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asks FCC to vacate fine against HBCU, Bethune-Cookman University
(September 15, 2009) The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council
has filed an amicus letter with the FCC asking that a $9,600 forfeiture
order against Bethune-Cookman University be vacated. The letter was
filed jointly by the MMTC, NABOB, the NAACP, the Black College
Communication Association, and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and says the
forfeiture imposed on the college over violations at low-power FM WRWS
The FCC issued a forfeiture order in April after an October 2008
inspection by agents from the Tampa field office found that the station
was operating an STL transmitter without a license and had no EAS
decoder installed. A notice of apparent liability for $18,000 was issued
in January, later reduced to $9,600 after Bethune-Cookman responded
requesting a reduction or cancellation.
The letter, addressed to acting Enforcement Bureau Chief Suzanne
Tetrault and copied to all five FCC commissioners, Media Bureau Chief
William Lake, and Chief Diversity Officer Mark Lloyd, says its purpose
is to call attention to the "unlawfulness" of the forfeiture order. The
order, it says, "neither follows nor even mentions the commission's
well-established policy of imposing, in LPFM cases, forfeitures in
amounts representing a tiny fraction of the forfeiture leveled against
BCU." The FCC order noted that commission policy doesn't reduce
forfeitures based on a station's noncommercial status, but, the MMTC
says, it "failed to mention a long line of decisions in which forfeiture
penalties were dramatically reduced because the station was an LPFM."
Says the letter, "Disregarding the LPFM forfeiture policy was reversible
error. Had the bureau considered the LPFM forfeiture policy, the
forfeiture would have been at most a few hundred dollars rather than the
$9,600 assessed against BCU."
To illustrate the "gravity of [the] error," the letter notes that
Bethune-Cookman is a historically black college or university, and says
such HBCUs rely on LPFM licenses to be able to train students, and are
often in markets where almost no full-power licenses are available. The
letter, signed by MMTC Exec. Director David Honig, also cites past
discrimination that discouraged minority participation in broadcasting,
and says the FCC for decades "allowed commercial broadcasters to
continue discriminatory employment practices."
The letter says the $9,600 forfeiture "would further discourage the
creation and development of broadcasting programs at HBCUs," and
continues, "Based on this forfeiture, these severely underfunded
institutions would fear that they could be subjected to heavy fines and
legal costs for minor and inadvertent offenses."
Honig writes, "Perhaps, when this case began, some ministerial penalty
would have been appropriate -- along the lines of the three-figure
forfeiture sums routinely imposed on LPFMs for inadvertent violations.
But imposing any forfeiture now would only trivialize the harm done
already done by the forfeiture order."