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O’Rielly: Radio Pirates Are Like Poison Ivy

“… And where is the gardener?”

Should building owners be put on the hot seat for hosting pirate radio stations?

The idea came up in remarks of FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to a meeting of the New York State Broadcasters Association today.

“Most building owners wouldn’t allow tenants to conduct an illegal gambling sites, sweatshops or drug activities, why should they be allowed to be so passive with regards to illegal pirate radio stations?” O’Rielly asked, according to a transcript. “Shouldn’t there be an added burden to make sure building owners don’t knowingly lease or rent to pirates?”

The commissioner said he didn’t “want to go overboard” with that idea, because he believes in property rights; “but it seems like accepting a complete ignorance excuse is insufficient.” He said such an idea may require a change in law, “but if it is something that may help the cause, I’m willing to assist you in that effort.”

O’Rielly, named to a GOP seat on the commission by President Obama in 2013, has been vocal about the pirate radio issue in general. “Far from being cute, insignificant, or even somehow useful in the broadcasting ecosystem, pirate radio represents a criminal attack on the integrity of our airwaves, at a time when spectrum has become more scarce and precious than ever before,” he told the New York broadcasters. He said New York’s airways are “burdened with around 25% of the nation’s total pirate transmissions.” He supports a renewed focus on pirate radio enforcement “along with consideration of potential private remedies to give licensees more tools to defend against interference.”

Citing a recent letter to the commission from the New York delegation in the House of Representatives, O’Rielly said there appear to be 34 pirate stations operating in Brooklyn and the Bronx alone, “with more stations now spreading throughout the state like poison ivy in a neglected garden. And where is the gardener?” But he said that thanks to recent efforts to raise awareness, “the chairman has finally seen the light and committed to step up enforcement against pirate radio operators in connection with the commission’s initiative to reorganize the operations of FCC field offices.”

He said it’s the job of FCC headquarters to make clear to the New York field office “that we place a high priority on their efforts to eliminate pirate radio, are ready to provide resources, and expect results in the near term.”And he said the commission will host several New York broadcasters and others next week “for a discussion to start formulating a plan of attack.”

Read the full text of his remarks (PDF).