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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 →

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This Pillsbury Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in the areas noted above, and highlights upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

December 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website. 

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements.  Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances,[1] (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term.  These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application.  The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities.

For a detailed description of the EEO Rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group. Continue reading →

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The filing window for broadcast station Biennial Ownership Reports (FCC Form 323 for commercial stations and 323-E for noncommercial stations) opened on October 2, 2023.  All licensees of commercial and noncommercial AM, FM, full-power TV, Class A TV and Low Power TV stations must submit their Ownership Reports by December 1, 2023.

To simplify the process, the FCC’s filing system permits parties to validate and resubmit previously filed ownership reports so long as those reports were submitted through the current filing system and remain accurate.  Parties also have the ability to copy and then make changes to information included in a previously-filed report.  To facilitate this approach, there is a search page allowing filers to search for and review their prior Ownership Reports.

For additional information on preparing and filing Biennial Ownership Reports, note that the FCC hosted a video information session in 2021 which is available at Information Session on Filing Biennial Ownership Reports, Forms 323 and 323-E.  A PDF copy of the presentation materials is available here.

As a reminder, Biennial Ownership Reports submitted during this filing window must reflect a station’s ownership as it existed on October 1, 2023, even if the station was later assigned or transferred between October 1, 2023 and December 1, 2023.  Should you need assistance preparing and filing your Biennial Ownership Reports, please contact your Pillsbury counsel or any of the attorneys in Pillsbury’s Communications Practice.

A PDF of this article can be found at Broadcast Station Biennial Ownership Reports Due December 1, 2023.