FCC Releases New Report on Pirate Radio Actions


The FCC has released its latest annual report on its enforcement strategies and actions against pirate radio broadcasters.

The agency is required to submit the report each year to Congress as part of the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement (PIRATE) Act, which was passed by federal lawmakers in 2020.

The PIRATE Act is intended to give the FCC greater enforcement abilities against individuals and organizations that operate on reserved radio frequencies without a license or in some other illegal way. Among other things, the PIRATE Act increased the penalties for unlicensed radio operators from $100,000 to $2 million per violation, allows the FCC to target property owners connected to illegal signals, launch a public database connected to actions against pirate radio operators and submit an annual progress report.

Over the last three years, the FCC has managed to tick some of the boxes on its list of requirements: Two weeks ago, the agency launched its pirate enforcement actions database, which includes a variety of data related to the agency’s attempts to tackle illegal broadcasting. Among other things, the data includes the names and general locations of individuals or organizations that were linked to an enforcement action, as well as the date of the action and whether the FCC sent a letter, imposed a fine or took some other kind of reactive measure.

But the agency hasn’t been able to fully implement everything that the PIRATE Act requires or allows, for a number of reasons. While the FCC says it has opened up the hiring process to onboard five field agents and a lawyer specifically tasked with tackling pirate radio operations, it hasn’t been able to buy vehicles with location-detecting equipment to be used by those six new hires; instead, the FCC is using older vehicles and some direction-finding equipment that is already part of its arsenal.

The PIRATE Act requires the FCC to identify five states with the largest pirate radio problems, with the agency says it did. Enforcement sweeps started in those five states last year; the FCC didn’t specify which states were found to have the biggest amount of pirate radio operators, but a glance at that newly-launched public database showed the most enforcement actions were carried out in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

The FCC says it needs additional funding to carry out the majority of its enforcement requirements pursuant to the PIRATE Act. The Congressional Budget Office and the FCC both estimated it would cost $11 million to fully execute its requirements; last year, Congress approved just $5 million in its budget to implement the PIRATE Act.

To read the FCC’s PIRATE Act letter to Congress, go HERE.


  1. While having an exotic scanning doppler antenna array atop a vehicle can speed the process, it’s not necessary. I’ve chased down local pirates using a portable spectrum analyzer and a simple telescoping dipole antenna. Make two or more heading directions from either side of the neighborhood and where the lines intersect on your map, bingo. Then drive by with a mag mount whip watching the signal peak and dip and you will have nailed it to the specific building especially if you can see a suspect antenna.


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