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Ham Operator Fined $25,000 for Unlawful Communications

Penalized for interference and prohibited transmissions, he claims free speech issues are at the heart of big FCC fine

An amateur radio operator in Diamond Springs, Calif., committed a double no-no in the eyes of the FCC by causing intentional interference to other hams and transmitting prohibited communications, including music.

According to a commission summary, the man felt that he was targeted because of the strong opinions he aired in his transmissions, including racially charged language; he believes such opinions are protected by the First Amendment. But the commission says its case had nothing to do with opinion content, and it has upheld its penalty of $25,000 against him.

He was operating in the Amateur Radio Service, which as the FCC noted is a voluntary noncommercial communications service designed to contribute to the advancement of radio art. The interference — using voice, noises and music — contravenes its purpose, it said.

In addition to arguing that the transmissions were constitutionally protected, the man said the interference he allegedly caused was justified because the group he was communicating with, the Western Amateur Radio Friendship Association, would not let him check in or participate in its conversations on a “net” that meets three times a week at 3908 kHz.

The commission was not swayed. The Enforcement Bureau reiterated that its authority extended to the alleged interference and that it had fined him based on that authority. Further, the FCC said it is well-established that regulation of radio in general does not violate the First Amendment; and that its rules do not give any ham authority to interrupt ongoing transmissions. And although the WARFA net is not a licensee, its members have interference protection rights.

The case discussion involved legal and technical issues as disparate as jamming, the right to check in, direction finding, freedoms of speech and association, equal protection and more — as well as an appendix with some pretty explicit language. You can read the case details here.

In addition to the fine, the commission has begun a proceeding to determine whether to revoke his amateur license.