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FCC Enforcement Monitor July 2022

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:

  • Turning Away FCC Inspectors Leads to a Notice of Violation for Florida Low Power FM Station
  • Texas FM Stations Receive Short-Term License Renewals After Extended Silence
  • FCC Proposes $116 Million Robocalling Fine for TCPA Violations

West Palm Beach LPFM Station Turns Away FCC Inspectors, Receives Notice of Violation

The FCC Enforcement Bureau issued a Notice of Violation to the licensee of a West Palm Beach, Florida low power FM station after two FCC enforcement agents were denied entry to conduct an inspection.

Under Section 73.1225(a) of the FCC’s Rules, “[t]he licensee of a broadcast station shall make the station available for inspection by representatives of the FCC during the station’s business hours, or at any time it is in operation.”  In this case, two agents visited the station to conduct an inspection and were denied access to the station by on-site station personnel.  The station owner was reached by phone during the visit and also refused to make the station available for inspection, even after the agents reminded the owner of the FCC’s rule for station inspections.

The Notice of Violation requires that within 20 days, the station licensee: (1) fully explain the violation, including all relevant facts and circumstances; (2) include in its response a statement of the specific action(s) taken to correct each violation and preclude recurrence; and (3) include a timeline for completion of any pending corrective actions.  An authorized officer of the licensee with personal knowledge of the representations made in the response must also submit an affidavit verifying the truth and accuracy of the provided information.  Though the Notice of Violation itself carried no monetary penalty, the Enforcement Bureau can take additional action in the future, including issuing a fine.

Extended Silent Periods Result in Shortened License Renewal Terms

Seven Texas FM stations licensed to the same company were given one-year license renewal terms after extended periods of silence during their last license term.  In all instances, the license renewal applications were filed on time, but the stations were silent for at least 25% of their license term and, in the case of six of the seven stations, silent for at least 40% of the extended term that included the time the license renewal applications were pending.  Under FCC precedent, broadcast station silence is considered a fundamental failure to serve the station’s community since a silent station is not airing public service programming.  Even turning on the signal between long periods of silence is thought by the FCC to be of little value, as the listening public will not be accustomed to tuning into the station.

When considering whether to grant a station’s license renewal, the FCC looks at (1) whether the station has served the public interest, convenience, and necessity; (2) whether there have been any serious violations of the Communications Act or the Commission’s rules; and (3) whether there have been any violations which, taken together, constitute a pattern of abuse.  If the station fails to meet this standard, the Commission may either deny the license renewal application (with notice and an opportunity for a hearing) or, as it did in this case, grant a renewal for a term less than the standard eight-year term.

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