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:
- North Carolina FM Translator Station Hit With $2,000 Proposed Fine Over Primary Station Change
- FCC Admonishes Georgia TV Stations for Insufficient Political File Disclosures
- FCC Proposes Historic Fine Against Massachusetts Pirate Radio Operation
Carolina On My Mind: FCC Proposes $2,000 Fine Over Raleigh FM Translator’s Primary Station Confusion
A Raleigh FM translator briefly rebroadcast a station that was not its primary station and which was already being rebroadcast by another commonly-owned translator in the area. In response, the FCC proposed a $2,000 fine for the licensee’s failure to notify the Commission or to provide any justification for such redundant operations.
An FM translator station rebroadcasts the signal of a primary AM or FM station on a different frequency. Translators are often used to provide “fill in” service in poor reception areas due to distance or terrain obstructions. Section 74.1251(c) of the FCC’s Rules requires an FM translator station to notify the FCC in writing if it changes its primary station. Pursuant to Section 74.1232, an entity may not hold multiple FM translator licenses to retransmit the same signal to substantially the same service area without first demonstrating “technical need” for an additional station, such as a signal gap in the service area.
The Raleigh licensee originally applied for a construction permit to build facilities for an FM translator in July 2018 and shortly thereafter amended the application to change the translator’s proposed primary station. The FCC’s Media Bureau granted the application a few weeks later. After completing construction, the licensee filed, and the Media Bureau granted, a license for the translator.
Throughout this process, the licensee of a nearby low power FM station filed multiple petitions–one challenging the FCC’s grant of the construction permit, and a later one challenging the grant of the license itself. Though the first petition was dismissed by the FCC as “procedurally defective”, the latter became the basis of an investigation into the new station. The petitioner claimed that since initiating service, the new translator station had been rebroadcasting a nearby AM station rather than the FM station specified as the primary station in its construction permit application. According to the petitioner, the translator only “returned” to its authorized primary station when the primary FM station began simulcasting the AM station.
The petitioner also asserted that the translator licensee failed to show any “technical need” to rebroadcast the AM station since the AM station was already being rebroadcast to substantially the same area by another translator licensed to an entity that was commonly-owned with the FM translator.
The FCC concluded that the new translator had violated its rules by failing to notify the FCC when it commenced rebroadcasting the AM station during its first month of operation. The FCC further determined that the licensee should have first submitted a “technical need” showing to support this change due to the presence of the nearby commonly-owned translator station rebroadcasting the same programming.
As a result, the FCC issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order and Notice of Apparent Liability against the licensee, proposing a $2,000 fine. While FCC guidelines set a base fine of $3,000 for failure to file required forms or information, and a $4,000 base fine for unauthorized emissions, the Commission may adjust a fine upward or downward after considering the particular facts of each case. Acknowledging the brief duration of the licensee’s violations and finding no history of prior offenses, the FCC proposed a total fine of $2,000. Additionally, the Commission determined that the licensee’s actions did not raise a “substantial or material question of fact” regarding the licensee’s qualifications to remain a licensee, and affirmed its decision to grant the translator license application.
Political Ad Nauseum: FCC Admonishes Georgia TV Stations Over Political File Defects
In a recent Order, the FCC’s Media Bureau admonished the licensees of two Georgia television stations in response to complaints alleging violations of the FCC’s political file rules. According to the FCC, the stations failed to sufficiently comply with record-keeping obligations in response to several political ad sales made in 2017.
Pursuant to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (often referred to as “BCRA” or the “McCain-Feingold Act”), broadcasters are required to keep and make available extensive records of purchases and requests for purchases of advertising time if the advertisement communicates a message relating to a “political matter of national importance”. Section 315(e) of the Communications Act of 1934, which was amended by BCRA, states that ads that trigger such disclosure include those that relate to legally qualified federal candidates and elections to federal office, as well as “national legislative issues” of public importance. Continue reading →