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FCC Fines Saga $10,000 for “Willful Violations”

ITHACA — The FCC has ordered Saga Communications to pay $10,000 in fines, in regards to what the Commission has ruled to be “willful violations” the company made regarding transmitter W240CB. The ruling came after complaints were filed by the Geneva-based Finger Lakes Media Group, who argued W240CB’s signal at 95.9FM had interfered with programming from Z95.5 (WFIZ).

The 10-page ruling [PDF] from the FCC (filled with tons of legalese, as always) says Saga had reported some false data about the locations of various transmission antennae, a violation that could have levied a fine as high as $32,000.

But, Saga said the false data was provided inadvertently, and engineers working for the company truly believed the information they submitted to the FCC was accurate at the time. The FCC accepted that explanation, resulting in the lowered fine amount. (While it wasn’t an intentional violation, the FCC explains it’s still considered “willful” because Saga’s staffers could have taken more action to avoid the errors.)

As of yesterday, when the order was issued, Saga has 30 days to either pay the fine or file an appeal.

Too Many Stations?

The FCC also addressed Finger Lakes Radio’s complaint that Saga was violating market ownership limits by using its translators to simulcast HD-2 and HD-3 signals. Specifically, Saga offers CHR-formatted “Hits 103.3” on translator W277BS as well as WYXL-HD2. AAA-formatted “98.7 The Vine” can be heard on W254BF and WYXL-HD3.

Finger Lakes had argued that using the HD-2 and HD-3 signals as “quasi studio-transmitter links” to feed the translators was essentially the same thing as launching new stations, putting Saga over the ownership limits. But the FCC says:

The Commission clearly addressed this issue in its 2007 Digital Audio Broadcasting Second Report and Order, stating that FM stations may use their additional digital bit capacity as it wishes, as long as a licensee owning the maximum permissible number of stations in a particular market does not acquire additional broadcast streams on non-commonly-owned stations through time brokering agreements.54 The Commission states that “a radio station must simulcast its analog programming service on its digital signal.”55 Saga is doing so here. There is no current prohibition on FM translator stations re-broadcasting the alternate program streams aired on the parent station’s digital transmissions. Accordingly, we find Finger Lakes’ argument meritless.

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