September 24, 2015 - 12:12 pm
By Michael O'Rielly | Commissioner

This past summer, when the Commission was considering an order to close several of the Enforcement Bureau’s field offices and reduce field agent positions, a number of entities raised concerns about how this reorganization would impact our efforts to combat pirate radio. It was hard to imagine that the heat would be turned up by an Enforcement Bureau further constrained by fewer agents and a smaller footprint. But assurances were made that a sleeker, streamlined Enforcement Bureau would be able to perform all of its duties with even greater efficiency. When further concerns were raised, new language was even added to the eventual order promising a revitalized enforcement effort against illegal broadcasters via development of a "comprehensive policy and enforcement approach."

At the time, I questioned how long it would take to develop and adopt such a simple document. I even queried the Enforcement Bureau chief whether it could be done by the end of the summer, but no timetable was provided in our friendly exchange. To my knowledge, nothing further has emerged since the adoption of the field reorganization order.

So, in the interest of furthering the discussion and getting the ball rolling on our unanimously-approved promise of a policy and enforcement approach for pirate radio, I offer the below draft. I hope that this small step, which did not take a substantial time commitment or resources, will renew focus on the Commission’s difficult, but fundamental, obligation to police our spectrum and assist in the resolution of instances of harmful interference on behalf of radio broadcasters and all other spectrum users, who are charged with serving the American people.

In no way do I suggest that this is the only version I would support or the best way to phrase every particular concept. Instead, I hope it will inspire those working on this issue, both inside the Commission and out, to suggest changes, edits and improvements, or provide their own proposals, in the very near term. Given the stakes, this issue shouldn’t wait any longer.

The Commission reiterates our firm position, as articulated in the Communications Act and Commission rules, that unauthorized broadcast operations within the FM and AM radio broadcast bands – often referred to as pirate radio broadcasting – is strictly prohibited and subject to enforcement measures. Violations are not to be taken lightly, as the harmful interference caused by pirate operations sabotages licensed broadcasters serving their communities and puts the valuable public safety contributions of these stations in jeopardy to the detriment of the American people who count on them, including diverse and underserved populations.

Further, the Commission makes clear that it intends to enact a vigorous campaign of enforcement activities to disrupt and permanently terminate all pirate radio stations that are in operation today and prevent those that may attempt to come online in the future. We will collaborate with federal and state law enforcement authorities, as needed, to enhance and complement our enforcement operations. Our effort will include an education component for those entities that may knowingly or unknowingly assist pirate radio operations in any capacity, including building owners and managers, national and local campaigns for political office, media advertisers, radio programming suppliers, concert promoters and venue operators, and equipment manufacturers and importers. All interested parties should be on notice that facilitating pirate radio broadcasting will not be tolerated, and may be subject to enforcement or legal actions, as permitted under law. Accordingly, we seek full cooperation by anyone who may have relevant information to help identify, locate, and take action against the operators and owners of pirate radio stations.