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Chairwoman Rosenworcel announced on July 16 that the Commission is considering adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on proposals to regulate AI-generated robocalls. The draft NPRM, released this afternoon, is the outgrowth of a November 2023 Notice of Inquiry and follows several recent FCC actions intended to mitigate the potential for bad actors to use AI technology in robocalls to mislead consumers. Over the last year, the FCC (1) has declared that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s (TCPA) restrictions on the use of “artificial or prerecorded voices” apply to AI-generated voices; (2) proposed a multimillion dollar fine against a person suspected of causing illegal robocalls that used a voice artificially created to sound like President Biden; and (3) sent letters to major U.S. telecommunications companies requesting information about their efforts to prevent illegal robocalls that use AI technology from reaching customers. Separately, the FCC is also considering whether to adopt disclosure requirements for political advertising that uses AI-generated content.

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week warned 13 property owners in the New York City area that illegal FM radio broadcasts were emanating from their properties, and that they could face multimillion-dollar fines if the transmissions do not promptly cease.

To operate a broadcast station, the Communications Act of 1934 and the FCC’s rules require an FCC license. Those operating illegally are commonly referred to as “pirate” operators. These operations are frequently the target of FCC enforcement actions as they can, among other things, interfere with FCC-licensed broadcasts and disrupt emergency communications.

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August 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website.

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (SEUs), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

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This advisory is directed to television stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were carried by at least one cable system located outside the station’s local service area or by a satellite provider that provided the station’s signal to at least one viewer outside the station’s local service area during 2023. These stations may be eligible to file royalty claims for compensation with the United States Copyright Royalty Board. These filings are due by July 31, 2024.

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published the 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:

  • Louisiana TV Station Admonished for Lack of Non-Discrimination Clause in Advertising Contracts
  • $25,000 Fine for a Variety of Rule Violations by Florida Low Power FM Station Affirmed
  • FCC Proposes $367,436 Fine for Marketing Violations Involving WiFi Devices

FCC Media Bureau Admonishes TV Station for Lack of Non-Discrimination Clause in Advertising Contracts

The FCC’s Media Bureau admonished a Louisiana TV station for failing to include a non-discrimination clause in its advertising sales contracts.  While it stopped short of issuing a fine, the Bureau warned that future violations could result in harsher sanctions.

Since 2008, the FCC has required commercial radio and television stations to include explicit non-discrimination clauses in their ad sales contracts.  To ensure compliance, the FCC revised its broadcast license renewal application form in 2011 to require commercial broadcasters to certify that their ad sales contracts contain a non-discrimination clause making clear to advertisers that the station will not accept advertising placed with an intent to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.  If a licensee is unable to certify compliance, the FCC requires an attachment to the license renewal application explaining the circumstances and why such non-compliance should not be considered an obstacle to the station’s license renewal.

The TV station responded “No” to the non-discrimination certification in its license renewal application, noting that its advertising agreements did not contain a non-discrimination clause.  The station indicated, however, that it does not permit discrimination in its ad sales and that it would add a non-discrimination clause to its ad sales contracts going forward.

In light of the absence of any evidence that the station had actually engaged in discriminatory ad sales, the Media Bureau admonished the station, granted its license renewal application, and warned that any future violations could trigger fines or more severe sanctions.

While enforcement actions involving the FCC’s advertising non-discrimination requirements are uncommon, that is because most stations are able to make the necessary certification in their license renewal application.  Radio and television broadcasters should examine their advertising contracts to ensure they contain the necessary language and that their stations have in fact been meeting their obligation to prevent discrimination by race or ethnicity in advertising sales.

FCC Enforcement Bureau Denies Petition to Reconsider $25,000 LPFM Fine

The FCC Enforcement Bureau denied a Petition for Reconsideration filed by the licensee of a Florida low power FM radio station, finding unpersuasive the licensee’s argument that a $25,000 fine should be cancelled due to the licensee’s inability to pay.

A 2022 Forfeiture Order concluded that the licensee failed to: (1) operate the station according to the parameters of its license and the FCC’s rules; (2) make the station available for inspection by FCC field agents; and (3) properly maintain Emergency Alert System (EAS) equipment. Continue reading →

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The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by July 10, 2024, reflecting information for the months of April, May, and June 2024.

Content of the Quarterly List

The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station.  The FCC gives each station the discretion to determine which issues facing the community served by the station are the most significant and how best to respond to them in the station’s overall programming.

To demonstrate a station’s compliance with this public interest obligation, the FCC requires the station to maintain and place in the Public Inspection File a Quarterly List reflecting the “station’s most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period.”  By its use of the term “most significant,” the FCC has noted that stations are not required to list all responsive programming, but only that programming which provided the most significant treatment of the issues identified.

Given that program logs are no longer mandated by the FCC, the Quarterly Lists may be the most important evidence of a station’s compliance with its public service obligations.  The lists also provide important support for the certification of Class A television station compliance discussed below.  We therefore urge stations not to “skimp” on the Quarterly Lists, and to err on the side of over-inclusiveness.  Otherwise, stations risk a determination by the FCC that they did not adequately serve the public interest during their license term.  Stations should include in the Quarterly Lists as much issue-responsive programming as they feel is necessary to demonstrate fully their responsiveness to community needs.  Taking extra time now to provide a thorough Quarterly List will help reduce risk at license renewal time.

The FCC has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Quarterly Lists and often brings enforcement actions against stations that do not have complete Quarterly Lists in their Public Inspection File or which have failed to timely upload such lists when due.  The FCC’s base fine for missing Quarterly Lists is $10,000.

Preparation of the Quarterly List

The Quarterly Lists are required to be placed in the Public Inspection File by January 10, April 10, July 10, and October 10 of each year.  The next Quarterly List is required to be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by July 10, 2024, covering the period from April 1, 2024 through June 30, 2024. Continue reading →

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published the 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 Issues Six Notices of Apparent Liability to Pirate Radio Operators Across Massachusetts
  • Affordable Connectivity Program Provider Faces $8 Million Fine and Removal from the Program
  • FCC Proposes $3,000 Fine Against Massachusetts Class A Television Station for Public File Issues

FCC Targets Pirate Radio Operators in the Boston Area

The Communications Act prohibits the transmission of radio signals without prior FCC authorization because such signals can interfere with licensed communications and pose a danger to the public by interfering with licensed stations that carry public safety messages, including Emergency Alert System transmissions.  Over the past few years, the FCC has been focusing more attention on the owners and operators of illegal broadcast radio (colloquially known as “pirate radio”) facilities, targeting several in New York (as we discussed here and here) and Florida (as discussed here).  Last month, it issued six Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) proposing fines against Massachusetts pirate radio operators under the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act (PIRATE Act).  The PIRATE Act gave the FCC enhanced enforcement authority against radio pirates and has led to the recent increase in such fines.

In the Massachusetts NALs, the FCC proposed fines of $597,775, $120,000, $40,000, $40,000, $40,000, and $20,000, respectively, against the six pirate radio operators.

With regard to the largest proposed fine—$597,775—the FCC noted in the NAL that the facility’s owner had a long history of unauthorized operation.  In 2004, FCC field agents traced radio transmissions to a residence in Randolph, MA.  The transmissions exceeded the power limits for operation under Part 15 of the FCC’s Rules, which permits use of certain low power radio frequency devices without an FCC license.

Over the years, FCC field agents issued verbal and written warnings to cease pirate operations, but the self-admitted owner/operator repeatedly failed to do so.  In early 2005, agents found him to be transmitting above the Part 15 power limits, resulting in a $10,000 fine in 2006.  In 2017, acting on a complaint, FCC agents took field strength measurements of a new signal connected with the same operator and found it also exceeded the limits for unlicensed operation, resulting in the agents issuing an on-scene Notice of Unlicensed Operation.

Then, over the course of five days during June and July 2023, agents traced unauthorized radio transmissions to three locations in Brockton, Mattapan, and Randolph, MA.  After taking field strength measurements, the agents determined that all three facilities exceeded the power limits for operation under Part 15 of the FCC’s Rules.  Further investigation confirmed no authorizations had been issued for operation of an FM broadcast station at or near any of the three locations, and that the same owner/operator was connected to all three pirate sites.

In the NAL against this operator, the FCC concluded that he willfully and knowingly violated the Communications Act by operating a pirate radio station, and proposed the base fine for pirate operation ($20,000) for each of the five days of observed illegal activity, which would have resulted in a total proposed fine of $100,000.  Given the operator’s history of warnings and prior violations, however, the FCC found that an upward adjustment was warranted, and it proposed the maximum permissible penalty—$119,555—for each of the five instances of operation, leading to a proposed total fine of $597,775.  The operator has thirty days to either pay the fine or file a request presenting grounds for its reduction or cancellation.

FCC Alleges Wireless Company Violated Affordable Connectivity Program Rules and Federal Wire Fraud Statute

The FCC issued an NAL and Order Initiating Removal Proceeding to a wireless company and its principal for apparently willfully and repeatedly violating the FCC’s Rules for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and the federal wire fraud statute.  The NAL proposes an $8,083,992 joint fine against the company and its principal. Continue reading →

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June 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website.

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements.  Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term.  These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application.  The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities.

For a detailed description of the EEO Rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group.

Deadline for the Annual EEO Public File Report for Nonexempt Radio and Television SEUs

Consistent with the above, June 1, 2024 is the date by which Nonexempt SEUs of radio and television stations licensed to communities in the states identified above, including Class A television stations, must (i) place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files of all stations comprising the SEU, and (ii) post the Report on the websites, if any, of those stations.  LPTV stations are also subject to the broadcast EEO Rule, even though LPTV stations are not required to maintain a Public Inspection File.  Instead, these stations must maintain a “station records” file containing the station’s authorization and other official documents and must make it available to an FCC inspector upon request.  Therefore, if an LPTV station has five or more full-time employees, or is otherwise part of a Nonexempt SEU, it must prepare an Annual EEO Public File Report and place it in its station records file. Continue reading →

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On April 23, 2024, the U.S. Department of Labor published final regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) that ultimately raise the minimum salary necessary to be exempt from federal overtime rules by 65%. These changes affect all businesses subject to the FLSA, but broadcasters and other media employers may particularly feel the impact given that they rarely operate on a 9am-to-5pm schedule. The increase will occur in two steps, with the first going into effect on July 1, 2024, and the second occurring on January 1, 2025. While these increases are certain to be challenged in court, the outcome of any appeals is difficult to predict. Employers need to prepare now to adapt to minimize the impact of these changes on their operations.

The Fair Labor Standards Act is the federal law governing wage and hour requirements for employees. Pursuant to the FLSA, employers must pay employees a minimum wage and compensate them for overtime at 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for any time worked exceeding 40 hours in a workweek unless those employees are exempt from that requirement. On April 23, 2024, the Department of Labor issued a Final Rule that increases the minimum salary required for certain types of employees to be exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rules and changes the methodology that will be used to determine the applicable salary thresholds in the future. As a result, many currently exempt employees whose salaries are below the new thresholds will soon become eligible for overtime pay, requiring their employers to either increase those employees’ salaries to meet the new thresholds, or begin paying them overtime.

The Department of Labor projects the change will impact an estimated four million workers, with an additional direct cost to employers (from overtime pay and increases in salaries to maintain exempt status) of $1.5 billion.

Although the FLSA applies to most employers, the law contains exemptions for certain types of employees, including some at small-market broadcast stations. The Final Rule does not affect these broadcast industry-specific exemptions, but will affect many other currently exempt employees in the broadcast and media industry who, unless they receive salary raises, will soon become eligible for overtime pay.

This Advisory only addresses federal law. Some state laws impose stricter standards than federal law as to which employees are exempt from overtime pay. Employers must ensure that they also meet the requirements of any applicable state or local employment laws.


The FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt employees an overtime rate of 1.5 times their regular rate for all hours worked over 40 hours per workweek. However, the FLSA exempts from its overtime rules certain classes of employees who are paid on a salary basis and who also meet specific “white collar” duties tests. The Department of Labor’s Final Rule increases the minimum salary required for these classes of employees to be deemed exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rules, but does not alter the duties tests for those exemptions. Continue reading →

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published the 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 Proposes $8,000 Fine for Contest Rule Violations
  • Business Communications Company Settles Business Radio Investigation by Agreeing to Compliance Plan and $100,000 Penalty
  • FCC Issues $16,500 Fine to Alabama FM Translator for Multiple Rule Violations

California FM Station Receives $8,000 Proposed Fine for Contest Rule Violation

The FCC proposed a fine of $8,000 against the licensee of a California FM radio station for violating the FCC’s Contest Rule.  Specifically, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) asserting that the licensee failed to conduct the contest substantially as announced.

Section 73.1216 of the FCC’s Rules requires a licensee to “fully and accurately disclose the material terms” of a contest it conducts or promotes and to conduct the contest “substantially as announced and advertised.”  Material terms include, among other things, eligibility restrictions, the means of selecting winners, and the extent, nature, and value of prizes.  Prizes must also be awarded promptly, and in the past the FCC has found Contest Rule violations where a station failed to award prizes in a manner consistent with the advertised rules.

The FCC received a complaint alleging that the station did not award a cash prize to the winner of a contest conducted in October 2019.  To investigate the complaint, the FCC issued a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) to the station.  In response, the station admitted that there had been “undue delay,” with the prize being awarded after the announced timeline.  The station’s contest rules indicated prizes were to be awarded to winners “within thirty (30) business days of the date the winner completes all required Station documents.”  The station acknowledged that it received all required documentation on January 16, 2020, and thus it should have issued the prize by March 2, 2020, but did not issue the prize until May 2021.  The station cited three separate events as the cause of the undue delay: (1) difficulty accessing necessary files after the COVID-19 pandemic led to employees working from home; (2) a ransomware attack that affected corporate IT systems between October 2020 and March 2021; and (3) a lack of staff after the ransomware attack that prevented the station from completing work in a timely manner.

Despite these defenses, the FCC found that the station apparently willfully violated Section 73.1216 of the FCC’s Rules when it failed to award the prize in accordance with the advertised contest rules, and therefore failed to conduct the contest “fairly and substantially as represented to the public.”  The FCC explained that “timely fulfillment of the prize” was a “material term of the Licensee’s own contest rules” and the station delayed issuing the prize for over a year.  The FCC disagreed with the station’s justifications for the delay, finding that they did not excuse the failure to award the prize in compliance with the announced contest rules.  In particular, the FCC pointed out that the station’s first justification for the delay (the pandemic transition to work-from-home) occurred in mid-March 2020 – after the station should have already issued the prize by March 2, 2020.

The FCC’s base fine for violations pertaining to licensee-conducted contests is $4,000.  In this case, the FCC found a single violation of Section 73.1216 of the FCC’s Rules resulting from the station’s failure to issue the prize within the timeframe established by the contest rules.  However, considering the totality of the circumstances, and in line with the FCC’s Forfeiture Policy Statement, the FCC determined an upward adjustment was warranted, emphasizing that “large or highly profitable companies should expect to pay higher forfeitures for violations of the Act and the Commission’s rules” to ensure that the fine is an “effective deterrent and not simply a cost of doing business.”  The FCC therefore concluded that an upward adjustment of the proposed fine from $4,000 to $8,000 was appropriate.  The station has 30 days from release of the NAL to pay the fine or file a written statement seeking reduction or cancellation of it.

Rule Violations by Business Communications Company Result in Consent Decree with Compliance Plan and Six-Figure Penalty

A nationwide business communications company settled an FCC investigation by admitting that it failed to seek approval from the FCC before transferring control of business radio licenses and that it conducted business radio operations without authorization.  The company entered into a consent decree that requires implementation of a compliance plan and payment of a $100,000 civil penalty. Continue reading →