Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:
- Seven-Figure Fine Imposed on Pirate Radio Brothers
- $25,000 Fine Proposed for Kansas Radio Station EEO Rule Violations
- Satellite Company Enters $150,000 Consent Decree for Orbital Debris
FCC Affirms Largest-Ever Pirate Radio Fine
The FCC affirmed a $2,316,034 fine against two brothers operating a pirate radio station in Queens, New York. The penalty followed a March 2023 Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL), which we wrote about here.
In the NAL, the FCC set out the details of the brothers’ pirate radio activities, including that they had been illegally operating since 2008. The Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act (known as the PIRATE Act and enacted in 2020) expanded the FCC’s authority to take enforcement action against radio pirates, and the fine proposed in March was the first issued under the FCC’s newly-expanded authority. Illegal broadcast operations can interfere with licensed communications and pose a danger to the public by interfering with licensed stations that carry public safety messages, including Emergency Alert System transmissions.
In this case, the FCC’s investigation documented 184 days of pirate broadcasts. With a $20,000 base fine for each willful and knowing violation, plus upward adjustments for intentional conduct and a history of rule violations, the FCC arrived at a fine of $21,307,568, but then reduced it to the statutory maximum of $2,316,034. The brothers are jointly and severally liable for the fine, which means that each brother is responsible for paying the full fine and the FCC can recover the total fine from either brother or both. Payment of the penalty is due within 30 days of the release date of the Forfeiture Order.
Kansas Radio Licensees Face $25,000 Fine for EEO Violations
Two related radio companies, licensees of a combined nine Kansas radio stations, received an NAL for various violations of the FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rules. The NAL proposed a $25,000 fine.
The FCC’s EEO rules prohibit broadcasters from discriminating in hiring on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or gender and, in many cases, require broadcasters to conduct and document broad job vacancy recruitment efforts. The nine stations are run by the same two principals and operate as two Station Employment Units. A Station Employment Unit (SEU) is a “a station or a group of commonly owned stations in the same market that share at least one employee.” The FCC Enforcement Bureau’s investigation into the SEUs’ EEO compliance appears to have stemmed from the FCC’s processing of the stations’ license renewal applications, during which FCC staff reviews a station’s compliance with the FCC’s various rules throughout the station’s license term. Continue reading →