On July 23, the House of Representatives by unanimous consent passed H.R. 5709, Preventing Illegal Use of Radio Through Enforcement Act — dubbed the “PIRATE Act.”
Nearly five months later, the upper body of Congress has yet to act. That has led every state broadcasters association in the nation, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to plead to the Senate’s Majority and Minority Leaders to pass companion legislation already.
In a letter sent Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the broadcaster associations collectively urged their “swift
consideration” and passage of the bi-partisan PIRATE Act, which would arm the FCC with “critical new enforcement measures to combat pirate radio operations.”
Nothing has happened in the Senate since July 24, when H.R. 5709 was received in the Senate and read twice before being referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
“For years unauthorized pirate radio stations have harmed communities across the country by interfering with licensed stations’ abilities to serve their listeners, undermining the Emergency Alert System, interfering with airport communications and posing direct health and safety risks,” the SBAs state. “The time has come to take significant steps to resolve this vexing problem.”
The PIRATE Act provides the Commission with the power to levy increased fines up to $100,000 per violation, and $2 million in total. It will also streamline the FCC’s enforcement process and empower state and local law enforcement in combating illegal pirate operations.
Upon prior notice, it holds liable persons, including property owners, who “knowingly” facilitate illegal pirate operations. The PIRATE Act would also create a database of all licensed radio stations operating in the AM and FM bands as well as those entities that have been subject to enforcement actions for illegal operation.
The legislation, proposed by Reps. Leonard Lance and Paul Tonko, moved to the House floor out of the Energy & Commerce Committee on July 12, where it was approved in a voice vote that took less than 10 minutes of time. A bipartisan amendment from Rep. Chris Collins added language regarding annual enforcement sweeps by the FCC, along with additional monitoring sweeps, and the Commission’s creation of a pirate radio broadcasting database.
The PIRATE Act’s requested approval by Senate comes following the July 20 issuance of a Forfeiture Order to North Miami, Fla., based pirate radio operator Fabrice Polynice, known for “Radio Touche Douce” at 90.1 MHz. Since the Order, audio heard on that frequency hasn’t been exclusively devoted to the distant signal of WGCU-FM, the NPR member station for the Fort Myers-Naples, Fla. market. Polynice has flagrantly ignored the Forfeiture Order on numerous occasions in the last four months.
“We are reaching the point where illegal pirate stations undermine the legitimacy and purpose of the FCC’s licensing system to the detriment of listeners in communities across the country,” the State Broadcasters’ Associations note. “The PIRATE Act will help the FCC restore integrity to the system. For these reasons, local broadcasters across our great nation fully support the PIRATE Act and urge its swift passage without changes.”