After a bizarre string of events involving unlit towers, falsified applications, and alleged theft, the FCC proposed a penalty of $235,668 against a Wisconsin holding company for providing false and misleading information on dozens of Antenna Structure Registration (“ASR”) applications and misleading an Enforcement Bureau agent.
Section 1.17 of the FCC’s Rules requires a party that is either (A) applying for an FCC authorization; or (B) engaging in activities that require such authorizations, to be truthful and accurate in all its interactions with the FCC. Specifically, Section 1.17(a)(2) states that no person shall “provide material factual information that is incorrect or omit material information that is necessary to prevent any material factual statement that is made from being incorrect or misleading….”
In December 2016, the Enforcement Bureau began investigating an unlit tower in Wisconsin after the Federal Aviation Authority (the “FAA”) forwarded a complaint from a pilot who had noticed the structure. Unlit towers pose a serious danger to air navigation. In the midst of the investigation, the tower’s ASR information was changed to show a new company had taken control of the tower. When an FCC investigator reached out to the newly registered owner, the company’s CEO stated that his company had recently acquired the tower, knew of the lighting problem, and would make repairs as soon as the weather permitted. In the meantime, the company also began changing the registration information for other towers, requested flight hazard review from the FAA for some of these towers, and filed an ASR application for construction of a new tower in Florida.
Several months later, the original owner of the unlit tower informed the FCC that the other company was not actually the owner and that the imposter company’s “CEO” had improperly changed the ownership information for several sites in the ASR system. The true owner also claimed that the alleged fraudster had changed locks and stolen equipment from several of the real owner’s towers—including the new lighting equipment that the original owner bought to repair the extinguished tower lighting.
In response, the Enforcement Bureau sent a Letter of Inquiry (“LOI”) to the claimed CEO’s physical and email addresses seeking more information about his various applications. To date, the Bureau has not received any response.
In a Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”), the Enforcement Bureau determined that the CEO’s company became subject to Section 1.17 when it applied for the Florida tower registration, and also that the CEO was engaging in activities that require FCC authorization. According to the NAL, the CEO apparently provided false and misleading information on 42 separate change in ownership applications and communicated false information to the investigating agent. According to the Enforcement Bureau, the company also violated Section 403 of the Communications Act (the “Act”) by failing to respond to the LOI.
Under its statutory authority to penalize any party that “willfully or repeatedly fails to comply” with the Act or the FCC’s Rules, the FCC may issue up to a $19,639 forfeiture for each violation or each day of a continuing violation. Accordingly, the FCC proposed a fine of $19,639 for each of the 10 apparently false applications filed in the past year, $19,639 for the company’s alleged misleading statements to the investigating agent, and an additional $19,639 for its failure to respond to the FCC’s questions, for a total of $235,668.