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FCC Compliance Challenges

Purchasers of RFID interrogators should be sure their contracts guarantee the regulatory compliance of the devices and their components.
By Ronald E. Quirk Jr.
The mandatory shutting down of an RFID system or failure to obtain needed equipment has obvious financial consequences for companies counting on a robust RFID network to improve their business processes. Accordingly, it is critical that RFID purchasers and users be fully protected in the event of an FCC violation. At the very least, purchasers should require that their vendor contracts include warranties guaranteeing that their RFID devices are certified and comply with FCC regulations.

However, even if an RFID device is FCC-certified and the vendor warrants same, there could still be additional regulatory problems for unwary purchasers and users of RFID equipment. For example, some RF signals tend to "splatter"—i.e., generate unwanted frequencies. This "dirty transmission" could cause interference to devices operating outside of the permitted RFID frequency bands, which is a serious FCC violation.

Because a reader is only as good as its components, it is vital to ensure that those components are of high quality, do not splatter and are FCC-compliant. Consequently, manufacturers, importers and vendors should have specific quality-control procedures in place to be certain their equipment components comport with FCC rules. Furthermore, purchasers should be sure their contracts contain representations guaranteeing the regulatory compliance of those components.

Specifically, RFID vendor contracts should, among other things, include warranties stating that:
  • The devices and components are FCC-compliant, and operate only on authorized frequencies.
  • Equipment in violation of FCC rules will be promptly replaced at no charge.
  • Compensation will be provided for downtime while noncompliant equipment is being replaced.
  • The purchaser/user will be indemnified against third-party lawsuits should the equipment interfere with other radio transmitters and receivers, medical equipment or other electronic devices.

Moreover, RFID users should be aware that modifications of RFID equipment after purchase could result in FCC violations and potentially also void warranties. For example, changing an antenna or increasing the transmission power of a reader would likely breach FCC rules and put the user at risk of assuming all penalties and costs incurred as a result of that action. Consequently, it is important to operate RFID equipment only as directed in vendor contracts and the manufacturers' instructions.

There are many reputable vendors in the RFID marketplace that provide top-quality equipment and have implemented effective regulatory-control procedures. Nonetheless, due to the increasing volume of RFID equipment offered for sale, as well as the myriad of somewhat-arcane FCC rules affecting such equipment, regulatory issues between vendors and their customers are bound to arise, with varying degrees of consequences for the parties involved. Accordingly, it is imperative that RFID vendors and users pay close attention to FCC matters in their transactions, working together to make sure robust RFID networks can be rapidly deployed without any delays, interruptions or enforcement actions from the FCC.

Ronald E, Quirk, Jr. is Counsel at the law firm of Venable LLP in Washington, DC. He can be reached at (202) 344-4677 or requirk@venable.com.

USER COMMENTS

Chris Kapsambelis 2006-05-22 07:40:58 AM
Government Compliance In addition to the FCC, are there any BRH or other governmental requirements for RFID?

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