FCC Enforcement Bureau Gives 2006 Overview

At its monthly meeting in January the FCC heard year-end reports and “strategic plans” from each of its primary bureaus and offices. Enforcement Bureau chief Kris Monteith reported that out of some 3,300 field investigations undertaken in 2006, the Bureau claims to have shut down “approximately” 85 pirate radio stations. If each station is counted as its own investigation, and the Bureau’s claims are assumed to be accurate, less than 3% of the Bureau’s field-time is spent on unlicensed broadcast enforcement.
Notably, this month saw the Bureau rule on some petitions for reconsideration with regard to fines issued to pirates in the last few years, which gives a better sense of the agency’s speed and effectiveness of enforcement. For example, one ruling knocked a $10,000 fine down to $600, three years after its issuance; another $10,000 claim issued in 2003 was subsequently knocked down to $1,000 in 2004, and was just further successfully appealed to $250.
These cases highlight instances of negative productivity in the enforcement process: the FCC spent much more in resources (personnel-time and travel, to name two) than it will recoup from the punishment meted, provided the five-year statute of limitations on each case doesn’t run out before the agency makes an effort to actually collect the fines.
Unfortunately, the Enforcement Bureau didn’t lay out much of a strategic plan, other than to note that it would “look to the future while not forgetting the past,” for what that’s worth. Response to the report from the Commissioners themselves was pretty benign, though Jonathan Adelstein did nudge Monteith to work more diligently on investigations into radio payola and the proliferation of video news releases.