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LPFM Watch: FCC Investigating Guel Applications

This week the number of new LPFM application grants crossed the 1000 mark, with the tally increasing daily. Amid the grants, the FCC also issued a Letter of Inquiry to Hispanic Christian Community Network president Antonio Cesar Guel. In its letter dated February 21, the FCC is seeking more information about 14 applications prepared by Guel, including 9 for new LPFM stations in Texas.

As we’ve reported previously, several groups have expressed concern about some of the 200+ applications prepared by Guel, with REC Networks filing an Informal Objection against 245 applications, Common Frequency filing Petitions to Deny against 63 applications, Prometheus filing informal objections against several applications, and Rice University filing informal objections against 15 applications in the Houston area. In each case, it’s asserted that these applications do not represent actual, local organizations. In the face of these protests, Guel’s attorney filed an objection to the objections and continues to file amendments to various applications. In its letter of inquiry, the FCC writes,

The Bureau is investigating potential statutory and rule violations and related instances of potential misrepresentation and/or lack of candor in connection with the Applications. Specifically, the Bureau is investigating (a) the authenticity of the applicants and the parties to the Applications, (b) the validity of information provided in and certifications made in the Applications, and (c) compliance with the ownership and application limits that apply to LPFM applicants.

Guel is being given 30 days in order to provide more detail about each of the applications, including specific information about main studio locations, transmitter sites, and organizational personnel. Thus far, no Guel-penned applications have been granted and 73 have been dismissed, including a few this week (Miami Hispanic Community Radio, Cedar Hill Hispanic Community Church, Fords Hispanic Community Radio, and Alexandria Hispanic Community Radio).

In a statement this week, Michelle Bradley of REC Networks praised the FCC for investigating these applications. She writes,

Our only hope at this time is that the FCC act on these applications as quickly as possible as they will impact the standing of the other pending applications…Our filing of the objection was not influenced by profit but by integrity.  Citizens are the eyes and ears for the FCC.  The FCC works for us and they depend on us to alert them to potential issues.  LPFM does not belong to the big corporations, even the  big non-commercial corporations.  It belongs to citizens and residents of our great nation.  It’s only a small piece of the pie but REC and the other advocates will do everything we can to defend every morsel of it.

Overall, we’re still seeing a wide array of non-profits being granted applications, from colleges to school districts to cities to Elks Lodges to arts organizations to church groups. In culling through applications, it’s hard to determine the number of applicants who are affiliated with larger organizations. In some cases, similarly named groups may just share a faith or possibly administrative support in completing applications, yet in other cases, there could be an attempt by one individual or group to accumulate as much of the radio band as possible.

In addition to REC Networks’ work in investigating the Guel applications, Prometheus Radio Project has been carefully monitoring LPFM applications for improprieties. According to Prometheus’ Policy Director Sanjay Jolly,

There were a whole host of mass filers in the LPFM window. Most mass-filed applications came from just a few religious broadcasters. Hispanic Christian Community Network appears to be the biggest, with about 250 applications. Sterling Communications Group is another, with about 150 applications. A Seventh Day Adventist group also mass-filed a bunch of LPFM applications throughout the country. Prometheus has filed or is in the process of filing informal objections or petitions to deny against applicants from all of these groups.

Jolly also pointed out that some mass-filers are small, filing “2 to 5 applications in a single market. They’re identifiable by having identical missions statements and/or because their parties to the application all share the same surname.”

At Radio Survivor we will continue to monitor developments surrounding LPFM, from the mass-filers to the tiniest of applicants.

LPFM Watch is a weekly feature on Radio Survivor appearing every Thursday.

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6 Responses to LPFM Watch: FCC Investigating Guel Applications

  1. kml February 27, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    What about filing multiple applications with the intent to combine points from the onset? Have you seen much of that sort of bid-rigging or will that come up after the singletons are processed and tentative selectees are announced?

    • Jennifer Waits February 27, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

      I haven’t been digging into that information yet, as I’ve been focused more on the huge number of singletons that have been processed. Should be interesting to see what happens as the MX groups are dealt with!

  2. Contract Engineer March 2, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

    There is one applicant thats now a singleton that was filed by Guel in my area of NJ. I looked up the directors to find I actually know them.They are a real group, and If it is granted. I am hoping to build their facilities for them. in fact they are on the same Freq as my LPFM. the only thing I worry about is From their proposed TX site. They Could Possibly interfere with my LPFM.

    I know the Guys at Sterling Comunications. They are legit P.E. broadcast consultants. I don’t understand why Sanjay Jolly has an issue with them or their applications.

    Want to talk about a group trying to own a City full of LPFM’s look at Columbus ,Ohio.
    The Neighborhood Network.. they already have an LPFM license. looking to change Freq.
    and FILM COUNCIL OF GREATER COLUMBUS, INC which has become a singleton..
    all 4 of these are the same players… same TX site, Same Board members, Same Address and Phone number, same studio location.. and they already have 1 station.. these should all be dismissed.
    do the research you will find what I found. BTW looking at the apps.. apparently the board members all live at the studios. FCC,and REC should Open their eyes to these applications..

    • Jennifer Waits March 3, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

      Thanks for sharing some perspective on this.

  3. Bill March 4, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    Great article about these issues. I think I might understand why Prometheus wants to look at Sterling’s applications. The programming descriptions are all the same as they were in the first LPFM filing window. The wording, it seems, is designed to gain easy approval by the FCC. In essence it’s part of the dance you dance. Just as an employer claimed his purpose for their station was to provide a 24/7 entertainment source for the under 21 crowd since they had few local sources of entertainment. The under 21 did listen by default but we wanted the 30 year old female and the university listening since that’s what advertisers wanted. Again the dance was danced. If my employer said otherwise, it would be less attractive to the FCC.

    This brings up an interesting situation. While the FCC wants a programming description, the FCC does not regulate formats and says so. In that respect, the descriptions do not matter and it does not matter if the description is followed by the applicant when the station hits the airwaves. Many of Sterling’s applicants do not follow the description. Any question is simply remedied by saying “with further research we concluded the initial programming description was lacking for our service area so we chose to serve a segment underserved by current radio options.”

    The only question might be if the blanket programming statement constitutes a lack of candor. Since programming choices are not regulated by the FCC, it seems it would not be.

    Sterling, for example, is an engineering firm that does work for many broadcasters. In fact LPFM barely rates a blip on their revenue radar, more akin to a Christmas bonus versus your annual salary. All the applications filed are customers that paid for their engineering services. Prometheus can easily resolve their questions by requesting receipts from any of Sterling’s applicants to prove this.

    I cannot speak for Guel. Even so, it does not look good.

    There have been many tricks pulled by some Christian organizations. One 7th Day Adventist group contacts congregations and helps them only if they chose to host a station. They are not even required to carry any programming the 7th Day Adventist group offers although we know many if not almost all do. I’d think they are on the up and up. I can’t see where any of their actions might overstep FCC Rules.

    A friend was one of eight parties trying for an FM frequency. When it came time to work things out, he visited the president of the board shown on an application for a Catholic Parish. The man was shocked there was an application and furious his name was attached to a document he had no knowledge of. After visiting his priest, he learned the application had been filed by an entity without their knowledge and that this was a common practice for this group who took names from Church Directories to complete applications. Unfortunately, they’re still active because the FCC is so cash strapped that tracking down everything costs just too much time and money. So far, no private group has done enough footwork to present enough factual information for the FCC to act. Simply put, the FCC can only spend so much and it’s the bigger fish they try to catch because they must replenish as much of those dollars as they can.

    The odd thing is everybody knows about all this ‘funny stuff’, including the FCC but until they get caught with their hands in the cookie jar, they’ll continue. In Guel’s case, REC was likely the deciding factor that made the FCC look harder. It’s not that they didn’t want to but it took a private party to force the issue.

    I don’t mind being questioned, even by a private party. I resent being figured of doing something shady like anyone else, but with nothing to hide, I’ll gladly answer questions. And I’m glad the questions are being asked. I think anybody who is legit will welcome questions as I do.

    This is the underbelly of radio but it’s not all like that. Almost all of us in radio love it, are passionate about it and feel a need to serve our communities just as a police officer wants to serve or a teacher or medical professional finds satisfaction is serving. We want to do it right, by the rules and above board because we cannot imagine doing anything else.

  4. Michi Bradley March 5, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

    Great comments on here. Speaking for REC, let me address some of the issues/statements brought up…

    – Why did REC address the Cesar Guel applications? Mainly because unlike the other suspicious applications that were filed in this window, these stood out like a serious sore thumb with nearly identical names and precisely the same educational statement (even for veteran and African American groups as well as the “Wealth Information Network Station” in CA). Also, Cesar Guel also was involved with similar applications 14 years ago during the original LPFM filing window. This time, it was much more egregious. There is activity going on with some of the applications that had Guel’s involvement but I am not at liberty at this time to discuss this further.

    – On Sterling, it is my opinion that they filed some junk in this application window. I am not ready to say that they have filed on behalf of non-existent organizations but the quality of many of their applications are very bad (from legal and technical standpoints) and are subject to challenge. If the Sterling applications are for legit organizations, they have done their customers a total disservice.

    – Did REC’s informal objection trigger the Letter of Inquiry against Cesar Guel? In my opinion, no. I think that while the REC Informal Objection called early attention to the issue and triggered discussion in the trade media about the subject of boilerplate applications in the LPFM service, I really think that it was also the Informal Objections and Petitions to Deny that were filed by the other members of the “big-three” advocates (Prometheus and Common Frequency) as well as the many objections filed by other LPFM applicants, full power licensees and private citizens who care about the future of FM.

    – As far as other smaller groups of applicants and those that may be filed to intentionally aggregate their points to win the channel. I am aware of several of these groups around the country. I feel that these organizations could be better addressed by the local communities where these applicants are. If there are four 5-point applicants in a MX group (or even three 5-pointers and a 4-pointer) and three of the 5-pointers aggregate and there’s a suspicion that the applicants colluded prior to the window to file in this manner in order to aggregate, the lone applicant should file a Petition to Deny at the appropriate time. This would fall under §73.3525(a)(2) that requires that settlement agreements include a statement that the application “…was not filed for the purpose of reaching or carrying out such agreement”. If there is one thing the FCC does not like, it is being lied to. If your argument is compelling enough, it could trigger an FCC inquiry similar to what is going on with Cesar Guel at this time.

    – REC can not file Petitions to Deny in any case since we are not a party of interest as we are not a competing application or a listener within the proposed service area of the LPFM station however anyone can file an Informal Objection. We may file Petitions to Deny in the course of representing the interests of our clients when it is appropriate.

    – We had filed an application through Cesar Guel’s HCCN and it is being objected against but it is a legit organization. How can we get the REC IO withdrawn? REC is still investigating if there are any applicants that are real clients of HCCN. REC has proposed that if applicants can provide a notarized statement from all parties on the original application bearing the notary seal of a county within the service area of the proposed LPFM station and their educational statement is re-written to reflect the specific organization and how it will serve the community, we will withdraw our IO.

    – On the Cesar Guel issue, REC is currently focusing on just over 50 pending singleton applications that, if dismissed, would result in many “bail-out” channels for quite a few MX applicants. It is my hope that the Guel issue is resolved fully prior to the MX settlement window(s) starting, especially in those markets where their applicants have a direct impact.

    – Do you think the MX Settlement Window is being held up because of the Cesar Guel letter of inquiry? That one is difficult to say unless you are on a fly on the wall at the Audio Division. I personally think that it is slowing down the process. I also think the FCC Is trying to get as many of the singletons granted. I am pretty sure the FCC is right now going through the MX groups looking at the applications and their acceptability for filing and then placing the defective applications into “groups” based on the reason why they should be dismissed. The FCC did a similar thing in the days following the close of the window and the release of the applications. I think we will see some dismissals in the MX groups prior to the settlement window being opened.

    I have many pending questions to the FCC about the upcoming MX settlement process. Once I get answers, I will update

    Michi Bradley
    founder, REC Networks

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