After repeated warnings, the FCC fined the operators of an unlicensed radio station in California $25,000. Section 301 of the Communications Act prohibits any person from operating any apparatus for the transmission of energy, communications, or signals by radio within the United States without FCC authorization.
In July 2013, the FCC received a complaint that an unauthorized station was causing co-channel interference. FCC agents verified the complaint and issued a Field Notice to the individual occupying the single family home where an unlicensed church radio station was operating. One week later, the FCC issued a Notice of Unlicensed Operation (“NOUO”) to the individual.
The adult children of the individual subsequently contacted the FCC and acknowledged that their father operated the unlicensed station. The FCC advised that continued operation of the unlicensed station could result in significant monetary penalties. In September 2013, the individual temporarily ceased the unauthorized broadcast.
The FCC subsequently found that on at least five separate occasions the individual resumed unauthorized operations:
- January-April 2015 (the FCC issued an additional NOUO to the individual in his capacity as pastor of the church he ran. The individual did not respond to this NOUO, but nevertheless stopped broadcasting a few days later.)
- June-July 2015 (the FCC noted more broadcasts, but did not issue an NOUO or Field Notice.)
- February 2016 (the FCC issued another NOUO, and when it failed to receive a response, mailed an additional copy of the NOUO to the individual. The individual again did not respond.)
- July 2016 (FCC agents spoke with the individual and issued another Field Notice. In the individual’s conversation with the FCC agents, he “committed to cease operating the unlicensed station.”)
- August 2016 (the FCC noted more broadcasts, but did not issue an additional NOUO or Field Notice.)
The FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) against the individual and the church in December 2016, proposing a $25,000 fine. FCC guidelines set a base fine amount of $10,000 for unauthorized operation for each violation or each day of a continuing violation. The FCC may adjust a fine upward or downward after taking into account the particular facts of each case. Here, the FCC found that the individual and the church deliberately disregarded the FCC’s authority and requirements. As a result, the FCC proposed a $20,000 base fine — $10,000 for the unauthorized operations in February 2016 and another $10,000 for the unauthorized operations in August 2016 — and applied a $5,000 upward adjustment for the multiple Field Notices and NOUOs that were ignored, for a total proposed fine of $25,000. The FCC subsequently issued the $25,000 fine in a Forfeiture Order after the individual and church did not respond to the NAL.