Florida Broadcasters Prepare Next Offensive on Pirates

Last August an NPR affiliate got the Broward County Sheriff’s office to raid two unlicensed FM stations, using building code violations to gain entry.
C. Patrick Roberts, president of the Florida Association of Broadcasters, was overjoyed with the success of the local raid, which did the job the FCC failed to do.
The push is now on to formalize this tactic as law: the FAB (ha!) is now working with sympathetic state lawmakers to criminalize pirate radio in the state of Florida. ”I believe it’s better to use a Mack truck than a flyswatter,” said Roberts.
Yet if this moves forward Roberts will likely get more grief from the FCC than from the pirates. The FCC is notoriously sensitive about its jurisdiction and does not take kindly to being pre-empted by local or state laws. Part of this is due to the fact that the FCC’s legal authority to enforce the prohibition on unlicensed broadcasting has been previously challenged on intra/interstate commerce grounds.
The main thrust behind this line of attack is that the FCC has no authority to regulate low-power broadcasters whose signals do not cross state lines, based on the premise that only interstate commerce falls under federal jurisdiction and regulation; all intrastate matters are left to the states to regulate. The FCC (and the courts) have parried this various ways:
1) Radio stations whose signals do not cross state lines may still interfere with the signals of stations that do, or with the signals of stations located out-of-state that listeners can pick up locally. This constitutes potential interference to “interstate commerce,” and the FCC wins.
2) The FCC does not have to actually demonstrate that an unlicensed station’s signal actually crosses state lines; if it can demonstrate that the station runs enough power to have the potential of being heard outside the state, the FCC wins.
3) While a low-power unlicensed radio station’s signal may only be listenable in-state, theoretically speaking its RF energy travels an infinite distance at the speed of light. So, although you may not actually be able to listen to the pirate station out-of-state, the fact that a miniscule amount of its RF energy is crossing state lines constitutes “interstate commerce,” and the FCC wins.
I know there’s others out there, but these are the ones that come to mind quickest. (Note to Sovereign Citizens: I’m not saying the situation is right, just narrating some history, based on the assumption that the federal court system has meaning and applicable authority – although I realize this is something on which we’ll have to agree to disagree.)
Seeing as how the FCC’s invested decades justifying and shoring up its legal authority, something tells me it won’t take kindly to that authority being undermined by its own licensees.
While actions like the ones in Florida last August have happened in the past, in nearly all of those cases either the FCC strongly objected to the local enforcement initiative or moved in to shut the problem stations down before the locals had a chance to act.