A $4000 fine was levied by the FCC on an FM station owner who failed to file an application for license after completing construction of changes authorized by a construction permit, finally submitting the license applicaiton about 4 years after that permit had expired. When a broadcaster receives a construction permit authorizing technical changes in a station’s facilities, in most cases, it has three years to complete construction. Upon the completion of construction, the licensee must file an application for a license (on FCC Form 302 for commercial stations) certifying that the station was constructed as authorized. In this case, when the license application was finally submitted long after the permit expired, the application stated that construction had in fact been completed within the three year period set out in the construction permit. So the applicant requested retroactive approval of that license, relying on past FCC cases where license applications filed after the end of the construction period were nevertheless granted where the applicant could show that construction had been completed during the period set out in the construction permit.
The FCC decided in this case that a waiver was not appropriate given the time that expired between the expiration of the permit and the filing of the license application. While gaps of a few days or even a few weeks between the expiration of the permit and the filing of the license application are excusable, the Commission concluded that a four year gap was just too much to excuse – not the minor error that can be forgiven without a fine. Waiting four years to file a license application was deemed to be too much to forgive – so the question was whether a fine was appropriate and, if so, how much.
The licensee had asked for a decrease or elimination of the fine, claiming that the error was inadvertent. The Commission rejected this interpretation, concluding that even inadvertent violations of the FCC rules are “willful” in the eyes of the FCC, and willful violations result in fines. The FCC essentially found that ignorance of the rules is no excuse.
The licensee also requested that the fine be reduced, as it had a good record with the FCC. However, the Commission found that the fine had already been reduced once after the Notice of Apparent Liability was issued (which we wrote about here), and that a further reduction was not warranted as the licensee had been admonished in the past for replacing an AM tower with another tower of a different height without prior approval. Even though no fine was issued in that old case, the fact that the licensee was admonished was enough for the FCC to reject any further reduction in the fine based on the licensee’s record of compliance.
There appear to be no excuses for technical violations in the eyes of the FCC. Remember to let the FCC know when there are technical changes at your station. Get the approval for the changes, and let the Commission know when such changes have been implemented.