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:
- Fourteen Years of Unpaid Regulatory Fees Could Lead to License Revocation
- $6 Million in Fines Imposed on Three Pirate Radio Operators
- Florida and Washington Television Stations Fined for Late Issues/Programs Lists
License of Missouri FM Could Be Revoked If Years of Regulatory Fees Remain Unpaid
The licensee of a Missouri FM station must either pay its overdue regulatory fees or show cause why the fees are inapplicable or should otherwise be waived or deferred. The FCC’s Media Bureau and Office of Managing Director assert that the licensee failed to pay regulatory fees for fourteen years (2010-2023) and that it owes the U.S. Treasury nearly $26,000 in fees, interest, penalties, and other charges.
Under Section 9 of the Communications Act of 1934 (the Communications Act) and Section 1.1151 of the FCC’s Rules, the FCC each year assesses regulatory fees upon 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 impose a penalty of 25% of the fees owed plus interest. When regulatory fees or interest go unpaid, the FCC is authorized to revoke affected licenses and authorizations. The licensee defaulted on a payment plan it had previously arranged with the Treasury.
In an Order to Pay or Show Cause, the FCC gave the licensee 60 days to file with the Media Bureau documentation showing all outstanding regulatory fee debts had been paid or to show cause why the fees are inapplicable or should be waived or deferred. The Media Bureau noted in the Order that failure to provide evidence of payment or to show cause within the time permitted could result in revocation of the station’s license. The Order followed letters to the licensee demanding payment without result.
License revocation normally requires the licensee first be given a hearing, but only if the licensee presents a substantial and material question of fact as to whether the fees are owed. In the case of a hearing, the licensee bears the burden to introduce evidence and provide proof. Where a hearing is conducted to collect regulatory fees, the FCC can require the licensee to pay for the costs of the hearing if the licensee does not ultimately prevail.
FCC Proposes Over $6 Million in Fines on Three Pirate Radio Operators
The FCC recently issued Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) proposing fines against three New York pirate radio operators under the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act (PIRATE Act). In the NALs, the FCC proposed fines of $1,780,000, $2,316,034, and $2,316,034, respectively, against radio operators in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Mount Vernon, New York. The PIRATE Act gave the FCC enhanced authority to take enforcement action against the pirates themselves and 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. Continue reading →