FCC Kicks Off 2020 With Big Settlements

Posted on January 31st, 2020 by

We’re hoping it isn’t a New Year’s Resolution, but the FCC published three Consent Decrees settling various rule violations with broadcasters.  In each, broadcasters agreed to pay large monetary penalties.

The largest was $1,130,000 To Scripps Broadcasting for violations of the FCC’s tower light monitoring rules.  The investigation into Scripps’ tower light monitoring began after a plane crashed into a station’s tower.  The case also included instances where tower ownership changes were not timely reported to the FCC.  Section 17.47(a) of the FCC’s rules requires antenna structure owners to monitor tower lighting by either making a visual observation every 24 hours or by providing an automatic alarm system that detects light failures.  When a tower changes ownership, a change of ownership must be completed within five days.

Next up was a university radio station agreeing to pay $76,000 for repeated violations of the FCC’s underwriting policies.  That case began with a complaint that recorded several commercials on the stations.  The violations continued for an extended period.

Finally, another large broadcast owner agreed to pay $50,000 for repeated violations of the FCC’s rules prohibiting the broadcast of prerecorded programming as “live” without previously announcing that the programming is actually prerecorded.  Under 73.1208 of the rules, any taped, filmed, or recorded program material in which time is of special significance, or by which an affirmative attempt is made to create the impression that it is occurring simultaneously with the broadcast, must be identified by the station as taped, filmed or recorded.  This case began with a complaint from the public that the host of a program that sounded live violated the rule because the host had previously passed away.

In all three proceedings, the broadcaster also agreed to a compliance and reporting program. The requirements of such programs are tedious and time-consuming, and require periodic reports to the FCC on whether or not the remedial compliance efforts are being fulfilled.  It’s kind of like the FCC looking over your shoulder, sometimes for as long as three years.  Exciting stuff.