FCC Enforcement Monitor March 2023
Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published the 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:
- Repeated Failure to Pay Annual Regulatory Fees Puts Texas Station License in Jeopardy
- FCC Proposes First-Ever PIRATE Act Fines, Including $2 Million-Plus Statutory Maximum
- Failure to File License Renewal Applications Brings $13,500 Proposed Fine for Utah Television Translator Stations
Texas Radio Station at Risk of Losing License Over Unpaid Regulatory Fees
A Texas AM radio station’s license is at risk over the licensee’s failure to pay regulatory fees for nine years, dating back to Fiscal Year 2012. The licensee owes more than $36,000 in fees before accounting for associated interest, late penalties, and administrative costs.
Under Section 9 of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 1.1151 of the FCC’s Rules, the FCC each year assesses regulatory fees on its regulatees to cover the costs of operating the agency. The fees are typically due during the last two weeks of September so that the agency is fully funded at the start of the federal government’s fiscal year on October 1. When payments are late or incomplete, the Communications Act and FCC Rules require a penalty assessment of 25% of the fee owed plus interest.
When regulatory fees or interest go unpaid, the FCC is authorized to revoke licenses and authorizations. In this case, the FCC sent demand letters to the licensee and its counsel, but payments were still not made. In an Order to Pay or Show Cause, the FCC gives the licensee 60 days to file with the Media Bureau documentation that all outstanding regulatory fee debts have been paid or to show cause why the payments are inapplicable or should be waived or deferred. The Media Bureau notes that failure to provide evidence of payment or to show cause within the time specified may result in revocation of the station’s license.
Revocation normally requires a hearing, but only if the licensee presents a substantial and material question of fact as to whether the fees are owed. If a hearing is designated on that basis, the FCC can require the licensee to pay for the costs of the hearing if the licensee does not prevail.
FCC Exercises Its PIRATE Act Monetary Penalty Authority for First Time
In a pair of Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL), the FCC proposed fines of $2,316,034 and $80,000 against brothers in New York and an individual in Oregon, respectively, for unauthorized radio broadcasting. The Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act (known as the PIRATE Act) gave the FCC authority to take enforcement action against the pirates themselves and also against landlords and property owners who knowingly and willfully allow pirates to broadcast from their properties. Illegal broadcast operations can interfere with licensed communications and pose a danger to the public by interfering with licensed stations that carry public safety messages, including Emergency Alert System transmissions. These proposed fines are the first time the FCC has proposed fines using its PIRATE Act authority. Continue reading →