WASHINGTON, D.C. — Legislation drafted in March by House Energy & Commerce Committee Members Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), first hinted at by New Jersey Broadcasters Association President/CEO Paul Rotella on Wednesday at the 2018 Hispanic Radio Conference in Miami, is moving forward in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Committee will be conducting a markup on the “Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement (PIRATE) Act,” along with three other bills, on Wednesday morning.
A “discussion draft” of the PIRATE Act was first considered March 22 by the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
At 10am tomorrow (6/12), it is heading to markup of H.R. 5709. As drafted, the PIRATE Act will increase 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.
Illegal broadcasts have been a problem in South Florida for 20 years, with profiles in the Miami Herald authored by now-RBR+TVBR Editor-in-Chief Adam R Jacobson helping to take down one high-profile pirate operation. However, as pirates disappeared, others took their place. This pattern continues today.
With the shepherding of Commissioner O’Rielly, the FCC under Ajit Pai has actually stepped up its Notices of Unlicensed Operation in key hotbeds of pirate activity, including South Florida. However, enforcement has been problematic; “Radio Touche Douce,” at 90.1 MHz in North Miami, was handed a $144,344 forfeiture notice in October 2017.
As of Monday evening, the operation was not on the air. However, many unlicensed radio stations operate after dark or on weekends.
The Wednesday markup also includes three pieces of legislation also considered in March as “discussion drafts” — the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Access Act, and the Small Entity Regulatory Relief Opportunity (SERRO) Act.
For H.R. 5709, an amendment submitted by Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) suggests that within 90 days after the PIRATE Act’s enactment and semi-annually thereafter, the FCC publish a list “in a clear and legible format” of all licensed radio stations operating in the AM and FM bands in the top five markets “with the highest concentration of pirate stations.”
But, Collins also wants the FCC to include a list of all unlicensed stations and their respective frequencies in each of these markets — a request that could be declined in markup due to the nearly impossible task of keeping track of the appearances and disappearances of pirates on a regular basis.
The markets impacted would likely include Miami-Fort Lauderdale; West Palm Beach-Boca Raton; New York; Boston; and Middlesex-Somerset-Union, N.J.
An “Amendment in the nature of a substitute to H.R. 5709” was filed by Rep. Lance. In it, he calls on the FCC to submit to the House E&C Committee an annual report on the state of pirate radio in the U.S.
Further, Lance is calling for biannual sweeps.
“Not less than twice each year, the Commission shall assign appropriate enforcement [personnel] to focus specific and sustained attention on the elimination of pirate radio broadcasting within the top five radio markets identified as prevalent for such broadcasts,” the amendment reads. “Such effort shall include identifying, locating, and terminating such