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O’Rielly Asks for More Muscle in FCC Pirate Fight

Asks senators for "some limited and targeted statutory authority"

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly would like Congress to give the FCC the power to seize equipment found in common areas that is broadcasting illegally in the radio band.

He has been vocal about the problem of pirate radio, and he pressed his case during his appearance this week on Capitol Hill, testifying before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.

“It is discouraging to admit that a core function of the commission – protecting the integrity of commission-granted spectrum rights – is not being sufficiently achieved as it pertains to pirate radio ‘stations,’” he told the senators in his prepared testimony.

“By illegally broadcasting with makeshift equipment and a laptop, these stations are sprouting up and causing harm to consumers and the industry. Today, these squatters are infecting the radio band at the expense of consumer services, including emergency communications and the financial stability of licensed radio stations.”

He noted that he was told by the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association that they’d found 24 pirates operating in one of their markets and the problem has only increased.

“While this issue mainly affects four to five larger East Coast radio markets (e.g., Boston, Miami, New Jersey, New York), failure to properly address it highlights a deficiency in the commission’s enforcement tools and undermines our overall creditability,” he said.

O’Rielly, who has blogged about this problem and possible steps, told the committee, “I believe that this situation is fixable and preventable. It will certainly take sufficient enforcement commitment and diligence, which I think exists from the personnel in our field offices and the addition of our new ‘tiger teams.’”

But he said the commission would benefit from “some limited and targeted” statutory authority dedicated to address pirate radio.

“Specifically, I propose that the commission be able to seize equipment found in common areas that is broadcasting illegally in the radio band. In addition, our current fines should be increased, and some ability to impose penalties on those that directly and intentionally aid pirate stations could be helpful. While I would have concern if this authority were applied across the board, in this instance, I believe it would help minimize our current whack-a-mole approach that has proven less than effective.”