Just updated the Enforcement Action Database and the signs are pretty clear: unlicensed broadcasting has slipped down the priority-list for FCC field agents. Actions against AM/FM and shortwave pirate stations last year were at their lowest level since 2005, the last time fewer than 200 were logged.

FCC Anti-Pirate Enforcement Actions, 1997-2015
Tactically, even the agency’s penchant for paperwork seems to have slackened. Although field offices do turn around official warning letters within days or weeks of visiting a station, they only issued half as many forfeitures in 2014 as they did the year before. It was also the first time since 2009 that the FCC billed out less than $100,000 in collective penalties.

Although 20 states (and Puerto Rico) saw field agents scoping out stations last year, 60% of all enforcement actions occured in New York and New Jersey — and New York outpaced its neighbor by a three-to-one margin. In Brooklyn, the airwaves are so thick with pirates that just last month, as field agents investigated two stations on adjacent channels to each other (88.7/88.9), they traced them to locations just a block apart in south Midwood (about 1.5 miles from my QTH).

Incidentally, thanks to Paul Thurst at Engineering Radio for his thoughts on the notion of using harm-reduction methods in pirate-saturated markets. It’s interesting to see the range of opinions among broadcast engineers who, as Paul notes, are often defined as binary creatures.

In other known pirate hot-spots, like south Florida and the Boston metropolitan area, it’s almost as if the FCC’s ceded the field. The downshift is starkest in Florida: once a regular headline-grabber (and the site of one of its most infamous pirate-sweeps), the Enforcement Bureau conducted just seven enforcement actions there last year, none of which involved any field efforts — all forfeitures involving cases first opened in 2013 (or earlier).

It’s certainly not that field agents are less busy. The Enforcement Bureau’s going through some downsizing, and enforcement priorites change with political whims. This includes devoting more time to people who actually interfere with public-safety, aeronautical, and amateur radio systems; even CB users still face the FCC’s occasional wrath. All of which is really a better use of time and resources than the continuance of something by and large ineffective.