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SPLC attorney Adam Goldstein questions ownership of the WRAS 88.5 FM FCC license

Georgia State may not have true ownership to the Federal Commissions Council (FCC) license of WRAS 88.5 FM according to Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, despite Board of Regents’ assertions.

Documentation from the FCC show the Regents also had ownership to the license before Georgia State in 2001.

“[Georgia State] may have written a contract to give away part of something that they don’t really own,” Goldstein said.

Georgia State announced a contract with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) in which GPB programming would take over the student-run radio station, WRAS 88.5 FM, from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. The expected date for programming to start was pushed from June 2 to June 29.

“Georgia State may have been the one to cut the [GSU-GPB] deal, but if the Regents are the one who got the license, the license holders are the ones who are supposed to be in charge of it,” Goldstein said.

No permit or station license may be transferred or reassigned without approval by the FCC through an application and review process according to Section 310(d) of the Communications Act of 1934.

No documentation pertaining to a license transfer exist with the university, according to an open records request by The Signal.

 

What the Documents Say

The Board of Regents signed as the legal name of the licensee from 2001 to 2005 according to the FCC’s public records. Georgia State signed as the legal name of the licensee since year 2007. See the documentation from the FCC public access website below.

Ownership Application Reports:

2001 | 2003 | 2005 | 2007 | 2009 | 2011 | 2013

Records show multiple people from Georgia State and the Regents as officers of the license-owning entity.

John Millsaps, Associate Vice Chancellor of Media and Publications for the Regents, provided a statement in an email. According to Millsaps, Georgia State is not a separate entity for the Regents, and therefore filed on the behalf of the Regents.

Georgia State University is an institution of the University System of Georgia, not a separate entity. The license was not transferred, but has been held by Georgia State University by and on behalf of the University System of Georgia. The change on the form was for clerical purposes, to facilitate receipt of notices from the FCC.

John Millsaps further stated President Mark Becker regularly corresponds with Hank Huckaby, Georgia State alum and current Chancellor of the Regents.

President Becker meets regularly with Chancellor Huckaby to keep him informed of the University’s activities, including the negotiations with Georgia Public Broadcasting. To my knowledge, the Board of Regents has never been involved in the day-to-day operations of WRAS. The Board delegates the operations of institutions to the President of the respective institutions.

No documentation regarding email correspondence among Chancellor Huckaby, President Becker and other representatives of Georgia State were returned upon open records request with the Regents.

 

What the Communications Act of 1934 Says

Section 310(d) may recognize the handover as an unauthorized “pro forma” transaction where there was “An assignment or transfer of control from a wholly-owned subsidiary to a parent corporation or vice versa, or an assignment or transfer of control from one wholly-owned subsidiary to another, both of which are owned by the same parent corporation.”

Put simply, even though representatives from both Georgia State and the Regents are listed as officers, an application to change the licensee name needs to be approved by the FCC for authorization.

Goldstein believes there was an error in filling out the paperwork, whether that means specifying the wrong parties in the contract or simply not recording a transfer application.

“Somewhere along the line, somebody didn’t take a step they were supposed to take,” Goldstein said. “If I were Georgia State University, I’d be worried.”

Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the SPLC, also said since the Board of Regents is the license-holder for WRAS, they are the ones who have legal authority to make decisions about the station.

“The FCC wants to know that the license-holder is financially secure, so you can’t just ‘give’ the license to one of your affiliates,” LoMonte said in an email.

 

Implications of Failing to File Properly

Goldstein said if a party wants to oppose the GSU-GPB contract legally, they may have grounds to do so on the basis of the lack of clarity on who may actually own the license.

“The FCC could fine the license holder—whoever that is—for filling out the paperwork incorrectly. It could go further and hypothetically even cancel the license.”

The FCC fact sheet further states “Failure to seek FCC approval prior to an assignment or transfer of control…subjects the parties to possible enforcement action, including monetary forfeitures.”

In other words, transfers that were not authorized could have a base forfeiture of anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000 per violation. The Commission encourages voluntary disclosure as early as possible for consideration of appropriate enforcement action.

 

Possible Further Actions

LoMonte said students have not reached to the center to initiate any action in court or at the FCC.

“I think the students are doing exactly the right thing, which is to work with President Becker to help him understand the importance of student programming during prime listening hours,” LoMonte said in an email.

Goldstein believes if students were to challenge the Georgia State decision with the Board of Regents, they would have more opportunities for change.

“Asking someone to change something out of the goodness of their heart is a test of compassion. Asking them to change it to avoid legal risks is a test of their intelligence,” Goldstein said. “Now, I don’t know what kind of passion the Regents have, but I don’t think they’re stupid.”

The FCC could not be reached for comment by press time.

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