The FCC recently adopted stringent new radiofrequency (“RF”) equipment authorization rules that will significantly impact the regulatory and operating practices of RF equipment manufacturers, importers, marketers, and testing labs. These rules, which are expected to go into effect in June 2015, have been recognized by the US Congress as likely having a substantial effect on competition, investment, and innovation. The new rules will likely spur increased FCC enforcement actions for non-compliance. Consequently, knowledge and observance of these rules by all responsible parties is critical.
FCC Grants TCBs Exclusive Certification Authority
Many types of RF devices must be tested and certified as compliant with the FCC’s technical requirements before they are marketed or imported to the US. As of the effective date of the new rules, the FCC will no longer accept certification applications; going forward a responsible party (usually the manufacturer or importer) must apply to an authorized Telecommunications Certification Body (“TCB”) to certify RF equipment. TCBs are permitted to prescribe their own application processes.
TCB Equipment Surveillance, Provider Cost, and FCC Enforcement
The new rules codify the amount of post-market surveillance TCBs must conduct. TCBs conduct surveillance by obtaining sample RF devices on the market, measuring the characteristics, and comparing them to the characteristics of the prototypes they certified. Responsible parties will be required to pay for the TCB to purchase marketed RF devices for observation and possible re-testing. If a TCB determines that a marketed RF device is non-compliant, it will notify the FCC and require the responsible party to remedy the non-compliance. This process could trigger an FCC arbitration or enforcement proceeding, which could result in the responsible party being subject to steep fines, FCC confiscation of equipment, or removal of the equipment from the marketplace.
New Testing Lab Requirements
FCC rules currently require that RF equipment subject to certification be tested by either an FCC-accredited lab or one of many labs that have met certain requirements of Part 2 of the FCC’s rules. The new rules restrict certification testing to FCC-accredited labs exclusively. Although the FCC will phase out non-accredited labs, responsible parties should immediately begin submitting RF equipment for testing only to FCC-accredited labs in order to avoid possible enforcement issues in the future.
Foreign Testing Lab Challenges
The new test lab accreditation rules also apply to foreign labs. Foreign labs are also subject to additional restrictions. While FCC recognition of foreign non-accredited labs will be subject to the same phase-out period as their US counterparts, many of them will not be eligible for FCC-recognized accreditation. Under the new rules, non-accredited foreign labs located in countries that do not have a Mutual Recognition Agreement (“MRA”) with the US will not be eligible to be recognized by the FCC (even if they become accredited in their own countries). There are a limited number of countries that have MRAs with the U.S.
Additional Matters Affected by the New Rules
The new rules also affect matters such as specifics for testing lab accreditation, RF emissions testing procedures, and additional authority for the Chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology to adopt certain technical standards, all of which are beyond the scope of this alert. If you have about any of those issues, matters covered in this alert, or anything related to the new FCC RF authorization rules, please contact Ronald E. Quirk at 703-714-1305 firstname.lastname@example.org.