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Tonko Reintroduces Bipartisan Public Safety Bill to Prevent Unlawful Radio Broadcasts

Nearly identical bill passed House in 2018 with broad bipartisan support

WASHINGTONCongressman Paul D. Tonko officially reintroduced the PIRATE ACT today with Republican co-sponsor Congressman Gus Bilirakis of Florida. This legislation would increase penalties for anyone caught engaging in unlawful broadcasting, sometimes referred to as ‘pirate radio.’ Pirate signals can pose a significant threat to public safety, oftentimes disrupting Federal Aviation Administration operations, the Emergency Alert System and other tools relied upon by first responders engaged in protecting public safety.

“Protecting our public airwaves is critical for preserving community safety, whether for first responders or for working parents who don’t want to expose their children to uncontrolled hate and obscenity,” Tonko explained. “Whether a frequency is being used in emergencies to coordinate community response and save lives or by parents who just want to tune their car radios with their kids in the car, our communities are better served when broadcasting is governed by the rule of law. I am hopeful that my new House colleagues will join in support of the PIRATE Act and we can pass this commonsense legislation without delay.”

“We need to make sure that these illegal operators do not interfere with public safety communications,” stated Mr. Bilirakis. “These illegal actors not only hurt our economy, but they can prevent people from receiving important emergency information during a crisis. This bill will give teeth to enforcement of illegal radio operators by hitting them in their pocketbook and better stop these illegal actors for good.”

PIRATE Act is an acronym that stands for Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement (PIRATE) Act. The bill is nearly identical to legislation of the same name that passed the House last year. It has been assigned the new designation H.R. 583 for the new legislative session. The new bill has been endorsed by the National Association for Broadcasters (NAB), New York State Broadcasters Association (NYSBA) and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, Inc. (NABOB).

“NAB thanks Reps. Tonko and Bilirakis for today’s introduction of the PIRATE Act, which strengthens the FCC’s enforcement tools to combat illegal pirate radio operations,” added NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton. “Unlicensed radio stations are not merely a nuisance to legitimate radio broadcasters who play by the rules. They also pose a threat to public safety by disrupting communications between air traffic controllers and airline pilots. We strongly urge bipartisan support of the PIRATE Act and we look forward to its swift passage.”

“The New York State Broadcasters Association applauds Congressman Paul Tonko and Congressman Gus Bilirakis for introducing the bipartisan PIRATE Act,” said David Donovan, President New York State Broadcasters Association. “Today, illegal radio stations interfere with this nation’s Emergency Alert Service, cause interference with air to ground communication systems  at airports, ignore all FCC rules and disregard all federal and state consumer protection laws.  The PIRATE Act will give the FCC additional tool to address this harmful and dangerous situation.”

“The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters is pleased to see that Congressman Paul Tonko and Congressman Gus Bilirakis are introducing the bipartisan PIRATE Act,” said James Winston, President of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters. “Illegal pirate radio stations have for many years exploited African American and other minority communities across the country.  They interfere with legal broadcast operations and do not comply with any laws designed to protect consumers. The PIRATE Act provides the FCC additional resources for combatting these illegal operators.  We look forward to working with the Congressmen to get this bill passed.”


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