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Florida Ham Issued $25,000 Fine for Operating an Unlicensed Radio Transmitter and Interfering with Licensed Communications

03/05/2013

On March 1, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) in the amount of $25,000 to Terry L. VanVolkenburg, KC5RF, of Cocoa, Florida. The FCC alleged that VanVolkenburg “apparently willfully and repeatedly violated Sections 301 and 333 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended…, by operating a radio transmitter without a license on…465.300 MHz and for interfering with licensed communications.” VanVolkenburg holds an Advanced class license.

In September 2012, FCC agents in the Tampa Office received a complaint of radio interference from the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department -- licensee of call sign WQCW384 -- utilizes a wireless radio communications system in the county jail in Sharpes, Florida. According to the complaint, the Sheriff’s Department experienced intermittent interference to its radio communications in the jail on the frequency 456.300 MHz on at least 14 days during September and October 2012. According to the NAL, audio recordings taken by the Sheriff’s Department suggest “that a male individual interfered with the prison’s communications by transmitting vulgar language, sound effects, previously recorded prison communications and threats to prison officials over the prison’s communications system.

On October 28, the agents used direction finding techniques and traced the source of the interfering radio frequency transmissions on 465.300 MHz to a residence in Cocoa, Florida. The frequency 465.300 MHz is allocated to public safety stations; as an Advanced class licensee, VanVolkenburg does not hold privileges to operate in this portion of the spectrum. In addition, the FCC’s records showed that no authorization was issued to anyone to operate a private land mobile station at this location.

“Approximately two hours after locating the source of the transmissions, agents from the Tampa Office inspected the radio stations in Mr VanVolkenburg’s residence,” the FCC noted. “The agents recognized Mr VanVolkenburg’s voice as the one interfering with the prison’s communications system. Mr VanVolkenburg initially showed the agents an Amateur Radio [that was] incapable of transmitting on 465.300 MHz, but eventually produced an Alinco DJ-C5 portable radio transceiver that could operate on 465.300 MHz.”

According to the NAL, VanVolkenburg “did not specifically admit that he had interfered with the prison’s communications system, but when asked about the transmissions on 465.300 MHz and the interference to the prison’s communications systems, he stated that he chose 465.300 MHz because the prison’s transmissions on that frequency were strong; that he was only using 300 mW and did not think that he ‘could talk over anyone and therefore wasn’t interfering with anyone’; and that the interference would not happen again.”

Although VanVolkenburg holds an Amateur Radio license, it does not authorize him to operate on public safety frequencies. “Part 15 of the Commission’s rules sets out the conditions and technical requirements under which certain radio transmission devices may be used without a license,” the FCC explained in the NAL. “In relevant part, Section 15.209 of the rules provides that non-licensed transmissions in the 216-960 MHz band is permitted only if the field strength of the transmission does not exceed 200 μV/m at 3 meters. The agents observed the transmissions on 465.300 MHz at a distance of approximately 2 miles from VanVolkenburg’s residence. Given the distance from the source, the agents determined that the transmissions’ field strength exceeded allowable Part 15 levels.”

Section 503(b) of the Communications Act provides that “any person who willfully or repeatedly fails to comply substantially with the terms and conditions of any license, or willfully or repeatedly fails to comply with any of the provisions of the Act or of any rule, regulation, or order issued by the Commission thereunder, shall be liable for a forfeiture penalty.” In addition, VanVolkenburg was found to be in violation of Sections 301 and 333 of the Communications Act, stating that “no person shall use or operate any apparatus for the transmission of energy or communications or signals by radio within the United States, except under and in accordance with the Act and with a license granted under the provisions of the Act.” Section 333 states that “[n]o person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this Act or operated by the United States Government.”

“The totality of the evidence convinces us that it was Mr VanVolkenburg who was operating the unlicensed transmitter from his residence that was causing interference to the prison communications systems over at least a two-month period,” the FCC stated in the NAL. “Because Mr VanVolkenburg consciously operated the station and did so on more than one day, the apparent violations of the Communications Act were both willful and repeated.”

According to the Commission’s Forfeiture Policy Statement and Section 1.80 of the rules, the base forfeiture amount for operation without an instrument of authorization is $10,000, and the base forfeiture amount for interference is $7000. In assessing the monetary forfeiture amount, the FCC must also take into account statutory factors that include the nature, circumstances, extent and gravity of the violations, and with respect to the violator, the degree of culpability, any history of prior offenses, ability to pay and other such matters. “We find Mr VanVolkenburg’s misconduct particularly egregious because his unlicensed operation involved willful and malicious interference to the communications of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department, which included threats against the officers, after being told (multiple times) to cease his interfering communications,” the FCC stated in the NAL. “Thus, we find that an upward adjustment of $8000 to the combined base forfeiture of $17,000 is warranted. Applying the Forfeiture Policy Statement, Section 1.80 of the rules and the statutory factors to the instant case, we conclude that Mr VanVolkenburg is apparently liable for a forfeiture in the amount of $25,000.”

VanVolkenburg has until March 30, 2013 to pay the forfeiture in full, or file a written statement seeking its reduction or cancellation.

 



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