FCC Levies Largest Fine to Amateur Radio Operator
WASHINGTON — While firefighters were battling a blaze near Elk River, Idaho, in 2021 an unknown voice came over the radio waves they were using to coordinate an airplane to help fight the fire.
The U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement determined it was Jason Frawley of Idaho, and Wednesday the Federal Communications Commission fined him $34,000 for his interference.
“You can’t interfere with public safety communications. Full stop,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel during Wednesday’s monthly commission meeting. “So today we propose the largest fine of its type for this interference that put fire suppression and public safety itself at risk.”
Rosenworcel was joined by the three other commissioners to unanimously vote for the fine. They all thanked law enforcement for their help finding Frawley.
Frawley allegedly sent eight unauthorized radio messages over two days in late July 2021, as firefighters battled what is known as the “Johnson Fire,” according to a statement from the commission.
He broadcast messages about his observations of the fire near the Elk Butte airstrip, where he was, to airplane and ground crews, according to the statement.
It was on the second day of Frawley’s broadcasts that a member of the Forest Service found him and told him to stop, according to the statement.
Frawley has the license to amateur radio station WA7CQ. He also owns the company Leader Communications LLC, which has eight microwave licenses and one business license that all can be used for public communications.
After the Forest Service member talked to Frawley, he “argued to the commission that he did not mean any harm and only intended to assist the firefighting crews by providing them with specific details regarding Elk Butte,” according to the statement.
“Regardless of the intent, the FCC finds that the apparent willful violations cannot be overlooked as interfering with authorized radio communications — and especially public safety-related communications — is a serious violation of the law and can put lives and property at risk,” the commission’s statement said.
The fire in total destroyed about 1,000 acres of national forest land in northwest Idaho.
“To keep the community safe, these authorities worked together to address the burning acreage and coordinate with aircraft in the skies above. To do this, they relied on radio communications,” Rosenworcel said. “In other words, they sought to use public airwaves to keep the public safe. But their efforts were thwarted by an amateur radio operator who was unlawfully transmitting on frequencies dedicated to public safety.”
The Well News has contacted Frawley for comment. This story will be updated.