Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.
- The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing a $20,000 fine on an iHeart radio station for violations of the broadcast contest rules. The FCC found that a station contest was not conducted in accordance with its written rules – as an ambiguity in the rules would be construed strictly against the station. The rules stated that no one who had won another station contest in the 30 days prior to the start of the contest could win again. Here, an apparent winner was disqualified as he had won another station contest about two months after the start of the contest in question. The FCC said that, as the language of the rule could be read to only prohibit winners who had won in the 30 days before the start of the contest, and this contestant won the other contest after the start of the contest, the winner should not have been blocked from winning. In addition, the FCC found that its rules had been violated because the contest rules were removed from the station’s website immediately after the contest ended, when the FCC rules require that contest rules be maintained on the website at least 30 days after the end of the contest (Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture). Taken together with a proposed EEO fine noted in our summary of regulatory actions last week, it seems the FCC is becoming more aggressive in enforcing its rules. Be sure you are reviewing all aspects of your operation to ensure compliance with applicable FCC rules. We wrote in greater detail about both of these cases and what they may signal, here.
- A Nevada AM station received a Notice of Violation after enforcement agents out of the FCC’s Los Angeles field office inspected the station’s transmitter site and found the tower fence gate unlocked. Under FCC rules, AM antenna towers having the potential for high levels of RF radiation at their base (including series fed, folded unipole, and insulated base antennas) must be enclosed within effective locked fences or other enclosures. The licensee has 20 days to submit a written statement explaining the circumstances behind the unlocked gate and any corrective actions it will take and when it will take those actions. (Notice of Violation)
- The FCC continues to enter into consent decrees with stations over public file violations. In one case, a California noncommercial FM station appears to have not uploaded any quarterly issues/programs lists since the current licensee took over the station in late 2019. In another case, an American Samoa noncommercial FM station appears to have uploaded all of its quarterly issues/programs lists on the same day it filed its license renewal application. There were no fines tied to the violations, but the stations must follow a compliance plan that includes training and reporting obligations. We’ve noted that fines have been imposed on TV stations for this kind of violation, and the FCC is omitting language about economic hardship caused by the pandemic from many radio consent decrees, so don’t expect the FCC to avoid fines for radio violations in the future.
- Gigi Sohn’s months-long bid for confirmation for the last open seat on the FCC took a step forward this week when the Senate Commerce Committee voted on her nomination, splitting evenly along party lines. Because of the deadlocked committee vote, the full Senate must first vote to bring her nomination to the Senate floor, and then to end floor debate on her nomination, before it can actually vote on her confirmation. Some Republican Senators have suggested that they could try to block some of these procedural votes. If she is confirmed by the full Senate, her term will run through 2026.
- The FCC posted an online tutorial for Auction 112, an upcoming auction of construction permits for 27 new full-power TV stations. If you are interested in bidding on any of the 27 permits, view the tutorial and file your initial “short-form application” (FCC Form 175) between March 17 at 12pm ET and March 30 at 6pm ET. Bidding will begin on June 7. Read more about the auction procedures, here. (Tutorial)
- CNN reported last week that the FCC, in partnership with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, opened a probe into companies it regulates to find possible ownership links to Russia, with an eye toward possible enforcement actions. Also this week, RT America, a Russian state-sponsored cable network, laid off most of its staff and ended production due to “unforeseen business interruption events.” In light of these developments and the international tensions following the recent military actions by Russia, it is worth taking another look at the FCC’s warning to communications companies to step up protection of their networks and operating systems and other critical digital infrastructure and to stay vigilant against cyber threats.