We've all heard of pirates wreaking havoc on the open seas. But have you also heard of the so-called pirate radio stations that can cause chaos on the airwaves? And why, you may ask, does the FCC care about your friendly neighborhood disc jockey broadcasting from the tiny radio station in his or her garage?
It's not just because it is against federal law to operate radio broadcasting equipment above certain thresholds without having a license issued by the FCC. It's also because the operation of these unlicensed broadcast stations can cause interference to other licensed broadcasters, non-broadcast services, and in some circumstances can even endanger public safety.
Specifically, Section 301 of the Communications Act prohibits the "use or operat[ion of] any apparatus for the transmission of energy or communications or signals by radio" without a license issued by the FCC. So, generally, in order to use or operate a radio station, the Communications Act requires that you first obtain a license from the FCC. There are certain limited exceptions. For example, the Commission has provided authorization by rule to operators of CB radio, radio control stations, and domestic ship and aircraft radios. In addition, the Commission has authorized the operation of certain low power radios pursuant to Part 15 of the Commission's Rules. As a result, operators of these radio facilities are not required to have individual licenses. However, these operators are required to operate their stations in a manner consistent with the Commission's operational and technical rules for those services.
The Enforcement Bureau is committed to keeping the airwaves free of interference. Parties found operating radio stations without FCC authorization could be subject to a variety of enforcement actions including seizure of equipment, imposition of monetary forfeitures, ineligibility to hold any FCC license, injunctive relief, and criminal penalties.
In addition, the FCC has the authority to inspect most radio installations. Responsibility for conducting these inspections generally rests with the Enforcement Bureau's Field Agents. In the course of fulfilling this responsibility, the Agents often receive questions concerning the authority and procedure under which they are working. The Enforcement Bureau has assembled a general information sheet to address some of the more commonly asked questions concerning inspections and to clarify why and how inspections occur.
We are taking aggressive enforcement actions against violators. And here is a map displaying FCC enforcement actions against pirate radio by location. If you have information about the operation of an unlicensed broadcast station, you can file a complaint.