Paper Tiger Roars in 2017 – To What End?

There are still a few pirate radio enforcement-cases from 2017 that the FCC has yet to release, but by and large the numbers from last year are in and they most definitely show an uptick in the number of enforcement actions against unlicensed broadcasters. As of today, there were 383 enforcement-actions across 18 states, compared to 207 actions in 2016 covering just nine states. For the second year running, Florida tops the list of states with the most anti-pirate enforcement, followed by Massachusetts and New York.

FCC Anti-Pirate Enforcement Actions Enforcement Actions by Year, 1997-20182017 ranks as the fifth-busiest year for enforcement activity in the 20-year history of the Enforcement Action Database, eclipsed only by a tear the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau went on during the end of President Bush II’s second term and Obama’s first term, when a proposed expansion of LPFM was being debated. Of the activity logged last year, the vast majority were station-visits (201, or 52%) or Notices of Unlicensed Operation (aka warning letters, 168, or 44%). The remaining 4% of enforcement actions included Notices of Apparent Liability (aka pre-fines, of which there were four) and Forfeiture Orders (nine).

In 2016, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued nine NALs and five Forfeiture Orders, so on balance there’s no real movement or improvement in the agency’s escalation-protocol beyond initial contact(s). Read More

In Face of Downsizing, Are FCC Agents Pulling Back?

Can’t say for sure, but the latest update to the Enforcement Action Database seems to suggest it, as the agency considers drastically cutting their already meager ranks. As of the end of April, there’ve been just 35 enforcement actions against 17 stations in four states. There has been no official report of field activity in May. In 2014, there were 52 enforcement actions in the same time-frame.

2014 saw the lowest level of FCC enforcement activity against unlicensed broadcasters in nearly a decade. Where agents are active, New York continues to lead the way, followed by New Jersey and California. A station in Colorado also got a warning letter this year, but that was a follow-up to a visit last year. Read More

Stimulus/Response

FCC Issues “Progress Report”

As new licenses for low power FM (LPFM) stations continue to trickle out of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency’s Enforcement Bureau continues to wrestle with the “problem” of “pirate” broadcasters.

Unlicensed activity appears to be running high on both the FM and Shortwave bands. Shortwave activity is booming at a level not seen in years. In the past month alone, nearly two dozen shortwave pirates have conducted broadcasts, some broadcasting multiple times per week. The FCC has not conducted an enforcement action against a shortwave pirate since 1998.

The same can not be said for the FM band, where the FCC has been very busy. In January, 2002, four microradio stations were contacted by FCC agents for broadcasting without a license. One was fined $10,000. On a year-by-year basis, enforcement activity of this level for the month of January hasn’t been seen since 1999.

The numbers might look unnerving at face value, but the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is facing numerous internal challenges that may hinder its future activity. Read More

LPFM: Crowded Field, Slim Pickings

2001 has been a less-than-stellar year for the FCC’s newborn low power FM radio (LPFM) service. Nearly two years have passed since LPFM’s adoption, and it’s been a year since Congress eviscerated the plan, leaving the FCC to implement only a fraction of the new stations it was planning to.

It’s a long time to watch and wait, and so far there are less new LPFM stations on the air then there are fingers on two hands. Many potential station applicants are waiting patiently for a cooperative but hobbled bureaucracy to do the mountain of paperwork generated by thousands of filings.

Some are fighting for their life because of competing applications. Religious groups have snapped up just about half of the construction permits given out for new stations so far, but other major players in the race for the airwaves are state and local governments. Read More