Fines of $20,000 for violations of the obligations to prepare and file Children’s Television Reports have been flowing out from the FCC as it works its way through license renewal applications filed by television stations over the last year. We wrote about a number of these fines here, when the first wave of fines was issued by the FCC, mostly dealing with Class A TV stations. In the last two weeks, the fines have continued, with a few targeting full power television stations, and many others hitting Class A stations. In several cases, the fines reached $20,000, and included fines not only for the failure to file the reports with the FCC on a timely basis, but also the late placement of the reports into the station’s public file, and the failure to report the deficiencies in compliance on the license renewal forms. There were new cases involving Class A television stations and, as with the last batch of these cases, the Commission made clear that the licensees could give up their Class A status to avoid the proposed fines – not mentioning that, if they did so, they would also be giving up their status as primary station licensees, meaning that they would be secondary to any new full power TV construction (for a new station or a modification of an existing station) and would also lose any protection that they otherwise would have in the repacking of the television band in the upcoming incentive auctions that will sell part of the current TV spectrum to wireless users for wireless broadband uses.

The cases decided in the last two weeks include a $20,000 proposed fine to a full-power station in Louisiana that did not timely file 18 Form 398 Reports during the license term ($17,000 for the late filings and $3000 for not reporting the late filings in the renewal application). In another case involving a proposed $20,000 fine, a Georgia Class A station had failed to timely file 20 Form 398 Reports, and also did not complete 15 Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and place those reports in its public file on a timely basis. With the online public file, compliance with the Quarterly Issues Programs list requirement can be monitored by the FCC, even though such reports are not filed at the FCC. A third $20,000 fine was given to a Class A station that was late with 25 children’s television reports, and failed to identify the failures on the renewal, even though the FCC had inquired about the status of 7 of those reports before the renewal was submitted, and the licensee had admitted its failures to comply with the rules. $10,000 of the fine was attributed to the late-filed public file documents, $7000 to the late-filing of the Form 398s, and $3000 to the failure to admit the violations in the license renewal. 


Continue Reading

In at least 7 decisions released last week, the FCC fined TV stations between $3000 and $18,000 for failure to timely file Form 398 Children’s Television Reports – reporting on the programming broadcast by the stations to address the educational and informational needs of children. In these cases, the fines were not for failing to file the reports at all, but instead for the failure to timely file the reports. All but one of the cases involved Class A television stations, which, as we’ve written before, are being subject to very strict scrutiny as the FCC looks to find some willing to give up their protected status before the upcoming incentive auctions (Class A stations being protected from being bumped off the air by new users – but subject to all the rules applicable to full power stations). In each of the cases involving Class A stations, the FCC has offered to forget the fines for noncompliance, if the station gives up its Class A status and becomes an LPTV station, which has no protections.  If the station gives up its protected status, it will have no rights to receive compensation if it gives up its channel in the incentive auction, or if it is forced to change channels in the repacking of TV channels after that auction. 

These cases all stem from the FCC review of the license renewal of the station. With the obligation to file a Form 398 only two weeks away – the quarterly report being due on July 10 – TV stations, especially stations that have not yet filed their renewals, need to pay attention now to make sure that they don’t miss the upcoming deadline.  With public files now online, the FCC late-filing becomes more visible, and with the television renewal cycle in full swing, many TV stations are either now or soon to be under the scrutiny of the FCC. So meeting these obligations becomes important – as the failures can be costly. And, as set forth below, any time that there are multiple late filings – late by more than 10 days (which the FCC note that it might excuse as de minimis) – a fine is likely.


Continue Reading

Fines against noncommercial stations may that are primarily student run may not be as harsh as they have been in the past under a ruling issued by the FCC’s Media Bureau earlier this week. The new policy came about as part of a consent decree entered into by an Iowa college-owned broadcaster whose student-run station had failed in its obligation to keep quarterly issues programs lists during most of the prior license renewal term, and also was late in meeting its obligations to file biennial ownership reports with the Commission. Instead of imposing what could have been as much as a $25,000 fine on the broadcaster, the FCC instead agreed to a consent decree by which the broadcaster contributed only $2500 to the government and agreed to certain ongoing obligations to insure its compliance with FCC rules going forward. The FCC also announced, as part of its decision in the case, that it would apply this policy of more leniency in other cases involving student-run stations in the future.  See, for instance, this decision from last year for evidence of how this policy marks a change in the FCC’s policy.

However, this new policy will apply in only very limited circumstances – only to noncommercial stations that are primarily student run. In the decision, the FCC recognized that these stations often had very limited budgets and also a high staff turnover as students graduated and new students took their place. As such, the potential for these kinds of errors increased, and yet the ability to pay for fines was small. In this case, the station involved had an annual budget of less than $7000. Were the Commission to impose big fines, these stations might be forced off the air, as the Commission noted a trend where many noncommercial student-run stations had been sold recently by colleges and universities – often leading to protests about the sales and inevitable format changes (see, for instance the decision we wrote about here).


Continue Reading

Failing to properly maintain a communications tower can be expensive, as a number of FCC decisions released in the last few days demonstrate. In several decisions reached in the last week, the Commission faulted tower owners for all sorts of problems – tower lights being out without letting the FAA know, faded paint, missing fencing around an AM tower, tower registrations that had not been updated after a sale, and the failure to post the tower Antenna Survey Registration Number (“ASRN”) at the base of the tower so that the FCC could identify the tower owner. These cases provide a survey of the many issues that tower owners can have – ones that can bring big FCC fines.

In the case with the largest proposed fine – $25,000 – the FCC faulted a tower owner for having a tower with faded paint and no posted ASRN that was visible at the base of the tower. In addition, the FCC tower registration had not been updated to reflect the name of the current tower owner – even though the owner had bought the tower 10 years before. After an FCC inspection identifying the issues, the licensee promised that they would be remedied. But, according to the decision, two more inspections were made by FCC inspectors within 15 months of the first inspection, and the problems all remained. The failure to correct the errors after being repeatedly warned brought about a $10,000 increase in the fine from what would be normally warrant a penalty of approximately $15,000. Clearly, if the FCC tells you something is wrong – fix it, or face increased liability for the problems. The FCC does not like to be ignored.


Continue Reading

Fines for broadcast station tower owners who fail to maintain the required lighting on their tower are not unusual. But in a decision last week, the FCC made clear that, even if the licensee of a broadcast station is not the tower owner, it still has the responsibility for dealing with tower lights that are out, even if the tower owner does not. The failure of the licensee to maintain the tower lights, and other related issues, resulted in an $11,000 fine issued by the FCC.

The case was unusual in that the broadcast licensee, and the company from which it bought the station, were arguing over who owned the tower – not contending that the each owned the tower, but instead each pointing to the other as the one with the responsibility for the maintenance of the tower. The former owner of the station maintained ownership of the underlying land, but claimed that the tower was conveyed to the new station owner. The licensee claimed that the tower was still owned by the former owner, and that former owner should be responsible for the tower lights. The FCC reviewed the contract between the two parties, seemed to conclude that the licensee had in fact acquired the tower, but said that the final determination on that issue was one for local courts, not the FCC.  But even if the licensee did not own the tower, it still had the responsibility for the tower as licensees have the responsibility to insure that the tower lighting requirements in their licenses are met. This obligation is set out in Section 17.6 of the Commission’s rules and in various policy statements.  Thus, no matter who owned the tower, the licensee was still subject to the fine for the lights not being operational.


Continue Reading

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

The FCC proposed that a noncommercial broadcaster be fined $10,000 for its failure to allow a visitor unquestioned and immediate access to the public inspection files for 6 noncommercial radio stations operated from the same main studio. Though the delay in allowing access was only a few hours long, that delay, together with questions asked of the person who requested access as to his reasons for the inspections, led to the Notice of Apparent Liability issued by the FCC. In the decision, the Commission reminded all broadcasters that their obligation is to make the file available immediately upon a request made during normal business hours. The person inspecting the file cannot be asked why they want to see the file, or for their business or professional affiliation.

In this case, an individual apparently representing a competing broadcaster showed up at the station at about 10:30 in the morning. While it was disputed as to whether the individual immediately asked the receptionist to see the public file,  or whether he simply asked to talk to the general manager of the station, the Commission found that both parties agreed that, when the general manager was reached by phone, the individual did ask to see the file. The general manager did not immediately tell his staff to allow inspection of the file, instead telling the visitor that the manager would return to the office at about noon, and the file could be seen then. It was that delay – putting the visitor off for a few hours- that the Commission found was sufficient to trigger the violation. In the decision, the FCC went further to make this case instructive for broadcasters by laying out some of the specifics of the obligations of a broadcaster to allow access to its public file.


Continue Reading

The FCC has upheld a fine issued to a radio station licensee for what it determined was a failure to disclose all the rules of a broadcast contest. The giveaway was of "the Ultimate Garage" and the FCC determined, in response to a complaint, that the station had failed to disclose all of the material rules of the contest on the air. In looking at the many issues cited by the Commission in support of the fine, some are ones that are similar to those in other cases that we’ve written about before, but some are ones that have not been disclosed in other recent FCC fines – including the requirement that stations broadcast the all of the material rules of the contest not just periodically throughout the course of the contest enough so that a reasonable listener will hear the rules, but also the material rules must be announced the first time that the contest is announced to the public. 

The Commission found that the licensee here had not disclosed, in either the first announcement about the contest or in enough of the other broadcast announcements that the contest was a "winner take all" contest – where the Ultimate Garage would be awarded to only a single winner. The broadcaster had promoted the contest in both live-read announcements and in a variety of recorded announcements. While certain of the recorded announcements made clear that there was but one garage to be given away, many of the other recorded announcements and the live read announcements tended to refer listeners to the full contest rules on the website, where the rules mistakenly talked about the possibility multiple winners. But that was not the only issue that the FCC saw in the station’s disclosures.


Continue Reading

In a Notice of Apparent Liability, the FCC proposed a $14,000 fine on a broadcaster for a series of violations with respect to its tower. The FCC found that the station failed to have the required lights on the tower operating after sunset on at least two days, failed to notify the FAA of the outage (so that the FAA could send out a NOTAM – a notice to "airmen" notifying them to beware of the unlit tower), and failed to properly register the tower when the current owner acquired the station from its previous owner. As the tower had been sold over 3 years prior to the inspection that discovered the tower lights being out, the FCC determined that the violations were particularly egregious, and upped the fine – which would have been $10,000 for a failure to have the lights operating, and $3000 for failing to update the Antenna Structure Registration ("ASR") by an additional $1000. As noted below, updating tower registrations is considered very important by the FCC as, in another recent decision, the FCC proposed a $6000 fine merely for the failure of a licensee to update a tower registration. 

The case also showed the importance of keeping accurate records of the observation of tower lights. While the FCC did not specifically fine the station owner for not logging the tower light inspections, it did note that there was confusion between the station owner and engineer as to who was inspecting the tower lights and how often they were being inspected, when first asked by the FCC inspector. While records were later provided by the licensee that supposedly showed that the tower lights were inspected on a daily basis, the records were inconsistent and seemed to contradict the observations of the FCC inspectors. What do the rules require?


Continue Reading