Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.
- The FCC issued a Forfeiture Order imposing a penalty of $518,283 against Gray Television, Inc., for violating the FCC’s prohibition against owning two top-four television stations (KYES-TV and KTUU-TV, both in Anchorage, Alaska) in the same Nielsen Designated Market Area (DMA). This Order follows a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) released on July 7, 2021, in which the FCC found that Gray acquired the CBS network affiliation from KTVA(TV) (another station in Anchorage), which resulted in Gray’s ownership and operation of two of the top-four stations in the Anchorage DMA. For more background on this case, see our article on the NAL here. After considering Gray’s response to the NAL, the FCC elected not to cancel, withdraw, or reduce the penalty proposed. This case is notable for its interpretation of the note to the FCC’s ownership rule prohibiting a Top 4 television station owner from acquiring a network affiliation and moving it to a commonly owned station that results in that station also becoming a Top 4 station in the market. The Commission also decided that each day of the combined operation of the two stations constituted a separate violation of the rule. That meant that the $8000 base fine for a violation of the FCC’s ownership rules would be multiplied by the days that the combination remained in place, resulting in the large fine which represents the maximum fine for a continuing violation of the FCC’s rules.
- The FCC issued the final text of its Notice of Inquiry and Order that explores opportunities to open the 12.7-13.25 GHz (12.7 GHz) band for next-generation wireless services and extends the freeze on new or modified applications for existing users of the band. As we’ve previously reported, the Notice of Inquiry and Order was approved at the FCC’s October 27 open meeting. Licensed services in the 12.7 GHz band include satellite communications and mobile TV pickup operations. Comments and reply comments on the Notice of Inquiry will be due November 28, 2022 and December 27, 2022, respectively.
- The FCC’s Media Bureau issued an Order under which it entered into a Consent Decree with the licensee of an AM station and its FM translator to resolve various FCC rule violations. The licensee acknowledged that it had (1) operated the AM station at reduced daytime power without FCC authorization, (2) failed to maintain station logs for the AM station, and (3) originated programming on its FM translator while the AM station was silent. Pursuant to the Consent Decree, the licensee agreed to implement a comprehensive compliance plan to ensure future compliance and to make an $8,000 payment to the United States Treasury.
- The Media Bureau also issued an order that reduced by nearly $10,000 a fine it had previously proposed against the licensee of two low power television stations that had failed to timely file “license to cover” applications and engaged in unauthorized operation of the stations after their construction permits had expired. Applications for a “license to cover” are required to be filed by any broadcaster when they complete construction of new technical facilities authorized by a construction permit. The license application tells the FCC that construction has been completed and provides information about the specific facilities constructed, showing that they were constructed as authorized by the permit. Claiming financial hardship and submitting its 2019, 2020 and 2021 tax returns in support, the licensee asked the Bureau to reduce or cancel the proposed fine of $13,000. The Bureau noted that in cases involving financial hardship, fines usually average about five percent but have not exceeded eight percent of the violator’s gross revenues. Here, the Bureau found that the initially proposed fine exceeded eight percent of the licensee’s gross revenue as averaged over the last three years, but the licensee had not operated at a significant financial loss during that period. The Bureau thus elected not to cancel the fine entirely, but it did reduce it to $3,400.
- On our Broadcast Law Blog, we posted an article highlighting some of the important regulatory dates for broadcasters in November and early December. We also published an article reminding stations to take seriously requests to cease and desist airing political attack ads in the days before an election, and another article about the $24 million dollar penalty imposed by a Washington State court on the parent of Facebook for its violation of the state’s political advertising disclosure rules.