Anti-Pirate Laws Under Fire, Nearing Passage

It’s been nine months since the American Radio Relay League formally requested the FCC void a statute implemented in Florida last year that criminalized unlicensed broadcasting. The agency’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is supposed to do the deliberation. So far, no word.
The FCC’s in a sticky situation. Pirate radio activity in Florida is off the charts compared to the rest of the country – way, way more than the FCC field offices in Tampa and Miami can handle. So they would prefer to look the other way while state officials clean up the AM and FM dials: the chief of the Tampa office has already said as much.
However, throughout its entire institutional history the FCC has doggedly defended its exclusive jurisdiction over the airwaves, and especially that spectrum allocated for person-to-person communication, something the ARRL’s petition details in depth. To formally accept even partial state regulation of the broadcast bands runs antithetical to the agency’s legal marrow.
So long as the FCC continues to sit on the ARRL petition – a not-uncommon tactic for controversial documents – the status quo will remain. Two men already await trial on charges under Florida’s anti-pirate law. Perhaps their trials will settle the issue, but either way it sucks to be them.
Broadcasters in New Jersey are still quietly pushing to criminalize pirate radio there as well. In March the state Assembly voted 73-1 to make unlicensed broadcasting a fourth-degree felony. On December 1 the state Senate’s Committee on Law, Public Safety, and Veterans’ Affairs declared an identical bill, S1672, ready for a floor vote.