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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:

  • Time Off the Air Leads to License Termination for North Dakota Radio Station
  • FCC Enters Into Consent Decree With Tech Company Imposing $250,000 Civil Penalty for Unlawful License Transfers and Failure to Disclose a Felony
  • Virginia Radio Station Faces Proposed $7,000 Fine and Reduced License Term Over Failure to Timely File its Renewal Application

The Sound of Silence: North Dakota Radio Station Faces License Termination After Prolonged Period Off-Air

After going off the air and remaining silent due to financial concerns, an FM station’s license was revoked for failure to timely resume operations.

Section 73.1740(a)(4) of the FCC’s Rules permits a licensee to temporarily discontinue operations for up to 30 days provided that the licensee: (1) notifies the FCC by the tenth day of discontinued operations, and (2) requests authorization from the Commission to remain silent for any period beyond 30 days.  However, Section 312(g) of the Communications Act of 1934 provides that a broadcast station’s license automatically expires if it does not transmit a broadcast signal for 12 consecutive months.  The FCC may extend or reinstate a license terminated by virtue of this provision if doing so would “promote equity and fairness.”

On August 15, 2018, the North Dakota licensee took the station off the air due to financial concerns.  After several months of radio silence, the station finally requested special temporary authority (“STA”) to remain silent on October 30.  Despite the delay, the FCC granted the STA for a period of 180 days, cautioning that the station’s license would expire as a matter of law if operations did not resume by 12:01 a.m. on August 16, 2019, when the station would reach 12 months of silent status.  The Commission also noted that the STA request had failed to meet both the 10-day notification requirement and the 30-day deadline for seeking authorization for discontinued operations.  At the end of the authorized 180 days, the licensee sought an extension of the STA, which the FCC granted, again reminding the licensee of the August 16, 2019 deadline to resume operations.

On August 15, 2019, the licensee filed a resumption of operations notice and a related application requesting a license to cover a pending construction permit.  Both indicated that the station had resumed operations that day (ahead of the 12:01 a.m. August 16 deadline).  A competing broadcaster opposed the application, challenging the licensee’s characterization of its operating status.  The competitor alleged that the station did not actually go back on air until later on August 18, and therefore the license had expired.  In response, the licensee acknowledged that the station did not resume operations on August 15 as previously indicated, citing circumstances beyond its control related to tower crew shortages and weather delays, and requested reinstatement of the station’s license.

In deciding whether to extend or reinstate a license that has been automatically terminated under Section 312(g), the Commission considers the facts on a case-by-case basis to determine the “fair and equitable” outcome.  However, the Commission has generally refused to reinstate a terminated license when the failure to resume operations resulted from the licensee’s own actions, as opposed to a natural disaster or other circumstance outside the licensee’s control.

Here, the Commission concluded that the licensee’s failure to timely resume operations was more a function of poor planning than circumstances beyond its control.  Despite being aware of the looming August 16 deadline, the licensee did not secure a tower crew to perform needed work on its tower and antenna until August 12, among other issues.  As a result, the FCC rejected the licensee’s attempt to elevate its poor planning to “circumstances beyond its control.”  The FCC also rejected the licensee’s claim that reinstatement was justified due to the station’s service to an underserved community.  The FCC noted that after the termination, the community was still served by an AM station and two FM translators, along with at least four other AM stations that reached the area.  As a result, the FCC declined to reinstate the license.

Lastly, the FCC noted that the broadcaster opposing the license application provided evidence that the licensee had made several false statements to the Commission, including the date on which station operations had resumed.  While the FCC declined to further investigate these allegations now, it required that if the licensee or its principals submit any broadcast application within the next five years, they must attach a copy of the decision rejecting reinstatement, at which point the FCC may further assess the allegations.

Unlawful License Transfers Lead to $250,000 Civil Penalty

The FCC entered into a Consent Decree requiring payment of a $250,000 civil penalty to resolve an investigation into a technology company’s corporate transactions.  The investigation concerned the unauthorized transfer of wireless licenses, the use of a wireless license by the transferee without FCC authorization, and the failure to provide accurate information regarding the prospective licensee’s qualifications to hold an FCC license.

Continue reading →

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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:

  • Wireless Internet Provider Hit With $25,000 Proposed Fine for Interference Caused by Network Equipment
  • Unauthorized License Transfers Lead to Consent Decree and $70,000 Civil Penalty
  • FCC Issues Notice of Violation to AM Daytimer Operating Past Sunset

FCC Proposes $25,000 Fine Against Wireless Internet Provider for Causing Harmful Interference

The FCC recently issued a $25,000 Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture against a wireless Internet provider.  This is one of several recent proposed fines involving unauthorized equipment causing harmful interference to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) weather radar systems.

Section 301 of the Communications Act generally prohibits the use or operation of a device for the transmission of radio signals, communications, or energy without an FCC license.  There is an exception, however, for low power devices emitting radiofrequency energy in compliance with certain technical restrictions under Part 15 of the FCC’s Rules.  Relevant to this particular matter, the FCC has authorized unlicensed operations in portions of the 5 GHz band for U-NII (Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure) devices, which are commonly used to provide Wi-Fi and broadband access.  The FCC’s rules require U-NII devices to have Dynamic Frequency Selection (“DFS”), allowing them to detect and thereby avoid interfering with radar systems operating on similar frequencies in the 5 GHz band.

In May 2018, the FCC issued a written warning to the Internet provider concerning interference to the FAA’s nearby doppler weather radar station from unlicensed devices operating on nearby frequencies.  In response, the Internet provider confirmed that all of its equipment conformed to the FCC’s rules designed to prevent such interference.

A year later, however, the FAA notified the FCC that its weather radar station was still experiencing interference from a source operating on a nearby frequency.  Following an investigation, the FCC determined that some of the equipment used by the provider’s network was causing the interference.  Further analysis indicated that the provider’s U-NII devices were improperly configured, and that DFS functionality had been disabled.  The FCC instructed the provider to reconfigure the devices to operate on a different frequency.  Following this change, the interference ceased immediately.

The FCC’s rules establish a base fine of $10,000 for operation without a license or other authorization from the Commission.  In this case, the FCC found two separate $10,000 rule violations: (1) the unauthorized operation of devices in the 5 GHz frequencies, and (2) failure to enable DFS functionality.  The FCC also applied an upward adjustment of $5,000 for failing to address the problem after the first warning, and the provider’s false claim that its equipment complied with FCC rules.

In addition to the $25,000 proposed fine, and to protect the FAA’s weather radar systems from further interference, the FCC ordered the provider to submit a signed statement within 30 days certifying that its U-NII operations comply with the FCC’s rules and all applicable equipment authorizations.

Hospitality Company Enters Into FCC Consent Decree Over Unauthorized Transfer of Wireless Licenses

The FCC entered into a Consent Decree with a large hospitality company to resolve an investigation into unauthorized transfers of wireless licenses acquired in connection with several corporate acquisitions and other transactions.  The resulting $70,000 civil penalty serves as a reminder to companies that don’t often deal with the FCC of the risks and regulatory obligations at play in transactions involving control of FCC licenses. Continue reading →

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With much of the United States under COVID-19 stay-at-home directives, and frost warnings still in the forecast, it’s as good a time as any to review the upcoming cable and satellite carriage election process for television broadcasters. The FCC recently completed an overhaul of its rules governing how eligible television broadcasters provide notice of their carriage elections to cable and satellite companies. The first deadline under those new procedures is July 31, 2020, when broadcasters must update their online contact information at the FCC as a precursor to implementing the FCC’s new paperless MVPD carriage notification procedures.

Ever since Congress created the must-carry/retransmission consent regime in the 1992 Cable Act, broadcasters have mailed paper notices to MVPDs regarding their must-carry/retransmission consent elections prior to October 1st of every third year. With regard to satellite distributors, this process has always required stations to send their election notices via certified mail, return receipt requested. While the rules didn’t specifically require this for notices to cable systems, the lack of specificity in the rules regarding cable notices led most broadcasters to use the same procedures as used with satellite providers.

This approach often imposed significant costs on broadcasters, requiring them to: (1) identify the MVPDs serving each of their markets, (2) locate the correct contact person for carriage matters at each MVPD, (3) prepare the election letters, (4) send the letters to that contact person via certified mail, (5) confirm receipt of each letter, and (6) be prepared to move quickly to find new contact information and send new election letters (which still must be received by the October 1 deadline) where the post office returns an election letter as undeliverable.

In 2019, the FCC took the first step to simplify this process and reduce the corresponding costs. Specifically, it adopted rules requiring both television broadcasters and MVPDs to post in their online Public Inspection Files an email address and telephone number for the employee responsible for handling carriage inquiries. In addition, MVPDs must place similar contact information in the FCC’s COALS filing system. The FCC has now directed television stations and MVPDs to complete these tasks by July 31, 2020.

In the FCC’s new paperless notice system, after the contact information has been uploaded, TV stations will have until October 1, 2020 to upload to their online Public Inspection File their carriage elections. This election will cover the next three-year cycle from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2023.

Because noncommercial stations cannot elect retransmission consent on MVPDs, the FCC found that it could simplify the process for noncommercial stations by eliminating the need for further triennial elections after the October 1, 2020 election notice is placed in the station’s Public Inspection File.

This new “Public File” approach also simplifies the process for commercial TV stations going forward in that they will only have to send a separate notice to an MVPD if the station seeks to change its election for that MVPD from its election for the prior three-year cycle. In such cases, the station must send an email to the MVPD containing certain information with regard to its change in election, and send a “carbon copy” to a newly-created FCC email address for such notifications. The MVPD is then required to acknowledge receipt via email.

The copy sent to the FCC email address is intended to serve as evidence of the station’s effort to provide the required email notice to the MVPD. If the station does not receive the required acknowledgement from the MVPD, it must call the MVPD’s contact telephone number. Where the station retains records demonstrating that it took the above steps, and timely uploaded its election to its online Public File, the FCC will consider the station’s election to be effective.

In adopting these new procedures, the FCC noted that two classes of television broadcast facilities eligible for carriage are not required to maintain online Public Inspection Files: (i) low-power television stations that qualify for must-carry rights, and (ii) qualified educational television translators. Because of this, the FCC adopted rules in March 2020 to implement slightly different election notification requirements for these facilities.

Specifically, eligible low-power television stations and educational television translator stations will be required to email each MVPD by  October 1, 2020 and provide certain “baseline information” regarding their carriage election (or carriage request in the case of NCE translators). Going forward, qualified LPTV stations must only email an MVPD when seeking to change their election for the upcoming three-year cycle. Like full-power commercial TV stations, LPTV stations must send a “carbon copy” to the FCC’s must-carry notification email address, and follow-up with a telephone call to the MVPD if they do not receive a verification of receipt email from the MVPD.

If the MVPD has any questions regarding carriage, it is permitted to rely on the contact information for the station contained in the FCC’s LMS filing system. For that reason, eligible LPTV stations and educational television translators must update their contact information in LMS no later than July 31, 2020, and keep it updated thereafter.

The new rules should reduce the number of broadcasters standing in line at their local post offices in late September, but for this new system to work, broadcasters and MVPDs need to make sure that they update their contact information by July 31st, 2020, and keep it up to date thereafter.

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This afternoon, the FCC released a brief Order looking toward the day when life in the U.S. hopefully returns to normal, and broadcast stations begin rehiring furloughed workers.

In the two-page Order, the FCC waived the requirement in its EEO Rule that broadcasters and MVPDs engage in “broad outreach” when filling each full-time job position.  Making clear that this relief is restricted to the circumstances of COVID-19, the FCC limited application of the waiver to the rehiring of station employees that were laid off due to the pandemic, and only where the employee is then rehired within nine months of being laid off.

The FCC reasoned that:

Given the unique importance of broadcasters and MVPDs in providing access to breaking news and critical information relating to the pandemic, the public interest, convenience, and necessity would be best served by encouraging these entities to maintain, or quickly resume, normal operations. Facilitating the expeditious re-hiring of full-time employees laid off as a result of the pandemic to job vacancies created by the pandemic supports this important goal.

While the FCC has long recognized a narrow exception to its broad recruitment requirement where a hire occurs under “exigent circumstances” (and it’s hard to imagine more exigent circumstances than a station bringing its employees back on board after a pandemic), today’s waiver avoids the need for stations to have to prove exigent circumstances existed when facing an EEO audit or other EEO review down the road.

The good news is that today’s waiver gives broadcasters and MVPDs one less thing to worry about during the pandemic.  The bad news is that it still leaves about 999,999 others for them to address in the coming months.

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On April 2, 2020, the FCC established the COVID-19 Telehealth Program (Program), which will guide the disbursement of $200 million to health care providers for connected care services to their patients. We published our summary of the Program on April 3, 2020, and followed up with a discussion of the FCC’s application procedures on April 9, 2020, and a review of the first wave of proposals granted on April 16, 2020.

With the fourth tranche of proposals approved on April 29, 2020, the FCC has now granted 30 funding proposals in 16 states. The FCC has pledged to review and grant eligible proposals on a rolling basis until either the FCC runs out of funds or the national pandemic ends.

As discussed in our prior alerts, the CARES Act of 2020 provided $200 million for the FCC to distribute to eligible parties with proposals to provide connected care services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds could be used for (i) telecommunications services and broadband connectivity services, (ii) data and information services, and (iii) internet-connected devices and equipment.

While the FCC has not released for public review most of the approved proposals, based on the public notices that have been released, it is clear that the FCC is willing to provide funding for proposals to implement connected care services and devices. Most of the approved proposals requested funding for a combination of:

  • Remote patient monitoring;
  • Portable equipment for screening at remote centers and nursing homes;
  • Video services including patient visits; and
  • Connected devices (tablets) for staff and high-risk patients.

On May 1, 2020, the FCC announced that, as of May 3, 2020, all applicants must submit their applications through the online portal.

Recently, there has been a push by groups to expand the pool of eligible entities. The American Hospital Association requested that the FCC reconsider its decision to only provide funding for nonprofit applicants. Other organizations like HCA Healthcare and the American Dental Association supported the expansion of eligible entities, arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all health care providers (including dentists) and that the CARES Act did not require the nonprofit limitation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also supported the expansion of funding opportunities, noting that 20 percent of the nation’s hospitals are prevented from filing proposals for COVID-19 funds.

It is unclear whether the FCC will adjust its eligibility standards to include for-profit hospitals and medical practices, especially in light of the availability of funds that have yet to be allocated. We will continue to monitor the program’s progress and report any changes in the FCC’s rules.

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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:

  • Radio Skit Gone Wrong Draws $20,000 Proposed Fine for False Emergency Alert
  • Wireless Microphones Operating on Unauthorized Frequencies Generate Hefty Proposed Fine
  • FCC Issues Citation to Convenience Store Over Errant Surveillance Equipment

No Laughing Matter: Emergency Alert Parody Leads to Proposed $20,000 Fine Against New York FM Station

The FCC recently issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture proposing a $20,000 fine against a New York radio station for airing a false emergency alert.  As we have written in the past, the FCC strictly enforces its rules against airing false Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) tones, arguing that false alerts undermine public confidence in the alert system.

The EAS system is a public warning system utilizing broadcast stations, cable systems, satellite providers, and other video programming systems to permit the President to rapidly communicate with the public during an emergency.  Federal, state and local authorities also use the EAS system to deliver localized emergency information.  The FCC’s rules expressly forbid airing EAS codes, the EAS Attention Signal (the jarring long beep), or a recording or simulation of these tones in any circumstance other than in an actual emergency, during an authorized test, or as part of an authorized public service announcement.  Besides desensitizing the public to alerts in cases of real emergencies, the data embedded in the codes can trigger false activations of emergency alerts on other stations.

On October 3, 2018, FEMA, in coordination with the FCC, conducted a nationwide test of the EAS and Wireless Emergency Alert (“WEA”) systems.  Shortly afterwards, the FCC received a complaint that a New York FM station transmitted an EAS tone during an on-air skit lampooning the scheduled test.  The FCC issued a Letter of Inquiry to the station, demanding a recording of the program and sworn statements regarding whether the tone was, in fact, improperly transmitted.

In response, the station confirmed that it aired the EAS Attention Signal as part of a skit produced by a station employee.  When reviewing the skit before airing, the station spotted an improper EAS header code in it, and told the employee to delete it.  However, the employee merely replaced the header code with a one-second portion of the EAS Attention Signal.  The station then approved and aired the program.

In response, the FCC found that the segment violated its rules, noting that the “use of the Attention Signal in a parody of the first nationwide test of the EAS and WEA is specifically the type of behavior section 11.45 seeks to prevent.”  The FCC also noted that the brief duration of the tone aired was not a defense to a finding of violation.

As a result, the FCC proposed a $20,000 fine.  Although the base fine for airing a false EAS alert is $8,000, the FCC concluded that the circumstances surrounding this case warranted an upward adjustment.  In particular, the FCC stressed the gravity of the situation, noting that the broadcaster aired the false alert on one of the highest-ranking stations in New York City, which itself is the nation’s largest radio market.  Given these facts, the FCC proposed a $20,000 fine.  The station has thirty days to either pay the fine, or present evidence to the FCC justifying reduction or cancellation of it.

A Broad Spectrum of Violations Creates Problems for Wireless Microphone Retailer

In a recently-issued Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, the FCC proposed a $685,338 fine against a seller of wireless microphones, asserting that the retailer advertised 32 models of noncompliant wireless microphones.

The FCC allocates radiofrequency spectrum for specific uses, with particular attention given to the potential for harmful interference to other users.  The FCC has made certain bands available for use by wireless microphones, with technical rules varying depending on the particular band used.  For manufacturers and retailers, this means their devices must be designed to operate only within the permitted frequency bands.

Under Section 302(b) of the Communications Act, “[n]o person shall manufacture, import, sell, offer for sale, or ship devices or home electronic equipment and systems, or use devices, which fail to comply with regulations promulgated pursuant to [FCC Rules]”.  Section 74.851(f) of the FCC’s Rules requires devices that emit radiofrequency energy (like wireless microphones) to be approved in accordance with the FCC’s certification procedures before being marketed and sold in the United States.  Such devices are also subject to identification and labeling requirements. Continue reading →

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On March 31, 2020, the FCC adopted a Report and Order to implement the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.  The Program was established in the CARES Act, and the FCC was appropriated $200 million to provide to eligible medical facilities to provide telehealth services to their patients.

A more detailed discussion of the FCC’s Report and Order creating the Program, and a discussion of the procedures to apply for funding, can be found here and here.  The Program’s intended purpose is to provide emergency funding for expenses arising from the COVID-19 pandemic that fall outside of the normal procurement process.  Under the new program, non-profit hospitals, teaching hospitals, rural health clinics and skilled nursing facilities can apply for funds from the FCC to be used for voice and internet service, remote patient monitoring platforms, and Internet-connected devices and equipment.

The window for submitting applications opened on Monday, April 13th, and the FCC announced today that the first wave of applications had been granted.  Below is a summary of each approved funding proposal:

  • Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, was awarded $727,747 to implement telehealth video visits, virtual check-ins, remote patient monitoring, and e-visits to patient’s hospital rooms, which it said would enable it to continue to provide high quality patient care, keep patients safe in their homes, and reduce the use of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Hudson River HealthCare, Inc., in Peekskill, New York, was awarded $753,367 for telehealth services to expand its COVID-19 testing and treatment programs serving a large volume of low-income, uninsured, and/or underinsured patients throughout southeastern New York State, encompassing the Hudson Valley, New York City, and Long Island.
  • Mount Sinai Health System, in New York City, was awarded $312,500 to provide telehealth devices and services to geriatric and palliative patients who are at high risk for COVID-19 throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
  • Neighborhood Health Care, Inc., in Cleveland, Ohio, was awarded $244,282 to provide telemedicine, connected devices, and remote patient monitoring to patients and families impacted by COVID-19 in Cleveland’s West Side neighborhoods, targeting low-income patients with chronic conditions.
  • Ochsner Clinic Foundation, in New Orleans, Louisiana, was awarded $1,000,000 for telehealth services and devices to serve high-risk patients and vulnerable populations in Louisiana and Mississippi, to treat COVID-19 patients, and to slow the spread of the virus to others.
  • UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh was awarded $192,500 to provide telehealth services to children who have received organ transplants and are thus immune-compromised and at high risk for COVID-19.

The FCC will continue to process applications until the earlier of (i) granting proposals for the full $200 million budgeted; or (ii) the end of the national emergency.

Even though the FCC stated that it would likely not grant proposals for more than $1 million, considering the rapid processing and approval of the first seven applications, interested parties will want to move quickly to submit their applications.

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On April 4, 2020, the White House issued an Executive Order creating the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector (the “Committee”). The Committee, chaired by the Attorney General, includes the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Defense, and any other executive department head so designated by the President, is seen as an attempt to formalize the long-standing “Team Telecom” review process that began in the 1990s. The Committee’s stated goal is similar to Team Telecom’s, i.e., to assist the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) in its public interest review of national security and law enforcement concerns that may be triggered by foreign investment in the US telecommunications sector. But there may be some notable differences. Continue reading →

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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:

  • Rebroadcast Changes Lead to FM Translator Station Fine
  • Delinquent Regulatory Fees Threaten AM Station License
  • Procedural Missteps Lead to Dismissal of Stations’ Applications in Administrative Proceeding

North Carolina FM Translator’s Primary Station Change Leads to Fine

Following a Notice of Apparent Liability issued last year, the FCC recently issued a Forfeiture Order fining a North Carolina FM Translator station $2,000 for changing the station it rebroadcasts without notifying the Commission.  However, in an oversight by the FCC, the Order was issued in error as the station had already paid the outstanding fine.

Sections 74.1232(b) and 74.1251(c) of the FCC’s Rules set forth eligibility, licensing, and other technical rules applicable to FM translator stations.  Under Section 74.1232(b), an entity may not hold multiple FM translator licenses to retransmit the same signal to substantially the same area without showing a “technical need” for an additional station.  Section 74.1251(c) requires a translator licensee to notify the FCC in writing if it changes the primary station it rebroadcasts.

The Media Bureau’s investigation began in response to a Petition for Reconsideration challenging the grant of a construction permit for the translator station.  The licensee originally applied for the permit in July 2018, but amended its application to change its primary station.  The Bureau granted the amended application the following month.

In its filing, the petitioner acknowledged that it was not a party to the application proceeding, but argued that it was effectively precluded from participating because the FCC granted the application only ten days after the amended application was placed on public notice.  The Commission ultimately dismissed the challenge, determining that ten days is a reasonable amount of time to prepare and file a pleading and further concluded that the petitioner had sufficient notice of the amended application.  The Commission also found that reconsideration of the application grant is not required in the public interest under the FCC’s rules.

In April 2019, the station filed a license application for the now-constructed station, which the Commission granted shortly thereafter.  In response, the petitioner filed a new petition contesting the grant of the license itself claiming that (1) there was no “technical need” for the translator, such as issues with poor signal quality, and (2) the translator was not operating as authorized.  This petition prompted the FCC’s review of the station’s rebroadcasting practices.

In December 2019, the FCC issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order and Notice of Apparent Liability that again rejected the petitioner’s argument that there was no “technical need” for the translator station, noting that this issue is considered at the permitting, not the licensing phase, and that a showing of technical need is only required when the same party proposes to own more than one translator rebroadcasting the same signal in substantially the same area.

The FCC did, however, conclude that the station violated the FCC’s rules by rebroadcasting a station not specified in its authorization without notifying the FCC.  The FCC found that for roughly a month, the translator rebroadcast a nearby AM station, rather than the FM station specified in its license.

Despite these violations, the FCC concluded that permittees are entitled to a “high degree of protection” and a presumption that the Commission’s public interest determination in granting the permit should remain in effect unless it is shown that the station’s operation would go against the public interest.  As a result, the Commission dismissed the license challenge and instead proposed a fine to resolve the violations.

The Notice of Apparent Liability proposed a $2,000 fine.  Although the base fine amount for failure to file required information is $3,000, and $4,000 for unauthorized transmissions, the FCC proposed the reduced fine due to the short duration of the violations and a lack of history of prior offenses.  The Commission recently followed this NAL with a Forfeiture Order requiring the station to pay the $2,000 fine or file a written statement justifying a reduction or cancellation of the fine.  Days later, however, the Commission issued a separate order cancelling the Forfeiture Order, noting that the station had actually already paid the fine, and indicating that the Forfeiture Order was therefore “issued in error”.

Delinquent Payments Come at a High Price: Failure to Pay Regulatory Fees Threatens California AM Station

As previous CommLawCenter posts demonstrate, failure to pay regulatory fees can lead to significant penalties, including license revocation.  In one recent example, the FCC initiated a license revocation proceeding against a California AM station, ordering it to either pay its delinquent regulatory fees or demonstrate why no payment is due.

Section 9 of the Communications Act (the “Act”) requires the FCC to “assess and collect regulatory fees” to recover the costs of its regulatory activities.  When a payment is late or incomplete, a monetary penalty equal to 25 percent of the fee amount owed will be assessed.  The Act also requires the FCC to charge interest on the debt owed.  In addition to these monetary penalties, Section 9A(c)(4) of the Act and Section 1.1164(f) of the FCC’s Rules provide that the FCC may revoke a licensee’s authorization for failure to timely pay regulatory fees.  If the FCC wishes to pursue that option, the licensee must be given at least 60 days to either pay the debt or demonstrate why the fees are inapplicable.  Although applied sparingly by the FCC, the Commission may waive, reduce, or defer payment of the debt where a party demonstrates “extraordinary circumstances” that outweigh the public interest in recovering the regulatory fees. Continue reading →

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Early this afternoon, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing an extension of broadcasters’ deadlines for certain filings in light of the disruptions being caused by the coronavirus epidemic.  Specifically, the FCC indicated that:

As a result of the fluid and challenging situation caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Media Bureau hereby extends the filing deadline for the first annual Children’s Television Programming Report (FCC Form 2100, Schedule H) from March 30, 2020 to July 10, 2020.  Additionally, we extend the deadline by which radio and television broadcasters must place their first quarter issues/programs lists into their Online Public Inspection File from April 10, 2020, to July 10, 2020.  As a result, the filing deadline for both the first and second quarter issues/programs lists will be the same.

In making the announcement, the FCC also noted that “this Public Notice does not modify any requirements or filing deadlines related to stations’ political files, nor does it modify any other filing obligations or deadline related to broadcasters’ public files.”

So, barring any further announcements from the FCC, other regulatory deadlines remain in place, including the obligation to file license renewal applications by April 1 for radio stations in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

With station staffs already stretched thin and many working remotely, the FCC’s announcement will be welcome news.  While the FCC’s announcements in the initial days of the epidemic focused primarily on the telecommunications industry and broadband access, it’s good to see the FCC acknowledge the challenges broadcasters are also facing during this unprecedented time.