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:
- Law and Disorder: FCC Fines New York City Man $404,166 for Interfering with NYPD Radio Frequencies
- A Friendly Port: In Novel FCC Action, Property Owners Face a $144,344 Fine for Housing a Pirate’s Radio Operation
- Continuous Unidentified Transmissions on a Shared Channel Leads to a $25,000 Fine
FCC Slaps NYC Individual with a $404,166 Fine for Interfering with NYPD Radio Frequencies
After a unique investigation involving a television host’s Twitter account, a New York Police Department investigation into criminal impersonation of a police officer, and a bomb threat to Times Square, the FCC fined a New York City man for operating on NYPD radio frequencies without authorization, malicious interference with officers’ communications, and transmission of false distress calls.
Section 301 of the Communications Act prohibits the unauthorized use of any device for radio transmission of energy, communications, or signals. Section 333 of the Act prohibits willful or malicious interference with any stations licensed, authorized, or operated by the United States Government. The FCC has interpreted this to include repeated disruptions to public safety communications apparatus. In addition, Section 325(a) prohibits the utterance or transmission of “any false or fraudulent signal of distress, or communication relating thereto.”
In August, 2016, the Enforcement Bureau responded to a TV host’s Twitter message that stated “A man hacked into the NYPD’s secure radio network to yodel repeatedly . . . .” Several weeks later, the NYPD arrested the individual, who admitted under interrogation to making the transmissions. The transmissions, which went to several NYPD precincts over the course of four months, included a bomb threat to a Times Square pharmacy, threats to harm police officers, music, and profanity.
Several months after the initial arrest, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing the statutory maximum of $19,246 for each of the 21 violations it found. The individual was found to have violated Section 301 and Section 333 for each of the nine calls he made, and the FCC found three violations of Section 325(a) (one for each of the false threats and distress calls).
Following the individual’s failure to respond to the Notice, the FCC issued a Forfeiture Order to make the proposed $404,166 fine a reality. The FCC stated in the Order that the man’s actions showed deliberate disregard for “the safety of NYPD officers and the public that they are called to serve and protect.”
FCC Proposes a $144,344 Fine Against Pirate Radio Operator and Property Owners
Taking a new approach, the FCC proposed a fine against not only the operator of a Florida-based unlicensed radio station, but against the owners of the property housing the station.
Section 301 of the Communications Act states that “No person shall use or operate any apparatus for the transmission of energy or communications or signals by radio . . . except under and in accordance with this Act and with a license [granted by the FCC].” In past pirate radio actions, the FCC tended to invoke Section 301 against only the pirate radio operator. In this case, the FCC broadened the definition of a party that “use[s] or operate[s]” a station to include those who knowingly have control and access to the transmission equipment and pay for the station’s utility costs. Continue reading →