Federal appeals panel upholds criminal conviction against microbroadcaster

Thursday, August 26, 1999

A federal appeals panel has upheld a criminal conviction against a Florida microbroadcaster, rejecting his claims that the Federal Communications Commission’s licensing program violates the First Amendment.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 12 affirmed the conviction of Arthur “Lonnie” Kobres on 14 counts of engaging in unlicensed radio broadcasting. The court’s decision came in an unpublished opinion, but the FCC, which regulates the broadcast industry, publicized the decision yesterday.

According to court documents, Kobres began his low-power broadcasting in the Tampa area in February 1995. The broadcasts grew steadily in power until they had a range of about 10 miles.

Responding to complaints, FCC agents began monitoring the broadcasts and issued their first warning to Kobres on Nov. 3, 1995. Kobres continued his broadcasts, and on Nov. 19, 1997, the FCC seized Kobres’ radio equipment and charged him with broadcasting without a license.

A federal jury in Tampa convicted Kobres in February 1998. The court ordered Kobres to pay a $7,500 fine and serve six months in home detention and a 36-month probation.

Kobres contended that he not only had a First Amendment right to broadcast but that the Federal Communications Act of 1982 did not require licenses for intrastate communications. The appeals court didn’t rule on the First Amendment issue, saying that federal statutes forbade such radio transmissions without a license.

The court’s decision comes as the FCC prepares to consider a proposed low-power licensing plan that would offer more of the radio spectrum to broadcasters.

The broadcast industry contends that adding hundreds of low-power stations will pollute the broadcast spectrum, and that the FCC’s main responsibility is to prevent such interference.

But many radio enthusiasts claim that the interference argument is an outdated concept with the sole purpose of keeping possible competitors off the airwaves. They decry what they say is a lack of diversified voices on the air.