Recently, Pillsbury has written about a trend toward $10,000 fines for all public inspection file violations. This month, the FCC not only issued $10,000 forfeitures against stations with public inspection file violations, but also halved the eight-year license terms sought in the stations' license renewal applications.
When the licensee of a noncommercial FM station in Maryland and the licensee of a commercial AM and FM station in Virginia filed license renewal applications for their stations, they disclosed that each station’s public inspection file was missing all 32 of the quarterly issues/programs lists required to be in the public file under Sections 73.3526 and 73.3527 of the Commission's Rules. In separate Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, the FCC fined the Virginia licensee $20,000 ($10,000 for each of its stations) and the noncommercial licensee $10,000 for the violations.
In considering the stations' license renewal applications, the FCC granted each a shortened four year license term, requiring each station to repeat the license renewal process in four years rather than in the normal eight year time frame. It found that the licensees' failure to include any issues/programs lists in the stations' public files over their eight year license term fell "far short of the standard of compliance…that would warrant routine license renewal."
Both decisions noted that the quarterly issues/programs lists are evidence that the licensee is serving the needs and interests of its communities, and that meeting the public file requirements is essential to fulfilling a licensee's public service obligations. "The Commission's public information file rule…safeguards the public's ability to assess the station's service and to meaningfully participate in the station's renewal process, and ensure the station's accessibility to and nexus with its community, to serve and respond to community programming needs." According to the FCC, the limited renewal term would provide the Commission with an opportunity to review the stations' compliance in the coming years and take corrective action as necessary.
The FCC also indicated that its decision to grant the license renewal applications at all, without designating them for an evidentiary hearing, relied heavily on the licensees' pledges in their license renewal applications to implement procedures to ensure that the issues/programs lists are timely placed in the stations' public files going forward.