Bad Economy Doesn't Mean Lax Rule Enforcement


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The FCC's Enforcement Bureau has taken an increasingly strident stand against radio stations that violate FCC rules in spite of the difficult financial straits of the industry. But the Bureau has considerable discretion in assessing forfeitures. Here is an instructive case.

EAS violation: The inspection team visiting a Kansas station checked its EAS equipment and found it was not working because the power cord was disconnected. Moreover, the licensee admitted that his EAS system stopped working "sometime between the year 2000 and the year 2006." The owner also said he had no logs indicating when the last EAS test his station had initiated.

Public file: Moving on to the station's public inspection file, the agents found no quarterly issues/programs lists for 2009 or 2010, but did find such lists for other years since the last license renewal.

Tower violations: The inspectors next observed that the tower paint was faded and bare in spots. And the three required beacons were either not flashing or not lit at all. Several of the side lamps on the tower were not working either. The station had no automated system to monitor the tower lights, and the licensee admitted his staff was not checking the lights every day as required by the rules. He also told the inspectors that he had no records of tower observations, although he did recall having looked at the tower a couple of days before the inspection.

Calculation of the forfeiture: The Enforcement Bureau issued a notice of apparent liability for a $25,000 forfeiture for these violations, calculated as follows:

It identified the four rules that had apparently been broken: (a) failure to maintain operational EAS equipment (Section 11.35(a)); (b) failure to make daily observations of tower lighting (Section 17.47); (c) failure to keep the tower painted and cleaned (Section 17.50); and (d) failure to place quarterly issues/programs lists in the public file (Section 73.3526).

It then looked up the "base forfeiture amount" for each of these violations. Those were: (a) $8,000 for EAS; (b) $2,000 for tower lighting; (c) $10,000 for tower painting; and (d) $10,000 for the public file.

Second thoughts: The Enforcement Bureau could simply have added up the base amounts for the violations it had identified, which would have produced a $30,000 fine. But to get to the $25,000 fine it thought appropriate, the Bureau reduced the public file component of the fine from the maximum of $10,000 to a more reasonable $4,000 because the station's public file contained a portion of the items required. That reduced the total to $24,000. But the Bureau then tacked on another $1,000 to the $8,000 EAS violation because the licensee, as it turned out, had a record of violating the EAS rules going back more than 10 years. These calculations demonstrate the subjective nature of the evaluations that lead to the final amount of FCC forfeitures.

The Bureau's adjustments show the forfeiture in this case could have been higher -- or it could have been lower. In any event the NAL alone demonstrates that the Bureau's, and ultimately the Commission's, priorities are subject to question. For instance, why is a public file fine, even if reduced from a $10,000 to a $4,000, more important in terms of dollars than a tower lighting violation ($2,000), and why is a tower painting violation ($10,000) worse in terms of liability than having inadequate tower lights? Public safety concerns would seem to dictate different results.

Correction: In last month's FCC Update, we reported that of the 7,000 FM translator applications remaining on file from the 2003 window, 4,000 are attributable to just two applicants. The correct number of still-pending applications attributable to those two applicants is 2,000.


Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC, Arlington, VA. E-mail: martin@fhhlaw.com


Dateline

For noncommercial radio stations in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma their biennial ownership report deadline is Feb. 1.

Feb. 1 is the deadline for radio stations licensed in the following locations to place their Annual EEO Reports in their public files and on their websites: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma.

The radio station license renewal cycle begins again in 2011, with the first batch of renewals being due on June 1, 2011, for stations in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.




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