No, this time we really mean it

The FCC is stepping up enforcement on pirate radio. They have released an enforcement advisory, which you can read here.

The advisory starts out like this:

WARNING: Unauthorized Radio Broadcasting is Illegal
Persons or Businesses Operating “Pirate” Broadcast Stations
Are in Violation of Federal Law and Subject to Enforcement Action

Okay, so when you stop laughing, here is what will really happen: They will go out, bust a few pirates, issue larger than normal Notices of Apparent Liability, collect none of the money from them and call it a huge success.  I doubt very much that the FCC or congress has the wherewithal to wage an all out effort against pirate broadcasting. This is the same FCC that eliminated most of its field enforcement agents and closed most of their field offices.  But that doesn’t matter either, because the NYC field office is still open and within a ten mile radius of that, there are likely a dozen or more unlicensed broadcasters.

In the mean time, if you are a licensed broadcaster, God forbid you accidentally miss a Required Monthly Test or have an unlocked tower fence.

It is like the city police force that sits on a stop sign writing tickets to otherwise law abiding motorists when the next block over, kids are out in the street openly selling bricks of heroin.  Meanwhile, the chief of police sits in his office furiously typing blistering memos saying that the sale of heroin is illegal.

The curious case of the WKZE Notice Of Violation

On June 19th, WKZE received a notice of violation from the FCC’s New York Field office.  The crux of the issue seems to be interference being generated on 784.8 MHz (WKZE 8th harmonic) to a new Verizon Wireless installation located nearby:

47 C.F.R. §73.317(a): “FM broadcast stations employing transmitters authorized after January 1, 1960, must maintain the bandwidth occupied by their emissions in accordance with the specification detailed below. FM broadcast stations employing transmitters installed or type accepted before January 1, 1960, must achieve the highest degree of compliance with these specifications practicable with their existing equipment. In either case, should harmful interference to other authorized stations occur, the licensee shall correct the problem promptly or cease operation.” The eighth harmonic of Station WKZE-FM (784.8 MHz) was causing interference to the Verizon Wireless transmitter located approximately 500 feet away.

First off, we note that the WKZE transmitter is not allegedly causing interference to a Verizon Wireless transmitter, but rather to a Verizon Wireless receiver.  That may be splitting hairs, however, since the FCC is quoting a technical rules violation, they can at least get the technical language right.

A brief examination of rest of FCC part 73.317 is in order to find the specification cited in section (a).  Section (d) states:

 (d) Any emission appearing on a frequency removed from the carrier by more than 600 kHz must be attenuated at least 43 + 10 Log10 (Power, in watts) dB below the level of the unmodulated carrier, or 80 dB, whichever is the lesser attenuation.

Since 784.8 MHz – 98.1 MHz is greater than 600 KHz, this is the section that applies to the WKZE situation.  Thus, the interfering signal must be greater than -80 dBc to trigger the Notice Of Violation (NOV) from the FCC.  The station ERP is 1,800 watts or +62 dBm.  Measurements were made with a an Agilent N992A spectrum analyzer using an LPA-1000 log periodic antenna.  At a 12 foot distance away from the WKZE transmitter cabinet, the signal on 784.8 MHz was found to be -94 dBc or 0.000063 watt.  At the base of the Verizon Wireless tower, the measurement was -124 dBc, or 0.000000025 watt, which is barely perceptible above the -130 dBm noise floor.  There does not appear to be any violation of 47 CFR 73.317.  Rather, the issue seems to be Verizon Wireless’s deployment of 700 MHz LTE band and the use of high gain antennas coupled with high gain preamplifiers on frequencies that are harmonically related to broadcast stations nearby.  In this particular installation, the antenna has 16 dB of gain, minus a 4.5 dB of transmission line loss into a 21 dB preamplifier before the receiver.  At the output of the Verizon preamplifier, the signal on 784.8 MHz was measured at -89 dBc, which is still in compliance.

By these measurements, clearly WKZE is not in violation of any FCC regulation.  It makes one wonder, does the FCC understand it’s own rules?  Or, is this a matter of favoritism towards a huge corporation over a small independent radio broadcaster.  Is it a matter of “broadband at the expense of all others?”  There are several of these broadcast to 700 MHZ LTE interference cases pending throughout the country.  This could set a dangerous precedent for broadcasters and other RF spectrum users as wireless giants like Verizon throw their weight around and eye even more spectrum to press into broadband service.

Commlaw blog has a good post this subject: Harmonic Convergence?

Update: Response from WKZE attorney can be found here, includes the above mentioned actual measurements.

FCC opens consumer complaint center

I found this interesting article in Inside Radio: FCC simplifies complaint process.

This is part of the “Reboot FCC” initiative which started many months ago.  While I applaud the FCC acknowledgement that they are essentially a slow, plodding government bureaucracy, saying something about it and doing something about it are two different things.

The Consumer Help Center is a website where the public can complain about such things as junk faxes, telemarketers, TELCO billing issues, ISPs, indecent language and a whole host of other topics.

My question is, what happens to the complaint, once it is received?  I’d like to hear if anyone has tried this and what the results were.  Perhaps they will include a section for reporting IBOC interference on the broadcast band.

FCC authority to conduct warrentless searches of Private Property

FCC seal
FCC seal

I was this interesting tidbit on the Radio World website the other day.  The question is, how much authority does the FCC have to conduct a search of a private residence.   The Electronic Frontier Foundation wanted to know therefore they sent a FOIA request to the FCC seeking documents supporting this claimed authority.

The documents received seem to be redacted and some are mostly blank, such as the training module on how to obtain permission to enter private property is supposed to take 6 hours to complete, but consists of 3 paragraphs and 2 questions.  Hopefully that is redacted and does not reflect on the quality of agents the FCC is employing these days.  The upshot seems to be the agent either needs a warrant or permission.

It may be surprising to some citizens, however, the FCC does have the authority to investigate radio signals, whether they are intentionally generated, as in a pirate broadcaster, or unintentionally generated, as in a piece of gear gone bad.

According to federal regulations, an FCC agent may request entry to inspect a private building anytime he/she believes there may be a device emitting radio frequency energy.  This includes anything with a FCC part 15 sticker, which can be computers, TV remote controls, garage door openers, WiFi network routers, etc.  This basically covers every house in the US as well as most businesses.  Those rules were written when most homes and businesses did not have any RF generating devices and there was little to indicate that they ever would.

Consequences for failure to allow an FCC field agent into a residence or business appears to be the issuance of a citation in the form of a threatening letter.  Continued intransigence would be met with a NAL (Notice of Apparent Liability) followed by a forfeiture notice also known as a fine.  The typical FCC fine these days seems to be $10,000.00.  If it is a repeated and willful violation, equipment can be ceased and the perpetrator arrested.

In instances where safety of life is in question, then every step necessary to disable the offending device needs to be taken.  Things like transmitters spurring into aircraft frequencies or TV antenna amplifiers running wide open, also interfering with aircraft frequencies comes to mind.

One of the examples given details a field agent trying to track down a noisy cable TV amplifier.  From the FCC field agent’s perspective, the homeowner appears to be a royal pain in the ass.  In this day and age when everything has a computer and most of them generate RF, tracking down interference can be a painstaking process, especially where housing is dense.  Uncooperative home owners, especially dumb ones, who have no idea what they have plugged in only make things worse.

Still, there is the issue of forth amendment rights, which, if the above law was misinterpreted, misused or applied with the wrong standard would likely be trampled.  In these days of extra constitutional activity, giving Los Federales an entry into one’s house might invite unwanted scrutiny by other agencies.  As far as changing the rules, with the current group of scoundrels and rouges in the legislative branch, one might end up with something ten times worse than before.