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[HCDX] UK: Ofcom scuppered 61 pirate broadcasters in 2007
The Register » Comms »
Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/28/ofcom_and_the_pirates/
Ofcom scuppered 61 pirate broadcasters in 2007
By Bill Ray
Published Thursday 28th February 2008 07:02 GMT
Sixty-one people were prosecuted for illegally broadcasting in the UK during
the 2006/7 financial year, according to Ofcom's latest figures
One of those got off the charges, with the rest copping fines of about
£7,000 between them plus £21,000 in costs. Six convictions for dodgy CE
marking brought in another £11,500 in fines, and one CB user got hit for
Part of Ofcom's remit is to prevent unauthorised use of the spectrum it
licenses, generally in response to complaints from legitimate licence
holders. Ofcom said last year it received 1,300 cases of interference, of
which more than 80 "were impacting upon key safety of life services".
The UK regulator last week
(http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/19/london_pirates/) announced a it had
shut the door on 22 illegal broadcasters in London.
Fining pirate stations and confiscating their equipment clearly isn't
working, and no matter how much Ofcom claims they are interfering with
life-saving services people continue to listen to them - so targeting the
advertisers might seem worth a try.
In the latest crackdown Ofcom wrote to 20 nightclubs to let them know they
were breaking the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006. When pushed, however, they
admitted they've never actually prosecuted anyone for it (though they have
asked for specific events to be pulled with some success).
Talking to the pirates, it seems that such an action would be of limited
value anyway - they make their money from charging DJs for the air-time,
though none of the pirates we spoke to were making a living out of it.
When it comes to interference it seems the quality of the equipment is what
matters. One ex-regulator told us that most of the kit is pretty idiot-proof
these days: "Transmitter modules are readily available from suppliers such
as Veronica and Broadcast
Warehouse. They are easily assembled and connected and the audio side is
quite straightforward; however antennas are not plug 'n play and this is
where knowledge is required and problems arise."
Obviously, badly set up kit could be transmitting on any frequency, or a
whole range of frequencies - though several readers pointed out that such
circumstances are not in the interests of the pirate, who will be quickly
tracked and shut down.
Such tracking will only find the transmitter, housed on top of a tall
building or (as is increasingly the case) strapped to the side of a
mobile-phone cell tower where the power supply is more standard and the
security lower. Much of the illegal activity of the pirates consists of the
way in which they gain access to, and steal power from, these installations.
Investigators will then try to track down the studio, which will have line
of sight to the transmitter for a microwave connection. If the studio is
found, people can be arrested and equipment seized. Some of those arrested
will get an official caution or conditional discharge (41 of the 61
prosecuted last year), though many will never get charged. We asked Ofcom
for the number of arrests last year, for comparison, but it's been unable to
provide us with an answer.
As for the stories of booby-trapping equipment to prevent its removal, the
pirates tell us that such activity is generally designed to prevent other
pirate stations from nicking their transmitters. Such looting is,
apparently, endemic in London, and hardly something they can report to the
In fact, competition between the illegal broadcasters seems to be the root
of much of the violence associated with pirate radio, as evidenced by the
seizure of knives and even firearms from pirate-radio studios - not
something the Radio Caroline crowd would have endorsed.
Interference from pirate radio stations could be eliminated through better
education, or equipment, but the competition issue isn't going to go away.
Handing out fines and cautions isn't having much of an impact either, but
technology could make the problem simply disappear. All of the pirate radio
stations we spoke to are also streamed over the internet, and with mobile
data moving towards more sensible pricing the need for FM infrastructure is
Should a significant proportion of the population move to DAB radio the
pirates could well find themselves priced out of the market, forced onto the
mobile internet. It will be interesting to see how many continue with their
vocation when it ceases to have the kudos of being illegal. ®
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