War on Pirates in 2009: (Paper) Fur Flies Furiously

For the ninth year in a row, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has broken its record for the number of enforcement actions taken against unlicensed broadcasters in any given calendar year. 429 enforcement actions spanning 22 states have been catalogued; there are likely to be some stragglers into the database but 2009 goes into the books as the year of the one-armed paper-hanger.
ead09statesThe numbers themselves are relatively unsurprising. Enforcement actions in 2009 were more geographically-concentrated (Florida, New York and New Jersey accounted for nearly 63% of all enforcement actions), but unlicensed broadcast activity was reported coast-to-coast.
However, the number of actual, painful punishments have dropped: five Forfeiture Orders (compared to 13 in 2008); 6 Notices of Apparent Liability (versus 13 in 2008); raid-arrests and seizures remain constant from year-to-year (5/3 in ’09, 5/2 in ’08 – and at least one of the “seizures” last year was voluntary).
State laws in Florida and New Jersey “banning” pirate radio are effectively toothless, even though the longest-lived of the bunch has been on the books for more than four years now. Neither have resulted in any significant impact on unlicensed broadcasting in those states. In fact, the number of FCC enforcement actions in New Jersey nearly doubled last year, compared to the year before.
Thus, you’ve still got a better than 8-in-10 chance of committing electronic civil disobedience and getting away with it with nothing more than a wag of the finger, via certified mail. The FCC did begin the new year with a bang, so to speak, fining a couple in Texas $10,000 for a case that dragged through 2009. It’ll make for good number-stuffing at the end of 2010.
In related news, somebody at the Commission got around to taking Lawrence Lessig’s suggestion to “reboot the FCC” somewhat seriously; who knows what implications this will have on the FCC-spelunkers among us.