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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:

  • FCC Issues Six Notices of Apparent Liability to Pirate Radio Operators Across Massachusetts
  • Affordable Connectivity Program Provider Faces $8 Million Fine and Removal from the Program
  • FCC Proposes $3,000 Fine Against Massachusetts Class A Television Station for Public File Issues

FCC Targets Pirate Radio Operators in the Boston Area

The Communications Act prohibits the transmission of radio signals without prior FCC authorization because such signals 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.  Over the past few years, the FCC has been focusing more attention on the owners and operators of illegal broadcast radio (colloquially known as “pirate radio”) facilities, targeting several in New York (as we discussed here and here) and Florida (as discussed here).  Last month, it issued six Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) proposing fines against Massachusetts pirate radio operators under the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act (PIRATE Act).  The PIRATE Act gave the FCC enhanced enforcement authority against radio pirates and has led to the recent increase in such fines.

In the Massachusetts NALs, the FCC proposed fines of $597,775, $120,000, $40,000, $40,000, $40,000, and $20,000, respectively, against the six pirate radio operators.

With regard to the largest proposed fine—$597,775—the FCC noted in the NAL that the facility’s owner had a long history of unauthorized operation.  In 2004, FCC field agents traced radio transmissions to a residence in Randolph, MA.  The transmissions exceeded the power limits for operation under Part 15 of the FCC’s Rules, which permits use of certain low power radio frequency devices without an FCC license.

Over the years, FCC field agents issued verbal and written warnings to cease pirate operations, but the self-admitted owner/operator repeatedly failed to do so.  In early 2005, agents found him to be transmitting above the Part 15 power limits, resulting in a $10,000 fine in 2006.  In 2017, acting on a complaint, FCC agents took field strength measurements of a new signal connected with the same operator and found it also exceeded the limits for unlicensed operation, resulting in the agents issuing an on-scene Notice of Unlicensed Operation.

Then, over the course of five days during June and July 2023, agents traced unauthorized radio transmissions to three locations in Brockton, Mattapan, and Randolph, MA.  After taking field strength measurements, the agents determined that all three facilities exceeded the power limits for operation under Part 15 of the FCC’s Rules.  Further investigation confirmed no authorizations had been issued for operation of an FM broadcast station at or near any of the three locations, and that the same owner/operator was connected to all three pirate sites.

In the NAL against this operator, the FCC concluded that he willfully and knowingly violated the Communications Act by operating a pirate radio station, and proposed the base fine for pirate operation ($20,000) for each of the five days of observed illegal activity, which would have resulted in a total proposed fine of $100,000.  Given the operator’s history of warnings and prior violations, however, the FCC found that an upward adjustment was warranted, and it proposed the maximum permissible penalty—$119,555—for each of the five instances of operation, leading to a proposed total fine of $597,775.  The operator has thirty days to either pay the fine or file a request presenting grounds for its reduction or cancellation.

FCC Alleges Wireless Company Violated Affordable Connectivity Program Rules and Federal Wire Fraud Statute

The FCC issued an NAL and Order Initiating Removal Proceeding to a wireless company and its principal for apparently willfully and repeatedly violating the FCC’s Rules for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and the federal wire fraud statute.  The NAL proposes an $8,083,992 joint fine against the company and its principal. Continue reading →

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June 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming 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.

Deadline for the Annual EEO Public File Report for Nonexempt Radio and Television SEUs

Consistent with the above, June 1, 2024 is the date by which Nonexempt SEUs of radio and television stations licensed to communities in the states identified above, including Class A television stations, must (i) place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files of all stations comprising the SEU, and (ii) post the Report on the websites, if any, of those stations.  LPTV stations are also subject to the broadcast EEO Rule, even though LPTV stations are not required to maintain a Public Inspection File.  Instead, these stations must maintain a “station records” file containing the station’s authorization and other official documents and must make it available to an FCC inspector upon request.  Therefore, if an LPTV station has five or more full-time employees, or is otherwise part of a Nonexempt SEU, it must prepare an Annual EEO Public File Report and place it in its station records file. Continue reading →

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On April 23, 2024, the U.S. Department of Labor published final regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) that ultimately raise the minimum salary necessary to be exempt from federal overtime rules by 65%. These changes affect all businesses subject to the FLSA, but broadcasters and other media employers may particularly feel the impact given that they rarely operate on a 9am-to-5pm schedule. The increase will occur in two steps, with the first going into effect on July 1, 2024, and the second occurring on January 1, 2025. While these increases are certain to be challenged in court, the outcome of any appeals is difficult to predict. Employers need to prepare now to adapt to minimize the impact of these changes on their operations.

The Fair Labor Standards Act is the federal law governing wage and hour requirements for employees. Pursuant to the FLSA, employers must pay employees a minimum wage and compensate them for overtime at 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for any time worked exceeding 40 hours in a workweek unless those employees are exempt from that requirement. On April 23, 2024, the Department of Labor issued a Final Rule that increases the minimum salary required for certain types of employees to be exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rules and changes the methodology that will be used to determine the applicable salary thresholds in the future. As a result, many currently exempt employees whose salaries are below the new thresholds will soon become eligible for overtime pay, requiring their employers to either increase those employees’ salaries to meet the new thresholds, or begin paying them overtime.

The Department of Labor projects the change will impact an estimated four million workers, with an additional direct cost to employers (from overtime pay and increases in salaries to maintain exempt status) of $1.5 billion.

Although the FLSA applies to most employers, the law contains exemptions for certain types of employees, including some at small-market broadcast stations. The Final Rule does not affect these broadcast industry-specific exemptions, but will affect many other currently exempt employees in the broadcast and media industry who, unless they receive salary raises, will soon become eligible for overtime pay.

This Advisory only addresses federal law. Some state laws impose stricter standards than federal law as to which employees are exempt from overtime pay. Employers must ensure that they also meet the requirements of any applicable state or local employment laws.


The FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt employees an overtime rate of 1.5 times their regular rate for all hours worked over 40 hours per workweek. However, the FLSA exempts from its overtime rules certain classes of employees who are paid on a salary basis and who also meet specific “white collar” duties tests. The Department of Labor’s Final Rule increases the minimum salary required for these classes of employees to be deemed exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rules, but does not alter the duties tests for those exemptions. Continue reading →