A recent FCC Notice of Apparent Liability ("NAL") for $13,000 against a Florida broadcaster serves as a costly reminder that stations must operate in accordance with the FCC’s Rules, and more notably, as specifically authorized in their station license. According to the NAL, the Florida broadcaster failed to heed a verbal warning from Tampa field agents that its station was operating beyond the technical parameters of its authorization. The NAL stated that the Tampa field agents, pursuant to an investigation and following two complaints, took field strength measurements on five separate occasions and visited the station’s transmitter site on two separate occasions over approximately 11 months between October 2009 and September 2010. Field measurements undertaken in October 2009 and early February 2010 indicated that the station was operating with a power level well in excess of its authorization in violation of Section 74.1235(e) of the FCC’s Rules, which states, "[i]n no event shall a station authorized under this subpart be operated with a transmitter power output (TPO) in excess of the transmitter certificated rating and the TPO shall not be more than 105 percent of the authorized TPO."
In late February 2010, the Tampa field agents inspected the transmitter site, took a third set of field measurements and spoke to the licensee’s president. The Tampa field agents stated that, at the time of the inspection, the station was operating with a power level 280% higher than authorized by the FCC. Additionally, the Tampa field agents observed that the transmitter site included a two tower array even though the station was only authorized for operation with a single tower, a violation of Section 73.1350, which states, "[e]ach licensee is responsible for maintaining and operating its broadcast station in a manner which complies with the technical rules set forth elsewhere in this part and in accordance with the terms of the station authorization." Prior to the conclusion of the site inspection, the station’s power level was reduced to the authorized level. Following two subsequent interference complaints in late September 2010, the Tampa field agents again took field strength measurements and conducted the second site inspection. The Tampa field agents discovered that the station was again operating at power level well in excess of 200% of its authorized operation.
In addition, they found that the licensee was continuing to transmit from the unauthorized two tower array. The base fines for both violations are $4,000 for excessive power and $5,000 for unauthorized equipment. Section 503 of the United States Code provides the FCC with the authority to adjust the penalties downward or upward based on the "nature, circumstances, extent and gravity of the violations, and with respect to the violator, the degree of culpability, any history of prior offenses, ability to pay, and other such matters as justice may require." The $13,000 fine included a $4,000 upward adjustment for what the FCC declared a "deliberate disregard" for the FCC's Rules.