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House Moves Ahead on Pirate Act

FCC’s O’Rielly thanks N.Y. lawmakers while asking them to discourage constituents from supporting pirate activities

Lawmakers are one step closer to bringing the PIRATE Act to life. Again.

The PIRATE Act (H.R. 583) has been unanimously passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Once again.

And, once again, it has now headed to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation — just as it did in July 2018 before the resolution expired in committee without being addressed. Since no action was taken during that session of Congress, the bill was reintroduced in January of this year by Reps. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) in an effort to target pirate radio operators by upping fines and giving the Federal Communications Commission more enforcement authority.

[Read: Broadcasters Support New PIRATE Legislation]

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly reached out via letter on April 5 to extend his appreciation to New York members of the House of Representatives for its most recent efforts to address pirate radio activity.

The passage of the resolution by the House brings the country one step closer to expanding the enforcement tools available to take effective action against many of the nation’s pirate radio stations, O’Rielly said.

O’Rielly has often called on Congress to give more statutory authority to the commission in its efforts to combat pirate radio operations.

“Throughout my tenure at the Federal Communications Commission, I have spoken out strongly in support of increased enforcement efforts against this illegal use of the airwaves, which is why I am encouraged by passage of H.R. 583,” he wrote. “While the commission has certainly made strides to improve our enforcement activities against pirate operations, statutory reforms are a key part of adding even more teeth to our efforts.”

O’Rielly also made a unique request of asking lawmakers to actively discourage their constituents in the greater New York City radio market from facilitating pirate radio activities in any way — including listening, advertising or leasing space to those operators.

He also asked lawmakers to share locations of known pirate operations with the FCC’s enforcement bureau. The New York radio market is one of the most pirate-laden markets in the U.S. when it comes to illegal unlicensed radio activity.

“In addition to flagrantly violating federal law, pirate broadcasts undermine and even block the ability of licensed, legal broadcasters to provide vital services such as emergency alerts, critical weather updates, political information and news, thereby harming the listening public in the greater New York City radio market,” O’Rielly wrote. “In addition to these concerns, illegal use of the airwaves inflicts additional economic harm on legal broadcasters who stand to lose listeners and revenue or suffer interference at the hands of pirate broadcasters.”

The proposal introduced in this 116th Congress contains the same language as earlier legislation. The act proposes to hike fines for violations up to $100,000 per day (up from the current maximum daily penalty of about $19,200) and would give the government the authority to impose a maximum penalty of $2 million for illegal radio broadcasters.

Other provisions include creation of a yearly summary report of pirate activities; introduction of annual sweeps of the top-five pirate radio markets; and new authority granted to the commission on issuing Notice of Apparent Liabilities. The legislation also calls for the creation of an online database that lists all legal U.S. stations and suspected pirate operators.

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