The FCC yesterday issued a News Release about an unusual action taken by the US Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts entering into a consent decree with a pirate radio operator, where the operator agreed to surrender all of its operating equipment to the FCC, and to stop broadcasting illegally. If the operator is again caught operating a broadcast station without authority, the US Attorney can collect a $75,000 fine. From time to time, the FCC has cooperated with the US Marshall’s Office to seize pirate radio equipment (see, for instance, our article here), but taking a pirate to court to enforce an FCC decision is a more unusual action.
This shows what the FCC and the Department of Justice can already do to stop illegal pirate radio operators. The FCC itself routinely issues Notices of Violation to pirate radio operators – telling them to cease operations and holding them liable for FCC fines (see for instance, notices here, here, here and here issued in the last two weeks). However, the FCC can’t itself force the pirate to pay, and has to get the Department of Justice involved to force a collection. As with this pirate in Massachusetts, who was previously issued a notice of violation by the FCC, sometimes pirates just ignore the FCC’s actions. This pirate shut down one station and only partially paid the fine, and then started another pirate radio station. But, from this news release, it appears that getting a notice from the US Attorney that you are being hauled into court for not adhering to an FCC order apparently has a greater deterrent effect – leading to this settlement. Of course, if Congress passes the PIRATE ACT, about which we wrote here, the much bigger fines that could be imposed under that act could give the FCC an even more significant weapon to combat pirates in the future. Watch developments in this area in coming months.