Improved All FCC Licenses Query

This is an old, but very powerful, search tool that is only slightly related to radio.

The FCC makes available a database of every fixed location transmitter license (including broadcast licenses, excluding federal agencies, of course). Access to this search is available at the top of this blog, as well as on the main menu page of the directory.

The search starts with the premise that you want to know which licenses are closest to where are you physically located. If your device does not have location services (GPS), the service is turned off, or you refuse to let my server know where you are, you are given the opportunity instead to name a city, and it will just use the central city location.

You’ll get a report back like this


(Click to enlarge)

If you are a Democratic supporter and anti-gun terrorist, you can click on the tower icon to see the tower location.

There is a controversy going on right now in Denver of great interest to newspaper people around the country. A fundamental principle of the 1934 Communications Act is that anyone who is issued a license must allow their signal to be listened to by anyone for free. Encryption or other non-standard techniques are prohibited on over the air licensed signals.

Over time though, that has been weakened. I doubt that anybody would disagree that cell phone communications should be encrypted and private, so people can’t hear the conversations, unless they’re the government using a special Stingray device to pretend to be a cell tower to listen without a warrant, and then denying such a device exists. In the early 1980s, there were attempts to transmit porno movies on over the air TV which were encrypted so tender minds would not be corrupted. Of course, when cable TV came along, that solved that problem.

The ability of ordinary citizens to be able to listen to the broadcast of police, fire, and other first responders is either incredibly valuable to a free country, or a horrific mistake – depending on your level of concern about criminal behavior or government corruption.

This has been moot for a very long time, since police officers all carry cell phones and can talk to each other without fear of being overheard. In the good old days, you just agreed to meet in a parking lot and talk to each other face-to-face. All but the most backward cities, use digital dispatch anyway, where each police car has a tablet. Central dispatching using voice with multiple people able to talk at once over repeaters is now a horrible idea. The same is true for taxicabs, who used to have to deal with their competitors trying to steal their fares.

News reporters depended very much on being able to hear breaking activity to get on the scene quickly so they could have pictures of the building burning down before the fire truck arrived. It was common for reporters to have a scanner in their car, something that ordinary citizens would likely not do and generally required a special permit.

So the city of Denver has just decided to start encrypting their police dispatching frequencies. That means reporters for TV and newspapers will no longer be able to hear breaking stories about fire, ambulance and police activities. The city is offering a compromise, to allow these entities to purchase the equipment necessary to listen to encrypted Communications, as long as they agreed to a long list of restrictions of what the news outlet can or cannot do with what they hear, and or record. The city is now being sued.

These days, nothing happens that isn’t immediately reported on Twitter, so I’m not sure we even need the ability anymore to hear what the police say is happening. What is your opinion?

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