FAQ: Is vandalizing an LPFM (or other non-commercial) station considered a federal offense?
Over the years, we have heard that radio broadcast stations are actually "federal" and that any damage to them is considered a "federal offense'. The law in question is 18 USC §1362 which states in whole:
Whoever willfully or maliciously injures or destroys any of the works, property, or material of any radio, telegraph, telephone or cable, line, station, or system, or other means of communication, operated or controlled by the United States, or used or intended to be used for military or civil defense functions of the United States, whether constructed or in process of construction, or willfully or maliciously interferes in any way with the working or use of any such line, or system, or willfully or maliciously obstructs, hinders, or delays the transmission of any communication over any such line, or system, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.
In the case of any works, property, or material, not operated or controlled by the United States, this section shall not apply to any lawful strike activity, or other lawful concerted activities for the purposes of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection which do not injure or destroy any line or system used or intended to be used for the military or civil defense functions of the United States.
In Section 1669 of the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Resource Manual (CRM), the DOJ interprets this law to only apply to stations "actually serving a vital and necessary military and civil defense function" and further go on to refer to stations that are #1 Common Program Control Station (CPCS-1) or are protected stations under the former Emergency Broadcast System. When EBS was changed to EAS, the CPCS designation was replaced by LP or "Local Prmary". EBS Protected Stations were those that maintained government loaned auxiliary power generating equipment and other equipment in a fallout protected environment.
With that said, it can be interpreted as LPFM stations are not considered as "LP-1" or "LP-2" stations under the current Emergency Alert System plan because their coverage can not be used to alert a region of downstream stations and due to the current regulations that do not require an LPFM station to originate EAS activations and tests (only receive and relay), they can't be defined as a part of the "necessary military and civil defense function" under §1362 absent a direct threat or other compelling federal inerest involving a "regular" [EAS] broadcasting station. As the DOJ interprets the law to the now-obselete CPCS-1 status, it should be interpreted that in order for 18 USC §1362 to apply, your station must be designated as "LP-1" or "LP-2" in your state's EAS plan. This goes for low-power and full-power stations.
We do note that the CRM uses the term "commercial" broadcast station. REC interprets that to a broader definition that is used in the military and other aspects of the federal government to refer to the private sector as a whole as a "commercial" resource vs. a "military" resource (AFRTS, etc.) and not necessarily to the NCE status of a broadcast station. An NCE station is just as eligible to be identified as an LP-1 or LP-2 station as any commercial (in the eyes of the FCC) station.
Therefore, saying that "vandalizing our station is a federal offense" may sound strong, for most statations (including all LPFMs), it is not accurate and a decades-old myth. This would be solely a state and local issue.
This is REC's interpretation of the law and should not be construed as legal advice. If legal advice is necessary, please consult with a qualified attorney.
NAB Engineering Handbook - 6th Edition - chapter 37 (archived at AmericanRadioHistory.com)