Compliance Insurance: An Interview with Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program (ABIP) inspector Dale Gehman

In collaboration with the FCC, the IBA offers the Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program (ABIP) to ensure compliance with federal regulations and to avoid surprise inspections. Stations that pass the inspection receive a three-year Certification of Compliance, and all participants receive an FCC compliance checklist and an Emergency Alert System manual.

ABIP certifications are conducted by knowledgeable experts, such as Dale Gehman, who review technical and regulatory requirements.

We interviewed Dale who is doing another round of inspections in Indiana in August about ABIP, and he shared his thoughts on the value, long term implications, and history of the program.

For stations unfamiliar with the Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program (ABIP), what is it and why is it so important?

For those of us who owned Broadcast Stations back in the 20th Century – you may recall that the FCC formally started the ‘deregulation process’ in 1984. Each Licensee eventually received a postcard from the FCC asking that we complete a ‘self-inspection’ by addressing the questions provided. Simultaneously with the initiation of deregulation – the FCC adopted a significant increase in the monetary assessment ceiling, (Maximum FCC Fine Schedules) – dramatically impacting Stations that were found to have violated the ‘Rules’. As deregulation evolved, confusion ensued, as to exactly what FCC Rules and Policy remain expected of the Licensee and what Rules and Policy had been relaxed.  This confusion effectively crippled Stations who were in fear of making any operating changes due to the increased monetary assessments for violations.

I served on the Alabama Broadcasters Association’s Board of Directors during my station ownership years in the 80’s and 90’s. To address Licensee’s fear of the increased FCC Fine ceiling, I proposed an association sanctioned ‘Compliance Inspection’ that would verify compliance to the FCC Rules and Policy as a membership benefit. The Board approved my concept and it was an overwhelming success with many Stations joining the Association in order to receive the compliance inspections that I conducted.

This original ‘Compliance Inspection’ program for association members was presented to the NAB’s State Leadership Conference in the early 90’s and within several years was adopted by many State Broadcast Associations. As the program evolved – State Broadcast Associations entered into an agreement with their respective FCC Field Offices to formalized ‘protection from random inspection’ for the Stations that received certification under the State Association’s  ‘Compliance Inspection Program’. In 2003, a uniform FCC-State Broadcast Association Agreement was adopted thereby providing Stations nationwide with the opportunity to participate in the ‘Alternate Broadcast Inspection Program’ and earn a three-year ABIP Certification. That original 2003 FCC-State Broadcast Association Agreement remains in place as the legal basis for the Alternate Broadcast Inspection Program today.

The IBA’s Alternate Broadcast Inspection Program is one of the more successful ABIPs in the country with active participation by the majority of our association members.  Since 1999, the IBA-ABIP has saved Indiana Broadcasters millions of dollars by helping them identify and correct violations that would have resulted in significant monetary assessments had an FCC Field Agent inspected the Stations.

What is covered by the inspection?

Under the Indiana Broadcasters Associations’ ‘Alternate Broadcast Inspection Program’, Stations receive a basic ‘due-diligence’ that verifies compliance with current FCC / FAA Rules and Policy. This basic due-diligence includes a review of compliance to the FCC Rules and Policy by the Station’s departments of; Administrative, Operations, Engineering and the Public File. The Main Studio Facility and all Transmitter Sites are inspected during the IBA-ABIP.

How long do inspections last?

Typically, one/half day for each Station with the exception of AM Directional Facilities – which may take up to a full day to complete due to the field strength measurements that must be completed.

What happens once a station signs up for the IBA-ABIP? What happens if a station passes an inspection? What happens if a station fails?

Upon joining the IBA’s ABIP, each station is granted a 150-day window during which the Station is free from any random FCC inspection and during which the IBA-ABIP Inspector will schedule the Station’s ABIP Inspection.

Following the IBA-ABIP Inspection, each Station receives a formal written ‘Inspection Report’ that outlines any deficiencies that must be corrected in order to earn ABIP Certification. Once any deficiencies noted in the Inspection Report are resolved, each Station is then granted a 3-year IBA-ABIP Certificate and a copy is forwarded to the applicable FCC Field Offices.

If an inspected Station elects not to correct the deficiencies noted – the Station will receive a ‘failed inspection notice’ upon expiration of the inspection clock in the IBA-ABIP Inspection Agreement. (NOTE: The FCC is NOT notified when a Station fails to pass ABIP Inspection and all IBA-ABIP Inspection Reports are confidential between the Inspector and the Station.)

Once a station passes, how long is their certification good for and what does that mean for the station in terms of FCC inspections?

IBA-ABIP Certifications are dated on the date that the Station has resolved any deficiencies noted in the ‘Inspection Report’ and the certification is valid for 3-years forward from that date. The applicable FCC Field Offices also receive a copy of each IBA-ABIP Certificate and each certified Station is then taken off the Field Office list of stations targeted for FCC inspection.

How often does the IBA do ABIP inspections and how can a station get signed up?

IBA-ABIP Inspections are conducted by the week, as often as needed throughout the year.  To maximize the number of Stations that can be inspected per week, we sequence Stations into the IBA-ABIP Inspection Week scheduled for the region of the Indiana where each station is located.  To sign up and participate or if you have questions about the IBA’s Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program, please contact us direct at:ABIP@IndianaBroadcasters.org

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