FCC business marches on in this time of social distancing and mandatory lockdowns, though with modifications caused by the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  The FCC released a Public Notice yesterday announcing that its monthly open meeting scheduled for March 31 will be held by teleconference rather than live in the FCC meeting room.  It can be viewed on the FCC’s website and on its YouTube channel.  Most of the action items will have already been voted on by the Commissioners through the “circulation” process.  This means that the votes will be taken on the written orders without any formal presentations by FCC staff members explaining the actions, and without orally-delivered statements by any of the Commissioners – though the Commissioners can certainly make their feelings known in written statements on the items on which they will have voted.  The meeting itself is likely to consist of Commission announcements and statements by the Commissioners on the current state of affairs.

Issues that were to be considered at the meeting of interest to broadcasters include the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Distributed Transmission System technology for TV stations – making it easier for TV stations to fill in their market coverage with multiple transmitters spread throughout the market, rather than a single big transmitter in the center of the market – a technology made easier as stations transition to the new ATSC 3.0 transmission system (see the draft NPRM here).  FCC Notices of Proposed Rulemaking on significantly viewed TV stations (draft NPRM here) and cable carriage disputes (draft Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking here) are also on the agenda.
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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. 
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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.
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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

At this week’s NAB Convention, issues about FM translators and pirate radio dominated the radio news from the sessions that featured FCC speakers. On the translator front, FCC Chairman Pai, in his speech to the convention, announced that there is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that has been drafted and is being considered by

The FCC yesterday announced that they had seized the equipment of two Boston-area pirate radio stations that had refused to cease operations after receiving FCC notices to do so. The FCC Public Notice on the seizure thanks the US Attorney’s Office and US Marshall’s Office, and the Boston Police Department, for assisting the FCC Field Office in carrying out the seizure authorized by the Communications Act for stations operating without a license. Seizure of equipment is carried out pursuant to Section 510 of the Communications Act, and generally requires that the US Attorney receive approval of a US District Court before the equipment can be seized Thus, the cooperation of the US Attorney’s office in a local jurisdiction is vital to conducting a seizure such as that done in Boston. Commissioner O”Rielly, who has been a vocal proponent of increased actions against pirate radio (see our post here) issued a statement commending the action and calling it a complement to legislative action to enhance fines on such stations and impose clear liability on landlords who host pirate operations (see our post here about a case where the FCC has already put landlords on notice of potential liability for pirate radio operations where they had clear involvement in such operations).

Legislative action on pirate radio seems to be in the works. To combat pirate radio operations, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology last week held a hearing (video available here) on proposed bills to amend the Communications Act, including one called the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement (PIRATE) Act (see discussion draft here). The draft bill would raise potential fines on pirate radio operators to $2,000,000, and fines of up to $100,000 per day for violations of the Communications Act and FCC rules related to such pirate operations. It would eliminate the need to provide pirates a Notice of Apparent Liability, with the opportunity to respond, before a fine is issued to an operator of a pirate radio station, if the operator is caught in the act of operating the illegal station. The Act would also make clear that those who facilitate pirate radio operations are also liable for up to $2,000,000 fines (“facilitates” is defined to include providing property from which the pirate operates or money for their operations). The draft bill also calls on the FCC to, twice each year, dedicate staff to “sweep” the top 5 radio markets determined to have the most pirate activity to identify pirates and seize their equipment, and authorizes states to enact their own laws making such operations illegal as long as the determination of who is a pirate radio station is made by the FCC. 
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