Dutch Pirate Police Launch Major Crackdown; FCC Enforcement Stats Skew Toward Thuggery

The Netherlands is a small country: about 13,000 square miles, not quite twice the size of the state of New Jersey. But within its borders the Netherlands boasts one of the most vibrant pirate radio scenes in Europe, behind Italy and the United Kingdom. Literally hundreds of Dutch FM pirates are on the air, some running power levels measured in the kilowatts. There is also a thriving shortwave scene.
Until recently the Dutch government’s radiocommunications enforcement agency, Agentschap Telecom (AT), played lots of cat-and-mouse with pirate broadcasters. Most only got pressure to shut down if they were causing interference, although sporadic enforcement offensives have occurred over the last few years.
This has all changed with “Project Etherflits,” AT’s year-long pirate-hunting spree that kicked off in March. So far nearly 80 stations have been nabbed, including one simultaneous raid on 10 stations last month. Project Etherflits has led to the confiscation of gear galore and fines to station operators ranging between $1,200-$2,600 apiece. The pirates are reportedly organizing public protests in hopes of convincing lawmakers to rein in the hounds.
Meanwhile, back in the States, the FCC has conducted 25 enforcement actions against some 20 microradio stations to date this year. They have mostly concentrated in chronic hot-spots of pirate activity in New York and Florida. From the snapshot it would seem that the agency is getting tougher on pirates – turning forfeiture warnings into fines in four months is speedy work compared to previous FCC efforts, and it means some pirates in our Database are listed more than once in short order.
Criminal convictions for unlicensed broadcasting are up, which is disturbing, but again his tactic is being applied most often to known trouble spots around the country, not as a nationwide policy (yet). It also makes sense in these times of tight budgets for government agencies to crank out more fines to generate more revenue, but the FCC’s collection track record remains unproven. For 2003, every documented enforcement action nets the FCC around $5,700, which is definitely up from the running six-year average of $831.
Historically-speaking (for lack of a better term), FCC field offices seem to collect unlicensed broadcasting complaints and then handle them in batches, leading to flurries of activity at various times of the year in various parts of the country. If the FCC is truly getting serious on a national scale about cracking down on pirate radio, we could likely see a more steady stream of enforcement actions, representing a reactive agency slipping back into the 1998 thug-style behavior. It will be interesting to see how the summer unfolds.