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FCC Nabs Residential Bitcoin Miner Operator for Apparent Interference With T-Mobile's Wireless Broadband Network

The agency has ordered the suspect to respond to a series of questions about the bitcoin minder, including his use of the device, the make and model number, FCC labeling compliance, and identification of the vendor that sold it to him.
By Ronald E. Quirk

Hazards of Modifying RF Devices
Even RF devices that have been properly tested and authorized can still be illegally operated if they are modified to operate in a manner that does not conform to the manufacturer's original, authorized specifications. Such modifications—which usually entail increasing power or tweaking the device to operate on unauthorized frequencies—often result in the modifying entity becoming the party responsible for regulatory compliance. Hence, if the user of a bitcoin miner modifies the device without the knowledge of the manufacturer or importer, and it causes harmful interference, the operator can be held liable.

But FCC rules also require that manufacturers design RF devices so that adjustments of any control readily accessible to the user will not cause the device to be operated in violation of the FCC's technical regulations, including emissions limits. In other words, the FCC's rules prohibit a device that is tested and authorized to operate on a specific frequency band and at certain power levels from being easily tweaked to operate beyond those parameters.

Who Is the Responsible Party in This Case?
Based on the information available, it is not known whether the subject bitcoin miner was properly tested and authorized, or was authorized to operate on the 700 MHz band (Supplier's Declarations of Conformity are not publicly available). Interestingly, the miner at issue has a function (Miner Configuration Advanced Setting) whereby the operator can easily change the device's operating frequency from its default setting of 350 MHz.

Accordingly, if the device were tested and authorized to operate only at certain frequencies that do not include the 700 MHz band, but the device enabled the operator to easily utilize unauthorized frequencies, the manufacturer could be the culpable party. It is also possible that both the end user and the manufacturer could be held responsible for the harmful interference caused be the device, depending on the rules at issue. Stay tuned.

Stay Aware and Informed
This case illustrates a brave new world of RF equipment regulatory concerns for manufacturers and operators of these devices. Internet of Things (IoT) stakeholders would be well advised to understand the issues raised in this case raises, and to implement measures to ensure compliance and mitigate their exposure to liability for violations.

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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