Pirate radio operators continue to be a problem – particularly in major metropolitan areas. The week before last, the FCC resolved two long-pending cases against pirate operators through negotiated settlements. In one case, the FCC last year initially proposed a fine of $151,005 for the illegal operation. After examining the operator’s finances, the Bureau agreed
Here are some of the legal and regulatory actions of the last week of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.
- The FCC released a Second Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration regarding Next Gen TV (ATSC 3.0). The Report and Order provides guidance on how the Commission will evaluate petitions for waiver of the local simulcasting rules for broadcasters deploying ATSC 3.0 who cannot find a partner station to broadcast its signal in the current transmission standard, declines to allow broadcasters to use vacant in-band channels for voluntary ATSC 3.0 deployment, and clarifies that the “significantly viewed” status of an ATSC 3.0 station will not change when that station moves its ATSC 1.0 simulcast channel to a host facility. The Order on Reconsideration denied petitions challenging aspects of the Commission’s 2017 Next Gen TV order, including issues dealing with the local simulcast requirement, the application of retransmission consent rules, patent licensing issues, and sunset of the obligation to use the current transmission standard for ATSC 3.0 (that sunset allowing the new transmission mode to evolve over time without the need for FCC action). (Second Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration)
- The Commission granted a waiver to a Jacksonville, Florida TV station, allowing it to complete its post-incentive auction move to a new channel by September 8, beyond the current July 3 end of Phase 10 of the repacking of the television band when all TV stations were to have moved to their post-transition facilities. Because of issues related to COVID-19 and other technical matters, the Commission granted this extension and authorized its Media Bureau to grant similar relief to other stations suffering from similar delays (Order)
- Two members of Congress wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging the Commission to “halt any increases to annual regulatory fees due in 2020 for broadcast licensees.” Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) and Chris Stewart (R-UT) wrote in their letter that this action requires no congressional action and would help alleviate some of the economic hardship suffered by stations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Members noted that broadcasters are a critical component of the pandemic response by, among other things, informing and educating Americans about public health guidance. (Letter). The NAB, as well as a group of state broadcast associations, also filed comments at the FCC opposing the FCC’s proposal to increase broadcast regulatory fees, arguing that broadcasters’ fees should not increase in relation to the fees paid by other industries regulated by the FCC, particularly as broadcasters have been so hard hit by the economic fallout of the pandemic. (NAB Comments and State Association Comments)
- Last Monday, the reply comment period closed in the FCC’s Significant Viewing proceeding. Designation as a significantly viewed station has implications for determining whether a cable or satellite TV system will carry a TV station in an area that is not part of its home market. For an in-depth look at what the FCC seeks to resolve through this proceeding, see this post at the Broadcast Law Blog. (Reply Comments)
- On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing considering the re-nomination of FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to a new five-year term. The Commissioner, in response to a question, noted that he believes the FCC’s and DOJ’s current media competition rules are “problematic,” and that he hopes to work with DOJ to shift its narrow view of the competitive marketplace where it does not recognize that broadcasters don’t just compete with other broadcasters, but instead directly compete with a wide range of other media companies, including digital media outlets. (Opening Statement and Archived Video)(see Broadcast Law Blog articles here and here on the competition between broadcasters and other media and how the assessment of the definition of the marketplace is important to the evaluation of broadcast ownership limits)
- The Enforcement Bureau acted last week against two pirate radio operations, one in Pennsylvania and one in Arkansas. These actions are reminders that broadcast operators must hold a valid license to operate and that the FCC will pursue illegal operations.
- In the first case, the Enforcement Bureau shut down a station that was broadcasting on 90.7 MHz and 91.5 MHz from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The operator, as part of a consent decree, admitted to the unauthorized operation of the station, agreed to pay a $1,500 civil penalty, and agreed to not operate an unauthorized station in the future. The PIRATE Act, signed into law in early 2020, gives the FCC authority to fine pirate radio operators up to $100,000 per violation (with a $2 million cap), but, in this case, the operator claimed an economic hardship, which persuaded the FCC to lower the fine to $1,500. (Order and Consent Decree)
- In the second case, the Enforcement Bureau issued a $10,000 fine to an operator for the unauthorized operation of a radio station on 103.1 MHz in Alma, Arkansas. (Forfeiture Order)
- The US Court of Appeals upheld a lower court order throwing out a rule adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services that would have required all TV advertising for prescription drugs to state the wholesale price of the drug. Based on these court decisions, this additional information will not need to be added to the disclaimers that these ads already contain. (Court Decision)(Broadcast Law Blog article on the decision)
The PIRATE Act, to crack down on pirate radio, passed the Senate this week after having passed in the House of Representatives last year. It now goes to the President for signature. We’ve written about this legislation several times before (see for instance, our articles here and here). In this final version, it provides more tools for the FCC to crack down on pirate radio operators more quickly, plus it imposes obligations on the FCC to make more regularized enforcement efforts against pirate radio operators, although without necessarily providing any more resources with which to do so.
The bill increases the fine for pirate radio to a maximum of $100,000 per day of operation, to a maximum of $2,000,000. Fines can be imposed on anyone who “knowingly does or causes or suffers to be done any pirate radio broadcasting.” This would seemingly allow the FCC to go after not just the operators themselves, but also those who “suffer to be done” any pirate radio operation, which could possibly implicate landlords who knowingly allow pirate radio operations on their premises, consistent with some recent FCC cases (see, for instance, the one we wrote about here). In addition, the bill allows the FCC to immediately issue a Notice of Apparent Liability (a notice of a proposed fine) without having to first issue a Notice of Violation (a notice suggesting that there is a violation of the rules, but allowing the person accused of violating the rule to first respond before the FCC can issue the proposed fine). The accused party will still be able to argue that no fine should be imposed when it receives the Notice of Apparent Liability (e.g., the party could argue that it had a license or that it did not really broadcast at all, or at a power level that requires FCC approval), but the two-step process currently needed before issuing a proposed fine would no longer be required, thus speeding up enforcement efforts. …
Continue Reading PIRATE Act Passes Senate, and Now on to the President for Signature – Provides for Big Fines and Enforcement Sweeps in Big Markets
The FCC yesterday issued Notices of Apparent Liability to two pirate radio operators that totaled over $600,000, the largest fines ever issued for those operating radio stations without an FCC-issued license. Both operated in the Boston area. One was fined $151,005 for operating one station (press release here, the full Notice of Apparent Liability is available here). The second was fined $453,015 for operating three transmitters in the area (press release here, the full NAL is available here). The FCC noted that these were the maximum fines that they could impose for these violations under current law, and that the fines were the result of several years of investigations and warnings to the operators.
Commissioner O’Rielly, in a separate statement, noted that he wished that the FCC had the authority to impose even higher fines and to proceed more quickly against these operators than allowed under current FCC procedures. The Commissioner noted that he would be working with Congress to try to get legislation passed to speed the process and raise the penalties against pirate operators. We wrote about one of those legislative proposals here that would impose fines of $100,000 a day up to $2 million against these pirates and speed the process necessary to impose these fines. The legislation would also allow fines directly against landowners and others enabling the operations of these stations.…
Continue Reading FCC Proposes Fines of Over $600,000 to Two Boston-Area Pirate Radio Operators
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…
The PIRATE Act, imposing Federal penalties on pirate radio station operators, was passed last week by the US House of Representatives and referred to the US Senate for consideration. We wrote about versions of this bill introduced in prior Congressional sessions here and here. This bill, among other things, would impose penalties of…
Yesterday, the FCC announced that it had seized the equipment of another pirate radio operator, this time one who was operating from a high-rise in Manhattan. The pirate was operating an unauthorized FM radio station from a New York apartment building. As we recently wrote in connection with another seizure of the equipment of…