In an ever-evolving effort to smooth the transition from analog to digital technology, the Federal Communications Commission is proposing to revise its rules to allow broadcast auxiliary services (BAS) to convert to digital technology along with broadcast stations.
Because BAS stations are used by networks, and TV and radio stations transmit program material from the locations of breaking news stories or major events to studios, BAS stations must be technologically compatible with the rest of the broadcast industry. However, under the current rules, digital modulation can only be used in specified BAS bands, which slows the broadcast industry's transition to digital. For that reason, the Commission is proposing rules permitting TV and aural BAS stations to use any available digital modulation techniques in all BAS frequency bands.
The Commission is also considering an expansion of its short-term operation rule, which allows AM and FM stations to operate broadcast auxiliary stations up to 720 hours per year without prior authorization from the Commission. The rule allows broadcasters to cover events outside a station's normal operating area without coming to the Commission with STA requests. The proposed rule would expand the short-term operation rule to include broadcast network entities, cable network entities and low power television stations. Under this rule, BAS licensees would need to notify the Commission of short-term operation for planned events, such as conventions and sporting events, but not for unplanned events, such as natural disasters. The Commission also seeks comment on whether 720 hours is an appropriate cap on annual short-term operations.
Additionally, BAS and other radio services share several frequency bands and have technically and operationally similar stations. Nonetheless, they sometimes must operate under different technical rules. Such inconsistencies have led to confusion when licensees in different services have tried to operate in the same geographic areas. The proposed rules would conform technical rules that are at odds, including transmitter power and emission limits, for services including BAS, Cable Television Relay Service (CARS), and Fixed Microwave Services (FS). Further, the Commission proposes to require aural and TV BAS stations to coordinate shared frequency use, minimizing harmful interference that may occur when a station begins transmitting.
Other proposals designed to update the BAS rules would permit BAS applicants to operate under temporary conditional authority after an application has been properly filed, and make BAS application rules consistent with the FCC's Universal Licensing System (ULS).
FCC may dismantle Mass Media Bureau
The FCC is planning to seek additional comment from the communications industry and other interested parties on a reorganization of the agency along functional lines, as well as on the implementation of the following policy goals:
The development of a clear substantive policy vision, consistent with the various communications statutes and rules to guide agency deliberations;
The creation of a management style that builds a strong team, produces a cohesive and efficient operation, and leads to clear and timely decisions;
The development of independent technical and economic expertise through recruitment, training, and employee development; and
While the reorganization is still on the drawing board, it has been informally reported that the Television Branch of the Mass Media Bureau may be merged into the Cable Bureau. It also has been reported that the audio services regulatory staff, which deals with the nation's radio stations, may be moved into the Wireless Bureau. This dismantling of the Mass Media Bureau would likely cause a loss of knowledgeable top-level staff, subject radio and TV to different regulatory schemes, and otherwise make the FCC less responsive to broadcasters' needs.
EAS Handbook revised
The FCC has released a revised 2001 edition of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) AM/FM and TV Handbooks. The handbooks have been revised to delete references to the Authenticator List, which is no longer used. FCC rules require each station to keep a handbook at duty positions or EAS equipment locations, immediately available to staff responsible for authenticating messages and initiating EAS actions.
Recent Enforcement Activity
FCC agents were dispatched to an Arizona AM station when the agency's High Frequency Direction Finding Center observed transmissions that were in excess of frequency tolerance standards. They discovered that the station had failed to conduct annual equipment performance measurements, could not produce copies of antenna resistance and reactance measurements, and did not have proper monitoring equipment at the duty operator position. The result: a $15,000 fine.
The FCC has begun to apply its newly outlined indecency policy, released June 1, in response to a court mandate. The lyrics of pop-artist Eminem failed to meet the standard in a highly-publicized case involving an edited version of the song. Noting that the song was aired on the station between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. and that the song contained “unmistakable offensive sexual references,” the FCC fined the station $7,000.
Harry Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC., Arlington, VA. E-mail
October 1, 2001 is the deadline for biennial ownership reports for stations in the following states and territories: Alaska, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, Mariana Islands, Missouri, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Samoa, Virgin Islands and Washington.
By October 10, issues/programs lists for the period July 1 to September 30 must be placed in stations' public files.