FCC Issues Numerous Consent Decrees for Public File Violations at Renewal

Many states are now going through their renewal cycles.  For New York, radio renewal applications are due on February 1, 2022, as the existing license term ends on June 1, 2022. Television renewals are in 2023.

Once again, we urge stations to make sure they have an up to date on-line public file.  The FCC is going over these files carefully.  If there are errors the FCC will catch them.  Importantly, if you missed filing a document in a timely fashion, you cannot claim to be in full compliance with all FCC rules during your license term.

Errors in the public file will delay your renewal.  The following is typical language from the Commission:

Section 73.3526 requires radio station licensees to maintain an online public inspection file and to upload certain documents to the Commission’s public inspection file database throughout the year. It is crucial that stations maintain online public inspection files that are complete and up to date because the information in them directly affects, among other things, the public’s ability to be informed about a station’s compliance with its obligations.  The Licensee owns and operates one or more radio stations licensed by the Commission. The Licensee recently filed an application for renewal of radio station licenses. Further, we have determined that the Licensee did not comply with the Online Public Inspection File Rule. That application is identified in Appendix A. Based on the Licensee’s noncompliance with the Online Public Inspection File Rule, the Bureau commenced the Investigation and suspended processing that license renewal application.

At this point the FCC is requiring stations to enter into consent decrees to address errors in the public file.  The consent decrees have a number of requirements including appointing a compliance officer, preparing a compliance manual, submitting compliance reports and other requirements. The process can be burdensome and expensive.  So make sure you keep your public file up to date.

The Commission’s recent consent decree decisions acknowledge that stations are still affected by the COVID crisis.

The radio industry is recovering from a recent dramatic reduction in sponsorship revenues which, in turn, placed the industry, including the Licensee, under significant, ongoing financial stress. The Bureau believes that the exceptional circumstances brought about by the industry’s economic situation present a unique situation which, on balance, warrant resolution of the Bureau’s investigation under the terms and conditions described below

Nonetheless, the FCC’s penalties could go beyond the consent decree process.  Stations can be fined for a public file violation.

Pursuant to section 503(b)(2)(E) of the Act, in exercising its forfeiture authority, the Commission may consider, among other things, “any history of prior offenses” by the licensee. The Licensee acknowledges that the Commission or its delegated authority may consider the Licensee’s admission of liability in this Consent Decree in proposing any future forfeiture against Licensee in the event the Licensee is determined to have apparently committed a violation of the Act, the Rules, or of any orders of the Commission after the Effective Date, whether related to the online public inspection file and record keeping or otherwise.

Because NY license renewals are not for another year, it is possible the FCC could decide that the COVID related consent decrees process should be changed.  It could move to more onerous enforcement approaches.

THE BEST WAY TO PROTECT YOUR STATION IS TO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE AN ONLINE PUBLIC FILE AND IT IS KEPT UP TO DATE.

To see a typical example of an FCC consent decree issued to a station click HERE.

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