Ofcom is responsible for ensuring optimal use of the radio spectrum. Enforcement is an effective tool for achieving this.
Using wireless telegraphy apparatus
The use of wireless telegraphy (radio communications) apparatus is regulated by the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006. Radio apparatus can only be used under the terms, limitations and provisions of a license or a specific licence-exemption. The rationale is to separate users of the radio spectrum in terms of geography, time and frequency. To learn more about licensing click here.
Broadly, the regime aims, amongst other things, to secure efficient use of the spectrum and manage harmful interference. Interference can, however, arise from a number of sources, not all of which can be controlled by regulation, including things like atmospheric conditions. The regulatory regime does not necessarily guarantee that interference will not arise.
In addition, the person owning or using any electrical apparatus is responsible for ensuring that it does not cause harmful interference to others. They may be required to rectify any interference issues.
The BBC is responsible for dealing with complaints of interference to domestic television and radio reception except where the source is an unlicensed broadcast station. Ofcom will offer advice and assistance, and where appropriate investigate, where we receive reports of harmful interference from consumers and citizens. To learn more about what to do if you are affected by interference click here.
Illegal broadcasting (Pirate Radio)
Illegal broadcasting, otherwise known as pirate radio, is the operation of an unlicensed and unregulated radio station. Illegal broadcast stations cause widespread and indiscriminate interference. To learn more about what to do if you are affected by or have any other information about illegal broadcast stations click here.
The purpose and method of enforcement
We have a range of measures at our disposal in seeking to secure compliance with the law and to ensure a proportionate response to transgressions. We may offer information and advice, issue warnings, serve notices, issue fixed penalty notices, issue simple cautions (England and Wales only) and may prosecute (or report to the Procurator Fiscal with a view to prosecution in Scotland).
The principles of enforcement
Ofcom upholds the principles of firm and impartial enforcement underpinned by the principle of proportionality.
England and Wales
In England and Wales Ofcom brings prosecutions for spectrum-related offences, like illegal (pirate) radio broadcasting. The decision to proceed with a court case rests with Ofcom.
In appropriate cases, Ofcom is likely to consider both the evidence and the public interest. We may have regard to the CPS's Code for Crown Prosecutors.
In Scotland the Procurator Fiscal brings prosecutions. The decision about whether to bring a prosecution is the Procurator Fiscal's. This may be on the basis of a submission by Ofcom.
Action by the courts
Legislation gives the courts considerable scope to punish offenders and to deter others, including imprisonment for some offences. Unlimited fines may be imposed by higher courts. The courts can also order offenders to forfeit expensive equipment and to pay Ofcom's prosecution costs.
2014 and beyond
We aim to use our resources where we think they are likely to be most effective. Strategic objectives on which we are likely to focus include:
- Making a difference in protecting and managing the radio spectrum
- Using comprehensive risk assessment to concentrate resources in the areas that need them most
- Restricting the availability of harmful non-compliant radio and electrical apparatus
- Providing advice and guidance that is clear and concise, and working with business and stakeholders