FCC Enforcement: Old and New

A much-overdue update to the Enforcement Action Database is done. So far in 2011, the FCC has conducted less than 100 enforcement actions – way down from this time last year, when 359 were already on the books.
The major changes to this year’s enforcement trends include an apparent stiffening of fiscal penalties and a diversification of enforcement across all broadcast bands. On the first point, the FCC seems to be increasing fines from the base-penalty of $10,000. Not that this actually works as a deterrent: in cases where an unlicensed broadcaster demonstrates an inability to pay, fines must be radically reduced.
On the second point, FCC enforcement is not just for FM anymore. There has been an uptick in enforcement against shortwave broadcasters – the most recent activity saw field agents scope out a broadcast location twice before they dispatched a warning letter. (There is quite a saga in the shortwave pirate community regarding the rise in shortwave policing, which can be found here in all its sordid glory.)
In addition, the FCC has visited/warned several unlicensed AM broadcasters, most of whom have been broadcasting in the expanded band. I’m not sure if this trend is related to an increasing accessibility of home-brew AM transmission equipment, or due to the fact that pirates see the growing desolation of the AM band as fertile ground.
However, the the most notable enforcement action of the year (so far) happened on the FM dial. The FCC visited Mbanna Kantako, founder of Human Rights Radio, at his home in Springfield, Illinois this June.
Kantako, widely considered the godfather of the modern U.S. microradio movement (which helped launch LPFM), has already been through the FCC’s wringer since he first put his radio station on the air nearly 24 years ago. He’s been the subject of fines, station raids and equipment seizures, and even a court injunction.
That has not stopped Kantako from hounding back in his own inimitable style – daring arrest by firing up his transmitter from the steps of Springfield’s city hall and following field agents through his home during a raid in 2000 with a tape recorder.
In the main, while the raw amount of unlicensed broadcast enforcement the FCC is engaged in has declined, the agency seems to be broadening its horizons vis-à-vis policing the broadcast spectrum as a whole. That said, given that enforcement activity is in a net decline, it’s hard to make the case that pirate radio is any more of an enforcement priority than it has been over the last decade – and, perhaps, even less now than in recent years.