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Wheeler Cites Obstacles to Pirate Enforcement

In a letter to several members of Congress from New York, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has reiterated his commitment to tracking down pirate stations; but he also took note of limitations on what the FCC can do given other issues that need attention.

Responding to a letter signed by 16 members of the House of Representatives, Wheeler said the FCC remains committed to enforcement of the rules prohibiting unlicensed radio broadcasting. But he said this work is resource-intensive, with a typical pirate investigation requiring many hours of work by multiple field agents. “The time and expense of these cases present particular difficulties in the current flat budget environment, where the commission’s staffing is at its lowest point in 30 years,” he said.

As a result, the agency must prioritize its work based on existing resources and the need to protect the public. “Thus, matters posing an imminent threat to public safety or directly harming large numbers of consumers must take precedence over other matters, including pirate radio,” Wheeler said.

The letter, dated in late July, also stated that while it is theoretically possible that pirate radio interference could prevent listeners from hearing an EAS signal from licensed broadcasters, the FCC is unaware of any complaints alleging such interference.

Pirate radio also presents persistent enforcement issues. “Even monetary penalties and equipment seizures do not deter the most aggressive pirate operators,” he said.

Wheeler mentioned the inter-bureau task force that has been formed involving the FCC and NAB in an effort to develop policy and enforcement options to address pirating. Potential solutions from a June meeting included better education about the unlawful nature of pirate operations, additional enforcement options for reducing pirate activities and revision of the Communications Act to penalize those who aid and abet pirate operators.

The letter was in response to one from New York Reps. Yvette D. Clarke (D), Chris Collins (R), Joseph Crowley (D), Dan Donovan (R), Eliot Engel (D), Chris Gibson (R), Richard Hanna (R), Brian Higgins (D), Steve Israel (D), Hakeem Jeffries (D), John Katko (R), Peter King (R), Leonard Lance (R), Nita M. Lowey (D), Carolyn B. Maloney (D) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D).