Here are some of the regulatory and legal actions and developments of the last week of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

The FCC’s International Bureau released a preliminary list of C-Band earth stations (those that operate in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band) in the contiguous U.S. that the Bureau has reviewed and said appear to qualify as “incumbent earth stations” which will be eligible for reimbursement for reasonable costs of changes to their facilities caused by the upcoming repacking of the C-Band.  The C-Band will be partially reallocated for use by wireless carriers, requiring changes in many existing earth stations.  The FCC’s notice about the preliminary list is available here, the preliminary list of incumbent C-band earth stations with explanatory notes in PDF format is available here, and the preliminary list of incumbent C-band earth stations as an Excel chart is available here.  It is important that all broadcasters who have registered earth stations immediately review this list – as corrections need to be submitted to the FCC in just a week – by July 16, 2020.

The Bureau reviewed the status of all earth stations with active or pending licenses or registrations in the C-band.  The incumbent licensees were those who were operating in 2018 and filed FCC registrations by that year and updated those registrations in 2019 (see our articles here and here).  The list includes earth stations whose timely-filed applications are still pending, though they may ultimately not be eligible for reimbursement if the applications are not granted.  The Bureau did not include earth stations whose applications it has dismissed as not meeting the criteria for incumbent status, even if the dismissal is not yet final under the Commission’s rules.
Continue Reading FCC Gives Notice of C-Band Earth Stations Eligible for Reimbursement Before Repurposing Part of that Spectrum – Broadcasters Need to Review and File Corrections By July 16

Both radio and TV broadcasters either have recently completed the license renewal process, or will be doing so in the next few years. Many broadcasters think that, once their broadcast licenses are renewed, so too are all of the other communications licenses that are operated in connection with their station. While that may be true for broadcast auxiliary licenses, like Studio Transmitter Links and Remote Pickups, there are other FCC authorizations that are not covered by the broadcast license renewal process, and are also not covered by the applications on FCC Forms 314 and 315 for the sale of a broadcast station. If a broadcaster does not pay attention to the expiration dates for these nonbroadcast licenses, or forgets to separately file an application for permission to assign these licenses during a sale of their broadcast station, a fine like the $18,000 fine that was just issued to a radio broadcaster who forgot that earth station licenses are different from a main broadcast license or a broadcast auxiliary license, may occur.

In this case, the broadcaster sold its radio station in 2003, including in a list of auxiliary licenses in its FCC application for the sale of the station, the call letters of the earth station. While the FCC granted the assignment application with the statement that the seller was authorized to assign the station and all authorized auxiliaries, the Commission makes clear in this order that the sale of an earth station is not a broadcast auxiliary, but instead needs a separate authorization from the FCC’s International Bureau before it can be sold. As that authorization was not granted, when the buyer took control of the station (and earth station), it operated that earth station without FCC approval for almost 10 years – without seeking a renewal of the license in 2006 – until the new licensee finally discovered the error and applied for an STA and new license to cover its operations. The FCC determined that the length of the violation required an upward adjustment of the normal $10,000 fine for operating an unlicensed station.Continue Reading $18,000 FCC Fine for Operating Earth Station with Expired License Reminds Broadcasters That Not All of Their Licenses are Covered During the License Renewal or Assignment and Transfer Approval Process

The Commission today released yet another forfeiture for what has become an increasingly common oversight among broadcasters — the failure to timely file a license renewal application for a satellite earth station.  What made today’s forfeiture unique, however, is the fact that the Commission proposed to double the amount of the forfeiture based on the size of the broadcast licensee and its presumed ability to pay such a fine.  After balancing all the factors, the Commission ultimately ratcheted the fine down a bit, but in the end it assessed a $25,000 fine for the failure to timely file license renewal applications for two earth stations and for the continued operation of those facilities without proper authority.  In light of today’s decision, broadcasters should be sure to review and track the expiration dates for all FCC authorizations. 

The FCC’s decision in this case makes clear that in imposing a large fine in this case it is attempting to send a message that the Licensee will heed.  Per the Commission’s decision:  "This $16,000 forfeiture amount [the baseline forfeiture]  is subject to adjustment, however.  In this regard, we consider the size of the violator and ability to pay a forfeiture, as well as its prior violation of the same rule sections before us today.  To ensure that forfeiture liability is a deterrent, and not simply a cost of doing business, the Commission has determined that large or highly profitable companies such as [Licensee] , could expect the assessment of higher forfeitures for violations, and that prior violations of the same or other regulations would also be a factor contributing to upward adjustment of apparent liability.  Given [Licensee’s] size and its ability to pay a forfeiture, coupled with its previous violation, we conclude that an upward adjustment of the base forfeiture amount to $32,000 is appropriate."  [Emphasis added.]  In reaching its decision, the Commission noted that the Licensee in this case was a large broadcaster with "net yearly sales" of over $110 million.  

This forfeiture should serve as a clear warning to broadcasters both big and small to review and track the expiration dates of any earth stations or other authorizations held by a broadcast station.  Rarely (if ever) will the license term of an earth station authorization coincide with the renewal of the parent broadcast station, which means it is easy for the earth station to slip through the cracks.  Continue Reading Broadcasters Beware: Failure to Timely Renew Earth Stations Can Draw Large Fines