The head of enforcement for the Federal Communications Commission says efforts to implement the new PIRATE Act against illegal radio stations have been hampered by the pandemic as well as a lack of funding from Congress.
Rosemary C. Harold, the chief of the FCC Enforcement Bureau, submitted the commission’s first annual report to Congress about its pirate radio work, as required in the act that became law a year ago.
That law raised the amount of fines the FCC can issue, up to $100,000 per day and $2 million total, and it expanded the definition of who can be fined to include people who “willfully and knowingly” help pirate radio operations.
The commission did report some enforcement activity for the year, as listed below. But Harold identified two issues that have limited its work.
First, the FCC in March implemented a mandatory telework policy. That complicated the work of pirate enforcement, which requires agents “to engage in significant, in-person activities to gather evidence, including witness statements and technical measurements of a pirate station’s operations.”
Second, the commission has received no funding to implement the PIRATE Act, she wrote.
“The Congressional Budget Office and the commission both estimated that it would cost $11 million for the commission to implement the Act,” she said.
“And yet, the PIRATE Act itself contained no appropriation or other funding source to cover its implementation costs. And because the commission’s FY 2021 budget ceiling level was established by the Office of Management and Budget on December 3, 2019, before Congress adopted the PIRATE Act, the commission did not have an opportunity to incorporate costs related to the implementation of the PIRATE Act during the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget process.”
The FCC also is supposed to conduct “sweeps” at least once a year in five markets that have the most pirate radio activity. It began studying this but the lack of funding and the pandemic-related restrictions prevented any sweeps.
Harold said the bureau’s ability to fully conduct the sweeps “will remain subject to obtaining new funding through the appropriations process” as well as the end of the pandemic.
And the FCC was supposed to develop a public database by April 2020 that listed all licensed AM and FM stations, as well as all entities that have received a notice of unlicensed operation, notice of apparent liability or forfeiture order.
But that too didn’t happen because of lack of appropriated funds.
Nevertheless, the Enforcement Bureau was not idle in 2020.
Harold cited new efforts to inform property owners and property managers of apparent pirate broadcasts from their properties and to describe the potential consequences to the property owner or manager. The first notices were issued in New York last month, as we’ve reported.
“Although these ongoing proceedings are in their early stages, initial discussions with the property owners have been promising,” Harold told Congress. The FCC is also doing more general outreach to educate commercial and residential property owners and managers.
The law also encourages the commission to skip the usual step of issuing a notice of unauthorized operation and proceed instead directly to a notice of apparent liability for forfeiture. The Enforcement Bureau implemented that in December.
And on the enforcement side, Harold listed several actions including the settlement of two long-running investigations. Acerome Jean Charles and Gerlens Cesar separately agreed to monetary settlements including “significant suspended” penalties that would be triggered if they resumed operations.