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:
- Louisiana Class A TV Station Settles Online Public File Violations for $50,000 Ahead of License Renewal
- FCC and Michigan Teenager Enter Into Consent Decree After Misuse of Public Safety Communications System
- Missouri Telco Agrees to $16,000 Settlement Over Unauthorized Transfers
When Violations Accumulate: Online Public File Violations Lead to $50,000 Settlement with the FCC
The FCC recently entered into a Consent Decree with a Louisiana Class A TV station licensee to resolve an investigation into the station’s failure to comply with its online Public Inspection File obligations.
Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s Rules requires licensees to timely place certain items in their online Public Inspection File relating to a station’s programming and operations. For example, Section 73.3526(e)(11)(i) requires stations to place an issues/programs list in their Public Inspection File each quarter. That document must list programs aired during the preceding quarter that are responsive to issues identified by the station as important to its community. Section 73.3526(e)(11)(ii) requires broadcasters to quarterly certify their compliance with the commercial limits on children’s television programming.
Also on a quarterly basis, Section 73.3526(e)(11)(iii) requires stations to file a Children’s Television Programming Report detailing their efforts to air programming serving the educational and informational needs of children. Section 73.2526(e)(17) similarly requires Class A TV stations to provide documentation demonstrating continued compliance with the FCC’s eligibility and service requirements for maintaining their Class A status.
When the broadcaster filed its license renewal application in February 2013, it disclosed that it had failed to comply with certain Public File requirements during its most recent license term. Over the next year and a half, the FCC sent letters to the broadcaster requesting that it (1) upload the missing and late-filed documents and (2) provide an explanation for its failure to comply with the Rules. The FCC did not receive a response until, in 2015, the broadcaster uploaded the required documents to its online Public File.
The broadcaster subsequently admitted that, since 2005, it had not prepared and would be unable to recreate 16 quarters worth of issues/programs lists. The broadcaster also stated that it had failed to timely file dozens of other issues/programs lists, Class A certifications, Children’s Television Programming Reports, and children’s programming commercial limits certifications.
Under the terms of the Consent Decree, the broadcaster agreed to (1) admit its violations of the Rules; (2) pay a $50,000 civil penalty to the United States Treasury; and (3) implement and maintain a compliance plan to avoid future violations. The compliance plan must remain in effect until the FCC finalizes its review of the broadcaster’s next license renewal application. In return for the station’s timely payment, the FCC will end the investigation and grant the station’s pending license renewal application for a term ending in June 2021.
The next application cycle for broadcast license renewals begins in June 2019, and the FCC’s license renewal application form requires stations to certify that their Public Inspection File has been complete at all times during the license term, in compliance with Section 73.3526 (or Section 73.3527 in the case of noncommercial stations).
As the last radio stations moved their Public Files online in March of this year, missing and late-filed documents now can be easily spotted by the FCC, increasing the likelihood of penalties not just for Public File violations, but for falsely certifying Public File compliance in the license renewal application. With that in mind, the FCC recently encouraged licensees to address Public File compliance issues as soon as possible to reduce the impact on upcoming license renewals.
Sounds Like Teen Spirit: Traffic Stop Results in Michigan Teenager’s Consent Decree for Misuse of a Public Safety Network
The Enforcement Bureau entered into a Consent Decree with a 19-year old amateur radio licensee who made unauthorized radio transmissions on the Michigan Public Safety Communications System (MPSCS). The agreement concludes an investigation that began when Michigan State Police discovered a cloned radio device during a routine traffic stop.
Section 301 of the Act prohibits the transmission of radio signals without prior FCC authorization, Section 333 of the Act prohibits willful or malicious interference with licensed radio communications, and Section 90.20 of the Rules establishes the requirements to obtain authorization to use frequencies reserved for public safety uses. In addition, Sections 90.403, 90.405, and 90.425 of the Rules set operating requirements for using these public safety frequencies. Continue reading →