With unlicensed broadcast operations taking place with impunity in several of the nation’s largest media markets, and facing near-emasculation in the field, the Federal Communications Commission is taking a new tack to try and ameliorate the “pirate problem.”
A letter co-signed by all five Commissioners was mailed out last week to several local government and industry trade groups, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Chiefs of Police, Association of National Advertisers, and National Association of Realtors, among several others.
This letter seeks to inform the recipients about who pirate stations are and asks that they avoid doing business with them. The letter claims that unlicensed broadcasters “can cause harmful interference to licensed radio broadcasters serving their communities, thereby starving stations of their ability to reach their listening audiences and obtain necessary advertising revenues.” It also claims that pirate stations have the potential to interfere with public-safety radio systems.
The tone is slightly admonishing: the recipients are informed that they “may be unknowingly or unintentionally providing aid to pirate stations. . .including buying advertising on such stations to housing the physical stations themselves.” The Commissioners hint that this may expose them to “potential FCC enforcement or other legal actions,” and cautions that being in business with a pirate station may also “sully the reputations of those businesses with the licensed broadcast community and other professional organizations” – sort of a “Scarlet P” approach. Continue reading “Paper Tiger Warns: Don't Do Business With Pirates”
Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly has made the persecution of pirate radio one of his hobby horses. He’s been blogging about it all year, lamenting the fact that his agency has no muscle with which to silence most stations and suggesting some cockamamie ideas for trying to tackle the problem. Although the agency’s Enforcement Bureau is currently going through a painful downisizing, O’Rielly’s an impatient man who wants heads on sticks.
He convened a task force of the broadcast industry earlier this summer which put forth a litany of suggestions for improving unlicensed broadcast enforcement. A month later, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler acknowledged that while unlicensed broadcasting is very much alive and well, tackling the phenomenon will not succeed using traditional enforcement methods. Continue reading “O'Rielly Pimps Pirate "Policy Statement"”
Can’t say for sure, but the latest update to the Enforcement Action Database seems to suggest it, as the agency considers drastically cutting their already meager ranks. As of the end of April, there’ve been just 35 enforcement actions against 17 stations in four states. There has been no official report of field activity in May. In 2014, there were 52 enforcement actions in the same time-frame.
2014 saw the lowest level of FCC enforcement activity against unlicensed broadcasters in nearly a decade. Where agents are active, New York continues to lead the way, followed by New Jersey and California. A station in Colorado also got a warning letter this year, but that was a follow-up to a visit last year. Continue reading “In Face of Downsizing, Are FCC Agents Pulling Back?”
Jesse Walker recently wrote a nice treatise on the anti-pirate laws in Florida and New Jersey (albeit in dubious trappings, but you can read around that). Inspired, I decided to drop a line to the two Democrat FCC commissioners, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, both of whom are supposedly somewhat accessible via e-mail. They got this:
Since 2004 the state of Florida has asserted jurisdiction over the broadcast airwaves, something the FCC has historically worked very hard to keep within its exclusive domain. Last year, the state of New Jersey followed suit. Both states have essentially criminalized the act of unlicensed broadcasting, punishable as a felony involving jail sentences and multi-thousand dollar fines. Continue reading “FCC Still MIA on State Law Preemption”
According to this handy web site, which tracks the amateur radio licensing statistics of the FCC, the number of licensed hams has been in a steady decline for the better part of three years. The numbers (as of January 2006) show that there are just over 660,000 amateur radio license-holders in the United States, a decline of nearly 28,000 since mid-2003 (in chart form, since 1997).
On average, between 1,000 and 2,000 new amateur licenses are issued every month, although a larger number expire. By decade, amateur radio licenses have been in a net growth pattern until the year 2000; for this decade the aggregate growth number is negative. Interestingly, less than half of all hams are members of the American Radio Relay League. Continue reading “Hams In Decline”
Reaction from the New Jersey Broadcasters Association, after acting governor Codey affixed his signature to legislation criminalizing unlicensed broadcasting: “Thanks, Florida.”
However, instead of hitting up the cops first, the NJBA plans to deputize the audience directly, via “a series of Radio announcements alerting listeners to this new law, and what to do if a pirate station interferes with their favorite local station.” These I’ve gotta hear. Continue reading “New Jersey War on Microradio: Mobilizing the Troops”
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. Continue reading “Anti-Pirate Laws Under Fire, Nearing Passage”
Somehow, somewhere I stumbled across the image at right which, if you click it, takes you to more detailed version. If that one’s not big enough, try this one.
The map is the stellar work of Hamcall.net, which boasts the largest and best-kept database of amateur radio operators by callsign available online (and would never condone unlicensed operation, of course).
The next step of coolness would be animating this map over time. I wonder if they have similar maps of previous years.
Two men were arrested on the last day of June for running unlicensed stations in Broward County, Florida. They’re being charged with felonies under a new state law and face up to five years in prison. A pirate-busting sheriff’s detective seems pleased with his handiwork, but it’s been nearly a year since the law went on the books and this is the first action to speak of. Signal Finder, those pirate-hunters for hire – are not making out like they’d hoped.
A pending petition from the American Radio Relay League to the FCC, which asks the agency to declare the Florida law null and void (by federal preemption) may not be ruled on for several more months. Perhaps the state will rush its prosecution in hopes of beating the FCC to a resolution. The south Florida scene has certainly transcended microbroadcasting, sounding like a little slice of London – if not so much on the air then in the modus operandi.
Amateurs on the offensive: The American Radio Relay League has formally petitioned the FCC to nullify Florida’s anti-pirate law passed last year. Not because hams like pirates, but because they’re afraid the law’s so broadly written that any amateur who inadvertently interferes could be branded a criminal. ARRL’s 10-page Request for Declaratory Ruling is an excellent encapsulation of the legislative and judicial history for why laws like Florida’s shouldn’t be on the books.
Meanwhile, some clenching reporter from a Fort Myers TV station put together an “exposé” of a local hip-hop pirate station using indecency as a hook, complete with bleeped clips and the shocked reaction of a (white) mother’s face after she tuning in for the cameras. The reporter, with help from a local commercial radio station worried about the pirate’s effect on its listenership, went so far as to track down the transmission location. It also calls use of the internet as STL a growing trend.