A flurry of fines against broadcasters have come out of the FCC in the last week.  These fines highlight the scrutiny under which owners of broadcast stations can find themselves should an FCC Field Office inspector knock on their door.  If the FCC pays a visit and finds a violation, a station is often looking at a fine even if it quickly takes corrective action.  Let’s look at some of these fines and the issues raised by each.

First, a Regional Director of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau yesterday released a $17,000 Forfeiture Order (a notice of a fine) to a Michigan AM broadcaster for having a fence around its tower that had “separated” allowing unfettered access to the site and for missing quarterly issues programs lists in the public file.  The FCC refused to lower the fine, despite the licensee’s arguments that the quarterly issues programs lists were in fact at the station but there was “confusion” as to where they were at the time of the inspection, and its argument that it should not be responsible for the fencing issue as it did not itself own the real estate or the towers.
Continue Reading FCC Fines: $17,000 for Unsecure AM Tower Fence (Not Owning the Tower Site is No Excuse); $25,000 for Missing Quarterly Issues Programs Lists; $22,000 for Nonfunctioning EAS and Wrong Tower Coordinates

Almost a year and a half ago, the FCC held its first ever test of the EAS system designed to alert the country in the event of a nationwide emergency. On Friday, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau issued a report on the results of the test. While there have been many articles in the trade press reporting on some of the findings of the Bureau, few have focused on one footnote indicating that many EAS participants – including some broadcasters and cable systems – never bothered to file their reports as to the results of their participation in the tests. The Bureau notes that the identity of these broadcasters will be turned over the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau for further action – potentially fines for their failures to report on the results of the test (we warned that this might be a consequence of the failure to file a report of the results of the test in our article here).  Broadcasters should watch for further action from the Enforcement Bureau at some point in the future.

The Report indicated that approximately 83% of all broadcasters who reported to the FCC had received the test. However, the FCC received reports from only about 13,787 stations.  According to the FCC’s tabulation of the number of broadcast stations in the US, as released in another FCC report last week, there are approximately 15,256 radio stations and 1781 TV stations in the United States. This could mean that there are a substantial number of broadcast stations that did not report the results of the nationwide test. The Commission apparently did not try to determine if the results achieved by those nonresponsive stations were different than the results of those who reported to the FCC.  One might assume that these stations, which somehow missed all the warnings about the need to file with the FCC the results of the tests, probably also missed instructions about how to comply with the EAS rules and thus were probably less likely to have fully operating EAS systems. So there is concern that the report may even understate the shortcomings of the nationwide test.


Continue Reading FCC Issues Report on Nationwide EAS Test And Refers to the Enforcement Bureau Stations That Did Not Submit the Results of the Test – Could Fines Follow?

In yet another example of the importance that the FCC places on emergency communications and safety issues, an FCC Enforcement Bureau District Field Office issued a Notice of Apparent Liability, proposing to fine a radio station $25,000 for violations including an EAS system that was not operational, as well as a tower that needed repainting and with lights that were not functioning properly.  Together with various other issues – including missing quarterly issues programs lists – the FCC found that a $25,000 fine was appropriate.  This is another in a series of recent notices of apparent liability from FCC District Offices, demonstrating the high cost of noncompliance with technical and operational issues at broadcast stations.

On the tower issues, the FCC found that the tower lights, which were required to be flashing, were in either not operational at all or not flashing, and that the licensee admitted that no visual inspection of the lights had occurred in at least a week.  Citing Section 17.47 of the FCC rules, which require a visual inspection of tower lights every 24 hours unless there is an automatic inspection system (which was not present at this tower), the FCC found that there was a violation here.  In addition, the inspection revealed that the tower paint was faded and, in some places, had peeled to reveal bare steel, as the tower had not been painted since 1996.  Towers must be cleaned and painted "as often as necessary to maintain good visibility" under Section 17.50 of the FCC Rules.  The failure of the tower owner to monitor the tower lights resulted in a $2000 fine, and a $10,000 fine was imposed for the failure to repaint the tower.


Continue Reading $25,000 FCC Fine for Safety Related Issues – No EAS, Tower With Painting and Lighting Issues

This afternoon, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) adopted the new digital message format for the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) standard.  The adoption of this message format is the next step in the implementation of Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which expands the traditional Emergency Alert System used by radio and television to

With the recent April 15th publication of an FCC Public Notice in the Federal Register, the due date for Comments regarding possible revisions to the FCC’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules has been set at May 17th, with Reply Comments due by June 14.  By this recent Public Notice, the Commission has requested  informal comments regarding revisions to its EAS rules in connection with the forthcoming adoption of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  So what, you might ask, is “CAP”? 

CAP stands for “Common Alerting Protocol” and is the next-generation protocol for distributing emergency warnings and safety notifications.  In technical jargon it is “an open, interoperable, data interchange format for collecting and distributing all-hazard safety notifications and emergency warnings to multiple information networks, public safety alerting systems, and personal communications devices.” In layman’s terms, it will allow FEMA, the National Weather Service, a state Governor, or others authorized to initiate public alert systems to automatically format and even target a specific geographic area and simultaneously alert the public using multiple media platforms including broadcast television, radio, cable, cell phones, and electronic highway signs. CAP will also allow for alerts specifically formatted for people with disabilities and for non-English speakers.

As part of an EAS Order adopted by the FCC back in 2007, the Commission mandated that all EAS participants — which would include radio, television, and cable — must accept CAP-based EAS alerts within 180 days after the date on which FEMA publishes the applicable technical standards for CAP.  According to the FCC, FEMA has recently announced its intention to adopt a version of CAP as early as the third quarter of 2010, which would in turn trigger the Commission’s 180-day requirement.  Given that the Commission’s current EAS rules pre-date the concept of Common Alerting Protocol, the existing EAS rules will likely need significant revision or even replacement once CAP is adopted and implemented. 


Continue Reading Comments Regarding Possible Revisions to FCC’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) Rules due May 17

Last week, the FCC issued several fines to broadcasters for failure to observe some basic FCC rules.  As there many FCC rules to observe, broadcasters should use the misfortune of others who have suffered from these fines as a way to check their own operations to make sure that they meet all of the required Commission standards.  In the recent cases, fines were issued for a variety of violations, including the failure to have a manned main studio, the failure to have a working EAS system, incomplete public files, operations of an AM station at night with daytime power, and the failure to have a locked fence around an AM tower.  This post deals with the issues discovered at the studios of stations – a separate post will deal with the issues at the transmitter sites. 

The main studio rule violation was a case that, while seemingly obvious, also should remind broadcasters of their obligations under the requirement that a station have a manned main studio.  In this case, when the FCC inspectors arrived at the station’s main studio, they found it locked and abandoned.  Once they were able to locate a station representative to let them into the studio, they found that there was some equipment in the facility, but it was not hooked up, nor was there any telephone or data line that would permit the station to be controlled from the site.  The Commission’s main studio rules require that there be at least two station employees for whom the studio is their principal place of business (I like to think of it as the place where these employees have their desks with the pictures of their kids or their dog, as the case may be, and where they show up in the morning to drink their morning cup of coffee before heading out to do sales, news or whatever their job may be).  At least one of the two employees who report to the studio as their principal place of business must be a management level employee, and at least one of those employees must be present during all normal business hours.  Thus, the studio should never be devoid of human life.  The studio must be able to originate programming, and the station must be able to be controlled from that location so that the employees there could originate programming in the event of a local emergency.  In light of these violations and others, the station in this case was fined $8000.


Continue Reading FCC Inspections – Fines for Violations of Rules on Main Studio, EAS, and Public File

The FCC today issued the long-awaited text of its decision on Digital Audio radio – the so-called IBOC system.  As we have written, while adopted at its March meeting, the text of the decision has been missing in action.  With the release of the decision, which is available here, the effective date of the new rules can be set in the near future – 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.  With the Order, the Commission also released its Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, addressing a host of new issues – some not confined to digital radio, but instead affecting the obligations of all radio operations.

The text provides the details for many of the actions that were announced at the March meeting, including authorizing the operation of AM stations in a digital mode at night, and the elimination of the requirements that stations ask permission for experimental operations before commencing multicast operations.  The Order also permits the use of dual antennas – one to be used solely for digital use – upon notification to the FCC.  In addition, the order addresses several other matters not discussed at the meeting, as set forth below. 


Continue Reading FCC Issues Rules on Digital Radio – With Some Surprises that Could Eventually Impact Analog Operations