Keeping up with the cost-of-living …

moneybag-1If you happened to feel a vague, somewhat disturbing, shudder recently, don’t worry: it was just the upper limit of potential FCC fines being raised across the board. By Order effective July 1, 2016 (or maybe August 1 – we’ll get to that), the Commission followed up on a Congressional directive to factor in a cost-of-living increase for the various maximum penalties listed in various places in the Communications Act. If you hadn’t guessed, the goal is to deter you and others from violating the Act and the FCC’s various rules, orders and instruments of authorization. 

Note that this does not change the specific base-line fines for particular rule violations listed in the Commission’s rules. Rather, it alters only the maximum possible penalties for such violations. As a result, for example, previously a broadcaster found guilty of violating any of the rules or the terms of its authorization could get whacked no more than $25,000 per violation, with a total cap of $250,000 for any continuing violation. But now, thanks to the FCC’s recent order, those numbers have jumped to $47,340 and $473,402, respectively. Perhaps more daunting, the maximum penalty for a broadcast indecency violation – already steep at the original level of $325,000 per violation (capped at $3,000,000 for a continuing violation) – is now $383,038 per, with a new overall cap of $3,535,740. 

Common carrier and other non-broadcast maximum fines will increase as well. If these might affect you, check the order linked above. 

For violations of the equipment authorization rules, the base fines likewise remain unchanged, but the actual fines assessed may go up anyway. The upward adjustments for a single offense – or a single day of a continuing offense – will be able to reach $18,936 per model of device involved, up from $16,000. Over multiple days, the total can hit $142,021, up from $122,500. Fortunately, except for this case involving a $34.9 million fine, recent per-day assessments for equipment violations have been rare. 

The FCC’s Order spells out how these numbers were calculated, and how they will be re-calculated going forward – and they will be re-calculated, repeatedly, because Congress wants such adjustments performed annually from here on out. (Look for the next adjustment by January 15, 2017.) But it probably doesn’t make much difference to you how the numbers are arrived at. Rather, the only important question is what the numbers are. 

Of course, none of this should matter to anyone who makes a practice of sticking to the straight and narrow by complying with all the rules, etc. We strongly recommend that course. But if you need any more encouragement, just remember that the potential penalties are not likely be getting any smaller. 

Oh, and the effective date? According to Paragraph 11 of the Order itself, the changes became effective as of July 1, 2016. And when the Order found its way into the Federal Register, Paragraph 11 still said July 1 was the date … but up at the top of the order the folks at the Government Printing Office inserted a paragraph saying that the effective date is August 1. Ordinarily the Federal Register version tends to be the Official Version, which would suggest that August 1 is the real effective date. But as a practical matter it probably doesn’t make any difference: August 1 will be around soon enough, and it’s unlikely that anybody is going to get whacked between now and then with a fine higher than the pre-Order levels would have permitted. Still, we thought you’d like to know.