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Florida Low-Power FM Station Has Liability Canceled by Media Bureau

LPFM was still admonished for willfully violating the FCC’s license renewal application rules

The Media Bureau has agreed to cancel a Notice of Apparent Liability against the licensee of an low-power FM station in Florida for a renewal violation — but not before the station was admonished by the Federal Communications Commission for operating without a license.

The bureau sent a liability notice to Minority Broadcasting Association, licensee of LPFM station WPJM in Palatka, Fla., for apparently willfully violating the FCC Rules by failing to file a license renewal application on time and engaging in unauthorized operation of the station.

[Read: LPFM Station Allowed to Resume Operations]

According to the rules, the bureau has the authority to set a base forfeiture of $3,000 for failing to file a required form. The guidelines also specify a base forfeiture of $10,000 for construction or operation without authorization. In Minority Broadcasting’s case, the bureau proposed a reduced forfeiture amount of $3,500 since the station is an LPFM and is providing a secondary service.

Minority Broadcasting responded to the commission’s notice and responded that its failure to file the application was not willful; rather, it resulted from unintentional oversight and argued that the commission did not give them enough opportunity to achieve compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act. Minority Broadcasting also requested cancellation of the notice due to an inability to pay.

But the bureau said that violations resulting from failure to become familiar with the FCC’s rules are still willful violations — even if the licensee didn’t intentionally set out to break the rules. As a result, the commission said it was not persuaded by Minority Broadcasting’s argument that the mistake was just an accident.

The bureau also said that Minority Broadcasting’s interpretation of the Administrative Procedure Act is also incorrect. The rules state that the suspension of an license is lawful only if the licensee has been given notice and an opportunity to achieve compliance. But here, the commission is not attempting to revoke or cancel the station’s license, so in this case the act has no standing, the bureau said.

The bureau also explained that in order for the commission to consider reducing or cancelling a forfeiture, the licensee must submit federal tax returns for the last three years or some other objective documentation showing the licensee’s current financial status. Minority Broadcasting said its financial status was clear: it doesn’t have a bank account and any funds needed for station operations are obtained through donations.

The commission accepted Minority Broadcasting’s showing that payment of the proposed forfeiture would create a financial hardship. The bureau also agreed to cancel the proposed forfeiture but not before admonishing Minority Broadcasting for its violation of the rules.