance with these requirements
- Minimum Operation. Also new for this license renewal cycle, AM and FM licensees must certify that, during the preceding license term, the station has not been silent, or operating for less than its prescribed minimum operating hours, for any period of more than 30 days.3 If a radio licensee cannot so certify, it must submit an exhibit specifying the exact dates in the preceding license term on which the station was silent or operating for less than its prescribed minimum hours. In addition, both radio and television licensees must certify that the station never discontinued operations for any consecutive 12-month period and that the station is broadcasting programming to be received by the public at the time of filing.
Each license renewal application requires careful and detailed preparation. All responses to the application are subject to the penalty of perjury, which the FCC takes very seriously, as should everyone who works on responses to the application’s questions and certifications.
Holland & Knight is well placed to answer questions or concerns about FCC license renewal applications, or other aspects of FCC regulation of broadcast stations.
2 Licensees may file a license renewal application that includes FM or TV translator stations, and FM boosters, along with their co-owned primary AM, FM, TV or LPTV station. Broadcast auxiliary stations do not have to be listed in the renewal application.