In a message circulated exclusively within the broadcast industry this week, the Federal Communications Commission has unveiled an online pirate radio snitch/complaint form.
The page, nestled within the Enforcement Bureau section of the FCC’s website (though not yet linked publicly, as it’s currently in “beta test”), requests information on the station’s name, address, operating frequency, dates/times of operation, and whether or not the station has an online presence (MySpace page, blog, etc.). This information, once submitted, “will be automatically forwarded to the closest Field Enforcement Office” for further investigation.
This is a development with mixed consequences. On the one hand, it makes the complaint process much simpler for licensed broadcasters, who used to have to navigate somewhat complicated bureaucratic channels in order to make sure their concerns were heard. Thus, one might expect the number of complaints filed against pirates to rise. It certainly has taken the FCC long enough to harness the power of the Internets to help do its job.
However, it’s already been conclusively demonstrated that the FCC does not have the resources to adequately enforce the license requirement: although the agency is stepping up the pace of its engagement with unlicensed stations, and appears to be more diligent in following up on repeat-offenders, it has yet to take concrete steps to effectively shut stations down (i.e., following through on the collection of forfeitures and conducting more station raids – elements of the enforcement process for which the FCC must rely on the cooperation of other federal agencies).
Because of its institutional weakness with regard to enforcement, it’s hard for me to see how being flooded with information about active pirates makes much difference if the “long arm” of the law still lacks the muscle to follow through. If anything, the FCC should get a much clearer picture about the state and scope of the modern microradio movement from the potential data avalanche it is setting itself up to receive. And what’s to stop folks from spamming the Enforcement Bureau with false reports, sending field agents on wild goose chases? That would just suck up the Bureau’s already limited time and manpower available for pirate-policing.
Ultimately, if it remains mostly-impotent in its fundamental ability to address the “problem” of unlicensed broadcasting, this new online tool does nothing more than prove the points microbroadcasters are already making: we’re here, we’re growing, and we’re not going away until you take the concept of public access to the airwaves more seriously.
On a related note, the DIYmedia Enforcement Action Database is long-overdue for an update – expect one over the course of this upcoming weekend.