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RFID Device Suppliers: Beware the FCC's New Authorization, Marketing and Importation Rules

The Federal Communications Commission has voted to approve new rules impacting how RF equipment, manufacturers, vendors, importers and distributors may conduct business.
By Ronald E. Quirk
Jul 31, 2017

During its July 2017 Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to approve a Report and Order (R&O) containing new rules that impact how RF equipment, manufacturers, vendors, importers and distributors may conduct their businesses. These rules affect RFID equipment suppliers, which are subject to virtually all the new regulations.

Prior to finalizing the new rules, the FCC emphasized their importance to the RF equipment industry, stating that the rules overhaul consists of a "wide range of equipment approval issues of a technical, legal, and practical nature, impacting a diverse set of stakeholders, each of whom will need to closely analyze and consider the potential impact of the rule changes."

FCC Severely Penalizes Non-Compliant Equipment Suppliers
Because the Communications Act and the FCC's rules strictly prohibit (with limited exceptions) the marketing, testing and operation of unauthorized RF equipment, it is critical that RFID stakeholders at all levels of the equipment supply chain be aware of the new rules. The FCC's Enforcement Bureau will not hesitate to impose substantial monetary forfeitures and other sanctions on parties that violate the RF equipment rules.

For example, the FCC recently issued an Order and Consent Decree, imposing a steep fine and other sanctions on a manufacturer and distributor of LED light fixtures that failed to comply with its equipment authorization rules before marketing a line of light fixtures. The devices reportedly caused interference with radio transmissions, resulting in the FCC conducting an investigation of the manufacturer, which was found guilty of serious violations.

After the manufacturer fixed the interference problem and proactively complied with the FCC's RF equipment rules, the commission agreed to a consent decree to resolve the case. Specifically, the FCC agreed to terminate the investigation in exchange for the manufacturer paying $90,000 to the U.S. Treasury and implementing a strict compliance program.

More importantly for RFID suppliers, the FCC issued a threat to future RF equipment manufacturers and other responsible parties that market unauthorized equipment. Specifically, the FCC asserted its authority to conduct hearings and declare non-compliant RF equipment suppliers unqualified to hold any type of FCC authorization.

In other words, the FCC threatened to prevent RF equipment suppliers that violate its rules from ever legally marketing their products in the United States, by denying them equipment authorizations.

This is a critically important development. Because virtually all devices that generate RF energy are subject to FCC rules, this case underscores the importance of ensuring full compliance with such regulations prior to marketing RF equipment in the United States.

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