A $12,000 fine issued to an FM translator operator for operating with a transmitter power output that exceeded its licensed limits was upheld by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau in a decision released this week. The Commission rejected the licensee’s argument that the Commission should have first given it notice and an opportunity to fix the improper operation before issuing a fine. The FCC noted that licensees, not the FCC, have the obligation to determine if they are operating legally or not. The FCC also rejected an argument that the licensee was only trying to maintain its effective radiated power when its antenna was damaged by a storm when it increased its transmitter power output. But, unlike for full-power stations, the transmitter power output of FM translators is regulated, and to make a change, you need FCC approval. The FCC also rejected attempts to reduce the amount of the fine based on the licensee never having been fined before, an argument rejected based on the licensee’s record that included several other violations that had not resulted in fines.
When we wrote about this case when the FCC’s staff initially issued the fine, we warned translator operators to keep this case in mind when reviewing their operations. With so many new translators coming on the air in the last few years, it is important for operators to remember to limit TPO to what is specified in a license. The power output cannot exceed 105% of what is authorized on the license (See Section 74.1235(e) of the FCC Rules). Full-power non-directional FM stations, on the other hand, can generally change their TPO and transmission line without prior FCC approval as long as the change does not result in changes to authorized ERP (and even some ERP changes are permitted without a construction permit application – see Section 73.1690 for details), with the licensee only having to file an application for license on Form 302 after the changes have been made. But translators need approval to change TPO before it is done. Translators can sometimes be out of sight and out of mind. But licensees are just as responsible for their proper operation as they are for the proper operation of any other station. Given the size of the fine issued in this case, translator operators should be sure that they know the rules and review their operations to make sure that these operations fully comply with all of the FCC’s rules.