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Breakthrough for college radio? FCC rethinks rule violation fines

KIGCThe Federal Communications Commission says that it will ease up on the fines that it issues college radio stations when they violate the Commission’s procedures and rules, such as failure to submit ownership reports or adequately maintain a public inspection file. Now, rather than punish such stations with a Notice of Apparent Liability followed by a budget busting fine, the FCC will give them a chance to engage in a “consent decree” with the agency and make a “voluntary” contribution to the United States Treasury. This may seem like replacing six with half a dozen, but the new procedure could save struggling stations a lot of cash.

It certainly seems like it will do so in the case mentioned by the FCC: station KIGC-FM of William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Because of its apparent violations of various rules, the University was potentially looking down the barrel of a $20,000 forfeit, which is around three times KIGC’s annual budget.

But now the Commission says it is going to focus more on the larger, public interest picture. “Student-run radio stations play a unique role because they are incubators for talent as well as media outlets,” the agency’s Policy Statement and Order declares:

At the same time, increasing numbers of educational institutions facing daunting fiscal challenges have made the difficult decision to sell their valuable NCE radio stations. For example, in recent years, the University of San Francisco, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Barry University in Miami and Bard College in the Hudson River Valley have sold their stations. . . . We are concerned that imposing forfeitures at levels that are likely to exceed the annual budgets of student-run radio stations could exacerbate this trend, foreclosing opportunities for the education, training and real-world experience of current and future student volunteers by these stations.

Bottom line: the FCC has negotiated a $2,500 voluntary consent fee for KIGC, reflecting the uncertain fiscal situation in which the station finds itself. The fine is “substantially below the level indicated in our forfeiture guidelines for such violations but appropriate in light of the totality of circumstances presented,” the Commission notes.

More from the FCC’s Policy Statement:

[William Penn] University’s operation of the Station is a good example of the important role that an NCE [non-commercial educational] radio station can play in the educational mission of a school. The University is a small liberal arts institution of higher learning founded by Quakers and located in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The University’s mission statement calls for an educational experience with a focus on leadership, technology, and the Quaker principles of simplicity, peacemaking, integrity, community, and equality. To advance the school’s commitment to technology education, the University has been the licensee of the Station for more than 30 years. The University makes use of the Station in conjunction with its digital communications degree program, which affords students the opportunity to learn the skills needed for employment in both traditional and new media. The Station is staffed entirely by students and overseen by a faculty advisor. In recent years, the Station’s annual budget was $7,000, but this year it was reduced to $6,650, which reflects an across-the-board five percent reduction for many University operations. The Station transmits its signal with less than 250 watts of power.

The FCC says it isn’t changing its policies regarding rule compliance, but adds that “in the particular context of student-run NCE stations, where high student volunteer turnover and limited resources for training and oversight are endemic,” this adjustment will encourage better adherence to Commission rules.

Hopefully it will also convince a college administration or two not to sell their student run frequency to the highest bidder. We asked long time public interest advocate Andrew Schwartzman for a comment on the decision. “Sensible,” was his reply.


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