Until late 2004, Section 312(g) of the Communications Act provided that the license of any station that had been off the air for more than one year would automatically be forfeited. In December 2004, Congress amended the law, allowing the FCC discretion to reinstate such licenses "to promote equity and fairness." In a decision issued today, the FCC actually used that discretion and reinstated the license of a station that had been off the air for several years – giving at least some hope to licensees who are forced by circumstances beyond their control to be off the air for more than a year.
The case decided today, while giving hope to licensees, shows that it takes a compelling case for the FCC to exercise its discretion and reinstate an expired license. The station involved in this decision was located in the Virgin Islands. Its tower was destroyed by one hurricane and, after the station had been rebuilt, three more hurricanes substantially damaged the station, knocking it off the air. In addition, the principal shareholder of the company died, and the company had made plans to move to another island. In these circumstances, the FCC exercised its discretion and reinstated the license. So, while the discretion will not be exercised freely (in fact, the FCC has turned down other requests since the law was changed), this case shows that stations subject to severe natural calamities have hope of preserving their licenses.