By: Scott R. Flick and Warren Kessler, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
As Otis Redding noted many years ago, “everybody makes a mistake sometimes.” As recent events have demonstrated, broadcasters should keep this in mind the next time they are presented with a regulatory fee, proposed fine or other bill from the FCC. Consider the curious case of a North Carolina FM station that was issued a $3,000 Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) for filing its license renewal application in October of last year when it should have filed by August 1 (with all other North Carolina radio stations). The problem with that? The station had actually timely filed its application on July 30, and the October “application” at the heart of the NAL was only an amendment. The FCC also seems to have pulled the trigger a little too soon on two North Carolina FM translator stations that both supposedly late-filed their license renewals despite neither having had a license to renew until after the license renewal application deadline had passed. To its credit, the Media Bureau published a series of orders only weeks later cancelling these NALs.
The lesson is that even the FCC makes mistakes from time to time, and it is always worth checking before opening your checkbook. This extends to annual regulatory fees, where it is not uncommon for broadcasters to be overbilled or underbilled. In case of overbilling, broadcasters should not expect the FCC to go out of its way to spot a math error and spontaneously reimburse the licensee. At the same time, should the FCC accidentally underbill, broadcasters are reminded that “licensees are solely responsible for accurately accounting for all licenses and for properly paying regulatory fees” (and of course the 25% late payment penalty and any interest accrued on the bill).