Statement of REC Networks: Enactment of PIRATE Act

Unlicensed, unregulated high-power broadcasting is a health hazard.  With pirate stations in Brooklyn reported to be operating kilowatts from the roofs of apartment buildings, directly above occupied apartments, there is a cause for concern.  This issue alone is why we need tighter controls on unlicensed broadcasting.  

Some people, including former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and current Commissioner Geoffrey Starks have both stated that the influx of pirate radio, especially in large FM spectrum-crowded areas is an indication that there needs to be more opportunities for diverse groups to operate stations and that certain ethnic groups, such as the Haitian American community are underrepresented on the dial.  

REC agrees with this statement to a point. 

REC feels that there are three different types of pirate broadcasters:

First, you have the underrepresented ethnic groups where the station is operated as a lifeline and is operated with little or no commercial intent, similar to the situations that Commissioners Clyburn and Starks refers to.  We do feel though, that there are very few groups that truly want to reach to their communities in that manner (i.e. noncommercial).

Second, you have full-blown commercial enterprises.  Now, keep in mind though, many of these stations may be operated by ethnic groups that are underrepresented in the community however, their sheer goal is profit and not community. This is likely the category that the recent Boston busts fall under.  Unfortunately, we are seeing similar commercial enterprises operating in the licensed LPFM service, especially in Florida. 

Third, you have the hobby broadcaster.  This is someone, who is not intending to operate commercially and not operating 2 kW from a Brooklyn apartment building, but perhaps built their own transmitter or purchased a 7-watt Chinese transmitter from Amazon or just wants to experiment with antennas.  These are people who just want to hear their station on the radio in their neighborhood and may be frustrated that the current Part 15 rules are too restrictive or that the opportunities for a licensed station are too few and far between, or otherwise restrictive in eligibility.

It can also be argued that those who decided to pirate as a result of the outcome of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the ownership rules that followed may be a fourth group of pirate broadcasters. 

We feel though that the PIRATE Act is centered towards the second group mentioned as it should be.  These are the ones who ignore not just interference rules but also puts the public health at risk just to turn a dime.  REC is concerned that those who are in the third group (hobby broadcasters) who may be operating slightly above Part 15 requirements may get swept up.  We hope the FCC's Enforcement Bureau uses discretion.  During the write-up of the PIRATE Act, REC called for it to include language that would limit the 6 and 7-figure fines to aggravated cases while using existing policy to keep the 5-watt hobbyist at bay.  

To address the issue of underrepresented ethnic groups, the Commission should look at long term solutions including the reallocation of Channels 5 and 6 to add 60 channels of FM broadcasting, giving priority to Class C and D AM stations (which are more likely to be operated by minority groups) to access that new spectrum and open more LPFM opportunities.  Congress can also help by giving LPFM some relief in the Local Community Radio Act. 

In addition, the Commission can look at "narrowcast" and "specialized broadcasting" options which can provide additional spectrum which can be used especially by ethnic groups.  REC fully supports the use of spectrum in the 11-meter shortwave band utilizing Digital Radio Mondiale can be placed in metro areas, such as New York City and lower powers (15 watts or less) and have significant coverage within a medium sized city or a borough.  The FCC could also free up some low band or high band VHF spectrum for such a narrowcasting operation similar to what has been implemented in Australia.    We should even look at lower power AM stations on a noncommercial basis.  

The PIRATE Act is intended to raise the fines in order to cross thresholds set by the Department of Justice for enforcement beyond that of what an FCC field agent can do, or should do.  

The one thing the PIRATE Act does not even address is the trafficking of uncertified, illegal and unsafe transmitters being dumped on our shores from China and other places and stored in Amazon's warehouses.  The FCC and the DOJ need to crack down on Amazon, eBay and others who are US-based and facilitating the import of this illegal equipment.  Why is the U.S. Government scared to take on Jeff Bezos?

Overall, REC supports the PIRATE Act. We hope that the use of this Act will be limited to only the most aggravated cases and that Enforcement has discretion based on the gravity of the situation however, we need to address the issue of illegal, uncertified equipment being allowed to wash up on our shores and sold by mass retailers, which this Act does not address.  Finally, and most importantly, we need to make changes in our spectrum and re-set our priorities to assure that more minority groups have access to spectrum to provide a vital noncommercial service to their community and the community at large.  Not only will that help the ethnic communities, but it will allow others to get a better understanding of those communities.  This is what diversity is all about.  This can't be done with an "incubator" program that rewards a large corporate broadcaster for taking on a "token" cause.   We still have a LOT more work to do. 

Michelle Bradley, CBT
REC Networks

View the text of the PIRATE Act

REC's Fact Sheet on unlicensed broadcasting

ABOUT REC NETWORKS: REC Networks is an unincorporated entity owned and operated by Michelle Bradley.  Since 1984, REC has been providing information, entertainment and support which today, includes regulatory advocacy related to spectrum access, especially for community broadcasting.  REC also provides programming for J1 Radio, a Canada-based cluster of internet radio stations providing Japanese-language entertainment world-wide and one English-language network, REC-FM.

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