FCC’s O’Rielly: Give Us More Tools for Pirate Crackdown

Commissioner says FCC should be allowed to confiscate equipment, raise fines

An FCC commissioner is urging Congress to give the agency more enforcement tools to fight illegal radio broadcasts.

Commissioner 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.

“The commission 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.

His proposals:

*Increased Penalties — O’Rielly said illegal operators face minimal fines, even for years or decades of disruptive and harmful activities.

*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 owners.

*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 owner.

*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 any chairmanship.”

*Elimination 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 cases.

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.



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