On Monday, the full House of Representatives approved the PIRATE Act on a voice vote (no roll call). This comes just a week after its Energy and Commerce Committee endorsed the bill (also on a voice vote) with some amendments, and two months after the bill was initially introduced.
The amended bill ups the size of financial penalties for unlicensed broadcasting to $2 million, requires the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau to conduct an annual sweep of the top five radio markets where radio piracy is most prevalent (with follow-up “monitoring sweeps”), gives field agents the option to skip the initial warning-letter in cases where the broadcasts are ongoing, and requires the FCC to establish a database of both licensed and unlicensed radio stations. It also notes that no additional funding will flow to the FCC in order to undertake these new regulatory burdens. Continue reading “PIRATE Act Passes House on Voice Vote”
In May, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) introduced the “Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act,” otherwise known by the acronym PIRATE Act. The bill makes several changes to existing FCC regulations regarding unlicensed broadcasting:
1. The maximum monetary penalty that can be assessed for unlicensed broadcasting on the AM and FM bands is increased from an aggregate maximum of $100,000 to $2 million, and can be doled out in increments of $100,000 per day. These fines can be issued against the pirate broadcaster directly, or against any entity that “knowingly and intentionally facilitates pirate radio broadcasting.”
“Facilitates” is defined as “providing access to property (and improvements thereon) or providing physical goods or services, including providing housing, facilities, or financing, that directly aid pirate radio broadcasting.” This hearkens back to a historical precedent set by European laws in the 1960s that attempted to outlaw offshore pirate radio by making it illegal to supply and advertise on the station-ships and platforms operating in international waters. Continue reading “PIRATE Act Sets Sail in House”
Radio World revealed earlier this month that the acting chief of the Enforcement Bureau, Michael Carowitz, held a videoconference with members of the Bureau’s field-agent staff. The call revealed that the FCC’s downsizing of its enforcement resources has begun, with 11 field offices closed over the last several months (Anchorage, AK; Buffalo, NY; Detroit, MI; Houston, TX; Kansas City, MO; Norfolk, VA; Philadelphia, PA; San Diego, CA; Seattle, WA; Tampa, FL; and San Juan, PR) and 14 remaining open.
At present, that leaves just 34 field agents covering the entire country – this includes one of two roving “Tiger Teams” of agents organized to backstop the decimated staff in-residence. That’s almost a cut of half from the prior force of 60 that spanned the nation. It’s also important to keep in mind that these agents are responsible for enforcing all FCC regulations, not just the broadcast license requirement. Continue reading “Now They Tell Us: FCC, Congress Rethinking Enforcement Drawdown?”
On Friday, the FCC opened a six-month filing window for AM broadcasters to acquire existing FM translators, and move them up to 250 miles into their local coverage areas. This is part of the agency’s AM revitalization initiative — though it’s still not exactly clear how FM spectrum fixes AM’s fundamental difficulties.
This window is exclusive to lower-power AM broadcasters; the large “flamethrower” stations will get a crack at the translator shuffle later this summer, and then the FCC plans to open an application window for new translator stations next year. The marketplace for translators, which has been simmering mightily underground for nearly a decade, has fully burst into the mainstream with the FCC’s blessing. Continue reading “Window Brings Surge of Translator Deals”
Several radio stations in small markets throughout the United States are licking their wounds after suffering cyber-intrusions.
The alarm was first sounded by a cluster of radio stations in Louisiana on October 16. When the morning crews arrived, they found they had no access to the stations’ automation systems or music libraries. Instead, the data on their computers had been encrypted and frozen…and then they began to receive e-mails asking them to pay hundreds of dollars in order to set their machines free.
The stations’ owner reports that instead of paying the ransom demand, they’ve reported the intrusions to the police and plan to rebuild their systems from scratch. It will cost “tens of thousands of dollars” to undo the damage that the malicious software has inflicted, and they apparently keep finding more compromises as they continue their damage assessment.
Then last week, stations in Arkansas and Virginia announced that they, too had been infected by software that scrambled several of their computer systems and demanded payment to restore them. And this week, a cluster of stations in Michigan belatedly reported that they suffered the same sort of attack in September. Continue reading “Radio Stations Fall Victim to Cyberattack (Again)”
The Daily Oakland Press gives the WNFC project a nice once-over. The quote above is from Ferndale police chief Michael Kitchen, who also says, “The FCC will tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.”
The Detroit area FCC office is pretty quick on the draw but has handled unlicensed broadcasting cases in the past with a level of diplomatic aplomb not seen in very many places. Although the organizers of WNFC have extended an offer of dialogue to the local field office, there has been no reported contact as of yet.
In his ongoing crusade to recruit community support for a limited-run unlicensed “demonstration” LPFM station in Ferndale, Michigan, Tom Ness has been lining up support from community leaders like gangbusters. Folks including Ferndale’s mayor, the local Catholic bishop, and possibly even some Congresscritters from Michigan will grace the mic of this experiment in civil disobedience, among many others.
However, Ferndale Police chief Michael Kitchen will not take part. His response to Ness’ offer of air time at WNFC:
You can’t “not encourage lawlessness” and then intentionally break a law. If you wish to “cooperate fully” with me, simply don’t break the law(s) which I am sworn to uphold. Continue reading “WNFC Update: Ferndale Police Waffle”
Mark Koernke, a member of the Michigan militia, has been in prison for two years after leading police on a high-speed chase. While he’s been out of circulation, someone has been running an unlicensed microradio station from his home in the village of Dexter. The station can apparently only be heard for a couple of miles and mostly runs information sympathetic to the militia.
It’s an undisputed fact that people involved with militias love weaponry. So, when federal marshals went to raid the station on Wednesday, they should not have been shocked to find a shitload of it on the Koernke property.
Seeing the stuff apparently sent the FCC men and their badge-carrying chaperones into some sort of fit, as they called in the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms and any other police they could find in the surrounding several square miles. Continue reading “Bad Spin Alert: Feds Raid Michigan Militia Microradio Station”
As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) grinds forward with its implementation of a minuscule low power FM (LPFM) community radio service, media activists around America are looking at new ways to further the gains they’ve made in opening access to the airwaves.
The FCC tried to acknowledge pressure from unlicensed microbroadcasters as a reason for attempting to widely legalize LPFM, but these so-called “pirates” were eventually cut out of the new opportunities through lobbying by the radio industry and National Public Radio.
That spurred many stations to redouble their broadcast efforts and brought new blood into the unlicensed microbroadcasting scene. For example, recently-visited free radio station KBFR – Boulder Free Radio – in Boulder, Colorado was originally run by applicants for an LPFM license. They decided to buck the law only after Congress stepped in and killed potential LPFM stations in America’s cities, including Boulder. Continue reading “A Modest Proposal”
There are three levels at which to play the political game. They are the local (the bottom level), state (middle), and national (the top level). Each step up the ladder takes more effort, adds more risks, and can lead to more rewards. Not surprisingly, those higher up on the ladder contain more power than those on the lower rungs.
As far as the legalization of low-power radio goes, there’s different activity at different levels – and each one paints a unique perspective on how its political game is being played out. Surprisingly, much of the action is happening in Michigan.
Starting locally, Tom Ness and his merry band of walking civics lessons at the Michigan Music is World Class Campaign have been busy bringing the issue before city councils, township boards and other bodies of local government. The goal is to collect resolutions – official documents by a government body that don’t set policy, but do express an “official opinion” on an issue or cause. Continue reading “Legislative Maneuvers”