On April 20, 2012, the FCC issued an $18,000 fine against the former licensee of a station in American Samoa for violations that occurred from 2000-2006, notwithstanding the fact that the station license had already been canceled over a year earlier. The Forfeiture Order released this month found that the licensee willfully and repeatedly violated the FCC’s Rules by: (1) operating the station at an unauthorized location, (2) going silent without FCC authorization, and (3) failing to respond to communications from the FCC.
The violations were brought to the attention of the FCC by a Petition to Deny filed against the station’s license renewal application during the last renewal cycle. The Petition alleged the licensee no longer had access to the tower site identified in its license, the station had been silent for a period of more than a year, and the station had previously operated at reduced power without FCC authorization.
In 2008, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability concluding that the station had not been silent for more than a year, but that the licensee had indeed failed to obtain FCC authorization for two shorter periods of silence. The FCC further concluded that the licensee operated at variance from the facilities authorized by its license, and that the licensee had failed to respond to FCC inquiries on multiple occasions. The FCC proposed a fine of $18,000--$5,000 for each period of silence, $4,000 for operating with unauthorized facilities, and $4,000 for failing to respond to FCC inquiries. Nevertheless, the FCC renewed the station's license for a period of two years ending in April 2010. The licensee did not file a license renewal application before April 16, 2010, the license expiration date specified by the FCC, and on April 11, 2011, the FCC notified the licensee that the station’s license had been cancelled.
In response, the licensee asked that the forfeiture be set aside due to mitigating circumstances, including a history of compliance, financial hardship, and a claim of "selective enforcement" by the FCC. The licensee claimed it was unaware of the need to request FCC authority to go silent during the first period of silence, and that it forgot to request FCC authorization to remain silent the second time. It also asserted that it kept the FCC constantly notified of its operating status. As to operating at variance from the site specified in its license, the licensee asserted there was insufficient time to request a Special Temporary Authorization to operate from an alternate site, and that the FCC should excuse its failure to seek prior authority because the station operated at reduced power in order to avoid interference with other broadcast stations.
The licensee further argued that it consistently responded to all FCC inquiries, and that if the FCC did not receive its correspondence, the communication was likely "lost in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean." In response, the FCC noted that it sent all mail to the licensee’s listed address in the continental United States, which the licensee "had listed as its mailing address and the mailing address for its contact representatives". Finally, the licensee accused the FCC of selectively enforcing its rules against the licensee’s station, but not against other Samoan station licensees. The FCC responded that since the licensee had provided "no specific evidence to support its allegations", there was no reason to consider them.
The FCC therefore rejected all of the licensee’s arguments in its Order, and reaffirmed that even unknowing or inadvertent violations of its rules may still be considered willful violations subject to enforcement action. The FCC also stated that pointing a finger at third parties such as the U.S. Postal Service or other allegedly noncompliant stations will not excuse licensees from compliance with the Commission’s Rules.