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FCC Paperwork Confusion May Cost R.I. Broadcaster

Diponti Communications didn’t realize its newly acquired translator had a short-term license

A Rhode Island broadcaster faces a $7,000 fine because for almost three years it operated an FM translator on an expired license without realizing it.

The FCC Media Bureau issued a notice of apparent liability to Diponti Communications, whose translator at 103.1 in Westerly, R.I., is associated with AM station WBLQ (slogan: “We serve Southwestern Rhode Island and Southeastern Connecticut with local news, talk, sports and great music”).

The eight-year license renewal deadline for most stations in Rhode Island isn’t until this December. But not for this particular translator, which until early 2017 belonged to Harvest Broadcasting Association and was licensed to a community in Vermont.

In late 2016, Harvest had signed a consent decree with the commission that included a conditional one-year short-term renewal for the translator. Shortly afterwards, Diponti acquired the translator and, with the FCC’s approval, moved it to Rhode Island.

The FCC said Diponti should have filed for renewal by July 1, 2017. But Diponti said it didn’t realize until 2020, “during a routine database check,” that an application was long overdue. It finally filed one in September of last year and asked for special temporary authority to operate without the license until the situation was resolved.

The Media Bureau now has determined that Diponti apparently violated the rules by failing to file for renewal on time and by operating without a license.

It cited a previous FCC ruling that states, “‘Inadvertence’ … is at best ignorance of the law, which the commission does not consider a mitigating circumstance.” It also said Diponti should have known about the Harvest consent decree and the short-term renewal deadline through due diligence when it acquired the translator.

However, the FCC staff also recognized that this case is not comparable to one involving a “pirate” radio operation, which would have been subject to higher penalties. And the FCC said it sees no reason not to renew this translator’s license once this NAL is resolved.

Diponti has 30 days to pay the fine or to reply explaining why it thinks it shouldn’t have to.