FCC Enforcement Monitor ~ October 2020
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:
- Rhode Island LPFM Station Issued $15,000 Fine for Underwriting Violations
- In Reversal, FCC Rescinds Grant of Construction Permit for Portland FM Translator Over Interference Concerns
- Unauthorized Operations and EAS Violation Result in Proposed $25,000 Fine for Florida LPFM Station
Rhode Island LPFM Station’s Underwriting Violations Cost $15,000
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau entered into a Consent Decree with the licensee of a Rhode Island low power FM (LPFM) station to resolve an investigation into violations of the FCC’s underwriting laws and other rules governing the ownership of LPFM stations.
The underwriting laws aim to preserve the unique nature of the commercial-free, local programming LPFM stations provide to the public, and in turn these stations benefit from access to spectrum and fewer regulatory requirements. To accomplish this, Section 399B of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 73.503(d) of the FCC’s Rules prohibit such stations from broadcasting promotional announcements on behalf of for-profit entities in exchange for compensation. The FCC’s rules also place ownership restrictions on LPFM stations, prohibiting (1) a party from holding an attributable interest in another broadcast station; (2) a transfer of control of an LPFM station without first obtaining FCC approval; and (3) a transfer or assignment of an LPFM license within three years from the date of issue.
Between May 2016 and January 2020, the FCC received a series of complaints concerning announcements broadcast by the station. Specifically, the complaints alleged that the station had broadcast commercial advertisements, and questioned the station’s compliance with the ownership limitations for LPFM stations. The Enforcement Bureau followed up by issuing multiple letters of inquiry to the broadcaster seeking information regarding the underwriting practices and ownership structure of the station. In response, the broadcaster admitted that, over a 16-month period, it received compensation for at least 17 announcements aired on behalf of for-profit entities. The station also acknowledged that one of its board members held an attributable interest in another radio station, and that a transfer of control effectuating a complete change in board membership took place on March 21, 2016, roughly one year after the FCC issued the station license, and without prior FCC approval. In fact, the required FCC transfer application was not filed until March 14, 2019.
To resolve the investigation, the license holder entered into a Consent Decree with the Enforcement Bureau under which it must pay a $15,000 civil penalty and implement a five-year compliance plan to prevent future violations.
Upon Further Review: FCC Rescinds Oregon FM Translator Construction Permit Grant Over Predicted Interference
In a recent Memorandum Opinion and Order, the FCC reversed the prior grant of a construction permit to the licensee of a Portland, Oregon FM translator station due to concerns over predicted interference to listeners of a local radio station.
Under Section 74.1204(f) of the FCC’s Rules, the Commission will reject applications for FM translator stations if the proposed operation would cause interference to an existing broadcast station. To prove such interference, a station opposing grant of such an application must provide “convincing evidence” of the impact of the proposed operation on its listeners. This evidence includes the name and address of affected listeners, certifications or similar evidence from those listeners that they listen to the existing radio station at their address, evidence that such listener’s address is within the 60 dBu contour of the proposed FM translator, and evidence demonstrating that grant of the authorization will result in interference to the listener’s reception of the existing station at that address. Additionally, the FCC’s rules (which have since been amended to require online public notices) required at the time that applicants seeking authorization to construct an FM translator station publish public notice of the application in the local newspaper to provide the public with an opportunity to participate in the proceeding.