The IBA unexpectedly lost a dear friend and colleague, Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program (ABIP) Inspector Dale Gehman, in November. Dale’s unfortunate passing resulted in a delay in our ABIP Inspections and a backlog for stations that hand pending inspections. In an effort to ensure our stations are compliant, we hired Brian Dougherty from Illinois to step in as our ABIP Inspector. As many of you now know, over the last few months, Brian has work diligently to remove the backlog and get the ABIP program back on track. He has inspected nearly three dozen stations since December and continues to work with our members whose certifications are expiring to renew them for another three years.
Brian has been generous enough to share some information about ABIP and his inspections as stations prepare for their next inspection.
For stations unfamiliar with the Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program (ABIP), what is it and why is it so important?
The voluntary Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program (ABIP) is a great way for stations to verify their stations compliance. The program is made possible by an agreement between the local Federal Communications Commission (FCC) office and the State Association. There are many reasons for a station to participate into the ABIP. One important reason is having another set of eyes checking the stations compliance within the FCC rules.
Although stations have employees assigned to specific areas within the station, an ABIP inspector may see the things required by the FCC license holder that the employee has overlooked. The second reason is a station that enters into an ABIP agreement is given a three-year window being free from a routine FCC inspection.
The station investment may save many dollars by not being fined by the FCC. The FCC does reserve the right to inspect a station, if they receive a complaint during the three year period. The advantage is that an inspector leaves you with suggestions needed for your station to continue being compliant. It is still up to the station licensee to implement those suggestions.
What is covered by the inspection?
Under the Indiana Broadcasters Associations’ Alternate Broadcast Inspection Program, stations receive a ‘mock’ FCC inspection. The applicable FCC checklist is used for each station being inspected.
The inspector will upon arriving ask the receptionist if they are aware of what and where the Public Inspection File (PIF) is kept. The inspector will check Main Studio Presence. The Public Inspection File (PIF) will be checked to verify the required paperwork exists in the proper designated folder. Note that by March of 2018 all stations are required to post the PIF online.
The inspector checks compliance of the Emergency Alert system (EAS). The equipment is verified as FCC approved equipment. The paper or electric EAS logs must be available as to verify the functionality of the equipment. The inspector also checks that the correct Primary and Secondary stations are being monitored, The National Weather Service (NWS), along with the state Emergency Management Agency (EMA). The inspector verifies that the EAS Handbook (current) along with the State or County (If applicable) EAS Plan is at the Control Point. Normally the inspector will ask the control operator currently on duty to send an EAS Required Weekly Test (RWT). In the possibility of hazardous weather the test will be eliminated during the inspection.
The station’s technical side is also checked. The Studio Transmitter Links (STL) serial numbers and frequencies are verified as listed on the license. The transmitter is verified operating and the power is as licensed. The tower is verified to be at the correct location and the height is correct as per the Antenna Registration (AR). The Antenna Registration as listed on the license is readable and properly visible from the nearest road approaching the site. The painting on the tower is verified as compliant. The painting is a serious infraction as are the tower lights. It is important that the proper painting is not faded or chipped. It is difficult for an ABIP inspector to evaluate beyond recommending whether painting is necessary at the time of inspection. Keep in mind that an inspector only evaluates the compliance of every item on the day of the inspection. It still remains the responsibility of the license holder to be diligent in remaining within compliance after the inspector leaves.
How long do inspections last?
This is difficult to determine. The variables that an inspector finds at each station can make it a lengthy inspection. An AM Directional station that has numerous monitoring points adds to the length of time spent for an inspection. If the Public Inspection File is confusing and difficult to find the required paperwork it also adds to the time spent at the station. Typically the inspection can be as little as 45 minutes per station. A group of 4-5 stations can take 4-5 hours or more if the transmitter sites are scattered in a long distance from each other. The inspection time can be much shorter if the station downloads a copy of the FCC checklist prior to the inspector arriving. The station can go through the checklist to make sure that everything is in the proper place. It also will allow the station to have questions for the inspector on material they do not understand.
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?
After the station requests to be in the ABIP the Association will notify the FCC that the station has requested an inspection. At that time the 150 day window begins and the station will be notified once the inspector receives verification of stations intent to be inspected. The inspector will work with the station to inspect in a timely manner. The inspector takes into consideration the stations availability and will work with the station. This is a voluntary program and as a service the inspector realizes that the station wants assurance that their station is in compliance with the rules set forth by the FCC.
After the station has been inspected the station will be told whether the station has passed or failed. As the inspector takes notes, it is a good idea for the station to also take notes on any violations. If a station passes they will receive a Certificate of Compliance from the Association. The Certificate of Compliance is good for 3 years from the date of the inspection. Keep in mind an inspector is not an FCC agent and the criteria for an ABIP inspection by the inspector only takes into consideration of compliance on the day of the inspection. It is up to the station to continue good diligence to remain in compliance.
If the station fails they will be emailed a list of the violations along with the rules that each violation is associated. The report should be finished within 30 days of the inspection. The FCC is not sent anything about a failed station. The station should keep the report available in the event the FCC decides to do an inspection. If a violation still exists the station may be fined per the FCC rules. It is very important that a station remedy any violation to protect from any fines.
It is the responsibility of the station to contact the Association and request a re-inspection. If the 150 days has passed before the station fixes the violations, the station will receive a Failed Inspection Notice. The FCC is not notified when a station has failed an inspection and has not entered into the ABIP successfully.
All information between the station and the inspector is confidential. There is nothing shared with the FCC or the Association. The Association only is aware that a station failed or passed the initial inspection.
Once a station passes, how long is their certification good for and what does that mean for the station in terms of FCC inspections?
Once a station successfully has received a Certificate of Compliance the station enters into a three year window of not being on a scheduled inspection by the FCC. If any complaints are received about a station during that three year window, the FCC continues to have the right to inspect the station.
There are cases where a station at the time the ABIP inspector inspected the tower paint was passable. But within a certain period the station’s tower was no longer passable. There was a fine assessed and was held up even though the station was in the ABIP. The ABIP is a great tool but it in no way replaces the need to be aware of compliance after the inspection.
How often does the IBA do ABIP inspections and how can a station get signed up?
The stations simply notify their Association that they are interested in being in the ABIP. The inspections are available for members and non members. Non-member inspection pricing may be higher. This is a great tool for any station that is serious about being in compliant and or needing an extra set of eyes to verify that your station is doing what it needs to do to protect their station from an FCC routine inspection, which more than likely would result in a fine. Do not wait sign up today by contacting the Indiana Broadcasters directly at: ABIP@IndianaBroadcasters.org