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FCC Upholds Fine for Unauthorized Ham Operation

Agency says Joaquim Barbosa interfered with use of government military spectrum on 296.550 MHz

Hams get fined for operating pirate stations, too.

The FCC upheld a $16,000 fine against Joaquim Barbosa, licensee of amateur radio station N2KBJ, in Elizabeth, N.J., for transmitting on 296.550 MHz without authorization.

In 2008, the agency received a complaint that a government user was receiving harmful interference on 296.550 MHz in the Elizabeth area, a frequency limited to U.S. military operations.

Agents from the New York field office of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau traced the source of the transmissions to Barbosa’s home.

During an inspection, the agents saw transmission equipment set to that frequency and reported that the transmitter was connected to an antenna mounted on the back of the house. Barbosa admitted he owned the equipment and had been operating the station for several months, according to the FCC’s account.

Barbosa holds the highest level ham license, Amateur Extra Class; he confirmed he knew the frequency is not authorized for ham use and that he didn’t have a license to use that frequency.

The commission originally proposed a $20,000 penalty, adjusted up by $10,000 because of the seriousness of the violation.

The New Jersey resident argued the fine should be reduced or cancelled, saying he didn’t cause interference, he thought he had the right to operate on that frequency, his constitutional rights were violated, he couldn’t pay and he has a past history of good compliance with commission rules.

Barbosa thought he could operate the radio on the government frequency because the Brazilian man he got the radio from is authorized to operate the equipment using the 296.550 MHz frequency in Brazil. The FCC said in its decision Barbosa would still need authorization in the U.S. and remains guilty of violating its rules. He also argued the agents violated his constitutional rights by searching his home without a warrant and interrogating him. The FCC countered that the inspection was not a criminal investigation, making his constitutional claims inapplicable and the inspection was authorized. Further, the agents questioned Barbosa; they didn’t interrogate him, countered the commission.

The FCC took issue with Barbosa’s characterization that his operation didn’t cause harmful interference. “The fact that Mr. Barbosa’s unauthorized use of the frequency was obstructing and interfering with government communications was sufficient to characterize the interference as harmful,” wrote the Enforcement Bureau in its decision. “We also believe that any interference to any U.S. government user is serious because of the potential harm to the public’s safety and security.”

The FCC was not persuaded by his argument about an inability to pay.

The agency did reduce the fine by $4,000 because of his past history of good compliance and directed him to pay the $16,000 by Dec. 31.