I’ve updated the Enforcement Action Database this week, due to some news out of the FCC regarding its enforcement efforts against unlicensed broadcasting, all of which show little change to the wimpish status quo.
The agency tells Radio World that its plan to close 11 field offices will commence in January of next year. More than 40 field-agent positions will be cut, leaving just 13 offices remaining across the country, with a combined staff of three dozen. These will be backstopped by two “Tiger Teams” staged in Colorado and Maryland, to be dispatched to areas where an “interference crisis” exists within 24 hours.
However, what will those boots on the ground actually do when they get there? If the enforcement protocol itself does not change, the answer will be very little. Once need only look at the three most recent Notices of Apparent Liability issued by the Enforcement Bureau against pirate broadcasters in the last few weeks: touted mightily by the industry trades, a closer look shows a curious pattern of disengagement. Continue reading “FCC Enforcement: Anti-Pirate "Muscle" Now Slower than Molasses”
In a little-covered meeting earlier this summer, the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council voted to proceed with what could potentially be a controversial study of noise across the electromagnetic spectrum. This two-page PDF outlines the TAC’s proposal and asks several questions about what such a study should cover, and how to go about doing it.
Many FCC-watchers seem pleasantly surprised that the TAC is wading into this mess. The study itself will be broken down along two lines: attempting to quantify interference from intentional and unintentional radiators. Intentional radiators are sources of potential noise that mean to broadcast — think radio and TV stations, wireless routers, and the like. Unintentional radiators are things that emit RF energy (and potential noise) but that is not their primary reason for being — think most electronic devices, older-model LED systems, and whatnot. Continue reading “Bring the Noise (Floor)”
Tell us something we don’t know: they are pervasive and may outnumber licensed broadcasters in the number one radio market in America.
That’s the most notable takeaway from a 103-page report (also embedded at the end of this post) prepared for the New York State Broadcasters’ Association by Maryland-based consulting engineers Meintel, Sgrignoli, & Wallace, who camped out at four locales in the NYC metropolitan area — two in NYC proper and two in New Jersey — earlier this year with a cleverly-camouflaged monitoring van (at right) and basically did FM bandscans.
They picked up 76 pirates on the dial…though they estimate that “there may be more than 100 unauthorized stations” on the air in total. According to the report, this is not the first pirate-survey MS&W has been commissioned for — similar bandscans were conducted in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Compared to last year’s findings, the number of unlicensed broadcasters in Brooklyn alone has increased some 58%, though there’s no way to compare figures since the earlier reports have not been made publicly available. Continue reading “NY Broadcasters Try Quantifying Pirates”
FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, the pinch-headed ideologue who’s tried to make a name for himself by attempting to launch a war on unlicensed broadcasting in America, actually went out into the mean streets of New York City earlier this summer along with field agents to hunt pirate stations.
Speaking to a very receptive audience at the annual conference of the New Jersey Broadcasters’ Association last month, O’Rielly called unlicensed broadcasting “a key area needing significant attention. . .as it represents a very real problem that is growing.”
Claiming that pirate stations “have no legal or moral right to operate,” O’Rielly asserted (again, without evidence) that pirate radio stations are “stealing listeners” from licensed broadcasters, “weakening [their] financial situation and undermining the health of licensed radio stations” supposedly devoted to serving their communities of license. The threat of interference from unlicensed stations also got a shout-out, but that’s apparently become a secondary issue to O’Rielly’s perferred agency mandate to maximize the profits of the radio industry. Continue reading “O'Rielly Goes Pirate-Hunting, is Flabbergasted by Tower”
Our mid-year update to the Enforcment Action Database shows absolutely no change in the FCC’s enforcement protocol regarding unlicensed broadcasting. Although the agency is running ahead of its enforcement action pace last year (70 to date, compared to 125 for all of 2015), it’s well off the highs seen late last decade. Fewer than three dozen unlicensed radio stations in just six states have had some form of contact with the FCC in 2016.
So far, Florida is the hottest spot for FCC activity with 25 actions to date; New Jersey and New York respectively round out the top three. That’s a surprising drop for the Empire State, which has not only topped the list for the last four years but whose Congressfolk and licensed broadcast constituency (along with their colleagues in New Jersey) have been clamoring for more anti-pirate policing.
Some of this political pressure may have been a factor in three monetary forfeitures issued to New Jersey pirates last month. Industry trades made great hay out of the $40,000 in total penalties — but all of these stem from cases that originated last year. That said, the FCC handed out just a single forfeiture in 2015, but perennial collection difficulties remain. Continue reading “Paper Tiger Teams MIA…So Far”
All five FCC Commissioners spent more than three hours on Capitol Hill last week being questioned by the House Energy and Commerce Committee during an “oversight hearing,” which is a fancy way of saying “let members of Congress score political points by grandstanding on the FCC-related issues they care about the most.” While the hearing itself was mostly dominated by subjects such as the agency’s upcoming spectrum auctions and proposals to detach set-top TV boxes from the grip of cable service providers, two Congressfolk raised the issue of pirate radio with the Commissioners.
First was Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who’s been a very vocal supporter of increased enforcement efforts against pirate stations in the New York City metropolitan area. He announced that he plans to draft legislation to asssist in these efforts and lobbed Commissioner Michael O’Rielly a softball question on the state of pirate radio enforcement: in effect, “what should this bill include?”
O’Rielly said that “getting at the money part” of pirate radio was paramount. Many entities advertise on pirate stations; he mentioned concert and club promoters and political campaigns (?) in particular. However, O’Rielly also noted that he did not want such legislation to penalize those who may “inadvertently” assist unlicensed broadcast operations, such as landlords who may not know they’re renting space to a pirate station. Continue reading “Congress to Target Pirate Advertisers (and Others?)”
On Thursday, February 25th — one day before the Radio Preservation Task Force‘s inaugural conference — I traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet up with friend and colleague, Dr. Christopher Terry, who was also attending the conference. Like me, Dr. Terry is a media law and policy scholar who hails from Wisconsin. And also like me, Dr. Terry has been watching with interest the FCC’s foray into definining journalism on the public airwaves.
In his classes, Dr. Terry uses the Commission’s $44,000 fine against WLS-AM for airing newscasts produced by Workers Independent News as a teaching point to explore the FCC’s regulation of sponsored content. In prior posts, I’ve explained how Workers Independent News purchases airtime on selected commercial radio stations to air its newscasts and features. The FCC case stemmed from WLS-AM’s failure to run the required disclaimer that WIN had paid for its own airtime in a small fraction of broadcasts.
But when the FCC decided to sock WLS with such a stiff fine, it made WIN’s legitimacy as a news organization key to its rationale. Unprecedented in the history of U.S. broadcast regulation, the FCC effectively declared Workers Independent News to not be news, thereby justifying such a large forefiture.
Shortly after the FCC’s 2014 decision, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the agency for all documents related to its decisionmaking process in the WLS case. Last November, FCC attorneys reported back that they had identified several thousand pages of material…but released less than 90 redacted pages. Among them was the original complaint that kicked off the FCC’s inquiry, which defamed Workers Independent News as an activist organization masquerading as a news outlet. It was on this allegation that the FCC seemed to rest its case. Continue reading “"The Documents Are Not Available"”
With unlicensed broadcast operations taking place with impunity in several of the nation’s largest media markets, and facing near-emasculation in the field, the Federal Communications Commission is taking a new tack to try and ameliorate the “pirate problem.”
A letter co-signed by all five Commissioners was mailed out last week to several local government and industry trade groups, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Chiefs of Police, Association of National Advertisers, and National Association of Realtors, among several others.
This letter seeks to inform the recipients about who pirate stations are and asks that they avoid doing business with them. The letter claims that unlicensed broadcasters “can cause harmful interference to licensed radio broadcasters serving their communities, thereby starving stations of their ability to reach their listening audiences and obtain necessary advertising revenues.” It also claims that pirate stations have the potential to interfere with public-safety radio systems.
The tone is slightly admonishing: the recipients are informed that they “may be unknowingly or unintentionally providing aid to pirate stations. . .including buying advertising on such stations to housing the physical stations themselves.” The Commissioners hint that this may expose them to “potential FCC enforcement or other legal actions,” and cautions that being in business with a pirate station may also “sully the reputations of those businesses with the licensed broadcast community and other professional organizations” – sort of a “Scarlet P” approach. Continue reading “Paper Tiger Warns: Don't Do Business With Pirates”
Speaking at the Country Radio Seminar last week, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly laid out several items he’d like to make part of radio’s regulatory agenda this year. And true to form, the man who’s made pirate radio a personal crusade has big plans to try and wipe out what he calls “poison ivy in the garden of the radio spectrum.”
O’Rielly acknowledged that the largest concentrations of unlicensed broadcasters are in America’s cities, such as New York, Boston, and Miami, but claims that “the problem is expanding rapidly,” and it represents “an attack on the integrity of our airwaves – an attack that must be confronted and defeated on no uncertain terms, lest it continue to push forward.” Continue reading “O'Rielly Outlines Anti-Pirate Agenda for 2016”
This year has been fairly unremarkable regarding the FCC’s unlicensed broadcast efforts: just 111 actions against a few dozen stations across 10 states. However, the overwhelming majority (76%) of enforcement efforts this year have been have been focused on the FM dials of New York and New Jersey. This is a clear sign of the broadcast industry’s active involvement in the enforcement process, acting as a conduit for complaints on which the FCC follows up.
That said, enforcement tactics remain almost wholly administrative. Only five Notices of Apparent Liability totalling $70,000 have been issued this year, while just one fine of $20,000 has been levied against a pirate radio operator. In every case, the FCC built up at least six months’ of evidence; in some instances (particularly involving pirates facing threats of fines in New Jersey), the unlicensed broadcasters have been on the agency’s radar since 2012. Continue reading “FCC Pirate Radio Enforcement Drops to 2004 Levels”