In a decision released last week, the FCC’s Audio Division denied the application for a new noncommercial FM station which had tentatively been selected to receive a permit for a new station because the applicant did not have reasonable assurance of transmitter site availability when it originally filed its application.  This case makes clear how important that issue can be in connection with any application for a new broadcast station, and even in connection with applications for site changes by existing broadcasters.  The FCC has long required that a broadcaster, before filing an application for a new or modified station, have reasonable assurance of transmitter site availability. This obligation applies not only to full-power radio and television applications, but also to applications for low power TV (LPTV) or low power FM (LPFM) stations, and to applications for FM or TV translators as well.  The reasonable assurance requirement basically insures that the applicant is making a realistic proposal to the FCC, one that can likely be built, and not just some theoretical proposal for a site at which a station could never be constructed.  If reasonable assurance is not obtained before the application is filed, the application is subject to dismissal, as this case makes clear.

Reasonable assurance has never required a binding legal commitment for the use of a particular transmitter site, but this case makes clear that something more than a mere possibility of the availability of the site is necessary.  In this case, a representative of the application had communicated with the tower owner, who said that the tower was currently at capacity, but that it was possible that, over time, some space on the tower could become available.  The FCC’s Audio Division concluded that was not enough, as it did not demonstrate a present availability to the applicant of the site at the time that the application was filed.  The FCC discussed the need for the applicant and the site owner to have a "meeting of the minds" as to the availability of the site before an applicant can specify it.  The assurance cannot be contingent on a future event that is unlikely to occur.


Continue Reading Planning a New Station or to Relocate an Existing One? FCC Clarifies the Need for Reasonable Assurance of Transmitter Site Availability

The FCC today issued three orders imposing fines on broadcasters – cutting no slack to anyone.  These cases demonstrate how important strict compliance with all FCC rules is to avoid fines before the current Commission.  The first decision imposed a fine of $2800 on a broadcaster for having an unfenced tower – where the broadcaster claimed that the fence was temporarily removed to facilitate the clearing of brush as required by local authorities to remove a potential fire hazard.  While the FCC seemed to recognize that the fence removal was temporary, and that it was missing for only a few weeks while weed killer was being applied at the site, the Commission still imposed the fine – requiring that access to an AM tower always be restricted, prohibiting open access even for a short period.

The second case was a decision which imposed a fine of $2000 on a broadcaster for operating from an unauthorized transmitter site.  While the broadcaster had received Special Temporary Authority (an "STA")  to operate from the site, the STA expired.  The broadcaster filed an extension request, but forgot to include the filing fee check.  The broadcaster claims that he re-filed the request, and had a canceled check to prove it, although the Commission had no record of the re-filed STA (though the FCC did acknowledge having received the check).  Finding that it had no record of the re-filed STA, and further finding that the applicant should have inquired about the failure to receive an STA extension after 180 days (the length of an STA), the Commission imposed the fine on the broadcaster.  While this case is certainly complicated by the missing extension request, given the canceled check one would assume that broadcaster must have filed something, and the FCC’s usual rule is that if an STA extension is on file, the station can continue to operate.  Of course, with an extension that was pending for 2 years, probably some inquiry was warranted.  But whether it was a $2000 mistake is a different question.


Continue Reading FCC Cuts No Slack on Fines – Temporarily Unfenced Tower, Expired STA, Former Owner – All Draw Fines