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FCC Cracking Down on Property Owners From Which Pirate Broadcasters Operate

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by K5XS, Dec 18, 2020.

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  1. N0TZU

    N0TZU Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I’m as interested as anyone else in having radio scofflaws busted. I just question the method in this new private approach, given that there is no clear and immediate public safety danger. If the FCC is being ignored, then get the DOJ to confiscate equipment and prosecute. Otherwise it’s just transferring enforcement responsibility because Congress hasn’t funded them adequately.

    What’s next - the FCC will tell your landlord or mortgage holder that you failed to ID every 10 minutes, and they must make you stop or evict you to avoid a fine - a good way to stop the 7200 crowd?
    WZ7U, WS5GPA, K4PIH and 2 others like this.
  2. N1FM

    N1FM Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    When I was a Detective in Southeast Florida, I was the "identified ham" in the Department, and a law enforcement officer, so I'd go out with an FCC crew to a pirate radio site, and help the FCC figure things out. The FCC isn't a law enforcement agency; it's an administrative body, and they don't actually enforce anything, so in the case of a crime, or even a civil rules violation, they need a police officer (NY, NJ, FL) or a federal marshal (with a warrant) in the other 47 states.

    In NY, NJ, and FL, pirate broadcasting is also a state crime, so a local LEO can go with the FCC, knock on the door, gain entry, question operators, and make an on-site arrest. The FCC guys and gals carry a plastic badge and they don't have guns, and they aren't trained in dealing with criminals, so they may look for a pirate, but to really engage they usually ask for help from a LEO (in NY, NJ, FL) or a federal marshal with a warrant, in the other states.

    This 2 million fine for a landlord 'knowingly' aiding and abetting a pirate was the brainchild of former commissioner Mike O'Rielly, who was a very good friend of the National Association of Broadcasters. The NAB protects broadcasters who have a large investment in time, money, talent, equipment, and license fees. They see pirates as stealing their advertising dollars. On the other hand, pirates are often broadcasting services to small communities of non-English speakers, who can't afford engineers, lawyers, the license fees, etc., and who can't find a clear spot on the dial in a crowded city in any case.

    FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly in 2015:

    "Stopping pirate radio is not at the top of the priority list" and pirate stations "are not cute; they are not filling a niche; they are not innovation test beds; and they are not training grounds for future broadcasters. If broadcasting were a garden, pirate radio would be poisonous crabgrass." He also said that the stations cause "unacceptable economic harm to legitimate and licensed American broadcasters by stealing listeners"not to mention harmful interference, and he also said that private licensees should be allowed to track down and sue the pirates. There was some talk at the time that pirates, using non type accepted equipment, could interfere with FAA freqs and pilots in the air.

    Basically, O'Rielly hated pirates, and he worked with NY and NJ congress critters to increase enforcement efforts against pirates in the USA. A huge problem is that the FCC can't collect from pirates, because they don't have any money, and in many cities, the FCC can't even get the US Attorney involved, because it's a political thing. How can you arrest and fine a poor immigrant just trying to reach his people in his own language, when the machinery of bureaucracy has disenfranchised this poor immigrant with its horrible systemic racism... and that's often the line of reasoning for a lack of enforcement, aside from the lack of money.

    So, they had to come up with another way to skin that cat, and that is to instill FEAR in the well-heeled urban landlord, that he or she could be out $100,000 per day, up to $2 million dollars, if he knowingly allows pirates to use his property.

    So, if we're talking about NY, NJ, and FL, a local police officer can investigate and make a criminal arrest for broadcasting without a license. The FCC can do their thing too, but they must work through the US Attorney in every other state, and in NY, NJ, and FL if they want to invoke federal law.

    These days, I'm a licensed RE Broker, and I can say with confidence that about 90%+ of all owners in the city have no idea what their tenants are doing. They don't live in the city. The property is an investment. They hire property managers who hire superintendants, who live on-site, usually in the basement. Sometimes the "Supers" will take money and look the other way when a pirate wants to mount an antenna on a building, but the Super is not an owner, and he will pay nothing, just like 99% of the pirates.

    As long as (and others) are selling FM Broadcast transmitters for $100-$200, you'll have FM pirates. No way around it. It's easy to get on a city rooftop and mount an antenna and tap into a power source. The yagi points at the remote source and streams via the Internet. There's no DJ and no station owner present.

    If the equipment is seized, then the operator loses a couple of hundred bucks and is back on the air the next day. The FCC doesn't speak the language (Creole, Haitian patois, Nigerian, Russian, you name it) and the neighborhood is reluctant to speak to clean-cut college educated FCC bureaucrats because many of these people don't have citizenship or even a Green Card and these bureaucrats could be ICE or some other kind of Border Patrol Agents, bent on deporting them, so cooperation is an issue.

    In one case, the FCC last year initially proposed a fine of $151,005 for the illegal operation. After examining the operator’s finances, the Bureau agreed to a $4,000 fine. In the second case, the FCC had proposed a $453,015 fine last year, but agreed to take $5,000. And that's how it goes, if they can get ANY money at all.

    TLDR? These HUGE fines make for great headlines and clickbait (aka propaganda) but please wake me when they collect one of them.
    KA2TMU, N5PZJ, WQ4G and 5 others like this.
  3. KF4ZGZ

    KF4ZGZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Obviously the intent is to get someone else to do their job for them.
    N6HCM and K4PIH like this.
  4. N5AF

    N5AF Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Yep. There were many in the early 80's between 7.300 - 7.500 MHz. I used to listen to them in my teens when I was into SWL. One of my favorites was Radio Dead Man. I believe he was somewhere in the Midwest US. He always had a nice signal in South Florida.

    Shortwave pirates are one thing. They tend to be a bit more savvy operators. The FM pirates get busted - always. I happened to know a group of them through extended social circles when I was in my early 20s. They were a bunch of arrogant A******S. Happened to be at a large party where these clowns were doing the music. I politely informed one of them during casual conversation that if they continued to operate in the manner they were, the FCC was going to hit them with a brick. He laughed at me.

    A few weeks later they got the knock on the door and I spent the next six months looking over my shoulder. They assumed I had turned them in. I did not, but I knew who did. A local FM station engineer finally got fed up with their antics.
    KA2TMU likes this.
  5. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    You are correct that some party DJ's feel they have the right to the next step--to them its pirate FM.

    Are they trying to exploit the difference between low power unlicensed FM stations versus medium power licensed? For example, if they had bought the Ramsey transmitters (a few years ago) would they just be over the permitted ERP for unlicensed?

    I found this on AMAZON...if they put a Yagi up with this, are they now an illegal station (I presume so?) FM Transmitter for Church, Elikliv 76~108MHz Digital LCD Wireless Stereo Broadcast with Antenna, Built-in PLL FM Transmitter Radio Stereo: MP3 Players & Accessories

    The FCC doesn't make it easy to understand (for an outsider) what is LEGAL with "micropower" unlicensed vs licensed LPFM:

    Low Power Radio - General Information | Federal Communications Commission (

    They talk about RANGE but not POWER. Nothing about, say: 'An antenna of-5 dBi or less) and 'a transmitter power of less than xx milliwatts'. People won't normally go to a different section to understand Part 15....

    It would be very helpful if they were explicit about that, and could avoid a lot of these issues.
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2020
    WQ4G likes this.
  6. K3XR

    K3XR Ham Member QRZ Page

    Have been retired a number of years and was not aware of the crime in NJ. For those who may be interested.
    "New Jersey Pirate Radio Law

    2013 New Jersey Revised Statutes
    Section 2C:33-23.1 - License required for certain radio transmissions."
    More here...
    N0TZU and (deleted member) like this.
  7. N1FM

    N1FM Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Florida Statues

    877.27 Unauthorized transmissions to, or interference with, a public or commercial radio station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission prohibited; penalties.—

    (1) A person may not:

    (a) Make, or cause to be made, a radio transmission in this state unless the person obtains a license or an exemption from licensure from the Federal Communications Commission under 47 U.S.C. s. 301, or other applicable federal law or regulation; or

    (b) Do any act, whether direct or indirect, to cause an unlicensed radio transmission to, or interference with, a public or commercial radio station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission or to enable the radio transmission or interference to occur.

    (2) A person who violates this section commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

    History.—s. 1, ch. 2004-58.

    Editor's note: A third degree felony in Florida is punishable of imprisonment of up to 5 years and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

    New York Consolidated Laws, Penal Law - PEN § 190.72 Unauthorized radio transmission

    A person is guilty of an unauthorized radio transmission when such person knowingly makes or causes to be made a radio transmission in this state, on a radio frequency assigned and licensed by the federal communications commission for use by amplitude modulation (AM) radio stations between the frequencies of five hundred thirty kilohertz (kHz) to seventeen hundred kilohertz (kHz), or frequency modulation (FM) radio stations between the frequencies of eighty-eight megahertz (MHz) to one hundred eight megahertz (MHz), without authorization or having first obtained a license from the federal communications commission or duly authorized federal agency, in violation of federal law.

    Unauthorized radio transmission is a class A misdemeanor.

    Editor's Note: A Class A misdemeanor is punishable of up to 1 year in jail or 3 years probation and/or fine of up to $1,000 or twice the amount of the individual's gain from the crime.

    So, let's assume for a moment that the true targets of the PIRATE Act are those for-profit business, some with potential criminal enterprise connections especially in places like New York City, northern New Jersey and south Florida that fall under the third group of pirates that I mentioned (Paraphrased: not Hobbyists, Students, or SJWs, but Profiteers) this makes me think that there needs to be an "extreme" provision for the higher fine and enforcement provisions to kick in. These extreme provisions would include (but are not limited to):

    Commercial operation,
    Broadcast of information that would facilitate a non-broadcast related illegal activity (such as drug sales),
    Foul language and other content violations (such as phone call violations, lottery and political announcements),
    Overly excessive output power (such as more than 100 times the Part 15 limits),
    Out of band spurious emissions that are causing interference to aviation communications and/or navigation.
    These are the hot button issues.

    The law also does not take into consideration one of the biggest pirate radio-related issues and that is the fact that major US-based companies like are marketing, facilitating and even in some cases fulfilling uncertified transmitters, mostly imported from China that operate in the FM broadcast band which exceed the Part 15 limitations.

    I do feel that this law does put very uncessary burdens on innocent property owners, especially when the eviction process is slow. Property owners should only be liabile if they directly participate in the constructon, funding or operation of the pirate station.

    Michelle Bradley, Rec Networks, on the Draft of the Pirate Act, 2018

    This is the final bill that was signed by President Trump on January 24, 2020.

    AN ACT To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to provide for enhanced penalties for pirate radio, and for other purposes.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

    This Act may be cited as the “Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act” or the “PIRATE Act”.

    Title V of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 501 et seq.) is amended by adding at the end the following new section:


    “(a) Increased General Penalty.—Any person who willfully and knowingly does or causes or suffers to be done any pirate radio broadcasting shall be subject to a fine of not more than $2,000,000.

    “(b) Violation Of This Act, Rules, Or Regulations.—Any person who willfully and knowingly violates this Act or any rule, regulation, restriction, or condition made or imposed by the Commission under authority of this Act, or any rule, regulation, restriction, or condition made or imposed by any international radio or wire communications treaty or convention, or regulations annexed thereto, to which the United States is party, relating to pirate radio broadcasting shall, in addition to any other penalties provided by law, be subject to a fine of not more than $100,000 for each day during which such offense occurs, in accordance with the limit described in subsection (a).

    “(c) Annual Report.—Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of the PIRATE Act, and annually thereafter, the Commission shall submit to the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate a report summarizing the implementation of this section and associated enforcement activities for the previous fiscal year, which may include the efforts by the Commission to enlist the cooperation of Federal, State, and local law enforcement personnel (including United States attorneys and the United States Marshals Service) for service of process, collection of fines or forfeitures, seizures of equipment, and enforcement of orders.

    “(d) Enforcement Sweeps.—

    “(1) ANNUAL SWEEPS.—Not less than once each year, the Commission shall assign appropriate enforcement personnel to focus specific and sustained attention on the elimination of pirate radio broadcasting within the top 5 radio markets identified as prevalent for such broadcasts. Such effort shall include identifying, locating, and taking enforcement actions designed to terminate such operations.

    “(2) ADDITIONAL MONITORING.—Within 6 months after conducting the enforcement sweeps required by paragraph (1), the Commission shall conduct monitoring sweeps to ascertain whether the pirate radio broadcasting identified by enforcement sweeps is continuing to broadcast and whether additional pirate radio broadcasting is occurring.

    “(3) NO EFFECT ON REMAINING ENFORCEMENT.—Notwithstanding paragraph (1), the Commission shall not decrease or diminish the regular enforcement efforts targeted to pirate radio broadcast stations for other times of the year.

    “(e) State And Local Government Authority.—The Commission may not preempt any State or local law prohibiting pirate radio broadcasting.

    “(f) Revision Of Commission Rules Required.—The Commission shall revise its rules to require that, absent good cause, in any case alleging a violation of subsection (a) or (b), the Commission shall proceed directly to issue a notice of apparent liability without first issuing a notice of unlicensed operation.

    “(g) Pirate Radio Broadcasting Database.—

    “(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this section, and semi-annually thereafter, the Commission shall publish a database in a clear and legible format of all licensed radio stations operating in the AM and FM bands. The database shall be easily accessible from the Commission home page through a direct link. The database shall include the following information:

    “(A) Each licensed station, listed by the assigned frequency, channel number, or Commission call letters.

    “(B) All entities that have received a notice of unlicensed operation, notice of apparent liability, or forfeiture order issued by the Commission.

    “(2) CLEAR IDENTIFICATION.—The Commission shall clearly identify in the database—

    “(A) each licensed station as a station licensed by the Commission; and

    “(B) each entity described in paragraph (1)(B) as operating without a Commission license or authorization.

    “(h) Definition Of Pirate Radio Broadcasting.—In this section, the term ‘pirate radio broadcasting’ means the transmission of communications on spectrum frequencies between 535 and 1705 kilohertz, inclusive, or 87.7 and 108 megahertz, inclusive, without a license issued by the Commission, but does not include unlicensed operations in compliance with part 15 of title 47, Code of Federal Regulations.”

    Note: It's a criminal violation to operate a (non part 15) station without a license. This is completely different from any issue with a licensed ham using ham frequencies, where the FCC may allege a civil infraction of an FCC rule, which then must be proven, via a US Attorney's civil suit in federal district court.

    Applicable Laws

    The Communications Act of 1934

    Section 301 - requires persons operating or using radio transmitters to be licensed or authorized under the Commission’s rules (47 U.S.C. § 301).

    Section 501 – allows for substantial monetary fines and criminal sanctions including imprisonment (47 U.S.C. § 501).

    Sections 510 - allows for seizure of unlawful equipment (47 U.S.C. § 510).

    The Commission's Rules

    Section 2.803 - prohibits the manufacture, importation, marketing, sale or operation of unauthorized devices within the United States (47 C.F.R. § 2.803).
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2020
    WQ4G and N0TZU like this.
  8. N5AF

    N5AF Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    And the shortwave pirates rejoice! ;)
    KA2TMU, N0TZU and (deleted member) like this.
  9. KJ6ZOL

    KJ6ZOL Ham Member QRZ Page

    I personally would like to see the FCC authorize a "Neighborhood Microbroadcasting Service" that could fill the needs of these little immigrant communities in Greater NYC and South Florida who have no money and usually no real internet access, so thus have no way for their community to get news and information. I am thinking that an allocation somewhere above 500 Mhz, maybe in a band that Congress initially allocated for a service pushed by a company that went out of business and thus left behind "dead spectrum" of which there is some, would work. The transmitters would be amplitude modulation, which is much easier to manufacture both transmitters and receivers for. The output of the tx's would be no more than 10w PEP, and maybe closer to 5. Then simply let our friends in Shenzhen produce the equipment. There would be regulatory issues to work out, of course.

    I was into the San Francisco FM and SW pirate milieu back in the 90s when those guys were fighting for what became the low power FM law. The problem with FM is that it was intended for stations covering a large metro area and not for microbroadcasting. Even at a few watts PEP there is only a small amount of licenses available due to that. The NMS would solve that issue by using wavelengths that are generally line-of-sight.

    The FCC recently spent a LOT of time and effort trying to take down two Creole-language pirates in Boston, "Radio Concorde" and "Radio TeleBoston", which served that city's Mattapan district. They had to deal with prominent leaders in the Haitian expatriate community who didn't want to lose what they viewed as a vital resource. The NMS would save the FCC time and money-money that comes from the pockets of Joe Taxpayer.
    1 person likes this.
  10. KQ0J

    KQ0J XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    " the machinery of bureaucracy has disenfranchised this poor immigrant with its horrible systemic racism.. "

    Talk about leftist Urban Myths and general BS.
    KC1DR, KR3DX and (deleted member) like this.

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