FAQ: It's getting close to the license expiration date and the renewal is still not granted. What now?
First and foremost, it is important to know that as long as your station has filed their renewal application, your station will continue to have authority to broadcast after the license expiration date pending further action from the FCC. This is the case even if you filed after the designated filing deadline (4 months before expiration) as long as you filed before the license expiration date.
Normally, the FCC will start renewing licenses in bulk about 2 weeks before the license expiration date. Licenses granted in bulk are those that are in perfect condition. Licenses that are not granted during the bulk runs usually fall under one or more of the following reasons:
- A certification question was answered "no". For LPFM and full-service stations, this can mean that the applicant was not able to certify that during the license term (since the license was first issued or 8 years, whichever is shorter), the station was not silent for 30 or more consecutive days and the station did not receive a Notice of Violation or any other Enforcement action during the license term. For full-service stations only, there are additional certification questions around public file and ownership reports. All stations must also answer certification questions regarding character issues (was there an issue with another station during the license term where the FCC now requires a party to this station to disclose past character issues?), adverse findings (were any of the board members/owners had a recent felony conviction or any action taken in respect to government fraud, corruption, mass-media related antitrust or discrimination?) or alien ownership and control (does the station's board/ownership now include more than 20% non-citizens/aliens, including green card/TPS holders?).
- The station is currently silent. The FCC will not renew a license for a silent station. If the station is currently silent, you should answer the "silent station" question on the application as "no". Once the station resumes operation within 365 days of going silent and files a resumption of operations, the station must go through the additional task of amending the renewal application to change the "silent station" certification from "no" to "yes". The station must still acknowledge the silent period during the license term by answering "no" to the "adherence to minimum operating schedule" question. The exhibit for that question should be updated to reflect the station's restoration and the efforts involved in restoring the station.
- Petitions to Deny or Informal Objections. Any person can object to the grant of any broadcast application while any person with "standing" can file a petition to deny the grant of certain license impacting broadcast actions such as license renewals. To file a "petition to deny", the petitioner must show that they are physically in the station's service area or are otherwise directly impacted by the station, such as another station on the same or adjacent channels. Informal objections, carry a little less weight but they can be filed by anyone in the world. The licensee may file an opposition to the objection/petition for which the objector/petitioner may reply. The Commission will determine the merits of the case and render a decision. Historically, many of the objections/petitions against renewals have been related to programming content, hiring practices and other similar issues. In those cases, the pleadings are promptly denied and the license renewals granted. Your renewal application can be checked to see if any pleadings have been filed on it by going to the LMS Pleading Search and entering your renewal application file number in the "File Number:" field.
- Something that the Media Bureau knows about that the world may not know about yet. Sometimes, the Media Bureau may receive information which may hold up a renewal. This could include information from the Enforcement Bureau involving a complaint or other potential action. It could be something being investigated within the Media Bureau. If may be additional evidence related to a certification question that was answered "yes" when it should have been answered as "no" (such as a forfeiture, consent decree or notice of violation). Media and Enforcement staff are not required to advise if a certain station/licensee is being investigated. If a renewal has not been granted and there is no tell-tale reason why and it's been, let's say, 30 days since the license expiration date, you or your attorney can make a status inquiry with the FCC staff. Please do not bog them down with multiple/periodic inquiries. Also, if you think you know what it may be about, do not "plead your case" during a status check. If the FCC wants more information from you to complete their investigation, they will send you a Letter of Inquiry by certified mail. You are obligated to answer any Commission inquiries. Failure to do so may result in the expiration of the license or forfeitures.
Full service broadcast stations may have some additional issues that could hold up a renewal:
- Public file and ownership reports. All full-service stations (commercial and non-commercial) are required to maintain their Online Public Inspection File (OPIF) including periodic (quarterly) filings of issues lists as well as the maintaining of other information such as contracts, political files, etc. If any of those reports are missing, the "online public inspection" file question must be answered "no" and an explanation must be made to why the OPIF is missing those reports. In addition, full-service broadcast stations are required to file Biennial Ownership Reports every two years. If any of these reports were not timely filed, the licensee must detail why the reports were not filed.
- Red light status. Commercial stations (full-service, FM translator, FM booster, etc.) are subject to regulatory fees. If the licensee (at the FRN level) is delinquent on their annual regulatory fees, then their FRN may go into "red light" status impacting all of the facilities the entity owns. The FCC will not normally grant an application in red light status. Once the licensee pays their debts or otherwise sets up a payment plan that takes them out of red light status, the FCC will make the FRN green status again and then can process the application. It is very important that if you know that your station/FRN is in red light status, that you still timely file a renewal (and pay the filing fee). If no renewal is filed at the time of expiration, the license will not be renewed, even if the back regulatory fees are paid off.
So, what can happen if you answer "no" to something, have an informal objection/petition to deny or don't file by the 4 month deadline?
- Forfeitures. Forfeiture is a buzz-word for a fine. The Media or Enforcement Bureau may determine that a licensee has an apparent liability for a rules violation. For late filings of renewal applications (after 4 months prior to expiration but before the expiration date), we have noticed the FCC has been giving a short grace period (in some cases about a month) where they will withhold any forfeiture. Many times, the FCC will send an e-mail to the licensee to remind them of the filing and "give them some time" to timely file. The FCC threatens a $3,000 fine. We have seen some stations filed $1,500 for an untimely renewal filing. Forfeitures may take place for any apparent rules violations as a result of statements made in the renewal application for any "no" certifications made.
- Consent Decree. The Enforcement Bureau has the option of entering into a consent decree with the licensee. A consent decree is good for the Enforcement Bureau because it saves them time from investigating. In many ways, it is like a plea-bargain in the criminal justice system. In a consent decree, the licensee will pay a reduced amount that is sometimes referred to as a "voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury", the licensee admits that the rule infraction(s) occurred and that the licensee will enter into a compliance plan, which may involve periodic reporting to the Enforcement Bureau in an effort to bring the station into compliance going forward. Consent decrees (and straight forfeitures) may come out of informal objections and petitions to deny (i.e. non-commercial/LPFM stations running commercials, unauthorized locations, etc.)
- Reduced license term. Reduced license terms may happen if there was a significant occurrence or series of occurrences that took place in the last license term where the FCC gives the station time to get back into compliance and re-review the issue at a later time but less than the 8 years of a normal license term. For example, the FCC may issue a 2-year renewal instead of a 8 year. The most common reason for these reduced license terms is in cases of spectrum warehousing where stations go silent for multiple periods of time and the number of days silent in the license term is very significant.
- Hearing for revocation/worst case scenario. The absolute worst thing that can happen (even though it is rare) is that the application will be designated for hearing to show cause why the license should not be revoked or allowed to expire. The main thing that can cause this is "lack of candor", or otherwise, making misleading statements to the FCC. This is why we always say strongly... NEVER EVER LIE TO THE FCC.
It is also important to remember that the FCC is not mailing renewal authorizations to stations. They claim to be sending e-mails but we are not sure if anyone is getting them. Here are some ways you can get your renewal authorization document:
- LPFM stations can use REC's Renewal Status Checker. (this will be updated on the day following the grant. also use this site to get some insights on a pending application)
- At REC's FCCdata.org. For all radio classes, enter the call sign of the station and then in the "application history" (lower right side of the screen on the desktop version), look for the renewal application and if granted, the word "Granted" will be a hyperlink to the PDF of the authorization document.
- At the FCC's LMS application search site.
- NOTE: If the renewal filing was for multiple facilities (where the "additional stations" section was filled out to add additional translators or boosters), then search any of those three methods under the call sign of the primary station. As an alternate, you can use the LMS group search, select group type "AATC" and enter the call sign for the facility you could not find using the other search methods.
Also, if there is a pending assignment of license (Form 314 to turn over the station to a different organization) at the time when a renewal is filed, the assignment application will not be handled until after the renewal is granted.