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FCC Focused on “Smarter” Means of Combating Pirates

Commission to target repeat offenders, those that cause interference

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission told members of Congress that the commission has already begun to do more to combat pirate radio.

During an FCC oversight hearing before the House subcommittee on Communications and Technology, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the commission has begun to move away from its historic “whack-a-mole” enforcement pirate radio to what he called a “smarter” means of combating pirate radio.

“We have shifted from our historic whack-a-mole enforcement approach to focus on the worst actors,” he said. Those individuals include repeat offenders that cause interference to licensed broadcasters, those that run advertisements and those that operate at high power, he said.

In the last three years, Wheeler said the commission has taken more than 300 pirate radio enforcement actions. Twenty percent of the Enforcement Bureau’s activities were directed to pirate radio last year, he told the subcommittee, more than any other area of enforcement.

Shortly before the FCC last appeared at an oversight hearing, the commission released an Enforcement Advisory and distributed a series of individualized letters that reiterated the illegality of operating certain radio broadcasting equipment without a license. The letters, which were addressed to local officials as well as real estate and advertiser groups, warned of the illegality of providing support to pirates, whether knowingly or unknowingly.

At the hearing, the chairman reiterated that the commission would welcome Congress’ help in doing even more. He alluded to legislation being considered by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., to make it illegal to aid or abet pirate radio operations.

New York and New Jersey have had their share of pirate issues. A recent study released by the New York State Broadcasters Association found that 76 stations are currently operating without an FCC license in four primary locations.

One of the prime and timely concerns that the study identified: EAS alerts may be jeopardized.

Not only do pirate radio stations not participate in sending out EAS alerts, but these same pirate stations may block listeners from hearing EAS alerts from legitimate, licensed stations. The study also pointed out concerns about RF radiation exposure and interference to FAA frequencies.

The Congressional hearing also touched on the broadcast incentive auction, Open Internet issues, lifeline modernization and set-top boxes.