A woman broadcasting an unlicensed FM radio station in North Miami, Florida was fined $20,000 by the Federal Communications Commission after she was issued a second order to cease operations.
Nounoune Lubin ran the 90.1 MHz radio station without a license from a residence in North Miami. Because Lubin had a prior offense and violated the first order to halt broadcasting on four occasions, the FCC doubled her fine from the standard $10,000.
“[It] appears the FCC is sending a message to the FM pirates that they aren’t going to tolerate them any longer,” said Pat Murphy, president of the Association of Clandestine Radio Enthusiasts Newsletter and a staff member of the Free Radio Network.
“It’s against the law to just put an FM station on the air! The people who do this know it! Play the role, pay the toll!” he said.
‘Candidate for Consent Decree’
“The fine proposed by the FCC in the matter of Ms. Lubin for the unlicensed operation of 90.1MHz Broadcasts really does not surprise me,” said Miami, Florida communications attorney Edward August Maldonado. “You must not forget that she is a repeat offender and knew that she was. The FCC gave her several other Notices of Unlicensed Operation (NLO) before coming down this time.”
Maldonado stated the FCC could have hit Lubin harder but didn’t.
“However,” he noted, “state or federal criminal charges, which do exist for pirate radio broadcasters, cannot be fully ruled out at this point, either. She may be a good candidate for consent decree negotiations wherein an agreement is reached with the FCC to limit all matters to an administrative process in exchange for never operating again.
“Either way she most likely won’t be granted a license from the FCC in the near future, after all of this. Perhaps she should think about an Internet radio station,” Maldonado said.
Problem: Too Few Licenses
Pirate radio stations in South Florida, and particularly Miami, are plentiful, explained Maldonado. “Miami has a booming music scene that often fuels novice DJs and entertainment personalities to run underground stations,” he said.
Maldonado said pirate radio stations often promote specific music genres and gain name recognition for disc jockeys.
“The diversity of programming is sparse in Miami, and this often spurs the local pirate station market,” he said.
“I really don’t see this changing unless more Broadcast Construction Permits and Licenses are issued in South Florida by the FCC, or the major radio broadcast station companies let go of some of the small operations they previously absorbed during the merger boom,” he added.
FCC Moratorium Is Roadblock
The FCC currently has a moratorium on issuing AM radio station broadcast licenses, so getting a new license is not an option, Maldonado explained. “Finding a small operating radio station—FM or AM—that survived the thralls of the Great Recession to be a solid investment may be like finding the proverbial unicorn.”
Maldonado said he has witnessed an upswing in the use of new media by individuals formerly drawn to pirate AM and FM stations.
“In my law practice, I have actually seen a migration away from traditional broadcasting by many upstart and small-sized communication and media companies,” he said. “There has been a renewed refocus on how to take traditional broadcasting onto the Internet. We have seen an uptick in new ventures for IP Radio Stations, IPTV, and creating social networks around music genres by technology savvy users,” he added.
“With the FCC now considering super wi-fi, and other expanded broadband development, this may be how the next generation of broadcasting upstarts breaks into the market, by dominating the Internet first.”
‘Trying to Show Some Muscle’
Asked about the amount of the fine, the Free Radio Network’s Murphy responded, “Of course it’s excessive, but I think the FCC is trying to show some muscle and get what is clearly an out-of-control situation—FM pirates—under control.”
Murphy said the laws and regulations governing whether small-area bandwidth stations can operate are “absolutely too stringent and unrealistic.
“With the easy availability of small, low-power FM transmitters, there needs to be some portion of the spectrum set aside for low-power, community broadcasters. But that is an issue Congress must deal with, not the FCC. Although the FCC could do so administratively, it’s doubtful they’d take the initiative,” Murphy said.
Murphy advises against breaking the broadcast laws, but he says the FCC should rethink its priorities.
“I would advocate that the FCC focus on important issues and stop chasing down low-power community FM pirates who don’t interfere with anyone and aren’t a threat to anyone. With cell phone cloning, boating—marine—problems, and AM and FM broadcasters who blatantly violate the law, the FCC needs to put these low-power FM folks on the back burner,” he said.
“The FCC is acting like a state trooper who gets to arbitrarily jack up the penalty on one speeder that he really doesn’t like,” said Kenneth Braun, a policy analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan. “In this case, we have a regulatory body with too many rules to impose on the public and too few rules limiting its own authority.”
Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of Info Tech & Telecom News.