July 4, 2011

Update: Flawed New York anti-pirate radio bill passes state assembly, could criminalize Part 15 broadcasters

By John Poet

The anti-pirate radio station bill in the New York state assembly which would criminalize pirate radio operations under New York state law,  has passed both houses, but not without changes. First offenses have been changed from a felony to a misdemeaner, with additional offenses classed as felonies This bill specifically applies to pirates within the AM and FM broadcast bands, and ignores unlicensed broadcasters in any other spectrum including shortwave radio. It is currently unknown whether Gov. Cuomo will sign the bill.

This bill has a major flaw in regards to "unauthorized broadcasters" being criminalized. It completely fails to note any exception for 'Part 15' stations which operate at low power levels, and are legal under federal rules without "obtaining authorization" from the F.C.C. The bill treats all "unlicensed" broadcasters the same, and as written could allow criminal action to be taken against Part 15 broadcasters, who are also "unlicensed", but legal under Federal law.  Even if the current language is interpreted to allow Part 15 stations, will the average New York policeman know the difference between a Part 15 legally unlicensed station, and a pirate?  Will the average county prosecutor understand the difference, when the law makes no mention of these?  We think not.

Part 15 broadcasters should be up-in-arms about this flawed bill which could criminalize their legal activity, and contact the governor's office to urge that he veto it. You can contact their office here:

This bill is a good example why state legislators shouldn't dabble in communications law. They have no experience regulating communications, they don't know a damned thing about existing federal rules, and its not within their jurisdiction to regulate them. Broadcasting is classed under "interstate commerce", and thus falls under Federal and not state jurisdiction.  The natural result is an abortion of a bill like this one just passed. The governor should veto it as flawed.

State legislatures should leave protecting big-money capitalists to the experts: the corporate radio lap-dogs at the Federal Communications Commission! We have enough capitalist-pig "free market for the other guy, but socialism for me" protectionists involved in broadcasting already. Stations which already have licenses, routinely file objections to licenses for any new stations in their own market, on the grounds that it could "cost them revenue". Obviously, they need to listen closer to the sermons of their Republican buddies about the virtues of "free market capitalism"-- because they obviously don't believe in it when it comes to themselves.

However, shortwave pirates in New York should take heart even if this amateur-hour bill is signed. They aren't mentioned and couldn't be prosecuted under this bill. And if you aren't a shortwave pirate operator in New York-- you should become one!

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