FCC LogoFCC Proposes Record $34,000 Fine for Alleged Interference and Unauthorized Transmissions During Idaho Wildfire

06/09/2022
Credit: ARRL News

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a $34,000 fine against Jason Frawley of Lewiston, Idaho, for allegedly interfering with radio operations of the U.S. Forest Service during firefighting activities for the Johnson Creek Fire near Elk River in July 2021. The FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) on June 8, 2022 to Frawley. The FCC states in the NAL that Frawley holds an Extra-class Amateur Radio Service license, WA7CQ, and is the owner/operator of Leader Communications LLC, licensee of eight microwave licenses and one business license.

The FCC alleged in the NAL that “On July 17, 2021, using his amateur hand-held radio, Frawley transmitted five (5) times, and on July 18, 2021, Frawley transmitted three (3) times on frequencies allocated and authorized for government use, apparently causing harmful interference with his apparently unlawful transmissions.”

The frequencies with which Frawley is alleged to have interfered were being used to coordinate firefighting crews from the U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Department of Land to fight the 1,000-acre Johnson Creek Fire, including the communications between fire suppressant aircraft and ground crews.

The NAL includes details of the Forest Service’s complaint and the FCC’s investigation. On July 18, 2021, the Johnson Creek fire operations section chief drove to the Elk River airstrip and hanger where Frawley, who had disclosed his location, was found holding a radio next to a banner that read, “Leader Communications.” Frawley admitted to transmitting on government frequencies and identifying himself as “comm tech.” He argued that he was not trying to cause interference but instead was transmitting to provide information to the fire fighters.

“[A]t no time was I trying to disturb any other communications or air traffic. I was honestly just giving them information I had since I have been working on the butte since the early 90’s . . . ” wrote Frawley in his October 15, 2021 response to a Letter of Inquiry from FCC Special Counsel Laura Smith.

The FCC however concluded that “Frawley’s admitted unauthorized transmissions on frequencies for which he did not have a license had the potential to cause substantial harm to life and property.”

The FCC held that Frawley, by his own admission, apparently willfully and repeatedly violated the Commission’s rules when he made eight separate radio transmissions on a frequency for which he did not have a license. The FCC stated that unauthorized transmissions on frequencies licensed to public safety entities using those frequencies to respond to emergencies also constitutes a violation of Section 333 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended.

news release from the FCC states that the fine is the largest of its kind proposed. “The Communications Act prohibits such interference with authorized radio communications and the Commission takes very seriously any interference with public safety communications,” said the FCC. In a separate statement, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel added, “You can’t interfere with public safety communications. Full stop. So today we propose the largest fine of its type for this interference that put fire suppression and public safety itself at risk.”