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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:

  • FCC Shifts Battle Against Pirates to Landowners of Pirate Radio Sites
  • Nevada Company Faces $100,000 Fine for Engaging in Prohibited Communications During FCC Auction
  • FCC Proceeds With $17,500 Fine Against Arkansas Broadcaster for Violations Discovered During License Renewal Review

FCC’s Pirate Radio Enforcement Targets Landowners

The Enforcement Bureau recently issued Notices of Illegal Pirate Radio Broadcasting to four property owners in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Oregon after investigations of unauthorized radio broadcasts found radio signals emanating from their properties. The Communications Act prohibits the transmission of radio signals without prior FCC authorization, as they can, among other things, pose risks to public safety by interfering with licensed operations such as air traffic control.

The FCC has stepped up its efforts to combat illegal broadcast operations, colloquially known as “pirate radio,” in the wake of Congress’s passage of the PIRATE Act in early 2020. Under Section 511 of the PIRATE Act and Section 1.80 of the FCC’s Rules, the Commission may now impose fines of up to $2 million against individuals or entities that knowingly permit pirate radio operations on their property. Additionally, the PIRATE Act permits the FCC, without first having to issue a Notice of Unlicensed Operation, to propose a penalty against any person that “willfully and knowingly does or causes or suffers to be done any pirate radio broadcasting.” The FCC will issue a Notice of Illegal Pirate Radio Broadcasting where it has reason to believe a property owner or manager is permitting illegal broadcasts from its premises. This Notice provides the landowner a chance to remedy the situation before enforcement action is taken.

In response to complaints of illegal FM broadcast operations at four locations in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Oregon, the Enforcement Bureau issued Notices of Illegal Pirate Radio Broadcasting to the respective landowners. The Notices indicated that FCC investigators had confirmed radio signals were emanating from those properties without an FCC license authorizing such transmissions. The landowners were also warned that they face a fine of up to $2 million if the FCC determines they continued to permit illegal broadcasts from their property.

While the FCC’s rules create exceptions from licensing requirements for certain extremely low-powered wireless devices, the Commission’s agents determined that the transmissions originating from the properties far exceeded those levels. The property owners have ten business days from the date of their respective Notices to (1) respond with evidence demonstrating that pirate radio broadcasts are no longer occurring on their property, and (2) identify the individual(s) involved in the illegal broadcasts. If the parties fail to respond to the Notice altogether, the FCC may still determine that the parties had sufficient knowledge of the illegal broadcasts to warrant enforcement action, including substantial fines.

FCC Proposes to Fine Wireless Company $100,000 for Violating Rules Against Communicating Bidding Strategies During FCC Auction

The FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) proposing to fine a wireless broadband provider (the “Company”) $100,000 for engaging in prohibited communications of bidding and bidding strategies during the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I Auction (Auction 904) and failing to timely report the prohibited communications.

Section 1.21002(b) of the FCC’s Rules forbids FCC auction applicants from conveying certain information to other auction applicants during the “quiet period.” This “quiet period” begins on the deadline for filing a short-form application to participate in the auction and ends on the deadline for winning bidders to submit long-form applications. The rule applies to any communication by an applicant regarding its own, or any other applicant’s, bids or bidding strategies. Continue reading →

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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:

  • FCC Orders Dismantling of Unlit Arkansas Tower
  • New York Man Ordered to Cease Operating Interference-Causing Device
  • Louisiana Corporation Fined for Engaging in Prohibited Communications during FCC Auction

FCC Orders Unlit, Unmarked Tower Dismantled

In a recent Order, the FCC directed the owners of a parcel of land where an unlit tower in Arkansas sits to dismantle the structure because it is not lit or marked according to the FCC’s Rules or the Communications Act (the “Act”).  The Federal Aviation Administration had declared the structure to be a “menace to aviation.” Section 303(q) of the Act allows the FCC to require the painting and/or illumination of radio towers where those towers are a menace to air navigation. That provision also requires that when a tower ceases to be licensed by the FCC, the tower owner must continue to maintain the painting and/or lighting of the tower, and the FCC can order it dismantled if the FCC determines the tower is a menace to air navigation.

The tower “owner” may include an “individual or entity vested with ownership, equitable ownership, dominion or title to the [tower] structure.” The FCC has determined that if the title holder of the tower does not own the land where the structure is located (i.e., if the tower owner has leased the land), the title holder of the structure is deemed the owner until the landowner acquires possession of the structure. After that occurs, the landowner will be considered the owner of the structure.

This particular situation was unusual in that the tower owner could not definitively be determined. In 1990, the then-current landowner granted an easement allowing an individual to build the tower structure and required an annual $12,000 payment for the easement. The easement was to run with the land, but the landowner could terminate the easement if the payments were more than 45 days late. In subsequent years, the tower was sold several times. Ultimately, it was registered with the FCC in 1998, given an Antenna Structure Registration number, and required to have a steady-burning obstruction light at the top of the tower.

The tower and associated station were later sold to an entity that is no longer in existence. Through public property records in Arkansas, the FCC determined the identity of the owner of the land and sent a letter to the owner in 2017. In her response, the landowner told the Commission that she jointly owns the land with two other individuals, has never received any payments for the easement, and that the electricity to the tower was disconnected in 2005 at her request. She also expressed interest in quieting title to the structure and indicated a desire to have it dismantled. The FCC sent letters to the two other landowners identified, seeking to confirm that no landowner had received the annual fee for the easement, but received no response.

In the Order, the FCC indicated that the landowners possess the structure for the limited purpose of invoking Section 303(q) of the Act, and ordered them to dismantle the structure. In case another party comes forward to challenge the dismantling of the tower, the FCC held that any person having a “remaining interest in the Structure” is subject to the Order as well. The Commission ordered the structure to be dismantled within 90 days of the release of the Order.

New York Resident Ordered to Cease Operating Interference-Causing Equipment

The FCC recently issued a Citation and Order (“C&O”) directing a New York man to stop operating a device at his home that was causing harmful interference to a wireless provider’s licensed operations. The Commission warned him that he may be liable for fines of up to $22,021 per day if he does not comply with the order.

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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:

  • Broadcasters Fined for Late-Filed Issues/Programs Lists
  • Cable Sports Network Receives Proposed Fine of $20,000 for EAS Violation
  • FCC Enters Consent Decrees with Wireless Providers for Engaging in Prohibited Communications During Spectrum Auction

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On October 10, 2019, the FCC announced that it will hold a full-power FM Broadcast auction for 130 new construction permits starting on April 28, 2020.  For now, the FCC is seeking comment on the procedures for the auction, although it does not propose any significant changes from past FM broadcast auctions.  In connection with the auction, the FCC also announced a filing freeze prohibiting minor change applications, petitions, or counter-proposals directly affecting or failing to protect the construction permits to be auctioned.

A majority of the construction permits will be for lower-power Class A facilities, but there are 28 new facilities that are authorized to operate at 25 kW or higher.  For example, a Class B facility in Sacramento will be available, along with stations on the outskirts of major cities like Dallas and Seattle.  Overall, Texas is home to the most available permits (32), with numerous opportunities also available in Wyoming (11), California (10), and Arizona (8).

Parties seeking to file comments regarding the list of available construction permits and/or the auction procedures should submit them by November 6, 2019.  Reply comments are due November 20, 2019.  After reviewing the record, the FCC will release the final list of available permits and auction procedures, most likely in early January 2020.