A broadcaster’s failure to timely file its license renewal application often leads to a compound fine. Section 73.3539 of the FCC’s Rules requires that broadcasters file their license renewal applications at least four months prior to their station’s license expiration date. The base fine for violating this rule is $3,000. However, the financial implications are rarely limited to just the violation of Section 73.3539. As evidenced by enforcement decisions routinely released by the FCC, broadcasters that violate Section 73.3539 are often also in violation of Section 301 of the Communications Act of 1934 (the “Act”), which prohibits operation without authorization. In the absence of a timely filed license renewal application, or grant of special temporary authority (“STA”) to continue operating, any station operations beyond the license expiration date are unauthorized.
In two recent Memorandum Opinion and Orders (“MO&O”), the FCC assessed compound fines totaling $26,000 to the licensee of an AM/FM combination in Idaho. According to the MO&Os, both station licenses expired on October 1, 2005. Pursuant to Section 73.3539, the license renewal applications were due by June 1, 2005. However, the MO&O stated that the licensee failed to file the license renewal applications by the June 1, 2005 deadline and did not seek an STA to continue operations after both licenses expired on October 1, 2005.
The MO&Os indicated that in September 2010, the FCC issued letters to the licensee indicating that each license had expired, all authority to operate had been terminated, the call letters were cancelled, and any broadcast operations must cease immediately. Approximately five years after the date of the stations’ license expirations, and in response to the FCC’s letters, the licensee filed STA requests seeking authority to continue operations “pending consideration of the untimely filed renewal application.” The licensee indicated that its failure to timely file was unintentional, and subsequently it submitted the late-filed license renewal applications.
The STA requests were granted by the FCC on November 9, 2010, with an expiration date of May 9, 2011. The licensee failed to request extensions of the STAs prior to their expiration, and the licensee continued operating both stations beyond the expiration of the STAs. The FCC determined that, given the lengthy unauthorized operations, a fine of $13,000 per station was appropriate, resulting in a $26,000 forfeiture for the AM/FM combo. The FCC did, however, ultimately grant both license renewal applications.