Does it really matter if your broadcast facility is just a little off — say 256 feet — from its permitted coordinates? What about if those coordinates are more than two miles off?
Those were the issues up for debate between the Federal Communications Commission and a low-power broadcaster in Nevada who is now is left with an expired license and deleted call letters after failing to convince the FCC that an unauthorized broadcasting claim was just a simple mistake.
Back in early August 2019, Chinese Voice of Golden City filed an application to modify its license for KQLS(LP) in Las Vegas to correct the coordinates of its antenna site.
An “inadvertent error” led Chinese Voice to actually operate its facility 256 feet away from the spot specified in the license, the broadcaster said. Chinese Voice was confused why the FCC granted its initial application in mid-August 2019 and then four days later rescinded the license grant, saying that it was never told why — the station continued operating in full compliance with the commission rules, albeit at a location 256 feet away from its licensed spot.
Chinese Voice said that since its Chinese-language programming serves the public interest, the FCC would do well to grant the station a Special Temporary Authority to keep broadcasting at the same site.
The Media Bureau responded to say that while the licensee correctly determined that its coordinates were off by 256 feet, any change in station geographic coordinates can only be made after a construction grant permit has been approved. That means that Chinese Voice has been operating at an unauthorized site for more than a year.
The actions from those kinds of unauthorized actions are significant: expiration of the license and deletion of call letters for stations operating at an unauthorized facility for 12 months or longer. As a result, the bureau dismissed both the earlier modification application request and the request for an STA and outright deleted the station’s call sign.
Chinese Voice filed a petition for reconsideration but that too was denied. The facts of this case do not support reinstatement of the license, the bureau said, for two reasons. One, Chinese Voice used a license modification application to request the coordinate change (which is the wrong way to go about it). Two, the FCC can only reinstate an expired license when failure to broadcast at the proper site “was for a compelling reason beyond the licensee’s control.” That was not the case here, the bureau said.
Chinese Voice tried again, filing an application for review and asking the bureau to review its earlier decision. It was at this point that the results of the Enforcement Bureau’s 2019 investigations were revealed.
The Enforcement Bureau found that even though the station admitted that it had been using a mobile facility to operate 256 feet away from the official permit site, it also subsequently relocated the station —without commission approval — to a different rooftop location that is nearly 2.3 miles from the permitted site. Following Enforcement Bureau inspections, Chinese Voice then stopped operating from that site and resumed operations at its mobile facilities.
Failing to mention that the station had been operating for 15 months a spot more than 2 miles away was a significant finding. In its final opinion and order on the matter, the Media Bureau found that Chinese Voice may have “withheld material information … and made incorrect statements to the commission … when it repeatedly claimed that the station’s actual transmitter site was never changed.” As a result, the bureau speculated that the licensee had perhaps “engaged in misrepresentation and/or lack of candor.”
The result: The call letters for KQLS have been deleted and the license has expired. Looking ahead, the bureau said it will require Chinese Voice to attach a copy of its final reconsideration order to any broadcast application filed within the next five years.
The nonprofit Common Frequency called the decision a “major let-down,” saying the FCC’s final opinion and order reveals a weakness in LPFM rules. How accurate does an LPFM permittee need to be when building their facility, asked Todd Urick, program and technical director of Common Frequency. “The commission’s Section 73.1690(c)(11) of the rules gives leeway to many facilities that currently are not exactly on the cross-hairs of their licensed coordinates. Is that same comfort not extended to LPFM?”
“This oversight in the rules needs further clarification or amendment within the LPFM rules,” he said.