FCC Takes A Break From Not Caring About Consumers To Hassle Some Landlords Over Pirate Radio
from the odd-priorities dept
It’s been pretty clear for a while now that the Trump/Ajit Pai FCC simply doesn’t give a shit about consumer protection, healthy markets, high prices, or competition. It’s why they’ve effectively dismantled the FCC’s authority and ceded US telecom policy-making to AT&T and Comcast lobbyists. All in the repeatedly disproven belief that gutting oversight of a bunch of politically powerful natural monopolies somehow results in free market magic. Of course the end result of thirty-years of this kind of policy thinking is Comcast, which pretty much speaks for itself.
Instead of doing one of its core jobs of protecting markets and consumers, the Pai FCC has spent an inordinate amount of time hyperventilating over pirate radio broadcasts. Every few months or so the FCC will crow about how it has cracked down on some piddly pirate radio broadcaster that (usually) is causing minimal harm (and can’t pay the resulting fine anyway). Often, some of these broadcasts are catered to very narrow and underserved minority communities, and taking them offline isn’t worth the time and enforcement cost unless it’s causing significant, major harm to a legit regional broadcaster or public safety.
But recently the FCC took things to the next level, by using recently expanded authority under the PIRATE Act to target property owners and landlords who host those engaging in pirate radio broadcasts:
“The bureau issued an announcement that it is exercising the FCC?s new authority under the recently enacted PIRATE Act, which gave the commission a significant new hammer in its anti-pirate toolkit: ?Parties that knowingly facilitate illegal broadcasting on their property are liable for fines of up to $2 million,? it stated.
Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold said, ?It is unacceptable ? and plainly illegal under the new law ? for landlords and property managers to simply opt to ignore pirate radio operations. Once they are aware of these unauthorized broadcasts, they must take steps to stop it from continuing in their buildings or at other sites they own or control.”
There is, of course, a whole slew of secondary liability issues that crop up from the FCC cracking down hard on landlords that not only may not really understand they’re hosting a pirate radio broadcast, especially given the “real” threat these often tiny pirate broadcasts pose. Some of the fines are upwards of $2 million; and landlords could wind up paying significantly more in penalties than the actual pirate broadcasters, who usually can’t afford to pay the fines anyway. That’s assuming FCC lawyers can show the landlord “knowingly tolerated” the broadcasts, which seems like a bit of an uphill climb.
It’s also a bit odd to see the FCC aggressively flex here, given its complete and total apathy to its broader mission: protecting consumers, small competitors, and the market from giant regional monopolies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. Yes, pirate radio broadcasts can certainly cause harm, especially if they’re interfering with public safety broadcasts. But the scale of the actual harm is usually a far cry from the harm caused by letting natural telecom monopolies with thirty years of anticompetitive behavior under their belts literally dictate state and federal internet and telecom policy. It’s odd to fixate on the smaller problem of pirate radio while being utterly apathetic to stuff like… rampant broadband monopolization.
Yes, these pirate broadcasters are breaking the law. Yes, they should just shift to streaming and avoid the legal hassle, risk, and potential harm they can cause. Yes, the FCC should investigate and punish pirate broadcasters when they’re causing clear, significant, provable harm. But recall, this is also an FCC that’s been totally apathetic to the way unchecked media consolidation has been harming marginalized minority voices for decades, so turning around and over-reacting to what are often creative (albeit illegal and potentially unwise) alternative solutions to navigate the US media landscape shows a lack of foresight and broader thinking.
Such high profile actions do, however, generate headlines that imply the Trump FCC hasn’t been utterly negligent when it comes to doing its broader job of protecting the public at large because a bunch of giant monopolies told them to.