Letter To The Editor From FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly: CO Pirate Radio is Illegal & Harmful

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FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly

By FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly

I write to register my concerns with what seemed to be the Longmont Observer’s tacit support earlier this month in favor of a new pirate radio “station” reportedly operating in town boundaries.  Pirate radio should never be romanticized or its negative impact minimized.  In learning of a pirate station, the proper action should have been to alert the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Field Office in Denver to initiate an investigation and potentially enforcement proceedings, not suggest people listen while they can.

Pirate radio can cause real harm to Coloradans.  For listeners, illegal radio operations, such as unauthorized “KGLR,” typically do not comply with any industry rules and regulations, especially those designed to protect consumers and the public at large.  Chief among these is the failure to facilitate the Emergency Alert System (EAS) which provides vital information during critical moments, such as wildfires or threats to public safety.  And these scofflaws often don’t pay any fees as required by law or keep any paperwork, exposing listeners to potential fraudsters and rip-off artists.

At the same time, those illegally operating in the radio band, even if they don’t immediately cause interference to existing stations, are harmful because they threaten the survivability of legitimate stations operating throughout Colorado.  In today’s hyper competitive media world, it doesn’t take much to put stations in precarious financial situations.  By directly stealing advertisers or indirectly decreasing audience shares, local broadcasters are put at greater financial risk.  Moreover, with fewer resources, local programming can decline, as can the enormous societal benefits provided by broadcasters, including community fundraising in times of need.

To be fair, the Observer highlighted some of the extensive process that the Commission must go through before closing down pirate radio operations.  While intended to ensure those accused are provided sufficient due process, these procedures have proven burdensome and have had the unintended effect of allowing pirate radio operators, which have proven to be highly mobile, to evade the law.  This is a key reason why I have advocated for changes to the communications statute that would streamline the process and expand enforcement to those who intentionally and knowingly aid pirate operators.

Over the last year, the FCC has increased enforcement actions in order to cease pirate radio operations throughout the nation.  It would be helpful if Longmont citizens and the Observer assisted this effort by, at a minimum, refusing to listen to or support such “stations.”

Sincerely,
Michael O’Rielly
FCC Commissioner
202 418-2300

This letter to the editor from FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly is in response to an article written by the Longmont Observer on December 6th, 2017, titled Longmont’s Pirate FM Radio Station.  We have verified that this came directly from Commissioner O’Rielly.

The Longmont Observer generally doesn’t comment on letters to the editor, however, we do find it odd, and by what we can tell, unprecedented, that an FCC Commissioner would write a tiny digital-only locally focused news outlet in Longmont Colorado and tell us what story we should write, and how to write it.  

From the last line of the Longmont Observer Story which appears to be the source of Commissioner O’Rielly’s concern:  “In the meantime, enjoy Longmont’s pirate station while it lasts.”

From the FCC Website:  “The FCC is barred by law from trying to prevent the broadcast of any point of view. The Communications Act prohibits the FCC from censoring broadcast material, in most cases, and from making any regulation that would interfere with freedom of speech. Expressions of views that do not involve a “clear and present danger of serious, substantive evil” come under the protection of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press and prevents suppression of these expressions by the FCC. According to an FCC opinion on this subject, “the public interest is best served by permitting free expression of views.” This principle ensures that the most diverse and opposing opinions will be expressed, even though some may be highly offensive.”

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