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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:

  • Maine LPTV Licensee Agrees to Pay $2,500 for Closed-Captioning Violation
  • Georgia Broadcaster Loses FM Translator License, Faces Five-Figure Fine for Various Alleged Rule Violations
  • FCC Proposes $9,500 Fine for Missouri LPTV Licensee for Failing to File License Application and Renew Special Temporary Authority

Low Power Television Licensee Enters Into Consent Decree for Closed Captioning Violation

The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau and the licensee of a low power television station entered into a Consent Decree to resolve an investigation into whether the licensee violated the FCC’s Rules pertaining to closed captioning of video programming.  Under the Consent Decree, the licensee admitted to violating the FCC’s closed captioning rules, agreed to implement a compliance plan, and pay a $2,500 penalty.

The FCC’s closed captioning rules are designed to ensure that individuals with hearing disabilities have full access to video programming content.  The FCC’s Rules, among other things, require Video Programming Distributors to: (1) pass video programming with closed captioning to viewers with the original closed captioning data intact; (2) maintain their equipment and monitor their signal transmissions to ensure the closed captioning is reaching viewers; and (3) maintain records of their maintenance and monitoring activities.

In June 2021, a cable subscriber noticed that the station’s programming did not contain closed captioning and contacted their cable provider.  The cable provider told the viewer that the signal from the station did not contain closed captioning, so the viewer contacted the station directly in July 2021.  The station explained that it was getting new equipment which would fix the closed captioning problem, but after three months, the closed captioning was still missing from the programming.  After no further response from the station, the viewer filed a complaint with the FCC in October 2021.  Despite telling the FCC in November 2021 that it had identified the problem and was working to replace the deficient equipment, the licensee failed to timely respond to a December 2021 Letter of Inquiry (LOI) from the FCC.  A second LOI was issued in April 2022, prompting the licensee to respond in part to both LOIs.

After an investigation, the FCC determined that the licensee had failed to pass through closed captioning on its programming for a total of eight months.  Additionally, the FCC found that the licensee was not fully responsive to the viewer’s complaint or the FCC’s LOIs during the investigation, in violation of Section 1.17 of the Commission’s Rules.

To resolve the investigation, the licensee agreed to enter into a Consent Decree under which it will designate a compliance officer, implement a multi-part compliance plan, including implementing procedures to monitor its transmissions, routinely conduct equipment checks, and pay a $2,500 civil penalty.  The Consent Decree also indicates that in the event the licensee fails to comply with the requirements to monitor its transmissions and conduct equipment checks, it will pay an additional $12,500 civil penalty.

 Variety of Alleged Rule Violations by Georgia AM Station Generate Proposed $16,200 Fine and License Cancellation for Its FM Translator

A Georgia broadcaster faces a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) and a $16,200 fine for several alleged FCC rule violations, including operating a full-power AM radio station at variance from its license, discontinuing operation of the station without notifying the FCC or obtaining FCC authorization to do so, transferring control of the station and its FM translator to another party without FCC authorization, and failing to completely and fully respond to FCC inquiries.  The FCC also found that the translator’s license had automatically terminated after the translator failed to operate from its authorized location for more than a year. Continue reading →

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The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by April 10, 2024, reflecting information for the months of January, February, and March 2024.

Content of the Quarterly List

The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station.  The FCC gives each station the discretion to determine which issues facing the community served by the station are the most significant and how best to respond to them in the station’s overall programming.

To demonstrate a station’s compliance with this public interest obligation, the FCC requires the station to maintain and place in the Public Inspection File a Quarterly List reflecting the “station’s most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period.”  By its use of the term “most significant,” the FCC has noted that stations are not required to list all responsive programming, but only that programming which provided the most significant treatment of the issues identified.

Given that program logs are no longer mandated by the FCC, the Quarterly Lists may be the most important evidence of a station’s compliance with its public service obligations.  The lists also provide important support for the certification of Class A television station compliance discussed below.  We therefore urge stations not to “skimp” on the Quarterly Lists, and to err on the side of over-inclusiveness.  Otherwise, stations risk a determination by the FCC that they did not adequately serve the public interest during their license term.  Stations should include in the Quarterly Lists as much issue-responsive programming as they feel is necessary to demonstrate fully their responsiveness to community needs.  Taking extra time now to provide a thorough Quarterly List will help reduce risk at license renewal time.

The FCC has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Quarterly Lists and often brings enforcement actions against stations that do not have complete Quarterly Lists in their Public Inspection File or which have failed to timely upload such lists when due.  The FCC’s base fine for missing Quarterly Lists is $10,000.

Preparation of the Quarterly List

The Quarterly Lists are required to be placed in the Public Inspection File by January 10, April 10, July 10, and October 10 of each year.  The next Quarterly List is required to be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by April 10, 2024, covering the period from January 1, 2024 through March 31, 2024. Continue reading →

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April 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas 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, (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 →