FCC Enforcement Monitor ~ July 2019
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:
- Pennsylvania AM Station’s “Shenanigans” in Connection With Tower Violations Lead to $25,000 Fine
- Georgia and North Carolina Radio Station Licenses at Risk Due to Unpaid Fees
- FCC Cites New Jersey Vehicle Equipment Vendor for Programming Transmitters with Unauthorized Frequencies
Pennsylvania Station’s Tower “Shenanigans” Lead to $25,000 Fine
In a recent Forfeiture Order, the FCC fined a Pennsylvania AM radio licensee for various tower-related violations after the licensee failed to sufficiently respond to a 2016 Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL).
Broadcasters must comply with various FCC and FAA rules relating to registration, lighting and painting requirements. In particular, they must be lit and painted in compliance with FAA requirements, and any extinguished or improperly functioning lights must be reported to the FAA if the problem is not corrected within 30 minutes. The FCC’s Rules require lighting repairs to be made “as soon as practicable.”
In 2015, FCC Enforcement Bureau agents responded to an anonymous complaint regarding a pair of radio towers. Over multiple site visits, the agents determined that multiple mandatory tower lights and beacons were unlit and that the towers’ paint was chipping and faded to such a degree that the towers did not have good visibility. In connection with the lighting problems, the licensee had also failed to timely file the required “Notice to Airmen” with the FAA, which informs aircraft pilots of potential hazards along their flight route. The FCC cited these issues in a February 2016 Notice of Violation sent to the station. The licensee responded by assuring the FCC that it would immediately undertake remedial actions. However, a site visit from the FCC several months later revealed continuing violations, and the FCC subsequently issued the $25,000 NAL along with directions on how to respond.
At that point, the licensee’s woes expanded from substantive to procedural. According to a Forfeiture Order, the licensee failed to file a “proper response” to the NAL. Instead, in a bizarre series of events that the FCC chalked up to “shenanigans,” it noted that the licensee submitted a Petition for Reconsideration of the NAL, as well as a response to the NAL to the Office of Managing Director (OMD), instead of to the Enforcement Bureau. OMD is a separate department within the FCC that deals with agency administrative matters, such as budgets, human resources, scheduling, and document distribution. OMD subsequently returned the Petition and the NAL response to the licensee with a letter noting the licensee’s procedural misstep.
The licensee’s “shenanigans” were still far from over, however. More than a month after OMD returned the licensee’s submissions, the licensee sent a letter to the Enforcement Bureau seeking to arrange an installment plan for the $25,000 proposed fine. This, too, was procedurally flawed, as the NAL specifically explained that any requests for payment plans must be directed to the FCC’s Chief Financial Officer, not to the Enforcement Bureau. Though the Enforcement Bureau itself forwarded the request to the CFO’s office, no plan was ever put in place.
According to the Forfeiture Order, despite the licensee’s various filings, it failed to successfully submit a response to the NAL to the Enforcement Bureau. The Forfeiture Order also noted that even had the licensee’s NAL response been sent to the Enforcement Bureau (instead of OMD), it would have been defective for being late-filed. The Enforcement Bureau therefore affirmed the proposed fine and ordered the licensee to pay the $25,000 fine within 30 days.
Pay to Play: FCC Initiates Proceedings Against North Carolina and Georgia Radio Stations Over Delinquent Fees
In a pair of Orders to Pay or to Show Cause released on the same day, the FCC began proceedings to potentially revoke the AM radio license of a Georgia station and the FM radio license of a North Carolina station. Continue reading →