WASHINGTON, D.C. — Legislation that will greatly strengthen the FCC Enforcement Bureau’s ability to find unlicensed radio broadcasters and silence them for good is one step closer to becoming law.
The House of Representatives on Monday afternoon (7/23) by unanimous consent passed H.R. 5709, Preventing Illegal Use of Radio Through Enforcement Act — dubbed the “PIRATE Act.”
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. The PIRATE Act increases fines for illegal pirate operations to $100,000 per day per violation, from $10,000 per violation, up to a maximum of $2 million. It will also streamline the FCC’s enforcement process and empower state and local law enforcement in combating illegal pirate operations.
A bipartisan amendment from Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) now included in the Act would require annual enforcement sweeps by the FCC, along with additional monitoring sweeps. His amendment also calls on the FCC to establish a pirate radio broadcasting database.
The PIRATE Act’s approval 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, the only audio heard on that frequency is the distant signal of WGCU-FM, the NPR member station for the Fort Myers-Naples, Fla. market.
Passage by the House of the PIRATE Act was warmly greeted by David Donovan, President of the New York State Broadcasters Association.
“This is an important day for American consumers who rely on legally licensed stations for life saving news and information,” Donovan said. “Every day listeners in New York City are subject to the harms of illegal stations. These illegal stations interfere with EAS alerts, disrupt vital airport communications, spew RFR radiation into communities in excess of government standards, broadcast content that violates FCC regulations, and ignore all consumer protection laws. Passing the bill constitutes a milestone in the effort to eliminate pirate stations.”
Donovan then urged Senators to take quick action on the bipartisan bill. “The FCC’s ability to police the airwaves has been severely compromised in a number of markets including New York City, Miami, Northern New Jersey, Massachusetts, Colorado and Connecticut. The problem is spreading. The FCC must regain control over the radio spectrum. Time is of the essence.”
NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith was equally pleased with the swift passage of the PIRATE Act by the House.
“These unlicensed and illegal stations interfere with licensed radio broadcasts, threaten public safety and disrupt communications between airline pilots and air traffic controllers,” he said. “We thank Reps. Lance, Tonko and Collins for their leadership on pirate radio enforcement and urge the Senate to act quickly in passing the PIRATE Act.”
— RBR+TVBR Washington Bureau