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FCC Hands Down Fine in Translator Case

Licensee acknowledges some “erroneous data” but FCC finds no intention to deceive

The Federal Communications Commission has handed down a $9,000 fine to a licensee in Texas for alleged unauthorized operation and false certification of an FM translator.

It’s a case that also touches on the importance of truthfulness in applications, a qualification the FCC deems necessary when considering an application to operate a broadcast station in the public interest.

It began simply enough: On March 15, 2015, E-String Wireless applied to the FCC to reassign the license for its FM translator to Martin Broadcasting, the licensee of KZZB(AM), both of which are in Beaumont, Texas. KZZB is the primary station being rebroadcast on the translator.

Soon after, Southeast Texas Telecom (STT) filed a petition to deny the application, alleging that E-String willfully had made false statements in several applications to the FCC. Among the complaints: that E-String erroneously specified the existence of its transmitter at a certain site; in actuality, SST said, that tower had been destroyed eight years earlier by Hurricane Rita. Likewise, STT said that a photo in a 2013 application from that purported to be the aforementioned tower was actually a different tower. STT also argued that E-String operated its translator with parameters different from those specified in one of its modification applications and in the covering license application that E-String filed on Jan. 9, 2015

These examples, according to STT, call into question E-String’s candor and qualifications as a licensee, as well as those of Martin, who allegedly participated in this deception, STT wrote in its complaints to the FCC. STT urged the commission to deny the E-String application, revoke the license for the translator and sanction E-String and Martin for making false statements.

According to the FCC summary, E-String acknowledged some “erroneous data” in the applications and “technical deficiencies” in the constructed facility in a reply filed with the FCC. But E-String says that corrective action was taken, and argued that its errors do not rise to the level of misrepresentation or lack of candor.The company stated that it had not been aware that the tower in question no longer existed until STT filed its petition, adding that records were not updated to reflect that the tower had been destroyed until three months after E-String’s application filed. The inclusion of an incorrect photograph in the application packet was a mistake made by E-String’s consulting engineer, the company said.

E-String also contends there was no motive to deceive the commission about the translator’s operational status because the translator went off the air, pursuant to commission authority, in order to re-construct the facilities as specified in a subsequent application.

On Wednesday the FCC issued a combined opinion and order and notice of apparent liability, and handed down two separate fines to E-String: $5,000 for making false certification regarding construction of the modified facilities of the translator, and $4,000 for operating that translator with unauthorized facilities in violation of the FCC Rules. But the commission also considered the evidence submitted by E-String and found that the company did not intend to deceive the FCC, nor that its actions should eliminate it from holding a translator. It also decided that Martin was not complicit in the allegations.

But the FCC reiterated that the trait of truthfulness is a key element of character qualifications necessary to operate a broadcast station in the public interest. “Misrepresentation and lack of candor raise immediate concerns as to whether a licensee will be truthful in future dealings with the commission,” it wrote.

These kinds of mistakes have long shadows: In additon to the fine, the FCC is requiring that E-String submit a copy of the Notice of Apparent Liability any time over the next five years it submits a facility application to the FCC.