Congressman Leonard Lance

Representing the 7th District of New Jersey

Lance, Tonko Take on Pirate Radio Operators

May 8, 2018
Press Release
E&C telecom bill Moving through Subcommittee

“Radio frequencies are not toys for unlicensed broadcasters”

– Vice Chair Lance

WASHINGTON, D.C. --- Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ-07), Vice Chair of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, today announced bipartisan legislation with Congressman Paul Tonko (NY-20) designed to combat unlawful broadcasting—often called ‘pirate radio’— by increasing fines and enforcement tools.  New Jersey has one of the largest concentrations of pirate radio operators in the country.  Pirate radio signals have been found to interfere with the Emergency Alert System and Federal Aviation Administration operations, causing significant harm to public safety.

Knocking down ‘pirate radio’ broadcasts prevents these bad actors from interfering with the licensed broadcasters public safety officials rely on to transmit communications during times of emergency.   These unlawful broadcasts are interfering with the news and information programming people count on and needlessly clogging the information highway at important times.  It is time to take these pirates off the air by hiking the penalties and working with the Federal Communications Commission on enforcement.  Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly have been able partners in making sure these broadcasts are stopped.  This bill will give the FCC even more tools to take down these illegal broadcasts.  I thank my bipartisan cosponsors, Congressman Tonko, Congressman Collins and Congressman Bilirakis for joining me in this important public safety effort,” said Lance.

“Protecting our public airwaves is an essential part of protecting our communities. Whether a radio frequency is being used by first responders coordinating to save lives or parents who just want to keep obscenity and bigotry away from their children, our communities are better served when broadcasting is governed by the rule of law. I am pleased to join with Congressman Lance to introduce the PIRATE Act, important legislation that will ensure our airwaves are protected from piracy and Americans on the job or on their way to work can tune their radios in peace,” added Congressman Paul Tonko, the lead Democrat on the measure.

The PIRATE (Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement) Act increases fines for illegal pirate operations from $10,000 to $100,000 in an effort to boost the deterrent against these broadcasts.  The bill further holds those who facilitate pirate operations liable, while also streamlining the enforcement process.  It also takes the furthest step yet in instituting enforcement sweeps by requiring the FCC to conduct bi-annual enforcement sweeps in the top five radio markets with significant illegal pirate operations, which includes New York/New Jersey.  Since 2017, under Chairman Pai the FCC has significantly cracked down on this illegal activity and this bill will ensure future Commissions continue this rigorous enforcement.  Federal law generally prohibits the operation of a broadcast radio or TV station without a license issued by the FCC.  The FCC’s renewed enforcement efforts have resulted in unlawful broadcasts going off the air, seizure of equipment, fines against pirates, proposed fines against pirates and property owners actively aiding pirate radio operations and numerous other enforcement actions, according to the FCC. The PIRATE Act gives more teeth to the penalties and more tools to combat the infractions, helping ensure these illegal operators stay off-air.   

New York Congressman Chris Collins, another member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, added, “Radio ‘piracy’ is an unlawful practice that is not only bad for business but a threat to public safety. Pirate stations compete unfairly with licensed stations who follow the rules for competitive advertising dollars. What is worse is that the illegal use our nation’s airwaves can block the emergency alert system in times of crisis. The PIRATE Act enhances penalties and expands liability so that the FCC can work to deter future pirates and hold those operating illegally accountable and shut them down.”

The issue of pirate radio operators is a more pressing public safety issue than it seems.  We have to clean up the airwaves to make way for public safety announcements, Federal Aviation Administration conversations and other important information.  Radio frequencies are not toys for unlicensed broadcasters,” concluded Lance.