Articles Posted in Noncommercial Operation

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:

  • Noncommercial FM Broadcaster Fined $10,000 for Public Inspection File Violations
  • TV Licensee Faces $20,000 Fine for Untimely Filing of 16 Children’s TV Programming Reports
  • Man Agrees to $2,360 Fine for Using GPS Jamming Device at Newark Airport

FCC Refuses to Take Pity on “Mom and Pop” FM Public Broadcaster With Public Inspection File Violations

The FCC’s Media Bureau denied a New York noncommercial FM licensee’s Petition for Reconsideration of a March 2015 Forfeiture Order, affirming a $10,000 fine against the licensee for failing to place 13 Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists in the station’s public inspection file.

Section 73.3527 of the FCC’s Rules requires noncommercial educational licensees to maintain a public inspection file containing specific types of information related to station operations. Among the materials required for inclusion in the file are the station’s Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, which must be retained until final Commission action on the station’s next license renewal application. Issues/Program Lists detail programs that have provided the station’s most significant treatment of community issues during the preceding quarter.

In February 2014, the licensee filed an application for renewal of the station’s license, which it had acquired from a university in 2010 after the university decided to defund the station. In the application, the licensee admitted that the station’s public inspection file was missing 13 Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, commencing with the licensee’s acquisition of the station in 2010.

In March 2015, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture in the amount of $10,000, the base fine for a public inspection file violation. The licensee filed a Petition for Reconsideration, urging the FCC to withdraw the fine. While the licensee did not dispute the violations, it explained that it had a history of compliance with the FCC’s rules, and that it was the public radio equivalent of a “mom-and-pop-operation.” It further explained that it only had several employees and volunteers, including an unpaid manager, and was under constant financial strain.

In response, the FCC contacted the station on three separate occasions in 2015 to request that the licensee provide documentation supporting its claim of financial hardship. After receiving no response to these requests, the FCC chose not to reduce the fine based on financial hardship when it issued the resulting Forfeiture Order. In addition, the FCC chose not to reduce the fine based on the station’s history of compliance with the rules because of the “extensive” nature of the violations. Ultimately, however, the FCC stated that it would grant the license renewal application upon the conclusion of the forfeiture proceeding if “there are no issues other than the violations discussed here that would preclude grant of the application.”

Sour Sixteen: Failing to Timely File 16 Children’s TV Programming Reports Nets Proposed $20,000 Fine

A Texas TV licensee is facing a $20,000 fine for failing to timely file sixteen Children’s Television Programming Reports.

Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s Rules requires each commercial broadcast licensee to maintain a public inspection file containing specific information related to station operations. Subsection 73.3526(e)(11)(iii) requires a commercial licensee to prepare and place in its public inspection file a Children’s Television Programming Report for each calendar quarter. The report sets forth the efforts the station made during that quarter and has planned for the next quarter to serve the educational and informational needs of children. Licensees are required to file the reports with the FCC and place them in their public files by the tenth day of the month following the quarter. Continue reading →

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March 2016

The next Children’s Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations’ public inspection files by April 11, 2016, reflecting programming aired during the months of January, February, and March 2016.

Statutory and Regulatory Requirements

As a result of the Children’s Television Act of 1990 (“Act”) and the FCC rules adopted under the Act, full power and Class A television stations are required, among other things, to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programs originally produced and broadcast for an audience of children 12 years of age and under, and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under.

These two obligations, in turn, require broadcasters to comply with two paperwork requirements. Specifically, stations must: (1) place in their online public inspection file one of four prescribed types of documentation demonstrating compliance with the commercial limits in children’s television, and (2) submit FCC Form 398, which requests information regarding the educational and informational programming the station has aired for children 16 years of age and under. Form 398 must be filed electronically with the FCC. The FCC automatically places the electronically filed Form 398 filings into the respective station’s online public inspection file. However, each station should confirm that has occurred to ensure that its online public inspection file is complete. The base fine for noncompliance with the requirements of the FCC’s Children’s Television Programming Rule is $10,000.

Note: Broadcasters may no longer use the KIDVID link to file their reports.  Beginning this quarter, broadcasters must file their reports via the new Licensing and Management System (LMS), accessible at https://enterpriseefiling.fcc.gov/dataentry/login.html.

Noncommercial Educational Television Stations

Because noncommercial educational television stations are precluded from airing commercials, the commercial limitation rules do not apply to such stations. Accordingly, noncommercial television stations have no obligation to place commercial limits documentation in their public inspection files. Similarly, though noncommercial stations are required to air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under, they do not need to complete FCC Form 398. They must, however, maintain records of their own in the event their performance is challenged at license renewal time. In the face of such a challenge, a noncommercial station will be required to have documentation available that demonstrates its efforts to meet the needs of children.

Commercial Television Stations

Commercial Limitations

The Commission’s rules require that stations limit the amount of “commercial matter” appearing in children’s programs to 12 minutes per clock hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per clock hour on the weekend. In addition to commercial spots, website addresses displayed during children’s programming and promotional material must comply with a four-part test or they will be considered “commercial matter” and counted against the commercial time limits. In addition, the content of some websites whose addresses are displayed during programming or promotional material are subject to host-selling limitations. Program promos also qualify as “commercial matter” unless they promote children’s educational/informational programming or other age-appropriate programming appearing on the same channel. Licensees must prepare supporting documents to demonstrate compliance with these limits on a quarterly basis.

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In a Report and Order that has been in the making since at least 1998, the FCC yesterday adopted new ownership reporting forms for both commercial and noncommercial broadcast stations. The FCC’s goal in adopting these new forms is to enhance the completeness and accuracy of its broadcast ownership data by (i) again imposing a unique identifier for each attributable interest holder—one that is tied to that individual’s Social Security Number (SSN); (ii) collecting race, gender and ethnicity data from noncommercial licensees as it has for some time now from commercial licensees; and (iii) consolidating the noncommercial biennial ownership report filing deadline with that of biennial ownership reports for commercial broadcast stations, which will now be December 1 of odd-numbered years for both commercial and noncommercial stations. In the process, the FCC has modified the reports to incorporate a number of reforms requested by broadcasters and their counsel to eliminate redundant and burdensome idiosyncrasies, glitches, and design flaws in the current commercial ownership reporting form.  This will hopefully alleviate at least some of the pain involved in filing what has been one of the FCC’s most duplicative and burdensome forms.

For the past several years, the FCC has required commercial broadcast licensees to include in their ownership reports a unique identifier, called a Federal Registration Number (FRN), for each attributable interest holder.  When first imposed, stations objected to the FRN mandate because the FCC requires individuals seeking an FRN to supply their full SSN to the Commission. In an attempt to quell that outcry, the FCC created a temporary solution called a Special Use FRN (SUFRN), that broadcasters could utilize when attributable interest holders balked at providing their SSNs.

The FCC has now introduced another alternative to obtaining a full FRN, called the Restricted Use FRN (RUFRN), available only for use in filing ownership reports. The FCC considers the RUFRN to be a superior solution to the SUFRN (had enough acronyms yet?) because the SUFRN collected no information whatsoever about the person to which it was assigned and therefore did not further the FCC’s goal of increased accuracy in the ownership data being collected. The basis for the FCC’s belief in the superiority of the RUFRN is that in order to apply for a RUFRN, an individual must supply the FCC with their full name, date of birth, home address, the last four digits of their SSN, and all of that individual’s previously used FRNs and SUFRNs. This information will not be made publicly available, but will enable the FCC to uniquely identify each attributable interest holder in a broadcast station.

Noncommercial broadcasters in particular still oppose the FCC’s efforts to collect such personal data, since the Commission’s multiple ownership rules do not even apply to them, and they worry that the data breaches and hacks that have afflicted other federal agencies will eventually affect the FCC as well.  Commissioner Pai’s separate statement is particularly worth reading in that regard.  While the FCC will allow continued use of a SUFRN, it will permit such use only where an interest holder has refused to apply for a RUFRN or to provide the broadcaster in which it holds an interest with the information needed to obtain a RUFRN for that investor.  The FCC has indicated that stations are at risk of significant enforcement actions should the SUFRN option be abused. With the new RUFRN in place, the FCC will fix its search engine so that the “search by FRN/RUFRN” function will actually return a list of the broadcast stations in which the holder of the searched FRN/RUFRN has an attributable interest.

The FCC also consolidated the ownership report filing deadline for noncommercial stations with that of commercial stations, and extended that date an extra month, from November 1 to December 1 of odd-numbered years, to allow more time for all U.S. broadcast stations to draft their reports, hit the file button, and crash the Commission’s filing system.  Here’s hoping that the FCC will make the biennial filing system available well in advance of October 1, 2017 to allow more time for the increased number of filers to draft and file their reports by the December 1 deadline.

As expected, the FCC revised the ownership report form for noncommercial licensees to collect race, gender and ethnicity information for all interest holders, just as it now does for commercial licensees. In addition, for both commercial and noncommercial filers, it will now be possible to select more than one ethnicity from the list to better report those who identify as being multiracial, a change required by OMB.

In a welcome expression of candor, the Commission conceded that the current version of the commercial station ownership report form has led to widespread errors in those reports, undermining the integrity of all ownership data reported. In light of that big admission, the FCC adopted a number of simplifications suggested by broadcasters that will hopefully ease the filing burden and increase the accuracy of the information submitted. Here are the highlights:

  • A parent company will be able to report its ownership interest in multiple licensees on the same form. Previously, each ownership report could only contain data about a single licensee. As a result, companies that held their broadcast licenses in separate licensee subsidiaries had to file multiple parent company reports, most of which were identical to one another except for the substitution of one licensee name and call sign(s) for another.  The multiple duplicative reports clogged the filing system, causing it to grind to a halt for all filers, even those with simpler reporting structures.
  • There will be no more spreadsheets.  Because the FRN search function never worked and only one licensee could be reported per ownership report, it was nearly impossible to determine whether an interest holder reported on one station’s report also had an interest in stations reported in another report.  The FCC’s fix to this was to have broadcasters prepare spreadsheets, some of which were thousands of lines long, and upload them to the ownership reports.  This again slowed the system for all filers and the spreadsheets were difficult to read, undermining the transparency the FCC was seeking.  Now, if additional stations need to reported, they can be added directly in the form itself.
  • Additional options and questions will be added to make the form itself more useful to the FCC.  These include allowing filers to indicate whether they are organized as a Limited Liability Company, and whether an ownership interest is held jointly, such as a stock interest that is held by spouses as tenants by the entirety.  The new forms will also require filers to indicate whether they are a Tribal Entity, which furthers the Commission’s diversity goals, as well as to list those that are deemed to have an attributable interest in a station due to a Local Marketing or Joint Sales agreement.

Finally, the Report and Order indicates that the FCC is also making a number of common sense changes to the functionality of the ownership report filing system, including sub-form cloning, auto-fill mechanisms, data saving and validation routines, and enhanced checking for inconsistent data.  If these terms sound like Greek to you, then you clearly have not been involved in the filing of ownership reports at the FCC.  If that is indeed the case, count yourself fortunate, and rejoice that the FCC has taken steps to alleviate that mysterious pain broadcasters experience in odd-numbered years.

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September 2015

The next Children’s Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations’ public inspection files by October 10, 2015, reflecting programming aired during the months of July, August, and September 2015.

Statutory and Regulatory Requirements

As a result of the Children’s Television Act of 1990 (“Act”) and the FCC rules adopted under the Act, full power and Class A television stations are required, among other things, to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programs originally produced and broadcast for an audience of children 12 years of age and under, and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under.

These two obligations, in turn, require broadcasters to comply with two paperwork requirements. Specifically, stations must: (1) place in their online public inspection file one of four prescribed types of documentation demonstrating compliance with the commercial limits in children’s television, and (2) submit FCC Form 398, which requests information regarding the educational and informational programming the station has aired for children 16 years of age and under. Form 398 must be filed electronically with the FCC. The FCC automatically places the electronically filed Form 398 filings into the respective station’s online public inspection file. However, each station should confirm that has occurred to ensure that its online public inspection file is complete. The base fine for noncompliance with the requirements of the FCC’s Children’s Television Programming Rule is $10,000.

Noncommercial Educational Television Stations

Because noncommercial educational television stations are precluded from airing commercials, the commercial limitation rules do not apply to such stations. Accordingly, noncommercial television stations have no obligation to place commercial limits documentation in their public inspection files. Similarly, though noncommercial stations are required to air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under, they do not need to complete FCC Form 398. They must, however, maintain records of their own in the event their performance is challenged at license renewal time. In the face of such a challenge, a noncommercial station will be required to have documentation available that demonstrates its efforts to meet the needs of children.

Commercial Television Stations

Commercial Limitations

The Commission’s rules require that stations limit the amount of “commercial matter” appearing in children’s programs to 12 minutes per clock hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per clock hour on the weekend. In addition to commercial spots, website addresses displayed during children’s programming and promotional material must comply with a four-part test or they will be considered “commercial matter” and counted against the commercial time limits. In addition, the content of some websites whose addresses are displayed during programming or promotional material are subject to host-selling limitations. Program promos also qualify as “commercial matter” unless they promote children’s educational/informational programming or other age-appropriate programming appearing on the same channel. Licensees must prepare supporting documents to demonstrate compliance with these limits on a quarterly basis.

For commercial stations, proof of compliance with these commercial limitations must be placed in the online public inspection file by the tenth day of the calendar quarter following the quarter during which the commercials were aired. Consequently, this proof of compliance should be placed in your online public inspection file by October 10, 2015, covering programming aired during the months of July, August, and September 2015.

Documentation to show that the station has been complying with this requirement can be maintained in several different forms:

  • Stations may, but are not obligated to, keep program logs in order to comply with the commercial limits rules. If the logs are kept to satisfy the documentation requirement, they must be placed in the station’s public inspection file. The logs should be reviewed by responsible station officials to be sure they reflect compliance with both the numerical and content requirements contained in the rules.
  • Tapes of children’s programs will also satisfy the rules, provided they are placed in the station’s public inspection file and are available for viewing by those who visit the station to examine the public inspection file. The FCC has not addressed how this approach can be utilized since the advent of online public inspection files.
  • A station may create lists of the number of commercial minutes per hour aired during identified children’s programs. The lists should be reviewed on a routine basis by responsible station officials to be sure they reflect compliance with both the numerical and content requirements contained in the rule.
  • The station and its network/syndicators may certify that as a standard practice, they format and air the identified children’s programs so as to comply with the statutory limit on commercial matter, and provide a detailed listing of any instances of noncompliance. Again, the certification should be reviewed on a routine basis by responsible station officials to ensure that it is accurate and that the station did not preempt programming or take other action that might affect the accuracy of the network/syndicator certification.

Regardless of the method a station uses to show compliance with the commercial limits, it must identify the specific programs that it believes are subject to the rules, and must list any instances of noncompliance. As noted above, commercial limits apply only to programs originally produced and broadcast primarily for an audience of children ages 12 and under.

Programming Requirements

To assist stations in identifying which programs qualify as “educational and informational” for children 16 years of age and under, and determining how much of that programming they must air to comply with the Act, the Commission has adopted a definition of “core” educational and informational programming, as well as license renewal processing guidelines regarding the amount of core educational programming aired.

The FCC defines “core programming” as television programming that has as a significant purpose serving the educational and informational needs of children 16 years old or under, which is at least 30 minutes in length, and which is aired weekly on a regular basis between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Each core program must be identified by an E/I symbol displayed throughout the program. In addition, the licensee must provide information identifying each core program that it airs, including an indication of the program’s target child audience, to publishers of program guides. The licensee must also publicize the existence and location of the station’s children’s television reports in the public inspection file. The FCC has not prescribed a specific manner of publicizing this information, but enforcement actions indicate that the FCC expects the effort to include an on-air component. We suggest placing an announcement on the station website and periodically running on-air announcements.

Under the current license renewal processing guidelines, stations must air an average of at least three hours of “core programming” each week during the quarter in order to receive staff-level approval of the children’s programming portion of the station’s license renewal application. Stations that air “somewhat less” than an average of three hours per week of “core programming,” i.e., two and one-half hours, may still receive staff-level approval of their renewals if they show that they aired a package of programming that demonstrates a commitment at least equivalent to airing three hours of “core programming” per week. Stations failing to meet one of these guidelines will have their license renewal applications reviewed by the full Commission for compliance with the Children’s Television Act.

FCC Form 398 is designed to provide the public and the Commission with the information necessary to determine compliance with the license renewal processing guidelines. The report captures information regarding the preemption of children’s programming, and requires stations to create an addendum to the form called a “Preemption Report” which provides information on: (1) the date of each preemption; (2) if the program was rescheduled, the date and time the rescheduled program aired; (3) the reason for the preemption; and (4) whether promotional efforts were made to notify the public of the time and date that the rescheduled program would air.

Filing of FCC Form 398

Form 398 must be filed electronically on a quarterly basis. As a result, full power and Class A television stations should file a Form 398 electronically with the FCC by October 10, 2015.

Preparation of the Programming Documentation

In preparing the necessary documentation to demonstrate compliance with the children’s television rules, a station should keep the following in mind:

  • FCC Form 398 and documentation concerning commercialization will be very important “evidence” of the station’s compliance when the station’s license renewal application is filed; preparation of these documents should be done carefully.
  • Accurate and complete records of what programs were used to meet the educational and informational needs of children and what programs aired that were specifically designed for particular age groups should be preserved so that the job of completing the FCC Form 398 and creating documentation concerning commercialization is made easier.
  • A station should prepare all documentation in time for it to be placed in the public inspection file by the due date. If the deadline is not met, the station should give the true date when the information was placed in the file and explain its lateness. A station should avoid creating the appearance that it was timely filed when it was not.

These are only a few ideas as to how stations can make complying with the children’s television requirements easier. Please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys in the Communications Practice for specific advice on compliance with these rules or for assistance in preparing any of this documentation.

Class A Television Stations Only

Although not directly related to the requirement that Class A stations file children’s programming reports, it is important to note that Class A stations must certify that they continue to meet the FCC’s eligibility and service requirements for Class A television status under Section 73.6001 of the FCC’s Rules. While the relevant subsection of the public inspection file rule, Section 73.3526(e)(17), does not specifically state when this certification should be prepared and placed in the public inspection file, we believe that since Section 73.6001 assesses compliance on a quarterly basis, the prudent course for Class A television stations is to place the Class A certification in the public inspection file on a quarterly basis as well.

A PDF of this article can be found at 2015 Third Quarter Children’s Television Programming Documentation.

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March 2015

Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:

  • Deceptive Practices Yield Multi-Million Dollar Fines for Telephone Interexchange Carriers
  • LPFM Ads Cost $16,000
  • Multiple TV Station Licensees Face $6,000 Fines for Failing to File Children’s TV Programming Reports

Interexchange Carriers’ “Slamming” and “Cramming” Violations Yield Over $16 Million in Fines

Earlier this month, the FCC imposed a $7.62 million fine against one interexchange carrier and proposed a $9 million fine against another for changing the carriers of consumers without their authorization, commonly known as “slamming,” and placing unauthorized charges for service on consumers’ telephone bills, a practice known as “cramming.” Both companies also fabricated audio recordings and submitted the recordings to the FCC, consumers, and state regulatory officials as “proof” that consumers had authorized the companies to switch their long distance carrier and charge them for service when in fact the consumers had never spoken to the companies or agreed to the service.

Section 258 of the Communications Act and Section 64.1120 of the FCC’s Rules make it unlawful for any telecommunications service carrier to submit or execute a change in a subscriber’s selection of telephone exchange service or telecommunications service provider except with prior authorization from the consumer and in accordance with the FCC’s verification procedures. Additionally, Section 201(b) of the Communications Act requires that “all charges, practices, classifications, and regulations for and in connection with [interstate or foreign] communications service [by wire or radio], shall be just and reasonable.” The FCC has found that any assessment of unauthorized charges on a telephone bill for a telecommunications service is an “unjust and unreasonable” practice under Section 201(b), regardless of whether the “crammed” charge is placed on consumers’ local telephone bills by a third party or by the customer’s carrier.

Further, the submission of false and misleading evidence to the FCC violates Section 1.17 of the FCC’s Rules, which states that no person shall “provide material factual information that is incorrect or omit material information . . . without a reasonable basis for believing that any such material factual statement is correct and not misleading.” The FCC has also held that a company’s fabrication of audio recordings associated with its “customers” to make it appear as if the consumers had authorized the company to be their preferred carrier, and thus charge it for service, is a deceptive and fraudulent practice that violates Section 201(b)’s “just and reasonable” mandate.

In the cases at issue, the companies failed to obtain authorization from consumers to switch their carriers and subsequently placed unauthorized charges on consumers’ bills. The FCC found that instead of obtaining the appropriate authorization or even attempting to follow the required verification procedures, the companies created false audio recordings to mislead consumers and regulatory officials into believing that they had received the appropriate authorizations. One consumer who called to investigate suspect charges on her bill was told that her husband authorized them–but her husband had been dead for seven years. Another person was told that her father–who lives on another continent–requested the change in service provider. Other consumers’ “verifications” were given in Spanish even though they did not speak Spanish on the phone and therefore would not have completed any such verification in Spanish. With respect to one of the companies, the FCC remarked that “there was no evidence in the record to show that [the company] had completed a single authentic verification recording for any of the complainants.”

The FCC’s forfeiture guidelines permit the FCC to impose a base fine of $40,000 for “slamming” violations and FCC case law has established a base fine of $40,000 for “cramming” violations as well. Finding that each unlawful request to change service providers and each unauthorized charge constituted a separate and distinct violation, the FCC calculated a base fine of $3.24 million for one company and $4 million for the other. Taking into account the repeated and egregious nature of the violations, the FCC found that significant upward adjustments were warranted–resulting in a $7.62 million fine for the first company and a proposed $9 million fine for the second.

Investigation Into Commercials Aired on LPFM Station Ends With $16,000 Civil Penalty

Late last month, the FCC entered into a consent decree with the licensee of a West Virginia low power FM radio station to terminate an investigation into whether the licensee violated the FCC’s underwriting laws by broadcasting announcements promoting the products, services, or businesses of its financial contributors.

LPFM stations, as noncommercial broadcasters, are allowed to broadcast announcements that identify and thank their sponsors, but Section 399b(b)(2) of the Communications Act and Sections 73.801 and 73.503(d) of the FCC’s Rules prohibit such stations from broadcasting advertisements. The FCC has explained that the rules are intended to protect the public’s use and enjoyment of commercial-free broadcasts in spectrum that is reserved for noncommercial broadcasters that benefit from reduced regulatory fees.

The FCC had received multiple complaints alleging that from August 2010 to October 2010, the licensee’s station broadcast advertisements in violation of the FCC’s noncommercial underwriting rules. Accordingly, the FCC sent a letter of inquiry to the licensee. In its response, the licensee admitted that the broadcasts violated the FCC’s underwriting rules. The licensee subsequently agreed to pay a civil penalty of $16,000, an amount the FCC indicated reflected the licensee’s successful showing of financial hardship. In addition, the licensee agreed to implement a three-year compliance plan, including annual reporting requirements, to ensure no future violations of the FCC’s underwriting rules by the station will occur.

Failure to “Think of the Children” Leads to $6,000 Fines

Three TV licensees are facing $6,000 fines for failing to timely file with the FCC their Form 398 Children’s Television Programming Reports. Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s Rules requires each commercial broadcast licensee to maintain a public inspection file containing specific information related to station operations. Subsection 73.3526(e)(11)(iii) requires a commercial licensee to prepare and place in its public inspection file a Children’s Television Programming Report on FCC Form 398 for each calendar quarter. The report sets forth the efforts the station made during that quarter and has planned for the next quarter to serve the educational and informational needs of children. Licensees are required to file the reports with the FCC and place them in their public files by the tenth day of the month following the quarter, and to publicize the existence and location of those reports.

This month, the FCC took enforcement action against two TV licensees in California and one TV licensee in Ohio for Form 398 filing violations. The first California licensee failed to timely file its reports for two quarters, the second California licensee failed to file its reports for five quarters, and the Ohio licensee failed to file its reports for eight quarters. Each licensee also failed to report these violations in its license renewal application, as required under Section 73.3514(a) of the Rules. Additionally, the Ohio licensee failed to timely file its license renewal application (in violation of Section 73.3539(a) of the Rules), engaged in unauthorized operation of its station after its authorization expired (in violation of Section 301 of the Communications Act), and failed to timely file its biennial ownership reports (in violation of Section 73.3615(a) of the Rules).

Despite the variation in the scope of the violations, each licensee now faces an identical $6,000 fine. The FCC originally contemplated a $16,000 fine against the Ohio licensee, as its guidelines specify a base forfeiture of $10,000 for unauthorized operation alone. However, after assessing the licensee’s gross revenue over the past three years, the FCC determined that a reduction of $10,000 was appropriate, resulting in the third $6,000 fine.

A PDF version of this article can be found at FCC Enforcement Monitor.

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By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

March 2015
The staggered deadlines for noncommercial radio and television stations to file Biennial Ownership Reports remain in effect and are tied to each station’s respective license renewal filing deadline.

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Texas and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee must electronically file their Biennial Ownership Reports by April 1, 2015. Licensees must file using FCC Form 323-E and must also place the form as filed in their stations’ public inspection files. Television stations must assure that a copy of the form is posted to their online public inspection file at https://stations.fcc.gov.

In 2009, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on whether the Commission should adopt a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial radio and television broadcast stations like the one that the FCC has established for all commercial radio and television stations. In January 2013, the FCC renewed that inquiry. Until a decision is reached, noncommercial radio and television stations continue to be required to file their biennial ownership reports every two years by the anniversary date of the station’s license renewal application filing deadline.

A PDF version of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports are due by April 1, 2015 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in Texas and Noncommercial Television Stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

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March 2015
The next Children’s Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations’ public inspection files by April 10, 2015, reflecting programming aired during the months of January, February and March 2015.

Statutory and Regulatory Requirements

As a result of the Children’s Television Act of 1990 (“Act”) and the FCC rules adopted under the Act, full power and Class A television stations are required, among other things, to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programs originally produced and broadcast for an audience of children 12 years of age and under, and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under.

These two obligations, in turn, require broadcasters to comply with two paperwork requirements. Specifically, stations must: (1) place in their online public inspection file one of four prescribed types of documentation demonstrating compliance with the commercial limits in children’s television, and (2) submit FCC Form 398, which requests information regarding the educational and informational programming the station has aired for children 16 years of age and under. Form 398 must be filed electronically with the FCC. The FCC automatically places the electronically filed Form 398 filings into the respective station’s online public inspection file. However, each station should confirm that has occurred to ensure that its online public inspection file is complete. The base fine for noncompliance with the requirements of the FCC’s Children’s Television Programming Rule is $10,000.
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March 2013

Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:

  • Delay in Providing Access to Public Inspection File Leads to Fine
  • FCC Fines Broadcaster for Antenna Tower Fencing, EAS and Public Inspection File Violations

Radio Station Fined $10,000 for Not Providing Immediate Access to Public File

This month, the Enforcement Bureau of the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order (“NAL”) in the amount of $10,000 against a Texas noncommercial broadcaster for failing to promptly make its public inspection file available. For the delay of a few hours, the Commission proposed a fine of $10,000 and reminded the licensee that stations must make their public inspection file available for inspection at any time during regular business hours and that a simple request to review the public file is all it takes to mandate access.

According to the NAL, an individual from a competitor arrived at the station at approximately 10:45 a.m. and asked to review the station public inspection file. Station personnel informed the individual that the General Manager could give him access to the public files, but that the General Manager would not arrive at the station until “after noon.” The individual returned to the studio at 12:30 p.m.; however, the General Manager had still not arrived at the studio. According to the visiting individual, the receptionist repeatedly asked him if he “was with the FCC.” Ultimately, the receptionist was able to reach the General Manager by phone, and the parties do not dispute that at that time, the individual asked to see the public file. During that call, the General Manager told the receptionist to give the visitor access to the file. According to the visitor, when the General Manager finally arrived, he too asked if the individual was from the FCC, and then proceeded to monitor the individual’s review of the public file.

After the station visit, the competitor filed a Complaint with the FCC alleging that the station public files were incomplete and that the station improperly denied access to the public inspection files. The FCC then issued a Letter of Inquiry to the station, requesting that the station respond to the allegations and to provide additional information. The station denied that any items were missing from the public file and also denied that it failed to provide access to the files.

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May 2012
Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:

  • FCC Fines Noncommercial Educational Station $12,500 for Ads
  • Public Inspection File Violations Lead to Three Short Term License Renewals
  • Main Studio Violations and Unauthorized Operations Garner $21,500 Fine

Noncommercial Educational Station Airs Expensive Ads
A recent fine against a noncommercial educational station serves as a warning to noncommercial licensees to be mindful of on-air acknowledgements and advertisements. In concluding a preceding that began in 2006, the FCC issued a $12,500 fine against a California noncommercial FM licensee for airing commercial advertisements in violation of the FCC’s rules and underwriting laws.

In August 2006, agents from the Enforcement Bureau inspected the station and recorded a segment of the station’s programming. During the inspection, the agent determined that the recorded programming included commercial advertisements on behalf of for-profit entities. In January 2007, the Bureau issued an initial Letter of Inquiry (“LOI”) regarding the station’s commercial advertisements and additional technical violations. At the same time, the Bureau referred the matter to the Investigations and Hearings Division for additional investigation. The Division issued additional LOIs in 2008 and 2009, to which the licensee responded three times. In its responses, the licensee admitted to airing four commercial announcements over 2,000 times in total throughout an eight-month period in 2006. It also acknowledged that it had executed contracts with for-profit entities to broadcast the announcements in exchange for monetary payment.

According to Section 399(b) of the Communications Act and the FCC’s Rules, noncommercial educational stations are not permitted to broadcast advertisements, which are defined as program material that is intended to promote a service, facility, or product of a for-profit entity in exchange for remuneration. Noncommercial stations may air acknowledgments for entities that contribute funds to the station, but the acknowledgments must be made for identification purposes only. Specifically, such acknowledgments should not promote a contributor’s products or services and may not contain comparative or qualitative statements, price information, calls to action, or inducements to buy or sell. In addition to these rules, the FCC requires that licensees exercise “good faith” judgment in airing material that serves only to identify a station contributor, rather than to promote that contributor.

In this case, the FCC determined that the materials aired were prohibited advertisements because they favorably distinguished the contributors from their competitors, described the contributors with comparative or qualitative references, and included statements intended to entice customers to visit the contributors’ businesses. As a result, the FCC proposed a $12,500 fine in June 2010.

In response, the licensee argued that the FCC should reduce or cancel the fine because (1) the announcements complied with the FCC’s Rules and “good faith” precedent, (2) the announcements did not contain a “call to action,” and (3) the FCC had not previously prohibited the language used in the announcements. The licensee also claimed that the investigation of the station was improper because the FCC had previously indicated it would not monitor stations for underwriting violations, but would respond solely to complaints.

The FCC refused to cancel or reduce the fine, finding that both the fine and the investigation were warranted given the licensee’s violations. In its Order, the FCC defended its determination that the materials aired by the station were promotional advertisements because they contained comparative phrasing, qualitative statements, and aimed to encourage the audience to purchase the goods or services of the for-profit entities. In addition, the FCC rejected the notion that the investigation was in any way improper, noting that the FCC has broad authority to investigate the entities it regulates, including through field inspections.

Here, as in other underwriting cases, the FCC’s decision to issue a fine came down to a necessarily subjective interpretation of language–is a given statement promotional in nature or does it merely identify a source of funding? The FCC has acknowledged that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two, hence the requirement that licensees exercise “good faith” judgment in airing underwriting announcements. Noncommercial educational stations must therefore carefully review the content of their on-air announcements to ensure the language is not unduly promotional in order to avoid a fate similar to the licensee in this case.

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A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco today ruled, in a 2 – 1 decision, that the long-standing prohibition on the carriage of paid political and issue advertising by noncommercial television and radio stations is unconstitutional and may no longer be enforced by the FCC.

The majority opinion in Minority Television Project Inc v. FCC was authored by Judge Carlos Bea, a George W. Bush appointee, and joined in by Judge John Noonen, a Reagan appointee; Judge Richard Paez, a Clinton appointee, wrote a dissenting opinion. The case arose when Minority Television Project, licensee of noncommercial television station KMTP-TV was fined $10,000 by the FCC for violating the prohibition in Section 399B of the Communications Act against noncommercial stations carrying paid advertising for commercial entities. According to the FCC, KMTP-TV had carried over 1,900 advertisements for entities such as State Farm, Chevrolet and Asiana Airlines in the period from 1999-2002. Minority Television Project paid the fine, but filed suit in District Court for reimbursement of the fine and declaratory relief. After its arguments were rejected by the District Court, Minority Television Project brought this appeal.

The Court of Appeals focused on whether the statutory prohibitions on paid advertising in Section 399B are consistent with the U.S. Constitution. It concluded that the statute contains content-related restrictions that must be reviewed under the standard of “intermediate scrutiny,” which provides that the government must show that the statute “promotes a substantial governmental interest” and “does not burden substantially more speech than necessary to further that interest.”

The Court found that the prohibition on broadcasting paid commercial advertising on behalf of for-profit entities, the primary focus of Minority Television Project’s appeal, was narrowly tailored and promotes the substantial governmental goal of preventing the commercialization of educational television. As a result, the fine imposed on Minority Television Project was upheld. However, the Court went on to address the prohibition on carriage of paid candidate and paid issue advertising by noncommercial stations. It found no legitimate governmental goal underlying that prohibition. The Court reviewed the Congressional record developed when the prohibition on political and issue advertising was adopted, and failed to find any evidence to support the provision. It therefore held that aspect of the law to be unconstitutional.

The decision leaves open many important questions as to how to implement it. For example, the questions of whether or how the lowest unit charge provision of Section 315 of the Communications Act will apply to noncommercial stations are not addressed. Similarly, the Decision does not consider whether federal candidates will be entitled to
“reasonable access” rights on noncommercial stations, permitting federal candidates to buy advertising on noncommercial stations that do not want to accept political advertising. While the reasonable access provision of the Communications Act appears to exempt noncommercial educational stations from that requirement, it is a content-related law, and therefore raises questions as to whether the disparate treatment of commercial and noncommercial stations for this purpose is constitutional. Other practical questions, such as the application of equal opportunities rights, political file obligations, and the like will also have to be resolved if this decision is implemented. More broadly, if the decision stands, it could have a fundamental impact on the nature and funding of noncommercial broadcasting.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision only applies to states located within the jurisdiction of that Court (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington). The FCC and the Justice Department may seek review by the entire Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, or seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court. As that drama plays out during an active political season, a lot of noncommercial stations will be scratching their heads trying to figure out what they can, can’t, and must do in light of the decision. Conversely, a lot of commercial stations aren’t going to be happy if they find that their political advertising revenues are being diverted to noncommercial stations. One thing is certain–if upheld, the implications of this decision for both noncommercial and commercial stations will be far reaching.