Tales from the crypt: Video Division reaches into grave to yank Class A tickets

 We have previously written about the Commission’s apparent quest to move as many Class A television stations back into the LPTV category as possible.  Presumably this quest is motivated by the Commission’s seemingly all-consuming urge to free up as much TV spectrum as possible for “repurposing”. 

That urge has now driven the Commission’s Video Division to reach into the grave to take a couple of Class A authorizations back from a dead guy. (The two orders may be found here and here.)

The case involves two Class A – er, one-time Class A, at least as of today – stations in Texas licensed to a gentleman named Humberto Lopez. Back in March, 2011, when the stations were both still card-carrying members of the Class A Universe, the Video Division asked how come Mr. Lopez apparently hadn’t filed children’s TV reports (FCC Form 398) for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Commission records revealed no such reports, so the reasonable assumption was that no such reports had been filed – but the March, 2011 inquiries were designed to give Mr. Lopez the chance to set things straight.

Wouldn’t you know it, Mr. Lopez died in May, 2011, within a month or two of the FCC’s inquiries. It’s hard to respond to FCC questions where you’re, um, dead.

The Commission followed up its March, 2011 inquiries with more inquiries in August, 2011. By then, of course, Mr. Lopez was long gone, although, in fairness, the Commission may not have been aware of the licensee’s unfortunate demise at that point.

But the Commission was for sure aware of his demise by November, 2011, when the executor of gone-but-not-forgotten Mr. Lopez’s estate filed an application (FCC Form 316) for consent to the assignment of the license to the executor. Such applications are standard operating procedure; they are routinely granted in a matter of days.

Not so in this case. According to CDBS, that 316 is still pending, more than five months after it was filed.

Of course, until that application is granted, Mr. Lopez technically remains the licensee, and his executor (who is not the licensee) is technically not in a position to respond to inquiries directed to the licensee.

So what does the Video Division do? Knowing that the licensee is dead, and knowing also that the licensee’s executor is not in a position to formally respond to Commission inquiries addressed to the licensee, the Video Division issued show cause orders to Mr. Lopez in February, 2012. Those orders proposed to reclassify the two Class A stations to LPTV status. 

To no one’s great surprise, Mr. Lopez, being dead and all, did not respond to those orders.

And now the Division has held that, because of his lack of response, the Division will “deem him to have accepted the modification of [his licenses] to low power television status”.

We understand that the Commission is on what it perceives to be a desperate quest for TV spectrum. And we get that Class A stations that no longer qualify for Class A status may look like low-hanging fruit in that quest. But really, is the Commission so desperate that it has to engage in grave-robbing?  Since Mr. Lopez had been dead for nearly a year by the time the Division issued its show cause orders, isn’t it more than a little inappropriate for the FCC to draw any conclusions from his failure to respond to those orders?

It may be true that the late Mr. Lopez failed to file KidVid reports. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he didn’t air the programming or place appropriate reports in his public files. Wouldn’t it be at least fair (not to mention decent) to grant the Form 316 application and then accord the new licensee a reasonable time to investigate the situation and respond accordingly? 

In the alternative, shouldn’t the Commission try to check – maybe with a Ouija board – exactly what the licensee meant by not responding?