As a follow up to a February 2011 Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”), the FCC issued a September 2011 Forfeiture Order (“Order”) fining a Louisiana broadcaster $14,000 for unauthorized operations and failure to maintain and make available a complete public inspection file as required by FCC Rule Sections 73.1745 and 73.3526 respectively. The base fine associated with a violation of Section 73.1745, which mandates that stations not operate at times or at power levels other than those specified in their licenses, is $4,000. The base fine for a violation of Section 73.3526, which requires retention of and public access to a station’s Public Inspection File documents, is $10,000.
According to the NAL, agents from the New Orleans Field Office investigating an interference complaint confirmed that a Louisiana AM broadcaster was operating its station beyond its post-sunset authority in violation of Section 73.1745. The agents returned the next day to again confirm that the station continued such unauthorized operations after sunset. The field agents then inspected the station and discovered that, according to the general manager, the station had been “operating at reduced power throughout the night for several years”. Upon reviewing the station’s public inspection file, the agents found that it was missing several required documents, including a copy of the current authorization, the most recent license application and eight quarterly issues/programs lists.
The AM broadcaster’s response to the NAL conceded both violations but sought a reduction in the fines based on the station’s erroneous belief that it had authority to operate beyond sunset, its history of compliance, its “limited resources to devote to the public inspection file”, its “programming responsive to community needs and interests during the two years prior to the NAL”, and its remedial actions to bring the station into compliance after the inspection.
In response, the FCC stated that a “lack of intent to violate the rules” is not a mitigating factor. The FCC also reminded the AM broadcaster that “only a few months” prior to the inspection, a letter was sent from the FCC to the licensee indicating that the station was authorized for “day-time only operation.” The FCC rejected the AM broadcaster’s claim that it had a history of compliance based on the admission that the station had been operating at night for several years without authorization. The FCC also discounted the “limited resources” claim since the AM broadcaster did not provide any supporting financial documentation. Finally, the FCC noted that where the AM broadcaster provided, but did not accurately document, community programming efforts, that did not mitigate a violation of the FCC’s Rules. The FCC therefore reaffirmed, without reduction, the original forfeiture in the amount of $14,000.