The Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) has told the FCC that the regulatory agency needs to take another tack in its efforts to tackle AM revitalization. If the FCC takes the SBE’s advice, the result could be less noise in the MF and HF Amateur Radio bands. In comments the SBE filed in response to an FCC Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry (MB 13-249) proposing ways to enhance the viability of the AM broadcast service, the SBE said the Commission must “commit to a regulatory plan which, over time, will reduce the levels of man-made noise in the MF bands, and more broadly in the bands below 30 MHz.” In comments it filed earlier in the proceeding, the SBE pointed out that “AM radio in particular is susceptible to interference from electronic devices of all types,” and that ambient noise on the AM band is only bound to get worse with further proliferation of noise-generating electronic devices, including certain lighting devices regulated under FCC Part 15 and Part 18 rules.[…]
The FCC released this material [yesterday]. It consists mainly of letters to various organizations to ask their members to avoid cooperating with unlicensed radio stations.
The concern is that real estate owners may be harboring unauthorized stations, and that businesses may support such stations with advertising funds.
I would point you to an interesting opinion on the subject by Prof. John Anderson:
John references this recent YouTube video clip of a Congressional hearing where FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is questioned on the FCC’s enforcement efforts:
Again, I am not the source of the following material–the FCC is:
STATEMENT OF COMMISSIONER MICHAEL O’RIELLY ON PIRATE RADIO ENFORCEMENT ADVISORY.
STMT. News Media Contact: Robin Colwell at (202) 418-2300, email: Robin.Colwell@fcc.gov OCMO https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_pub
Released: 03/01/2016. FCC ENFORCEMENT ADVISORY: PERSONS OR BUSINESSES OPERATING “PIRATE” BROADCAST STATIONS ARE SUBJECT TO ENFORCEMENT ACTION. (DA No. 16-159) This Enforcement Advisory discusses the rules that prohibit “pirate” radio, explains to the public at large what broadcast actions are illegal, why such activities may harm the public, and what do to in case someone suspects “pirate” broadcasts. EB . News Media Contact: Will Wiquist at (202) 418-0509, email: Will.Wiquist@fcc.gov
Note that the bulk of this report focuses on FM/AM radio pirates in local markets rather than shortwave pirates (though I’m sure, on occasion, shortwave pirates are on the FCC radar).
Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Bill Patalon, who writes:
FCC’s LeBlanc wants to really crack down on Pirates …. And the “C” goes after the SW buccaneers as well as those on the commercial BCBs …
While the FCC is busy sabre-rattling, they should also think about ways to diversify the broadcast airwaves legally. There is a significant entry barrier for any would-be broadcaster on the FM and AM bands.
In fact, a quick glance at the procedures to apply for a new AM or FM station licence on the FCC website is discouraging: as of today, they are not accepting applications for new stations. And the FCC wonders why there are so many pirates?
Thanks again for the link, Bill.
Many thanks to an SWLing Post reader who shares this blog post by FCC Commissioner, Michael O’Rielly. In his post, Commissioner O’Rielly expresses his hatred of pirate radio stations and how he believes action should be taken against pirate stations. Worth reading, especially in light of potential FCC Enforcement Bureau Field Office closure plans.
(Source: FCC Blog)
Consider a New Way to Combat Pirate Radio Stations
Everyone should agree that pirate radio stations – by any definition – are completely illegal. Given other responsibilities and obligations, however, the Commission’s resources are stretched, and it seems that stopping pirate radio is not at the top of the priority list. While this reality is not surprising, we need to consider other ways to remove the scourge that is pirate radio. One approach would be to give broadcasters a new right to use the legal process to go after such stations, letting loose broadcasters’ legal bloodhounds to root out the violators. This isn’t a new idea as it has been done in other circumstances outside of spectrum policy, such as to combat email spam, and we should consider it here, too.
It is important to start by recognizing the truth about pirate radio stations. 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. If broadcasting were a garden, pirate radio would be poisonous crabgrass. Put another way, pirate radio participants are similar to outlaws who rob a retail store and then sell the stolen inventory online. In practice, pirate radio causes unacceptable economic harm to legitimate and licensed American broadcasters by stealing listeners. Pirate operators also cause “harmful interference” that inhibits the ability of real broadcasters to transmit their signals and programming, which provide such vital services as emergency alerts, critical weather updates, political information and news. And, pirate radio can disproportionately impact minority-owned stations as they undercut their financials and can cause harmful interference to legitimate stations serving minority populations.
Let’s also dispel another myth: pirate radio does not increase media diversity. From time to time, arguments have been made that we should look the other way because some pirate radio operators may be minorities, or the stations’ content appeals to minority listeners. To be clear, the race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or any characteristic of a pirate radio operator should be completely irrelevant to the discussion. Their operations are illegal – end of story. Just imagine if we allowed this argument to be persuasive in other spectrum enforcement decisions: Commission spectrum and licensing policies would be thrown into complete chaos and wireless systems would cease to operate.
Instead of embracing pirate radio, approaches like the NAB’s Broadcast Leadership Training Program should be encouraged to prepare underrepresented populations for leadership and ownership positions in broadcasting. Alternatively, those truly interested in operating a legal broadcast station can seek to participate in the Commission’s July 2015 auction, in which 131 FM construction permits will be available, many in smaller and less expensive markets.
If there are unmet needs or underserved populations, the solution is not to condone an illegal station, but to convince the applicable existing broadcaster to be more responsive. Collectively, broadcasters are uniquely attuned to the needs of their communities and promoting localism because the success of their stations and ultimately, their livelihoods depend on it. Moreover, there are other technologies available to target broadcasts to a distinct group within a community, such as low power FM stations or Internet radio stations, which are free, easy to establish and not regulated by the Commission.
To combat pirate radio, I am suggesting that we replicate a concept contained in the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. Specifically, section 7(g) authorizes an Internet Service Provider to “bring a civil action in any district of the United States with jurisdiction” against (1) false or misleading header information; (2) aggravated violations relating to commercial electronic mail; (3) failure to place warning labels on commercial electronic mail containing sexually oriented materials; or (4) a pattern or practice involving deceptive subject headings, failure to include return address, or continuing to transmit after a recipient objection. This provision provides a mechanism for ISPs to enjoin further violations and recover actual and aggravated damages and attorney fees. In other words, it authorizes ISPs to seek out the bad actors for a host of illegal activity and recoup their losses. The framework serves as a good model to provide additional options – outside of the FCC process – for eliminating and deterring pirate radio.
There is no doubt that pirate radio stations are often highly mobile, making tracking and finding such stations tedious and sometimes futile. But with the right technology to pinpoint signal strength and a little luck, the origination point of the pirate radio broadcast can be located, often leading to some back office or mobile van. In fact, broadcasters have told me of instances where they were able to accurately detect and locate pirate radio stations, meaning it can be done. And locating mobile pirate operators, while difficult, is no more so than trying to locate the purveyors of unwanted spam who can be stationed anywhere in the world with Internet access and a server. If it can help in the case of spam, or even if it acts as a further deterrent, why not give it a try here? Who do you think would cause more concern to a pirate station: the busy FCC or a broadcaster seeking to protect its station’s rights and revenues?
In all fairness, the CAN-SPAM’s private right of action for ISPs hasn’t been used all that often and hasn’t magically eliminated spam. No one who worked on the law ever expected it to do so. Instead, the private right of action was meant to be one more tool in the toolbox. In practice, the provision has been used by a select number of companies determined to be ISPs by the courts, including Yahoo!, Facebook, and My Space. Facebook has been of the more frequent users of the provision, using it to obtain judgments in no fewer than three cases leading to statutory damages and injunctive relief.
On a side note, pirate radio has been mentioned recently in conjunction with the Commission’s proposal to reorganize and close certain FCC field offices. To be clear, I am not taking a stance on that matter at this time, and my proposal should not be seen in any way related. Few details have been made available to me regarding the field offices, and I was not a party to the plan’s development. The field office discussion should remain completely separate because the problem with pirate radio and lack of attention exists today under the current enforcement structure. Whether altering the field offices would further denigrate our enforcement efforts against pirate radio is a debate for another time.
Private enforcement of spectrum license rights in court should remain limited in any event. I am in no way suggesting that the Commission transfer its spectrum enforcement authority to the court system, and any private right here would be in addition to, not supplanting, the Commission’s responsibilities, nor undermining any common law rights of broadcasters. And to allow for some private action in this specific case should not be interpreted as my support for more lawsuits and certainly not more class-action suits. As in the case of spam, I would not recommend allowing consumers (e.g., a station’s listeners) to file lawsuits. But if we can narrowly permit a limited and targeted private right of action here to be used only by broadcasters, it could provide a valuable tool to tackle a persistent problem in some radio markets. To the extent that this idea garners consideration, it may require a change in current law, which is solely within the purview of Congress. At such a point, I would leave the discussion in the capable hands of our elected representatives.
Though I know commissioner O’Rielly is mostly focusing on local FM and AM pirates, I can say that I’ve never heard shortwave pirates interfere with commercial stations; they occupy rather unoccupied parts of the bands.
Many thanks to Ray Novak for sharing this video from the ABC series Last Man Standing:
I imagine there are pirates out there who would agree with Mike Baxter (a.k.a. Tim Allen). Savor your ham.
It appears that FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai, is pushing a plan to revitalize declining AM radio station and listener numbers in the US. Read some of the details below or the full article on the New York Times website.
Many thanks to David Goren for the tip!
(Source: NY Times)
[…]Because of interference caused by consumer electronics, smartphones and the like, AM radio often seems to deliver mostly static. The AM audience has fallen to 15 percent of all radio listeners, down from 50 percent as recently as 1978. While the FM audience has fallen as well, it draws more than five times the audience of AM.
[Steps include] eliminating a regulation requiring stations to prove that any new equipment decreases interference with other stations — a requirement that is expensive, cumbersome and difficult to meet.
The F.C.C. has also proposed eliminating or loosening rules that govern nighttime transmissions by AM stations. Those regulations currently require many AM stations to reduce their power or cease operating at night to avoid interference with other stations.
[…]The current regulations make it difficult for AM stations to locate towers where they will not interfere with nearby stations at night. They also put conflicting requirements on stations, mandating that they still cover most of their broadcast territory even while operating at reduced power.
The proposed new rules, the commission said, aim at keeping more stations on the air at night.
[T]he F.C.C. said it was ready to make available to current FM stations what are known as FM translators — empty spots on the FM dial where AM stations can broadcast. Those are particularly valuable in urban areas, where tall buildings with steel frames or aluminum siding can block AM signals, degrading reception.
Note that I’m not speaking strictly of the HF spectrum here. But mark this: a radio revolution is, right now, in the making. ARS Technica just last week published an article entitled, “How software-defined radio could revolutionize wireless” in which the authors argue that software defined radios (SDRs) might not only open the door to new uses for our radio spectrum–uses we can’t currently fathom!–but also open the door to unlimited free innovation. Innovation in the form of experimental hacking, much of which could simply fall below or outside of the FCC and other spectrum governing bodies, could become the province of literally anyone who wants to give it a go.
The article takes the reader through the evolution of SDRs and introduces a company manufacturing a product that could be to the radio spectrum and wireless communications what Apple became to personal computing.
I typically quote my favorite parts of an article, but this one is so very well-written and comprehensive, you really will want to read it in its entirety. Click here to read, “How software-defined radio could revolutionize wireless“–and let your imagination take flight.