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:
- Virginia FM Station’s Years of Missing Quarterly Lists Lead to Proposed $15,000 Fine and a Reduced License Term
- FCC Investigates Ohio College Station Over Unauthorized Silence and Scheduling Violation
- New York Amateur Radio Operator’s Threats and Harmful Interference Lead to Proposed $17,000 Fine
Feeling Listless: Virginia Station With Years of Missing Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists Hit with Proposed $15,000 Fine, Shortened License Term
In a Memorandum Opinion and Order and Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, the FCC found that a Virginia FM station failed to prepare and upload eight years’ worth of Quarterly Issues/Programs lists, resulting in a proposed $15,000 fine. The FCC also indicated it would grant the station’s license renewal application, but only for an abbreviated two-year license term.
As we noted in a recent advisory, the FCC requires each broadcast station to maintain and place in the station’s online Public Inspection File a Quarterly Issues/Programs List reflecting the “station’s most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period.” At license renewal time, the FCC may review these lists to determine whether the station met its obligation to serve the needs and interests of its local community during the license term. The FCC has noted this and other such “public information requirements” are “integral components of a licensee’s obligation to serve the public interest and meet its community service obligations.”
Starting with TV stations in 2012, the FCC has required stations to transition their physical local Public Inspection Files to the FCC’s online portal. By March 1, 2018, all broadcast radio stations were required to have uploaded the bulk of their Public File materials to the online Public Inspection File and maintain the online file going forward. At license renewal time, licensees must certify that all required documentation has been placed in a station’s Public Inspection File in a timely fashion. The license renewal cycle for radio stations began in June of this year.
In its license renewal application, the FM station admitted that it had run into some “difficulties” with the online Public Inspection File and had not met “certain deadlines.” In the course of its investigation, the Media Bureau found that the licensee had in fact failed to prepare any Quarterly Issues/Program Lists during the preceding eight-year license term, and, as a result, also failed to upload the materials to the station’s Public Inspection File.
The FCC’s forfeiture policies establish a base fine of $10,000 for failure to maintain a station’s Public File. However, the FCC may adjust a fine upward or downward depending on the circumstances of the violation. Considering the extensive nature of the violations and the station’s failure to disclose its behavior in the years prior to its license renewal application, the Media Bureau increased this amount to $12,000. The Media Bureau then tacked on an additional $3,000 fine, the base amount for a station’s failure to file required information, for a total proposed fine of $15,000.
Turning to the station’s license renewal application, the Media Bureau deemed the station’s behavior “serious” and representative of a “pattern of abuse” due to years of violations. As a result, the Bureau indicated it would only grant the station a shortened license term of two years, instead of a full eight-year term, and even then, only assuming the Bureau found no other violations that would “preclude such a grant.”
In a Silent Way: University FM Station Warned Over Unauthorized Silence and Time Share Violation
In a recent Notice of Violation, the FCC cited a northern Ohio university’s FM station for failing to request authorization to remain off-air for several months and for altering the broadcast schedule that it shares with another station on the same frequency without notifying the FCC.
Part 73 of the FCC’s Rules requires a station to broadcast in accordance with its FCC authorization. While stations are generally authorized to operate for unlimited time, some noncommercial FM stations split time on a shared frequency via a time-sharing agreement. The FCC will usually only permit a departure from the schedule set forth in a time-sharing agreement once a written and signed agreement to that effect has been filed with the FCC by each licensee. In the event that circumstances “beyond the control of a licensee” make it impossible for a station to adhere to this schedule or continue broadcasting altogether, the station must notify the FCC by the tenth day of limited or discontinued operation. A station that expects to be silent for over 30 days must request Special Temporary Authority from the FCC to do so. Continue reading →