FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says significant progress has been made as a result of the Commission’s renewed commitment to combating unlawful broadcasting — often called “pirate radio.” The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has cracked down on this illegal activity, resulting in unlawful broadcasts going off the air, seizure of equipment, fines against pirates, proposed fines against pirates and property owners actively aiding pirate radio operations and numerous other enforcement actions.
Since January, 2017, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has undertaken 306 pirate investigations, issued 210 Notices of Unlicensed Operation, issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture for the maximum penalty to pirate radio operators and entered into a settlement with a Miami-area pirate radio operator to end his broadcasts and collect a fine. The bureau also referred cases to U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to obtain federal court orders, which has led to four cases of pirate radio equipment being seized to date — two in Boston, one in Queens NY and one in Miami.
“Fighting unlawful broadcasts is a top enforcement priority for the FCC,” said Chairman Pai. “Pirate operators can interfere with important public safety announcements and hurt licensed broadcasters’ business. Consumers should be able to get the news and information programming they count on.”
In 2017, the FCC took more than twice as many actions against pirate broadcasters than it did the year before. Since January, 2017, the Commission has fined illegal broadcasters $143,800 and proposed fines totaling $323,688. The Commission also for the first time found property owners apparently liable for actively supporting this illegal activity on their property. These actions have resulted in numerous unlicensed stations ceasing operation.
Much of the FCC’s work in enforcing the law when it comes to unlicensed broadcasts is done by the agents in FCC field offices. Chairman Pai noted: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank our outstanding field agents for their hard work enforcing the law. Guarding against interference of lawful broadcasts lies at the heart of the Commission’s work, and it would not be possible without their skill and dedication.”
Meanwhile, the Commission has also pursued ways to provide more opportunities to start-up broadcasters. The FCC has licensed low power radio stations in markets where that can be done without causing interference. Also, the use of fill-in translators rebroadcasting AM stations and FM stations, including HD-Radio sub-channels, has expanded the availability of programming in the FM band, including in major markets.