At an FCC oversight hearing on the Hill, several commissioners talked Tuesday about how to counter pirate radio.
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly was asked for language to be drafted into a future pirate radio bill. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., expressed a desire to work with the commission to draft legislation to help stop illegal broadcasts. “Last time you were here we talked about how this was an important issue,” Pallone said, referring to a commission appearance before the House Communications and Technology subcommittee last fall.
O’Rielly said lawmakers should focus on the “money side of the equation” — entities that knowingly contribute funds to pirate radio stations, for instance through political campaign ads or promos for upcoming concerts.
He said that language should be “narrowly targeted” so as to not target individuals who unwittingly support pirate radio, including unaware building owners and renters. The onus should be put on those that are facilitating pirate radio operations through financial contribution, he said.
A recent Enforcement Advisory notice reminded the public that any individuals found supporting a pirate operation—be it a local merchant, advertiser or landlord—could face FCC enforcement and other legal action.
Pallone said he would reach out to O’Rielly in preparation for such a bill.
In his own prepared remarks, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that 20 percent of the commission’s Enforcement Bureau’s activities were directed to pirate radio last year, more than any other area of enforcement.
“We have also shifted from our historic ‘whack-a-mole’ enforcement approach to focus on the worst actors: pirates that are repeat offenders, that cause interference to licensed broadcasters, that run advertisements, and that operate at high power,” Wheeler said. Enforcement actions have included warning letters, monetary forfeitures and equipment seizures.
The recent Enforcement Advisory letter was sent to local officials as well as real estate and advertiser groups whose members may knowingly or unknowingly provide support to pirates, and asked those groups for their assistance in addressing the problem.
Wheeler again pressed for the help of Congress. “We need to ensure that there are legal consequences for the landlords who look the other way because helping pirates puts money in their pockets,” he said. “Congress could make it illegal to aid or abet pirate radio operations. Doing so would put pirates on the run and help us put them out of business.”
The hearing also touched on the upcoming broadcast incentive auction, as well as privacy, broadband issues, set-box box competition and next-generation 911.
It also brought further admonition from subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who pressed the members of the agency to work together more closely. The commision has made headlines over public wrangling, particularly between Chairman Wheeler, a Democrat, and Commissioners O’Rielly and Ajit Pai, Republicans.
In response to a question about an FCC rule that prohibits commissioners, except the chairman, from publicly discussing the substantive contents of agenda items or proposals still under consideration, O’Rielly said this an area where change is needed.
Walden sdded during the hearing: “We want an open and transparent process so the public can comment.”