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Author Topic: FCC activity  (Read 2939 times)

Offline Andrew Yoder

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FCC activity
« on: March 05, 2012, 1434 UTC »
(to address some comments from the WEAK Radio post)

I think there might be some misconceptions about the FCC and their enforcement from some in the hobby who have been listening or pirating for less than 13 years. We've been lulled to sleep by the FCC's inactivity over the past decade, but they have the technology to close a house-operated station quickly. This bit isn't meant to be comprehensive, but I've heard a number of Qs on the topic and also assumptions about things that I believe are really stretching and I thought I'd mention what I know. Hopefully, it's a help.

The FCC closed at least one pirate in the '80s during the station's first broadcast. In the '80s, the rule was keep the broadcast under 30 min. and only broadcast once or twice per month and you *should* be safe.

Whether an active station gets closed is more a matter of an intersection of the FCC's funding, current feeling/internal policy on SW pirates, and the location of their agents than anything. If an FCC agent is sent to your town to close high-powered CBers, an FM pirate, or to check a licensed AM or FM station, you will be in much greater danger if you fire up on 6925 for a few hours that night. Evidently, the FCC simply ignored SW pirates between about 1999 and 2009, but from late 2010 to early 2011, they cared again.

This is normal. Over the years, they've let things slide and then suddenly closed stations down for a few months or even years. They don't write about why the enforcement levels change, so we really have no idea what causes the change in climate. But this is how they operate. This batch of closures is similar to the ones in '98 and '85. There were also stretches from about '77-'83 and '89-'93 when the FCC closed a number of stations and seemed to be taking a very active approach toward SW pirates. In fact, in 1991 (I believe), a guy was relaying Voice of Laryngitis programs on 15050 kHz (I think) while driving through the Midwest. This was a clear freq that was occasionally used by pirates (in other words, he wasn't QRMing the USAF and this wasn't a primary pirate freq, like 6925 is now). But they set up a roadblock on I-70 and busted him near Denver.

Any time a pirate broadcasts, if the FCC is checking, they can narrow the QTH down to a few square miles with distant DFing. Maybe not the town you're in, but the next town over at least. The problem is sending people out to close stations and do the close-in DFing. They can do it, but it's really expensive and shortwave is finally a low priority.

The FCC has never worked with an active pirate, so there's no chance that a particular SW pirate is selling out other pirates in exchange for keeping himself on the air. The FCC simply doesn't work that way. Also, one particular person complaining to the FCC about a pirate won't make much of a difference overall. Pirates are broadcasting, afterall, and fact is that people are complaining to the FCC about pirates. Some hams (and other people) do listen to pirates and complain to the FCC. In one of my old FOIA requests, I have photocopies of QSLs that one guy was receiving from pirates so that he could send to the FCC to use as evidence against these stations.

One comment made at the Winterfest was that a couple of the stations that were closed interfered with MARS frequencies. I don't know if this is the case, but interfering with MARS *will* cause a reaction from the FCC.
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Offline Jolly Roger

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Re: FCC activity
« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2012, 1714 UTC »
I can't speak for others, I can only point out why I keep poking at the furreh bunch.
If they were or were not responsible for WEAK, Crystal, or anyone else actually being busted is irrelevant. It is their INTENT that is important. ie: you can still go to jail for INTENDING to kill someone without ACTUALLY killing them. Their intent was (is) to shut down through intimidation anyone who they don't like. As a Canadian I don't know about the FCC but it is a FACT that they actively stirred up my radio club and encouraged THEM to report Radio Yellowknife to Industry Canada, our regulating body. Now had this actually occurred they could of course say "WE didn't turn Radio YK in" when in fact they would have been directly responsible for that happening.
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Offline Andrew Yoder

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Re: FCC activity
« Reply #2 on: March 05, 2012, 1816 UTC »
Jolly Roger: Understood. I'm not trying to sweep "dirty tricks" under the rug. I'm sure that people have done different things that counter good pirate radio listening. But, in the past few years, I've noticed that people have not only been lax about their pirating operations, but they've seemed to be unaware of how the FCC has operated in the past. And lately it's seemed to me that talk of the dirty tricks, etc. has eclipsed the FCC's/DOC's involvement in this process.

Although I do address the possibility (or lackthereof) of an active pirate cooperating with the FCC in one sentence, my intent was simply to let people know how the FCC has operated in the past, not try to do a point-by-point argument for one side of this battle or the other.
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Offline Jolly Roger

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Re: FCC activity
« Reply #3 on: March 05, 2012, 1838 UTC »
I appreciate you saying that, Andrew, and I hope I'm not offending you by my contantly hammering this topic. My sole reason is to keep history from being rewritten, as has happened on the Furreh Radio Network site. I can see it now: a bunch of aggressive sock puppets appear and chase off everyone else. Then every post concerns the Great Exalted Floppy Eared one and how he is the savior of Pirate Radio and how sunshine comes out of his butt, etc. That's not gonna happen on my watch.
I'm not entirely blameless here, in the past I was too free with my identity and stories of my pirate past. That was naive and foolish of me. But here's the kicker: I shouldn't have to fear OTHER ops.
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Offline ChrisSmolinski

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Re: FCC activity
« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2012, 1958 UTC »
I'll preface this by saying this is all my own opinion:

FCC enforcement is to a large extent complaint driven. These complaints can come from other broadcasters (often the cause of busts of FM pirates), government agencies, and individuals. If you have not already done so, go visit http://transition.fcc.gov/eb/ and take a look at the Field Issued Citations, NALs and NOVs section http://transition.fcc.gov/eb/FieldNotices/ and read some of the entries. You will see that they typically begin with statements such as "The Seattle District Office received information that an unlicensed broadcast radio station on 98.5 MHz was allegedly operating..." and "This office received a complaint from a licensed telecommunications provider that it was receiving interference in the 450-470 MHz band from a radio transmitting device"

I find it difficult to believe that the FCC spends significant resources monitoring the HF spectrum looking for unlicensed broadcasts or transmissions otherwise in violation of FCC regulations, and taking enforcement action.  I'd even go so far as to say that the FCC seems to tolerate a certain level of improper/unlicensed operation, so long as it does not cause significant harmful interference to licensed users, or get out of hand. Spending a few minutes on 14313 kHz will quickly confirm this.

As Andrew pointed out, things were very different in the 70s and 80s. The FCC had a large enforcement budget, and made use of it. Pirate radio was quite different back then. Not to get into the "back when I was a kid, I had to walk 10 miles to school, uphill both ways" mode, but pirate activity was much lower back then. You could go weeks without hearing a station. It was far too risky to run any sort of a regular schedule, or transmit for hours at a time.

Also as Andrew said, it is expensive for the FCC to send personel to make the bust. But roughly DFing a pirate is trivial with their equipment. Now, I'm going to speculate here, but it is entirely possible that the FCC maintains a database of known pirate operation locations. They could even cross reference this with ham license information, or even addresses of known pirate enthusiasts (following the likely theory that operators are probably active listeners as well), and come up with probable hunches as to who operates the various stations. Then, should enforcement actions be required, they're ready to act.

Based on what I've read and observed, if I had to make a guess, I would say that WEAK was busted due to interfering with utility (possibility military) comms.

I cannot say the same for The Crystal Ship bust. Certainly not with the same certainty. There's way too many coincidences and circumstantial evidence with that bust. There's a lot of utility and .mil operations on 43 meters. Poet could have run afoul of one of them. He was also operating near a MARS net. It could have just been his bad luck to have interfered with the wrong transmission(s). Here's the opening of Poet's NOUO letter: "The Detroit Office received information that an unlicensed broadcast radio station on 6815 kHz was allegedly operating in Lansing, Michigan."  The FCC doesn't disclose who provided that information. But there's something interesting about the wording. Take it literally. The sentence says that the FCC received information that an unlicensed broadcast radio station on 6815 kHz was allegedly operating in Lansing, Michigan. How would a utility or MARS station know that The Crystal Ship was located in Lansing? You can understand how a listener would know where an FM pirate was located, as they typically only serve one city. But a shortwave pirate? Maybe it is just how the FCC words their notice. Or maybe not.
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Offline Pigmeat

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Re: FCC activity
« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2012, 2112 UTC »
When TCS first re-emerged they were using a MARS/AFRS net frequency in the region just above the 90 meter broadcast band. The frequency was used by a net for the Chesapeake Bay region. This was when the Bunny was curious about TCS and who it was and I was getting regular calls from him about the station.

I told him I didn't know who the guy was,but the guy was tx'ing on a mil-com net frequency and would be short lived if he stayed there.

Interestingly,the guys in the net would chuckle about "that pirate" when TCS signed on and move to an adjacent frequent.

Somehow,possibly secret Fansomian technology probing my brain,TCS got word about the net and found another frequency on that band.

Offline diymedia

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Re: FCC activity
« Reply #6 on: March 05, 2012, 2209 UTC »
I've been writing about FCC enforcement activity against pirates for nigh on 15 years now (and I guess this still makes me a newbie!). But, please, rest assured: HF pirates are extremely low on the totem pole of the FCC's enforcement priorities.

It is correct that the FCC's Enforcement Bureau has been slashed, and that busts are nearly unanimously complaint-driven. This is because the FCC cares much, much, much more about interference from bi-directional cellphone amplifiers, cell-jamming devices, cable systems leaking RF, and ad-hoc two-way radio systems run by the private businesses - not to mention the enforcement activity they must do involving licensed broadcasters - than they do about pirates (on all bands).

I'm a big fan of the concept of relative risk, and I think in the case of HF anti-pirate enforcement, when you're dealing with a relatively small community of ops, the bust of one or two sets of alarm bells that are much louder than they would be in, say, the FM pirate community. There is also a level of institutional paranoia among HF pirates (and I don't mean this in a negative fashion) that you don't find among AM/FM folks; I think this derives directly from the mentality Andrew was talking about in the 70s-80s.

Then again, the federales give you a NOUO: so what? They follow up with an NAL: so what? At the THIRD step (forfeiture), you respond with three years of tax returns showing you're poor as hell, and the FCC is statutorily required to reduce (or even cancel) the fine. This is why several FM pirates, for example, have had their fines reduced from $10-25k to $250-500. Ouch, indeed.

Then there's a question of the FCC actually collecting on forfeitures - the rate is abysmal. The folks out in the field are just the first point of contact; when you realize that the "support network" of the enforcement bureaucracy behind them is more tattered than swiss cheese, it's so much easier to make that assessment of relative risk, and find that it's pretty damn low, especially today.

(I'll defer on the allegations of snitchery, which provides no meaningful enlightenment on enforcement activity....and strikes me as something straight out of eighth grade, which I left behind a quarter-century ago.)
« Last Edit: March 05, 2012, 2210 UTC by diymedia »

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Re: FCC activity
« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2012, 2243 UTC »
In the case of WEAK, we should realize that, even if the military or a utility station actually filed the complaint with the FCC, it doesn't mean that someone else didn't get the ball rolling. I'm thinking of the whole Radio Yellowknife affair; it's entirely possible that the ute got a letter or email from a "helpful" DXer, fingering WEAK, and suggesting that the FCC be notified.

Not that I'm paranoid or anything...

Offline John Poet

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Re: FCC activity
« Reply #8 on: March 06, 2012, 1656 UTC »
When TCS first re-emerged they were using a MARS/AFRS net frequency in the region just above the 90 meter broadcast band. The frequency was used by a net for the Chesapeake Bay region. This was when the Bunny was curious about TCS and who it was and I was getting regular calls from him about the station.

I told him I didn't know who the guy was,but the guy was tx'ing on a mil-com net frequency and would be short lived if he stayed there.

Interestingly,the guys in the net would chuckle about "that pirate" when TCS signed on and move to an adjacent frequent.

Somehow,possibly secret Fansomian technology probing my brain,TCS got word about the net and found another frequency on that band.

Sounds like what happened around 2006-2007 when I was frequently running parallel frequencies.  Those were frequencies IN the 90 meter band, 3275, 3231, 3289...  A listener let me know about the MARS net popping up nearby (although I never seemed able to find them on days I was off-air).  Next time I'd be on a different frequency, and they'd pop up nearby AGAIN-- it was as if THEY were following ME around.  Ticked me off.  We got clear of them finally by moving above 3.4 mHz.


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