Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.
In a Consent Decree released earlier this week, the FCC showed how serious it is about requiring that when a broadcaster applies for and receives authority to construct a new station or a modification of an existing station, it really plans to construct the station and operate on a permanent basis. In this case, a company called Lowcountry Media agreed to pay $250,000 to the government and surrender FCC authorizations for about 100 LPTV stations to resolve allegations that it had abused FCC processes by filing for and receiving construction permits for changes in at least 30 of its stations without a serious intent to permanently construct and operate each station to serve the public in the area authorized by the permits. After Lowcountry agreed to these penalties, the FCC allowed the sale of numerous other Lowcountry stations, and gave Lowcountry additional time to construct other new stations whose authorizations it retained.
The FCC explained its concerns leading to the penalties in the following language:
While some Stations were constructed with temporary facilities because of Lowcountry’s alleged difficulty obtaining permanent equipment as a result of supply chain issues….. at least 30 of Lowcountry’s stations were constructed with temporary facilities and only operated for a limited duration (a matter of days) with no apparent intention to provide permanent programming to viewers.
Lowcountry’s business plan apparently was to utilize the Commission’s minor modification application process to relocate the facilities distances greater than 30 miles, without contour overlap, and never permanently operate them at the location specified in the construction permits it acquired from prior licensees and in some cases applied for itself. The Bureau believes that Lowcountry’s actions and filings amounted to an abuse of the Commission’s licensing processes…..
In the LPTV service, the holder of a license or permit for a station can file a “minor change” application at any time. A minor change is a change in the power or location of a station where some portion of the station’s existing service area overlaps with the area proposed to be served in the newly proposed facilities. However, in no event can a minor change move a station more than 30 miles. A major change is one does not fit within the definitions of a minor change. Major changes can only be filed only when the FCC opens a major change window – which rarely happens (and is usually accompanied by the opportunity to file for new stations – as a major change in an existing facility would preclude the opportunity for someone else to file for a new station). The FCC is concerned about a broadcaster using multiple “hops” of an LPTV which is not tied to any specific city to accomplish, through serial minor modifications what should only be permitted by a major change – and by doing so cutting off other applicant’s opportunity to file for a new station at some point in the future when a new window does in fact open. The FCC had a secondary concern that many of these permits were received in a window almost 15 years ago when applicants were restricted to filing for stations in rural areas and, through multiple hops, some of these stations were moved into metropolitan areas.
Continue Reading $250,000 Fine and Surrender of 100 LPTV Authorizations Shows FCC Insistence on Permanent Construction of Stations Authorized by Construction Permits – “Serial Moves” Can Be Abuse of Process
You may remember a few years ago, the FCC cracked down on “serial modifications” of FM translators to move them from rural to more urban areas (see, for instance, the cases about which we wrote here and here), considering such moves an abuse of process. In a decision released earlier this week, it looks like the FCC’s Audio Division may be backing away from that policy. In that decision, the FCC approved an application for a move of a translator into Chicago as the 4th hop from the translator’s original site in rural Illinois.
In the old decisions, the FCC had looked at instances where operators tried to move translators to big markets through multiple minor change applications – accomplishing through these “hops” what they normally could not do except during a major change window for translator applications – something that has not happened for since 2003. These old decisions deemed it an abuse of process to accomplish through multiple steps what an applicant could not do through a single application, especially when the applicant evidenced no intent to serve the public at any of these interim locations. In these cases, the applicant had often constructed on a temporary basis at a hop location, only to take the translator off the air after just a few days of operation (often dismantling the tower too). The decision this week looked at a slightly different situation and found that the multiple hops into Chicago were permissible – and set out criteria for determining whether such hops were permissible or not.
Continue Reading Maybe Serial Moves of FM Translators to Relocate Them From Rural to Urban Areas are Not So Bad….