Last week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that makes broadcasting on the AM or FM dials a class A misdemeanor, which is punishable with up to a year in prison. Like similar laws in New Jersey and Florida, the legislation was pushed by broadcasters in the state who cheered its passage.
The original state Senate bill aimed to make an infraction a class D felony punishable with a prison term of 2 to 7 years, comparable to vehicular homicide and drunk driving. Apparently the punishment got negotiated down by the time it hit the Governor’s desk.
If the situation across the Hudson River in New Jersey is indication, the question of sentencing is largely academic. I have been unable to find a report or record of a single arrest, never mind conviction, for unlicensed broadcasting in that state since its law went into effect.
The measure is largely symbolic, aimed to frighten current and would-be unlicensed broadcasters out of taking to the air. While the law would allow police to get involved in tracking down and arresting pirate broadcasters, I’ll be surprised if law enforcement agencies are eager to dedicate much of their limited resources to such a minor crime.
For what it’s worth, the last notice of unlicensed operation (NOUO) in the state of New York was issued in November of last year. NOUOs are the best indicator of current pirate activity that the FCC is taking action against, since they signal the FCC’s first identification of and contact with a suspected unlicensed station. Several fines have been issued since November, but those represent violations first detected many months to several years prior.
I will be surprised if this law puts much of a dent in the unlicensed broadcasting happening in that state, most prominently in New York City. I’ll be all the more surprised if it spurs many arrests, never mind convictions.