Underwriting 101 – Via Consent Decree

Posted on August 31st, 2017 by

Most noncommercial stations have, over the years, carefully honed the process of preparing underwriting announcements in a way that meets the FCC’s standards, even though the minutiae of how to keep those legal is embodied in numerous FCC decisions over the last three decades. Notably, the frequency of FCC enforcement actions and published decisions about station violations of the noncommercial requirements has been sparse for the last several years (our best recollection is that the last decision was about two years ago, when the FCC dinged a station for listing too many product offerings in a row).

Well, the FCC has just taken an enforcement action against an NCE station, but in the form of a consent decree where the station “fesses up” to several violations of the underwriting rules, agrees to pay a fine ($8,800), and agrees to implement a detailed “compliance plan,” complete with compliance reports to the FCC for two years. The downside of a consent decree is that it does not offer details of the underwriting violations that occurred, and how the FCC interpreted them. We only know that the station admitted to them. The NCE station involved here is a low power FM station, which is required to operate noncommercially, and it did have other problems too. In fact, it was the subject of a petition for cancellation of its license for numerous rule violations, with the underwriting violations only being one area of noncompliance.

But, for all NCE stations out there, beware that (a) the FCC still cares about its underwriting policies, and (b) complaints about underwriting announcement non-compliance often come from third parties. If it has been awhile since you’re reviewed your NCE station underwriting policies, it might be a good time for a refresher. The Pai administration is certainly eliminating nonsensical regulations, but those that remain on the books will be enforced, and violators brought to account. We don’t see the Commission going on an enforcement binge against NCE stations over the nuanced underwriting rules, but it always pays to be vigilant and compliant.