When LED companies like Watchfire and Daktronics started making noises in the past year about the perils of buying offshore product that was not FCC licensed, it was reasonable to think a little bit of that was about sowing some FUD – Fear Uncertainty & Doubt.
Nothing like the risk of fines or being shut down to chill someone who may be thinking of buying far less costly Chinese product.
Turns out there was cause for real fear. A reader pointed me at a blog post today from a DC-area law firm that specializes in telecommunications. CommLawBlog says the FCC is responding to wireless carrier complaints about big digital boards that are electronics emitters and are causing radio interference that messes up networks.
By our count, six sign companies recently settled with the FCC for failure to follow those rules. They paid substantial fines: Liantronics, LLC ($61,000), Optec Displays, Inc.($54,000), Boyce Industries, Inc. d/b/a VISIONTECH ($39,500), Media Resources, Inc.($19,500), Anthem Displays, LLC ($18,000), and Tradenet Enterprise Inc. d/b/a Vantage LED ($15,000).
Nowadays pretty much anything with a battery or a wall plug contains digital circuitry, which means all of those devices come under FCC regulation (apart from a very small number of exceptions). In addition to paying fines, companies that ignore the rules risk expensive interruptions to production and sales, and possibly an accumulation of un-sellable inventory.
In short, manufacturers and importers can save a lot of money and trouble by complying up front. If you don’t know how, we can help.
The posts linked up in the opening paragraph go into the background and what you, as a buyer or perhaps as a vendor, should be doing.
In a nutshell – the FCC requires that electronic equipment, such as digital signs, be tested to ensure they are not radiating interference that exceeds specified levels. The paper notes how a fast food franchise operator in Texas received a cease and desist order from the FCC for operating an unlicensed radio station that was found to be interfering with important communications in the area, include radio transmissions from a nearby airport.
Optec says while the company was indeed cited by the FCC, this was related to test record keeping and product labeling requirements. Optec resolved the issue, paid the fine, is now in compliance with FCC regulations, and the investigation is terminated. The settlement clearly states that all Optec products are in compliance with ALL regulations – technical, test record keeping, and labeling. Specifically, the FCC Consent Decree states “…the Bureau’s Spectrum Enforcement Division issued a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) to Optec, directing it to submit a sworn written response to a series of questions relating to its marketing of LED signs in the United States…Immediately after receiving the LOI, Optec began the process of bringing its LED signs into compliance with the Commission’s rules. Optec subsequently resolved all matters relating to its noncompliance with the relevant Equipment Authorization and Marketing Rules concerning the LED signs at issue.”
To reiterate, Optec’s products have always been in compliance with the FCC’s Title 47, CFR Part 15. As a 30-year-old U.S.-based company, Optec is committed to producing the highest-quality LED display boards and complying with all government guidelines. Going forward all Optec LED display products will carry a 10-year FCC compliance guarantee.
Toronto-area Media Resources says its penalty was not for lack of compliance, but failing to appropriately label its compliant products: “Media Resources admits that it marketed LED signs without the required equipment authorization, labeling, and user manual disclosures.”
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.