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Move to Clamp Down on Pirate Radio Advances in Congress

- Dallas One of Several Markets Where FCC May Focus

Bipartisan efforts to clamp down on pirate radio operations across the country moved from the discussion stage to actual legislation in the House where a committee hearing is expected in late May. A Senate companion will likely be filed in the coming months. The measure would provide the FCC with enhanced penalties and additional tools to take action against the illegal broadcasts which present a significant threat to public health and safety and cause interference to legal Radio broadcasts.

The bipartisan PIRATE Act, co-authored by Reps. Leonard Lance, R-NJ, and Paul Tonko, D-NY, would employ a combination of heightened penalties to stem the growing spread of pirate radio operations in communities throughout the country. Illegal operations are being found on the AM and FM bands alike, with FCC enforcement officers discovering transmitters operating from rooftops, balconies and other properties.

NAB and my counterpart in New York, where the problem is especially acute, have worked diligently to advance this effort and TAB will now begin recruiting co-sponsors from the Texas congressional delegation. Texas broadcasters are encouraged to alert me if they’re aware of a pirate radio operator in their markets so we can bolster support for this bill among Texas members of Congress.

“This is big business and a $10,000 fine is absolutely nothing,” New York State Broadcasters Association President David Donovan told lawmakers at an April hearing. “When you look at someone who is violating the law literally for decades, this is just the cost of doing business.”

In addition to acknowledging the leadership of Reps. Collins and Tonko, NAB President/CEO, Gordon Smith tipped his hat to the FCC leadership.

"Broadcasters also thank FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly for his longstanding leadership on this issue, and Chairman Ajit Pai and his Enforcement Bureau staff’s commitment to pirate radio enforcement. NAB strongly supports this legislation to provide greater enforcement tools to the Commission and will work with members of Congress in the House and Senate on its swift passage."

Additional Enforcement Tools Under PIRATE Act

  • Increased Fines for Illegal Pirate Operations: Under current law, fines for non-licensees, including pirate radio operators, are limited to a basic fine of around $10,000 per violation which not only is considered an insufficient deterrent, but also is less than fines that licensed stations are often assessed for a given transgression. The bill would raise the fine to up to $100,000 per day, per violation – up to a maximum of $2 million.
  • Liability for “Facilitators” of Pirate Operations: Because many pirate operators operate from distant locations and send signals to a radio transmitter by microwave or even satellite, it’s difficult for the FCC and law enforcement to track them down. The legislation provides a new enforcement focus on those who “facilitate” the illegal operations, including property owners who knowingly and intentionally allow illegal broadcasts on their property.
  • Streamlines Enforcement Process: Under current law, the FCC must provide a full notice and hearing to an illegal operator even before a fine is assessed, a process abused by pirates to delay and evade enforcement. Under the bill, the FCC could assess the fine before providing a hearing in cases where an illegal operator is caught broadcasting in real time. Building owners or others who facilitate pirate operations would have to be properly notified before being slapped with a fine.
  • FCC Litigation Authority & Equipment Seizure/Disposal: The bill would allow the FCC to go to court directly to obtain a seizure order while respecting due process, instead of relying on the U.S. Attorney’s office as currently required. The FCC would be allowed to dispose of confiscated equipment 90 days after seizure.
  • Coordinating with Local Law Enforcement: For the handful of states that have enacted their own piracy penalties, the legislation would not override those policies but would make it easier for the FCC to work with local law enforcement authorities to address pirate radio operations.
  • Enforcement Sweeps: The FCC would be required to conduct bi-annual enforcement sweeps in the top five Radio markets with significant illegal pirate operations.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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