An FCC commissioner is urging
Congress to give the agency more enforcement tools to fight illegal radio broadcasts.
Michael O’Rielly has been vocal about the unlicensed operators that he and most
broadcasters call pirates. Tuesday he raised the issue during FCC
oversight testimony before a House subcommittee.
has experienced renewed vigor under Chairman Pai in tracking down and imposing
penalties against pirate radio broadcasters,’’ O’Rielly said, referring to his
fellow Republican, Chairman Ajit Pai.
But he asked that
Congress modify the FCC’s enforcement authority. “Make no
mistake, those conducting pirate radio broadcasts, which are more prevalent in
New York City, Northern New Jersey, Boston and Miami, have generally laughed at
past enforcement efforts by the commission,” he said.
*Increased Penalties — O’Rielly said illegal operators
face minimal fines, even for years or decades of disruptive and harmful
*Aiding & Abetting — People who “knowingly
and intentionally” assist illegal radio broadcasters, he argued, should be
subject to FCC penalties. These include advertisers, landlords and building
*Confiscation of Equipment — O’Rielly noted that once
illegal stations are located, FCC policy is to issue a warning and leave, and
said there is a high probability that the equipment will be used again. “While
many pirate radio broadcasters operate with shoestring equipment, including cheap
laptops and transmitters, there are several pirate broadcasters that maintain
quite sophisticated ‘station’ operations,” he said; so commission staff should have a process to confiscate such equipment, especially
as it relates to common areas not under the control or ownership of the equipment
*Sweeps — Once existing offenders are gone, the commission
should be required to conduct biannual or yearly targeted enforcement efforts
to ensure pirates do not sprout again, he argues. “Protection
of our nation’s airwaves must remain a priority and not left to the whims of
of Warnings — The policy of leaving repeated warnings clearly does not work,
according to O’Rielly, who called the results “incredibly frustrating and
demoralizing.” He wants the FCC to be allowed to suspend the warning process and
go directly to the issuance of notice of apparent liability in appropriate
In a blog post commenting on his remarks, the Communications Practice Group of law firm Kelley Drye called it unlikely that the recommendations would result in legislative action soon, but gave more context to the points discussed; you can read that here.