17-264: FCC modernizes public notice rules, Media Bureau waives "pre-file" renewal announcements indefinitely

Prior to the May open meeting, the Federal Communications Commission has adopted the broadcast public notice Report and Order (MB Dockets 17-265, 17-105, 05-6).  In the Order, the FCC made some monumental changes on how broadcasters comply with Section 311(a) of the Communications Act which requires all broadcast applicants to make a public notice of their application.  This law was passed by Congress in the early 60s as part of a suite of legislation regarding broadcaster transparency in the wake of radio’s “payola” and television’s rigged quiz show scandals.

The primary element of this proceeding was the elimination of the requirement that broadcast applicants purchase advertising in the newspaper of the greatest circulation for the community that was involved in the application.  This is in reaction to the overall nature of the role of newspapers in modern American culture.

All commercial applicants, as well as noncommercial applicants (including LPFM) without a working station (such as new entrants and licensees with silent stations) will now be required to place their public notices on a website. FM translators and boosters, regardless of their commercial status will also do online public notices. This website can be their station website, the applicant’s organization website or the parent corporation of the applicant’s website.  Links must be on the home page for the website and must be in a conspicuous location, just like the required links full-service stations must have to their online public file and contest rules.  Public notices on a website must run for 30 consecutive days and the display of the notice must begin within 5 days from the date of publication in the FCC’s Broadcast Applications or Applications public notice that the application has been accepted for filing.

Prior to this Report and Order, there was never a regulation that required LPFM stations to follow the statutory requirements of §311(a).  This was an apparent oversight that lasted for 20 years.  When the FCC created the LPFM service in 2000, several regulations that applied to full-service stations were not made applicable to LPFM stations.  In April, the FCC mended a 20-year oversight on the filing of silent notifications and silent special temporary authority authorizations.  In May, 2019, the Audio Division determined that LPFM stations were required by statute to make public notice announcements for license renewals. This Order is the final patch on those oversights under FCC Chairman William Kennard.

Noncommercial applicants (including LPFM) that have a station on the air will make their public notice announcements over the air.  Stations will be required to carry 6 announcements in a 4-week period with no more than 2 announcements per week. Announcements must be broadcast anytime between the hours of 7 AM and 11 PM, Monday through Friday.  Announcements must commence within 5 days from the date of publication in the FCC’s Broadcast Applications or Applications public notice that the application has been accepted for filing.

International Broadcast Stations (shortwave) must distribute their public notices through a "locally-based website", which the FCC defines as an Internet website that is accessible to members of the public without registration or payment requirements, or any other requirement that the user provide information, or response to a survey or questionnaire in exchange for being  able to access information on the website and must locally target the community in which the International broadcast station’s transmission facilities are located or are proposed to be located (e.g., local government Internet website, local community bulletin board Internet website).

Once the 30-day period on online announcements or after the last on-air announcement occurs, the applicant is required, within 7 days, to place a certification letter in their public file if they are a full-service station.  The certification letter must include for online announcements, the dates the public notice message was available on the website and for on-air announcements, the dates and times the messages were carried.  While LPFM stations and translators are not required to maintain a public file, they should retain this information in their station records.  REC also suggests that LPFM stations with a granted facility should sign up for the privately-run Voluntary Public Inspection File system as a second place to store their documents, such as these certifications.

Application types that require public notice include applications for new original construction permits, major changes to operating facilities, license renewals, assignments of licenses to a different organization/entity and for full-service stations, a change in the community of license. 

Renewals will be handled slightly different than other applications.  Commercial and noncommercial full-service stations as well as LPFM stations will do over the air announcements.  FM translator and booster stations will make their announcements online.  The format and publication of the renewal messages will be consistent with other application types.  The “pre-file” announcement requirement has been eliminated and the “post-file” announcements that required stations to broadcast messages multiple times per day on the 1st and 16th of each month has been replaced by the “6 messages in 4 weeks” policy.  This is a major improvement over the current rule.

The new rules are not immediately in effect.  They will go into effect either after the date specified in the publication of the rule change in the Federal Register or if it is determined that the changes require approval from the Office of Management and Budget due to Paperwork Reduction Act related issues, the implementation date can be further delayed.  Due to the pandemic, the Commission had granted waivers of the “pre-file” renewal announcements in April and May, 2000.  In a separate announcement by the Media Bureau issued an Order stating that the requirement for “pre-file” announcements has been permanently waived for all classes of stations (radio and TV) until the new rules are enacted. 

We do note that just three weeks prior to the adoption of this Order, there were some additional requirements in the order which dealt with the exact placement of where the link to the public notice would be on the website and that mobile apps must be redeveloped in order to accommodate a link to the public notice message.  The National Association of Broadcasters opposed these additional, burdensome changes.  In a show of support, REC fully agreed with the NAB and expanded on how these changes will impact smaller “mom and pop” commercial broadcasters.  This is a rare moment in REC history where the NAB and REC fully agreed on something.  After NAB and REC, iHeartMedia and other major broadcast owners such as Beasley and Cumulus as well as the major TV broadcast networks all followed supporting NAB’s position.  In a separate ex parte presentation, REC had requested some minor fixes to the scripting of LPFM public notice announcements and how listeners obtained copies of the application from the FCC.  Those changes were also adopted in the final Order.

LPFM stations seeking more information on the nature of the public notice announcements can visit our LPFM Public Notice Information page at REC Networks