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FCC Plans to Hire to Fight Pirate Radio

Omnibus spending bill includes money for 15 full-time equivalent positions

Text has been updated to reflect that the $5 million for implementing aspects of the PIRATE Act has already been provided in the FY22 funding bill.

The Federal Communications Commission under Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel plans to fill 15 new positions to help fight pirate radio, using money in the FY22 omnibus spending bill that was enacted this month.

The omnibus bill will fund the federal government through September and includes $5 million, requested by the commission, to meet requirements of the PIRATE Act that became law two years ago.

[Related: “Lack of Funding Hampers Pirate Enforcement” (Jan. 2021)]

“The PIRATE Act demonstrates that Congress views enforcement against pirate radio broadcasting as a priority,” the commission wrote to Congress in submitting its 2023 budget estimates to Congress.

“In addition to increasing the potential penalties for pirate broadcasting, the PIRATE Act imposes significant new responsibilities on the commission. Among other things, the PIRATE Act requires the commission to: (1) conduct annual enforcement sweeps in the top five radio markets; (2) conduct follow-up monitoring to determine whether pirate broadcasters identified in the sweeps are still on the air; (3) publish a pirate radio broadcasting database that clearly identifies all licensed broadcasters operating in the AM and FM bands and all pirate radio broadcasters; and (4) submit an annual report to Congress summarizing the commission’s implementation of the PIRATE Act and enforcement activities in the prior fiscal year.

“Additionally, the PIRATE Act specifically provides that the commission must conduct the annual sweeps without decreasing or diminishing its regular pirate radio enforcement efforts.”

“Lean, accountable and efficient”

For FY2023 the FCC is seeking a substantial increase in funding for FCC enforcement generally — $48.2 million, an increase of almost 25%.

The commission’s request to Congress for FY2023 budget authority is $526.4 million, up about 2.7% from what it is spending in 2022. Within that number, it is seeking about $390.2 million for activities that are paid for by regulatory fee collections, up about 4.3%. Most of the rest would be for managing its spectrum auctions program, down slightly from last year. The commission said that, since 1994, spectrum auctions have generated more than $233 billion for government use, at a total cost of less than 1 percent of that amount (see chart at bottom).

The agency also seeks an increase in full-time job positions. “In creating a lean, accountable and efficient commission that works for the American people, the commission requests 1,600 Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) funded by budget authority from regulatory fee offsetting collections, spectrum auctions program, and other budget authorities provided by the president and Congress,” it wrote.

“This FTE level is an increase of 128 from the FY 2022 estimated level of 1,472.”

The commission published a “Budget in Brief” that is available on its website (PDF).

Spectrum auction history

The chart below was included in the FCC’s budget request to Congress, showing FCC spectrum auctions to date, with the amount garnered.