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When You Use CDBS, Be Sure to Hit the ‘File Form’ Button

A former Alabama station owner finds out the hard way

Here’s an FCC fine that will be of interest to anyone who has relied on the CDBS system for important transactions with the commission.

Dewey Lankford will have to pay $7,000 for failing to file a license renewal and for unauthorized operation of an AM in Alabama. The Federal Communications Commission has confirmed a fine issued three years ago. Lankford had appealed, asking the FCC to cancel it. (Though he sold the station in 2006, the fine discussion predates the sale.)

The station is WANA in Anniston, Ala. Lankford’s renewal should have been filed on Dec. 1, 2003 but wasn’t, the commission said, so his license expired in April 2004. Almost a year later, the FCC staff wrote to Lankford telling him he didn’t have a valid license and to stop broadcasting.

Lankford then told the commission he thought he had filed the renewal application through the commission’s Consolidated Data Base System (“CDBS”) in a timely way.

“Specifically, Lankford claimed that CDBS showed that the application’s status was ‘valid’ and stated that, to a novice user such as him, that denotation signaled that the application was on course,” the FCC states in its fine ruling. “It was not until he received the March 17, 2005, letter that he realized that the application had never been properly tendered.”

The Media Bureau eventually gave him special temporary authority to operate but found him apparently liable for the fine for failure to timely file and for the earlier unauthorized operation.

“Lankford indicates that because of his lack of familiarity with the commission’s electronic filing procedures, he mistakenly believed that he had electronically filed the renewal application in a timely fashion. As the commission has held, however, violations resulting from inadvertent error or failure to become familiar with the FCC’s requirements are willful violations.” The FCC says a violation doesn’t have to be intentional to be considered willful.

As to the question of technical problems with CDBS, Lankford noted that the FCC had extended the renewal application deadline for Alabama and Georgia radio broadcast licensees by a week due to difficulties with CDBS and argued that his lawyer had e-mailed the FCC documenting technical difficulties with CDBS when the firm tried to file for other stations.

“This documentation not only fails to substantiate Lankford’s claim that the commission was responsible for his failure to timely file his renewal application, but in fact, works against it,” the commission replied.

If there had been technical difficulties, it found, the Media Bureau had already compensated for them by extending the renewal filing deadline. Also, “screen shots provided by Lankford in an exhibit to his Request indicate that CDBS was working properly but that Lankford failed to complete the filing process by hitting the ‘File Form’ button. … We can only conclude that it was Lankford that was responsible for the failure to file his renewal application before the filing deadline.”

The station, now silent, was sold to Jacobs Broadcast Group Inc. in 2006.