House Panel Advances PIRATE Act

A key House panel advanced legislation this week to enhance the FCC’s ability to crack down on pirate radio stations. The House Communications & Technology Subcommittee approved the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement (PIRATE) Act (H.R. 5709) sponsored by Reps. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.). Not only does the legislation increase fines for pirate operations to $100,000 per day, up to a maximum of $2,000,000, but it also gives new authorities to the FCC, as well as state and local law enforcement.

In her prepared remarks bringing the bill before the subcommittee, Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said, “These illegal broadcasts deprive Americans of their access to important emergency alerting information and their access to educational and other programming provided by legitimate licenseholders.”

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly was particularly pleased with the panel’s action. He noted, “This bill rightfully increases the penalties, requires regular enforcement sweeps, and augments the tools available to the Commission to stop illegal pirate broadcasters. At the same time, the bill notably excludes legitimate Part 15 operations, otherwise known as radio hobbyists.”

O’Rielly has advocated for such new authorities for several years. In a 2015 blog post on the FCC website, he outlined the problem with pirate radio. “They are not cute; they are not filling a niche; they are not innovation test beds; and they are not training grounds for future broadcasters,” he said. “If broadcasting were a garden, pirate radio would be poisonous crabgrass.”

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: June 15, 2018

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