When you agree to pay a fine, the FCC really does expect you to pay the fine.
It turns out that, sometimes, the job’s not over even after the paperwork is done. An AM licensee found that out the hard way when it got slapped with a $25,000 notice of apparent liability for failing to take care of a couple of items on a to-do list that it had promised the Enforcement Bureau it would take care of.
The story starts back in 2005, when the licensee (real name: “A Radio Company, Inc.”) received a notice of apparent liability for a short laundry list of problems, including incomplete public file, inadequate tower fencing, and operating with unauthorized facilities (seems the directional AM was using its daytime directional pattern at night). Total damage: $15,000.
The licensee dickered over the details and managed to get the fine backed down a grand (in 2007), but it kept the ball in play by appealing parts of the remaining $14K fine. In 2008, the licensee entered into a Consent Decree with the Enforcement Bureau that shaved another $6,000 off the bottom line. So at that point the licensee was looking at an $8,000 fine, a bit more than half the original amount. According to the Consent Decree, all the licensee had to do was pay the fine, set up a “Compliance Plan” designed to prevent future violations, and file three (count ’em, three) “compliance reports” with the Commission – one 90 days after the Consent Decree, the second a year after, the third two years after – confirming that the Compliance Plan was up and running. Good deal, right?
Apparently not good enough.
Despite the fact that it had negotiated a pretty sweet deal and had signed off on all the paperwork to tie that deal down, the licensee managed to slip up. In the most recent NAL, the Enforcement Bureau observes that A Radio Company never got around to filing its last compliance report. Oh yeah, and it never paid the fine. Well, actually, it apparently did send in a check, but the check bounced for insufficient funds, and the licensee didn’t bother to follow up with, like, a good check. (Important practice note: tendering an NSF check to the FCC does not constitute payment of the fine. Who knew?)
So now the Enforcement Bureau has lowered the boom to the tune of $25,000 – for the licensee’s failure to comply with the terms of the Consent Decree. And while the most recent NAL doesn’t directly address the question of the $8K that remains unpaid from the Consent Decree, it wouldn’t surprise us if the $6,000 Consent Decree Discount is now off the table (and possibly also the extra $1,000 discount the Bureau agreed to in 2007). If we’re guessing right, the licensee would now appear to be on the hook for $40K or so. Ouch.
The take-home lesson here is simple: if you do enter into a Consent Decree with the Commission, make sure that you know and understand exactly what is expected of you. If the Decree imposes chores that extend over a period of time – for example, the periodic submission of compliance reports – mark those chores in your calendar and make sure that they are tended to. And make sure your check clears.
As the A Radio Company case demonstrates, failure to follow up on Consent Decree-imposed obligations can be considerably more expensive than the original fine.