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Pai Hopes Congress Will Act on Pirate Radio Proposal

Would let broadcasters sue in private legal action

Commissioner Ajit Pai took time to talk about radio piracy issues last week. He encouraged Congress to consider a proposal that would let broadcasters take private legal action against such operators; and he wondered if lawmakers should impose greater legal liability on companies that advertise on pirate stations.

“In recent months, we’ve seen an uptick in pirate radio enforcement at the commission,” he said, speaking at the Hispanic Radio Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Further, the FCC recently issued an enforcement advisory, and he and the other commissioners signed a letter to a number of national organizations discussing the problem of pirate radio and seeking to educate local businesses and government officials about it, as RW has reported.

But more needs to be done. “Congress needs to take action,” Pai continued. “One proposal is for the legislature to give radio broadcasters a private right of action against pirate operators. This would allow a broadcaster to directly sue a pirate who is interfering with its signal. No longer would a broadcaster need to wait for the FCC to take action.” He said his fellow Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has been a leader on this issue and said he hoped legislators would take it up.

“Congress may also want to explore whether to impose greater legal liability on companies who advertise on pirate radio stations,” Pai said. “After all, that flow of dollars plays a key role in keeping pirates on the air. If a business knowingly purchases commercials on a pirate radio station, it is knowingly aiding and abetting unlawful behavior, and there should be consequences. Moreover, if companies don’t perform basic due diligence and ensure that the radio stations on which they are advertising are licensed, there should be consequences for that negligent action as well.”

On the topic of AM revitalization, Pai said the commission has received more than 500 applications for FM translators from AM band stations and that its Media Bureau has granted more than 400. Pai described the response as “tremendous” and thanked the staff of Bureau’s Audio Division, “led by the tireless, dedicated Peter Doyle,” for fast work.

The commissioner said the applications illustrate the diversity to be found on the AM band. A number of applications have come from stations airing foreign-language programming including not only Spanish but Punjabi, Polish, Russian, German and Korean.

He also touched on recent and proposed changes to AM band technical rules. “They will make it easier for stations to improve their signal quality, give stations more flexibility when it comes to site location, and reduce AM broadcasters’ operating costs.”