FCC’s Pirate Purge Continues


For some reason, the FCC continues to pour money into its hell-bent roundup of FM pirate broadcasters! I suspect much of this 'tough stance' is more politically motivated than for the reasons that they state, but the FCC seems to have plenty of will-power and the necessary funding ... it's too bad that they couldn't put the same zeal into getting on top of or making a start on the huge growing noise problem throughout the radio spectrum. I guess rounding up pirates is much easier than tackling the far more important noise issues, now growing so rapidly that many radio amateurs just throw up their hands in surrender and close up shop for good. Even commercial users of the spectrum are being negatively affected by the growing noise floor, as the growing Internet of Things connected devices produce even more radio crud.

It now seems that the FCC may get a further boost in its crackdown if a new bipartisan proposed federal law becomes reality. A May 9, 2018, article in Radio World reports the tabling of the new bill in the US Congress called the PIRATE Act or "Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act". It would also be nice to see the PAIN Act (Preventing All Illegal Noise) in the RF spectrum but I see no Washington appetite for this much-needed FCC oversight.

The continued obsession for rounding up FM pirate broadcasters is fascinating in its own right. "It is time to take these pirates off the air by hiking the penalties and working with the Federal Communication Commission on enforcement", stated Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ).

"As reported in Radio World, the PIRATE Act proposes to hike the fine for violations to as much as $100,000 per day, with a maximum fine of $2 million. The rules currently allow the FCC to impose a maximum daily penalty of about $19,200 per day. At a Congressional hearing on the bill in March, New York State Broadcasters Association President David Donovan told lawmakers that illegal operators are undermining the nation’s Emergency Alert System, causing invasive and insidious interference, pose potential public health problems due to overexposure to radio frequency radiation, and interfere with airport communications."

It is apparent from reading investigative reports, that each acted-upon complaint requires a substantial investment of time and money as in the April 24 Notice of Apparent Liability for a case in Paterson, New  Jersey ... it seems that NJ and NY are 'pirate hotbeds'. By the end of the investigation, a team of fully-equipped FCC field agents had visited the pirate's site(s) on eight different occasions, a considerable investment in time, energy and money. In the end, a $25,000 penalty has been proposed for the offender.

I am not a fan of illegal pirate radio broadcasting in any form but the reasons stated by the FCC for the ongoing pirate purges seem somewhat shaky. In all of the investigative reports that I've read, I have yet to find any that were reported to cause "interference with airport communications" and I question the assertion that the low power levels used by most pirates are going to "pose potential public health problems due to overexposure to radio frequency radiation". One more likely reason may be the strong lobby pressure from broadcasters who see the possible loss of advertising revenue. I'm sure that many Washington electees receive healthy campaign donations from state broadcasters as well.

Although many pirate radio ops seemingly solicit advertising revenue, overall it can't be much of a threat to mainstream broadcasters. Is it just the NAB Washington lobby that is fuelling the FCC pirate craze or is it muscle-flexing from the new administration, wanting to look tough on "crime" and radio-pirates are just easy low-hanging fruit? I suspect that it may be more of the latter.

The FCC's 'Pirate Action' postings make for interesting reading as does the fascinating Westword article on pirate radio activity in Ward, Colorado, and the recent attempted FCC take-down of stations in operation since 1997!

There's no question that a lot of FCC resources are being used to eliminate unlicenced QRM. What will it take to see the same attack on unlicenced QRN as well?
Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

9 Responses to “FCC’s Pirate Purge Continues”

  • Dave NK7Z:

    FCC should be putting some of this zeal into RFI enforcement as well as noise floor issues…

  • NK1D Dale Cunningham:

    Fat City is motivated only by money. This campaign is as you say in response to the Broadcasters and networks losing a penny or two to pirates.
    Private users, amateurs and scientific users don’t have the lobby that they have even with the ARRL, NSF etc. Congress can’t even bring a house Amateur Parity bill to the Senate to get it passed. There might be an obscure donor on a HOA somewhere who would be offended and cut off donations.

  • jerry w5kaw:

    I wished they would put some of this zeal into fixing 7.200mhz but I guess ham radio isn’t important anymore!!

  • ac7af:

    agreed

  • Richard KWØU:

    As Dale said, it’s the money. When micro FM broadcasters were first authorized in the ’90s the idea was to have local lower power stations for neighborhoods. The big broadcasters objected, sending Congress a ridiculous recording of “what would happen”, i.e. AM stations on top of each other. I wrote in pointing out that FM doesn’t work like that–the strongest station captures the signal–but the Congresspeople I contacted ignored this information. Instead they separated the micro stations by 3, rather than the proposed 2, “clicks” of the FM dial. This essentially put most of the urban areas off limits to them, there being a lot of stations there already. So, people opened their own unlicensed micro FM operations, which is what are being stepped on because they might actually do what the people want.

  • Lowell NE4EB:

    I’ve followed for a few years the rise of the IoT, or Internet of Things. Most of which seems to be a solution looking for a problem. Somewhere along the way I heard someone use the derogatory term, “Internet of Toasters”.

    That did it. Every time I see the “IoT” label, you know what I say to myself.

  • Goody K3NG:

    $100K per day for a violation is just plain silly. Most of these operators don’t have two nickels to rub together. Can anyone imagine a $1M fine for a pirate radio station that was caught operating for 10 days? Fines of that magnitude have been reserved for major telecom carriers, phone card scammers, and violations where people do time in Club Fed, not some guy with two turntables and a microphone. Anything over a few ten grand will likely have violators filing for bankruptcy and result in thousands of legal and administrative man-hours trying to get blood from a stone.

    I was a pirate radio operator back in my youth. These guys aren’t a threat to anything, most of the time. There are just more of them today because it’s fairly trivial to order a transmitter online and get on the air. Back when I was doing it, you had to build your transmitter from scratch or build a kit, which required a certain skill level. This crackdown on pirates in my opinion is harvesting easy low-hanging fruit by an administration that wants to look tough. Ironically, Chairman Ajit Pai denounced the previous administration for pursuing large “showcase” fines, fines against large entities that were proven to be doing criminal acts or conducting practices that were negatively affecting the public. Now in his administration, Pai is going after little fish with big fines.

    This FCC administration looked the other way while its ECFS comment system was inundated by thousands of falsified filings using the stolen identities of citizen in favor of repealing Net Neutrality. Chairman Pai totally ignored overwhelming public support for retaining Net Neutrality, didn’t investigate the outrageous widespread identity theft and falsified comments, and with glib enthusiasm has repealed Net Neutrality on horribly flawed and arguably deceitful grounds. So one can easily see where the priorities are in this administration.

  • .BOB- WB3DYE:

    Seems to me that the “pirates” generally do NOT bother the licensed stations BUT I wish they’d turn their enforcement energy at the amateur bands..specifically 3.8 and 7.2 mhz

  • Tom Burns, KN9H:

    We suffored extensive interference to our licensed FM station from a pirate who spewed profanity and threats. Listeners thought it was coming from our station. The FCC would not shut him down after constant complaints. The local states attorney arrested him after he threatened the life of the states attorney and sent him to prison. ,

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