Failing to file a license renewal application on time can be a costly endeavor as four broadcasters found out after receiving apparent liability notices from the Federal Communications Commission.
A school district in Michigan and three houses of worship — in Ohio, Arkansas and Illinois — were issued forfeiture notices that ranged from $1,500 to $3,500.
The costliest forfeiture was handed out to Lighthouse Ministries of Northwest Ohio for $3,500. As licensee of WKJH(LP) in Bryan, Ohio, the FCC said that Lighthouse failed to file a timely license renewal application for the station. The commission said Lighthouse also willfully and repeatedly violated the Communications Act by continuing to operate the station even after its authorization expired.
FCC rules require that applications for a broadcast station license renewal must be filed by the first day of the fourth month prior to the expiration date of the license. In the case of Lighthouse, the renewal application should have been filed by June 1, 2020, which would have been four months prior to the license expiration date of Oct. 1 2020. But the commission said Lighthouse did not file any renewal. In early September, FCC staff let WKJH know that its license was to expire by midnight on Oct. 1. But no application was filed.
Then on Oct. 27, the licensee filed both an application and a petition for reconsideration requesting reinstatement of its license. In the petition, program director James Hollin explained that he mistakenly believed that the license renewal application wasn’t due until 2021. Hollin also said that family issues occurred at the time that the renewal application was due. Yet at no time did the licensee request special temporary authority (STA) to operate the station after its license officially expired.
But a line had been crossed. The FCC rules on failure to file are straightforward. The rules establish a base forfeiture of $3,000 for failing to file to required form. They also specify a separate base forfeiture of $10,000 for construction and/or operation without authorization.
Of course, the FCC has the leeway to adjust that amount upward or downward based on the nature and gravity of the violation.
While the FCC said it is sympathetic to Hollin’s family issues, it said it found that issuing a notice of apparent liability is still appropriate. “The licensee itself was ultimately responsible for ensuring it complied with the rules by filing a timely renewal application,” the commission said in its notice. “It did not do so.”
The commission initially found that a $7,000 forfeiture was appropriate. This decision was made because not only did the station allegedly fail to file its renewal application on time, it continued operating the station after the license expired and never filed an STA to request the right to operate the station after its license expired.
Since the station is an LPFM station — and is providing a secondary service — the commission decided to reduce the forfeiture from the base amount to $1,500 for the failure to file a timely license renewal application and to $2,000 for unauthorized operations, for a total of $3,500.
The situation was a similar one for WCHW(FM), a station licensed to Bay City School District, Bay City, Mich. It also failed to file a license renewal application on time. The FCC laid a base forfeiture of $3,000 at Bay City’s door but did not find the action to be a serious violation.
Two additional houses of worship — Amazing Grace Church in Paron, Ark., and Family Worship Center Church in Effingham, Ill. — were also each issued notices of apparent liability for $1,500 each. In the case of Family Worship Center, the FCC said the licensee allegedly failed to file a license renewal for FM translator station W204BG. The application, which was due on Aug. 3, 2020, wasn’t filed until mid-November 2020.
In its application, Family Worship Center Church said that it inadvertently failed to file a renewal application for the translator when it went about filing applications for its other translators and full-service stations in Illinois. In this case the FCC lowered the forfeiture from the base amount of $3,000 to $1,500 because the FCC said the station — as a translator — is providing a secondary service.
In Amazing Grace’s situation, the renewal application for KILB(LP) was filed about a month late. The application was due on Feb. 3, 2020, but was not filed until March 11, 2020. Amazing Grace provided no explanation for the untimely filing of the application. Just as in the case of Family Worship, the base forfeiture was reduced from $3,000 to $1,500 because, as an LPFM station, the station is providing a secondary service, the FCC said.
In all four cases, the commission has given each applicant 30 days to pay the full amount or file a written statement seeking reduction or cancellation of the proposed forfeiture.