With Barack Obama’s historic victory just sinking in, all over Washington (and no doubt elsewhere in the country), the speculation begins as to what the new administration will mean to various sectors of the economy (though, in truth, that speculation has been going on for months).  What will his administration mean for broadcasters?  Will the Obama administration mean more regulation?  Will the fairness doctrine make a return?  What other issues will highlight his agenda?  Or will the administration be a transformational one – looking at issues far beyond traditional regulatory matters to a broader communications policy that will look to make the communications sector one that will help to drive the economy?  Some guesses, and some hopes, follow.

First, it should be emphasized that, in most administrations, the President has very little to do with the shaping of FCC policy beyond his appointment of the Commissioners who run the agency.  As we have seen with the current FCC, the appointment of the FCC Chairman can be the defining moment in establishing a President’s communications policy.  The appointment of Kevin Martin has certainly shaped FCC policy toward broadcasters in a way that would never have been expected in a Republican administration, with regulatory requirements and proposals that one could not have imagined 4 years ago from the Bush White House.  To see issues like localism, program content requirements and LPFM become such a large part of the FCC agenda can be directly attributed to the personality and agenda of the Chairman, rather than to the President.  But, perhaps, an Obama administration will be different.


Continue Reading The Promise of an Obama Administration for Broadcast and Communications Regulation

As we’re approaching the anniversary of September 11, it may be appropriate that the FCC issued an order on Friday upholding a fine imposed on a radio station that did not have an operating EAS system.  The station, while it had a system in place that was capable of transmitting the required EAS tones, had not received any EAS alerts for about a year, and had not entered any reasons for that failure in its station log at any time during the period.  The FCC initially issued an $8000 fine, but reduced the fine to $6400 based on a showing that the station did not have any history of past violations.  However, even though the station was operating at reduced power for a significant period of time due to towers damaged by a storm, the FCC refused to reduce the fine further based on financial hardship as the fine did not exceed 2% of the station’s average gross revenue during the previous three years.

The FCC will reduce fines for a variety of reasons – the most common being the past good record of the station.  In most cases, as here, a showing that the station has not previously been fined will be sufficient to demonstrate the past compliance of the station and justify some reduction in the amount of the fine.  Stations also often plead that they cannot afford to pay a fine.  The 2% of gross revenue standard announced by the Commission in this case seems to set the threshold at which the Commission will consider that plea.  To prove that a reduction of a fine is in order, according to this case, a station needs to submit financial statements showing the past three years performance, and demonstrating that the proposed fine will exceed 2% of the station’s average gross revenues.


Continue Reading Fine For EAS Violation – Financial Hardship Not Enough to Merit a Reduction