The FCC today issued three orders imposing fines on broadcasters – cutting no slack to anyone. These cases demonstrate how important strict compliance with all FCC rules is to avoid fines before the current Commission. The first decision imposed a fine of $2800 on a broadcaster for having an unfenced tower – where the broadcaster claimed that the fence was temporarily removed to facilitate the clearing of brush as required by local authorities to remove a potential fire hazard. While the FCC seemed to recognize that the fence removal was temporary, and that it was missing for only a few weeks while weed killer was being applied at the site, the Commission still imposed the fine – requiring that access to an AM tower always be restricted, prohibiting open access even for a short period.
The second case was a decision which imposed a fine of $2000 on a broadcaster for operating from an unauthorized transmitter site. While the broadcaster had received Special Temporary Authority (an "STA") to operate from the site, the STA expired. The broadcaster filed an extension request, but forgot to include the filing fee check. The broadcaster claims that he re-filed the request, and had a canceled check to prove it, although the Commission had no record of the re-filed STA (though the FCC did acknowledge having received the check). Finding that it had no record of the re-filed STA, and further finding that the applicant should have inquired about the failure to receive an STA extension after 180 days (the length of an STA), the Commission imposed the fine on the broadcaster. While this case is certainly complicated by the missing extension request, given the canceled check one would assume that broadcaster must have filed something, and the FCC’s usual rule is that if an STA extension is on file, the station can continue to operate. Of course, with an extension that was pending for 2 years, probably some inquiry was warranted. But whether it was a $2000 mistake is a different question.
The final case was one where an FCC inspection found some public file violations, just before a station was to be sold. The unique aspect of this case was that the FCC issued the fine of $8000 to the company two full months after the company had sold the station pursuant to FCC approval. Most broadcasters might imagine that once the FCC has made the decision that a broadcaster is qualified to sell a station, and in fact sells that station pursuant to the FCC approval, the Seller is done with the FCC, outside of its jurisdiction. The company made that argument here, and it was rejected by the FCC, finding that it still had the authority to fine a company even after it had sold the last of its FCC licenses.
Each of these cases demonstrate that the FCC is serious about enforcement of its rules, and seemingly unwilling to give a broadcaster a break even when the broadcaster has a facially apparent argument, if not necessarily an excuse, as to why it should not be fined. So broadcasters, be careful.