A fine has been tentatively assessed by the Federal Communications Commission against an alleged illegal radio operator in northern New Jersey. It includes an extra penalty for ignoring FCC warnings; but Commissioner Michael O’Rielly thinks it’s still not enough.
On April 25, the FCC says, it sent a notice of apparent liability for forfeiture to Winston Tulloch for allegedly operating on 90.9 MHz in Paterson, N.J., after repeatedly warning him that his operation exceeded legal limits for unlicensed operation. The commission said that his “apparent deliberate disregard” of its warnings warranted the $25,000 penalty. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, noting news reports about the fine, tweeted: “Multiple warnings and complaints & then tiny fine? Great work by FCC Enforcement Bureau in taking action, but I’ve testified that we need greater tools in toolbox to stop pirate radio ‘stations’!”
It was in February 2015 that the commission received a complaint from a consumer that several unauthorized stations were operating in Paterson. Agents from the New York office began investigating and observed what appeared to be an unauthorized broadcast on 90.9 MHz in the city of 147,000 not far from New York. They determined the signal was coming from a multifamily unit, where agents also photographed an FM broadcast antenna on the roof. After measuring the strength of the signal, agents determined that the transmissions exceeded the limits for operation under Part 15.
The FCC agents returned in October 2014 and in January and April 2016 and found the station was still operating. On each occasion, it says, they recorded a portion of the transmissions, during which an announcer solicited advertising and gave a phone number. That number led agents to conclude that Tulloch was the operator; they said his car was also parked at the location during several of their visits.
A followup visit found that the station still operating but had from a separate multifamily complex a few streets away. At that time, agents issued a formal Notice of Unlicensed Radio Operation to Tulloch, which said that if he continued he would be subject to additional enforcement action. By May 2017, the station was still operating but had moved back to its original location. A second NOUO was left in June. In September, agents returned to the original location and determined that the station was no longer in operation on 90.9 MHz.
This month, the commission found that because Tulloch had “willfully and repeatedly” violated Section 301 of the Communications Act, it was proposing a base forfeiture of $10,000 for each of the violations in May and June. But the commission has discretion to boost forfeitures in certain cases, it added $5,000 for “the repeated and intentional nature of Mr. Tulloch’s apparent violations.”
The total proposed fine is $25,000. Tulloch has 30 days to pay or reach out to the commission with reasons why the fine should be reduced or cancelled.