Flawed FCC fine appeal denied


Tennessee Technological University has gotten a lesson in the need to study regulations as well as technology. First it got fined by the FCC, and now has gotten smacked down for not following procedures with its appeal. Oh, and the appeal was denied.

The University was fined $1,500 last year for being late with its license renewal filing for WTTU-FM Cookeville, TN. The station is a Class A with 2kw on 88.5 MHz. It is non-commercial, of course, and features rock programming with student announcers. 

Like so many small or non-commercial stations facing FCC fines, the WTTU licensee appealed on the basis of financial hardship. To support that claim the University attached a copy of its annual budget for the radio station. In turning down the request for a reduced fine, the FCC noted that the licensee should have paid closer attention to what was written in the Notice of Apparent Liability about grounds for appealing the amount of the fine.

“As noted in the NAL, the Commission will not consider reducing or canceling a forfeiture in response to a claim of inability to pay unless the party against which the forfeiture is proposed submits: (1) federal tax returns for the most recent three year period; (2) financial statements prepared according to generally accepted accounting principles (‘GAAP’); or (3) some other reliable and objective documentation that accurately reflected the party’s current financial status.  Any claim of inability to pay must specifically identify the basis for the claim by reference to the financial documentation submitted.
Typically, a licensee’s gross revenues are the best indicator of its ability to pay a forfeiture. Here, however, TTU does not submit a tax return or any comparable showing of its revenues.  Rather, it submits the Station’s yearly budget, which provides no information about TTU’s revenues. It thus fails to meet the standard of ‘other reliable and objective documentation’ sufficient to establish TTU’s current financial status. Accordingly, we find that it cannot be used to support TTU’s claim of its inability to pay. In the absence of sufficient information to support a decision to the contrary, we decline to cancel or reduce the proposed forfeiture on this basis.”

So, the $1,500 fine stands.

RBR-TVBR observation: From years of reporting on FCC fines, what stands out is that most of them could have been easily avoided. All that is required is that a licensee make the effort to learn the FCC’s rules and be sure to maintain the correct paperwork, file the correct forms on time, make the correct payments and always follow the directions. If your station is small and doesn’t have a communications attorney on retainer (they’re not really that expensive for routine matters) just pick up the phone and call the FCC’s Media Bureau to make sure you’re doing the right thing. Don’t try to wing it.