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Support Across the Aisles for PIRATE Act

House subcommittee discussing new illegal radio legislation

Support continues to grow for the PIRATE Act after members of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology said its “high time” legislators pay more attention to the harm being done to consumers and broadcasters through illegal radio broadcasts.

During the discussion on the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act on March 22, bill co-author Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) said the bill will increase the ability of the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on pirate activity by increasing fines, streamlining enforcement and holding facilitators of illegal broadcasts liable.

“Unlicensed FM and AM radio operators are a significant harm to public safety and public health,” Lance said. “By disrupting and interfering with licensed broadcasts, these ‘pirate radios’ can cause radio listeners to miss important updates during times of emergency by blocking the Emergency Alert System. As they do not adhere to FCC regulations, pirate radios also emit a harmful level of radio frequency radiation, posing a health risk to nearby residents and workers.”

The notion of raising the stakes for pirate radio operators was a frequent theme during hearing, and lawmakers agreed current fines have failed to successfully deter pirate radio operators. “It’s high time we pay more attention to the harm being done to consumers and broadcasters alike,” said Subcommittee Chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

[Read: Congress May Consider More Stringent Pirate Radio Fines]

The PIRATE Act proposes to hike the fine for violations up to as much as $100,000 per day, with a maximum fine of $2 million. The rules current allow the FCC to impose a maximum daily penalty of slightly more than $19,200 per day.

New York State Broadcasters Association President David Donovan told lawmakers during the hearing that in New York City and northern New Jersey alone, the number of illegal pirate radio stations exceeds the number of licensed stations. A study commissioned by the engineering firm Meintel, Sgrignoli and Wallace estimated there may be more than 100 illegal pirate operations in the New York metropolitan area. “We are reaching the point where illegal pirate stations undermine the legitimacy and purpose of the FCC’s licensing system to the detriment of listeners in communities across the country,” he said.

At the hearing, Donovan told lawmakers that illegal operators are also undermining the nation’s Emergency Alert System, causing invasive and insidious interference, pose potential public health problems due to overexposure to radio frequency radiation, and interfere with airport communications.

The draft is currently being circulated among subcommittee members. The hearing is available here.