The Enforcement Bureau proposed a $25,000 forfeiture against a New Jersey man for allegedly operating an unlicensed radio station from multiple sites.
Section 301 of the Act prohibits the transmission of radio signals without an FCC authorization. Pirate operators can cause interference to nearby communications systems and financial harm to licensed broadcast stations by diverting revenue and listeners while avoiding regulatory fees and other legal obligations.
The Enforcement Bureau initiated the investigation in February 2015 after receiving a complaint that several unauthorized stations were operating in Paterson, New Jersey. Bureau agents tracked broadcasts on 90.9 MHz to a residential building and determined that the FCC had not authorized FM broadcast operations from that site. The agents returned to that site several more times, each time photographing an FM antenna on the roof and recording portions of the broadcasts, including segments that encouraged advertisers to call a phone number to place ads on the station. The agents identified the phone number’s account holder as the pirate. On one of these occasions, agents noticed a car registered in the individual’s name parked next to the broadcast site.
Several months later, an agent returned to the site but tracked the unauthorized signal to another residence four blocks away. Again, the agent photographed an FM antenna mounted on the building and recorded portions of the broadcast that used the same phone number heard in previous broadcasts. The agent noticed the same car from before and determined that the new site was also the billing address for the pirate’s telephone.
The agent then posted a Notice of Unlicensed Radio Operation (On-Scene NOUO) to the residence’s door, which stated that the individual was illegally broadcasting from the site and that continued operations could result in enforcement action. The following month, the Enforcement Bureau’s regional office mailed the individual a Notice of Unlicensed Operation (NOUO).
Despite these warnings, agents determined that the individual had returned to the first transmit site to continue transmitting. For the next few months, agents again tracked the unlicensed transmissions, observed the antenna, and recorded portions of the transmissions that included references to the same individual’s telephone number. The FCC issued an additional NOUO after each visit.
Section 1.80(b) of the FCC’s Rules sets a base forfeiture of $10,000 for “operation without an instrument of authorization for the service.” The FCC proposed a $10,000 forfeiture for each of two apparent violations of Section 301. The FCC then added a $5,000 upward adjustment due to repeated violations despite multiple warnings, resulting in a total proposed fine of $25,000.
Between the FCC’s tougher stance on pirate radio operations this past year, and legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that could increase fines for unauthorized transmissions by millions of dollars, pirates should expect no quarter going forward.