Word on the Hill is that indecency fines are set to shoot through the roof soon.

WASHINGTON--Word on the Hill is that indecency fines are set to shoot through the roof soon.

With public grousing and election-year politicking guiding Federal Communications Commission thinking, the agency has been issuing maximum amount fines, now $27,500 per incident per station.

But observers say that's chicken feed compared to what's in store. One not-so-subtle hint came on April 6, when the FCC slapped radio giant Clear Channel Communications with a $495,000 indecency fine for 18 incidents at six stations involving the Howard Stern show.

Waiting in the wings is sure-to-pass broadcast indecency legislation pending in Congress. The measure was crafted to ensure that broadcasters don't view indecency fines as just a minor cost of doing business.

The legislation raises the maximum fine per incident tenfold, to $275,000. It also authorizes the FCC to fine "individual non-licensees" such as Stern or even musical performers a maximum of $500,000 for incidents of indecency.

The bill has already been passed overwhelmingly by the House. The Senate will vote on its version when lawmakers return from Easter recess. There are several amendments that may be modified--but not the core of the bill, which is the 10-fold fine increase.

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