The FCC today upheld the cancellation of a television station’s license for being off the air for over one year. Section 312(g) of the Communications Act instructs the Commission to cancel a license of any broadcast station that has not transmitted "broadcast signals" for over one year, unless there is a public interest reason for allowing the station to keep its license. In this case, the television station was off the air after it lost its affiliation with a shopping network. While searching for a way to profitably operate, the station remained silent for over a year, only coming on the air once to broadcast a test pattern for one day, The FCC’s staff found that a test pattern did not constitute a "broadcast signal", and canceled the license several years ago (we wrote about that cancellation here). Today’s decision denied reconsideration of the earlier conclusion, finding that the requirement for the transmission of a broadcast signal required more than a test pattern. The decision characterized the test pattern as an "equipment test" as opposed to a "broadcast signal." Thus, the decision upholds the cancellation of the license, and denies the station owner the opportunity to sell the station to a prospective buyer that it had located.
The decision found that the fact that the station was having financial difficulty was an insufficient public interest reason to justify keeping the license effective after the end of the one year period. Neither the death of a shareholder nor the location of a buyer for the station provided sufficient justification to the FCC for the preservation of the station’s license after its one year without programming. While this decision may still be appealed to the full Commission and the courts, perhaps to clarify once and for all what the statute means by the "transmission of a broadcast signal," for now, the law appears clear – if a station is forced over the air for something near a year, resume operations with real programming. A test pattern will not be sufficient to preserve your license..