In many respects, I feel sorry for FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly. He’s the #2 Republican on the five-member panel – the politically-weakest Commissoner. And he’s had to languish in the shadow of fellow Republican Ajit Pai, who’s commandeered the minority party’s bully pulpit on a plethora of issues ranging from journalistic independence to network neutrality.
So O’Rielly’s got to make a name for himself somehow, and he’s choosing pirate broadcasting as an issue on which to try. Last week, he published a blog post wherein he lays out some cockamamie suggestions on how to handle “the sourge” that is unlicensed broadcasting. Key to O’Rielly’s proposal is…the CAN-SPAM Act? Continue reading “Should Broadcasters Sue Pirates?”
On the heels of some Congressional inquiry into the the FCC’s plan to radically cut its field enforcement resources, the National Association of Broadcasters finally chimed in. In a post titled “Defanging a Paper Tiger” (hm, where have I heard that term before?), NAB VP of Spectrum Policy Bob Weller gave the idea two big thumbs down.
Weller, who joined NAB last year after several years with the FCC working spectrum policy/enforcement issues, says the new proposal effectively undoes a service-cushion implemented by the agency when it last downsized its enforcement resources some 20 years ago: Continue reading “Reactions to FCC Enforcement Downsizing”
More details are trickling out about the proposal to dramatically slash the FCC’s enforcement presence in the field. To recap: two-thirds of the FCC’s 24 field offices would be closed, and staffing would be cut in half. To make up for the cuts, the FCC would establish a “tiger team” to descend on enforcement hot-spots, using pre-positioned equipment. Where the FCC cedes the field entirely, it seeks to establish relationships with private-sector interests to help with its job.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill last week on the FCC budget, Chairman Tom Wheeler attempted to explain the cuts. He said this is the first time the agency’s examined its enforcement activities in such depth in more than 20 years. They found the FCC’s “field footprint” to be “too large and inefficient.” His prepared testimony casts this as dispassionate math: simply put, the cost-per-employee out in the field is much higher than it is back at headquarters. Continue reading “FCC Enforcement Cuts: The Fine(ish) Print”
A very interesting memorandum was leaked last week to two trade publications detailing a plan to severely reduce the FCC’s enforcement presence in the field. Presently, the agency’s Enforcement Bureau has two dozen field offices scattered throughout 17 states and Puerto Rico. However, not every field office is created equal: there are Regional Offices (many employees), District Offices (a handful of employees) and Resident Agent Offices (one or two people).
According to the American Radio Relay League, two-thirds of all FCC Enforcement Bureau offices would be closed, leaving just half the staff (33 people total) in the field. And their management is positively evicerated: reduced from 21 positions to just five. Continue reading “Massive Cuts Planned to FCC Field Enforcement”
Just updated the Enforcement Action Database and the signs are pretty clear: unlicensed broadcasting has slipped down the priority-list for FCC field agents. Actions against AM/FM and shortwave pirate stations last year were at their lowest level since 2005, the last time fewer than 200 were logged.
Tactically, even the agency’s penchant for paperwork seems to have slackened. Continue reading “FCC Steps Down Anti-Pirate Enforcement”
The Federal Communications Commission has submitted its budget request for fiscal year 2016, and on its face it’s pretty vanilla. The agency seeks the authority to spend some $536 million — nearly $80 million more than last year. The tax burden for FCC operations for the average citizen is effectively nil, as the agency funds itself through spectrum auction/license income and other regulatory fees, with any surpluses sent to the U.S. Treasury.
The vast majority of the FCC’s increased ask relates to money it would like to earmark to administer more spectrum auctions (including one to repack the digital TV service to make more spectrum available for wireless broadband), continue the overhaul of its subsidy programs for public telecommunications, and prepare for a reorganization of the FCC’s headquarters. That last one is perhaps the most notable for its direct effect on agency operations, as the FCC leases its space and the contract is coming due. Options include moving FCC HQ in its entirety (a process last done in the late ’90s) or “restacking” the existing office complex to “substantially reduce our square footage and lower our rental expense.” Continue reading “FCC Budget Request: Dollars Up, Staff Down”
Late last week the Federal Communications Commission released a Notice of Apparent Liability against AT&T for running microwave radio links without the proper licenses. These links are often used as point-to-point backhauls to move data long distances, and sometimes they are used to connect cell nodes in remote locations to the larger network.
The shenanigans first came to light in 2011, when the FCC found an AT&T microwave link in Puerto Rico that was operating on the wrong frequency. The company subsequently conducted a review and found that hundreds of its microwave links were operating outside of licensed parameters and, in some cases, were not licensed at all. AT&T claims these links were part of acquisitions it made from 2009-2012, and in simple terms neglected to file the right paperwork to adequately license them. But the scale of the problem isn’t minor: at least 240 point-to-point microwave licenses in all require either major modifications or minor modifications to be brought into compliance. All have been operating outside license parameters (or without licenses at all) for three to four years. Continue reading “AT&T Lightly Chastised for Airwave Piracy”
Having lived here for a couple of years now, it’s true that New York City is a melting pot of culture like few other places. Sure, there’s Manhattan, from where the most nationally-recognizable symbols of the city’s culture emanate, but each borough’s got its own flavor, with distinctive neighborhoods and narratives.
This is very true for the radio dial. And of the five boroughs, nobody’s airwaves are more active than Brooklyn. Last year, I conducted a bandscan of receivable FM stations from my location on the Midwood/Flatbush border and picked up some 30 pirates; now it’s a new year and the FM dial remains alive with them. Somebody’s even established a Twitter feed that tracks (and samples) what’s on the air here. By and large, every frequency from 87.7 to 107.9 has something on it, and where I live there’s a one-in-three chance that it’s unlicensed. You can find everything from Afro-Carribean talk and music to Orthodox Jewish teachings and Hebrew music. There’s also stations devoted to the more mundane, like dance music, gospel, and death metal. Many are commercial, in mom-and-pop fashion. The languages are multivariate, but it’s all live and local, and despite its rough edges this FM dial is vibrant like nowhere else (save London, perhaps). Continue reading “NYC Pirates Need a Needle Exchange”
Back in 2009, Journal Broadcast Corporation’s KTNV-TV in Las Vegas ran a series of “special reports” on the liquidation sales of auto dealerships formatted like news stories, aired immediately adjacent to the station’s weekend newscasts, with a “staff person…posing as a journalist” in each one. Surprise: the dealerships paid for the “coverage.” After a five-year investigation, Journal and the FCC entered into a consent decree released on Friday that has Journal fessing up to the deception and making a voluntary contriubtion of $115,000 to the U.S. Treasury.
According to the decree, the caper was the brainchild of Vegas-area advertising agency, and the complainant was another TV station in the market. It originally alleged that three stations were involved in the pay-for-coverage business, but the FCC’s only dimed one of them. Between May and August 2009, KTNV ran 27 of these “special reports.” Continue reading “Actual Fake News Costs TV Station $115,000”
Just got the Enforcement Action Database caught up for the year, and the numbers show that FCC field activity is running at the lowest level it’s been since 2005. Just 173 enforcement actions to date, as opposed to ~260 at this time last year.
There was a similar dip in the years afer the FCC first proposed the creation of LPFM, and with LPFM’s second wave in the works it’s enticing to see a correlation, but this time around I’m more inclined to believe it has to do with changing political priorities regarding enforcement policy (pirates take a back seat to cell-phone jammers, for example) coupled with the effects of austerity on federal government services more broadly. Continue reading “FCC Enforcement: On the Wane?”