FCC Continues RF Equipment Crackdown: Fines Lighting Company $25,000 for Marketing Ballasts without FCC Logo

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A lighting supply company is the latest target of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) crackdown on marketing non-compliant radiofrequency (RF) equipment.  On November 21, 2017 the FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL), proposing a penalty of $25,000 on a company that marketed fluorescent lighting ballasts that did not have the FCC logo affixed to them.

In early 2016 the FCC commenced an investigation of the lighting company after receiving a complaint that one model of its ballasts purportedly caused harmful interference.  In response to a Letter of Inquiry (“LOI”) from the FCC, the company submitted documentation, showing that the subject model of ballasts was properly tested and compliant with the FCC’s technical rules before it was marketed.  The company admitted, however, that it was marketing three models of ballasts without the FCC logo attached, which was required by FCC rules.  The company ceased marketing one of the subject models in mid-2016, but continued marketing the other two models without the FCC logo after receiving the LOI.

The FCC typically imposes a base forfeiture amount of $7,000 per model for improperly labeled RF devices.  In this case, the FCC levied additional forfeiture amounts on the company because it continued to market two of its ballast models without the FCC logo after it became aware of its rule violations.  The FCC also figured in the company’s ability to pay.  Based on all the factors, the FCC imposed a $25,000 fine for the company’s “intentional violations” of the labeling rules.

Under the new FCC RF equipment rules (effective November 7, 2017), use of the FCC logo is now voluntary for RF equipment such as light ballasts and other specific types of unintentional radiators.  But, because the company’s violations occurred when the old rules were still in effect, the FCC decided to prosecute this enforcement action.

This case is yet another example of the FCC’s willingness to enforce its RF equipment rules for any and all violations of same:

  • Earlier this month, the FCC fined a manufacturer of unlicensed national information infrastructure (“U-NII”) devices $90,000 and imposed other sanctions for the marketing of U-NII devices without the required security features.
  • In September, the FCC, while monitoring the website of an RF equipment dealer that advertised audio-visual transmitters that apparently did not comply with the FCC’s technical rules, issued a Citation and Order to the company, which could result in a fine of up to $144,344 and other penalties.
  • In May, the FCC fined a manufacturer of LED light fixtures $90,000 and levied other sanctions for marketing devices that caused interference to radio operations.
  • Also in May, the FCC forced a fried chicken restaurant franchise in Texas to turn off its outdoor LED signs at two locations because they were emitting so much radio interference that the FCC cited them for threatening the safety of airport communications miles away.

Perhaps more important than the FCC’s stepped up enforcement is its recent threats to RF equipment manufacturers and other responsible parties who market equipment in violation of its rules that those parties could be held unqualified to hold any type of FCC authorization.   This would effectively banish those parties from marketing RF equipment in the United States.

The FCC’s recent record of enforcement actions against RF equipment suppliers strongly illustrates the importance of understanding and complying with all of the FCC’s pertinent rules, and following the implementation of changes to those rules.  As previously noted, the FCC recently promulgated new authorization and importation rules for RF devices. All RF equipment stakeholders should remain aware and informed of any and all such changes.

If you would like additional information about the FCC’s RF equipment rules, including suggestions for best practices to ensure compliance, please contact IoT attorney Ronald E. Quirk, Jr. at (703) 714-1305 or req@commlawgroup.com. Further information about Marashlian & Donahue’s Internet of Things and Connected Devices practice is available here.

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