FCC Investigates Unlicensed Radio Operations

The FCC assessed a combined total of $35,000 in proposed fines this month against two individuals whom agents discovered were operating unlicensed radio transmitters in violation of Section 301 of the Communications Act. Section 301 prohibits any person from operating any device for the transmission of radio signals within the United States, except in accordance with and pursuant to a license granted under the Act. The word “operate,” for purposes of Section 301, means both the technical operation of the station as well as the “general conduct or management of a station as a whole.” An individual who exercises working control over the operation of a station may be said to be involved in the general conduct or management and thus operation of that station.

With this in mind, the FCC recently proposed fining a Kansas man $10,000—the base forfeiture for operating an unlicensed FM radio transmitter. In September 2012, agents from the FCC’s Kansas City Field Office used direction-finding techniques to locate the source of radio frequency transmissions in Manhattan, Kansas. The next day, the agents visited that location. The property owner disclosed that he allowed an individual to use the location to operate the radio station, but that he believed the operation was lawful. When agents spoke to the man who was physically operating the station, he confirmed that he was an extra class amateur licensee, and that he would not voluntarily relinquish the transmitter if asked to do so. In an NAL released this month, the FCC alleged that the individual’s actions (e.g., securing a rental space for operation of the station, owning the station’s radio transmitting equipment, refusing to relinquish the equipment) and knowledge (as an extra class amateur licensee, the individual was aware or should have been aware that the operation of the radio transmitter required a license) provided sufficient evidence that the individual willfully and repeatedly failed to comply with Section 301, justifying the proposed fine.

On the same day it released the first NAL, the FCC issued a second NAL concluding that a Florida man had willfully and repeatedly violated Section 301 of the Act. After agents from the Enforcement Bureau’s Miami Office spent six days monitoring unlicensed operations on a particular FM frequency, they determined that the signals originated from three distinct locations. The agents traced the operations to a single individual using the on-air moniker “DJ Paz” and station name “Touche Douce.” That same individual had been convicted in 2006 for violating a Florida state law prohibiting individuals from operating an unlicensed radio station in the state. The FCC found that the individual’s “complete disregard for Federal and State authorities and their laws,” as evidenced by his prior conviction, his efforts to evade detection by operating the unlicensed station from multiple locations, and his continued operation of the station even after federal marshals seized the transmitting equipment from the first of the three locations, warranted an upward adjustment of the base fine. The FCC proposed a fine of $25,000, and cautioned the individual that future violations may result in more severe enforcement action, including but not limited to more fines, criminal prosecution, and seizure of his equipment.