The FCC’s Trumpian Shift is On

The governing paradigm in contemporary U.S. communications policy is genuflection to principles that invoke the “free market,” especially post-1980 when economics captured the policymaking process. As such, all Federal Communications Commissioners, regardless of party, will couch their positions and rationales in this language, though nearly all also make the effort to connect their rationales to something akin to “the public interest,” which has been the principal ideal as mandated by the agency’s own authorizing statute.

But the FCC’s also been a safe space for the occasional ideologue who worships capitalism as the human condition most worthy of emulation. It is not a radical notion to believe that an economic theory may not be an appropriate paradigm by which to organize all of the workings of an entire society. Folks who do believe that are market-fundamentalists; and whether it comes in economic, political, or religious flavors, fundamentalism is an extreme that the act of being civilized tends to temper. Read More

O’Rielly Talks Tough on Pirates to Senate

Keeping in line with the Trump administration’s penchant for dehumanization, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly used some of his time testifying in front of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee last week to hype his signature issue: going to war on unlicensed broadcasting.

Calling them “squatters” who “are infecting the radio band,” O’Rielly whipped out all the now-familiar canards: that pirate radio “stations” (his quotes, not mine) somehow harm “consumer services” (whatever those might be), “emergency communications” (lacking any meaningful evidence that this is a tangible problem), and “the financial stability of licensed radio stations” (nah, that’s Wall Street’s fault). He references a claim from the Massachusetts Broadcasting Association that it’s identified some two dozen pirate stations “operating in one of their markets” (most likely the Boston metro area) and the numbers are growing. Read More

Now They Tell Us: FCC, Congress Rethinking Enforcement Drawdown?

Radio World revealed earlier this month that the acting chief of the Enforcement Bureau, Michael Carowitz, held a videoconference with members of the Bureau’s field-agent staff. The call revealed that the FCC’s downsizing of its enforcement resources has begun, with 11 field offices closed over the last several months (Anchorage, AK; Buffalo, NY; Detroit, MI; Houston, TX; Kansas City, MO; Norfolk, VA; Philadelphia, PA; San Diego, CA; Seattle, WA; Tampa, FL; and San Juan, PR) and 14 remaining open.

At present, that leaves just 34 field agents covering the entire country – this includes one of two roving “Tiger Teams” of agents organized to backstop the decimated staff in-residence. That’s almost a cut of half from the prior force of 60 that spanned the nation. It’s also important to keep in mind that these agents are responsible for enforcing all FCC regulations, not just the broadcast license requirement. Read More

FCC Anti-Pirate Enforcement in 2016: Symbolic Inflationism Ahoy


A surprising uptick in the Enforcement Action Database for 2016: 201 total actions were logged last year, which is up from the prior two years. Furthermore, the frequency of threats of fines and actual fines against unlicensed broadcasters also rose: 9 NALs issued for a total of $155,000, and 5 forfeitures handed out for a total of $65,000. We haven’t seen numbers this large since 2014.

It gives some statistical credence to recently-former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s assertion that, despite the agency’s admittance that its license-enforcement protocol is effectively broken, it hasn’t ceded the field entirely. Unfortunately, statistics can be fudged, and the FCC’s done that well in the last year. Read More

Nodes of Resistance: Sampling the Haitian Diaspora via FM+Internet

17 years ago(!), I left a budding career in radio journalism out of disgust with the trajectory the industry was taking. The break-point came when the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio teamed up in Congress to conduct a disinformation campaign designed to eviscerate the FCC’s then-newly proposed LPFM radio service.

However, A few months before I actually quit my job, I acquired all the components necessary to start an unlicensed microbroadcast station. “System P” was a 40-watt frequency-agile FM rig that used a portable military surplus antenna mast to conduct tactical broadcasts from a wide variety of locations. You could often hear the station in Madison, Wisconsin, primarily on evenings and weekends; but since the station was mobile much fun was had taking it to peoples’ homes and public events around the country to give the public a more substantive appreciation of the ease by which it could make “the public airwaves” very real.

Another key element of System P was to provide a last-mile node for what was then quite an experiemental webcast-activism scene (today commonly known as “livestreaming”). These often manifested in Independent Media Centers during times of protest, most notably against corporate global trade deals. Activists would converge on a city to fill the streets in order to disrupt the negotiation of these agreements, and the media coverage would invariably skew toward painting the activists as violent thugs and police/other security forces as the guardians of order. But when activists gained the ability to counteract this narrative – oftentimes by live reports from the streets directly – the discursive dynamic around these events changed. Read More