Buyer Be Educated
With any product, consumers should know what they’re buying. In the LED signage market, where investments in today’s best form of advertising can be substantial, it isn’t enough for the buyer to beware. When it comes to the FCC’s enforcement of emissions interference, uneducated buyers run the risk of purchasing non-compliant signs.
Read on to learn more about the FCC’s emissions rules and how to spot signs that follow the law.
Q: What is the FCC?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an agency of the U.S. Federal Government structured under Chapter I Telecommunication 47 Code of Federal Regulations (47 CFR). The FCC is responsible for the management of the radio spectrum in the US. It protects against “radio and broadcast pollution”, both by enforcing standards of broadcast decency, and by regulating electromagnetic noise sources.
Q: What is meant by emissions interference?
Electrical and electronic products may cause interference by producing radio spectrum noise. The fundamental laws of physics show that as electric current moves around inside an electrical product, the current will produce electromagnetic field waves that will travel through space. Those waves may eventually affect other electrical currents in other products, and cause unwanted interference.
Q: What products does this apply to?
FCC regulations apply to electrical and electronic products that may produce radio frequency pollution. Two main types of products covered are “Intentional Radiators” and “Unintentional Radiators”. Intentional Radiators are devices like cell phones, Bluetooth connections, or other devices that intentionally use the radio spectrum and require FCC equipment authorization. Unintentional Radiators are electronic digital or radio devices that produce radio signals. This also includes LED or digital signage.
Q: Why do I have to comply?
To control interference, the FCC requires that any product covered by their regulations undergo an “equipment authorization procedure”. Many consumers are not aware that it is illegal to import, sell, or lease covered equipment that has not undergone the required equipment authorization procedure. Additionally, operators or owners must cease to use any equipment that causes interference upon notification by the FCC.
Q: Is testing different for products marketed in Canada? Are their standards different?
For Canada, the technical tests done in accordance with FCC equipment authorization can usually be directly applied for satisfying the requirements for Canada. Labeling and regulatory structure have some differences, so follow your FCC lab’s instructions.
Q: Has there been enforcement?
Yes. You can read FCC releases from its enforcement bureau at http://www.fcc.gov/eb/marketing/. You’ll notice that some of the largest companies in the world have been fined in FCC emissions cases. How will inexperienced assemblers and importers respond to significant fines and penalties?
Q: I’m a sign owner, why should I care about FCC regulations?
If your business uses an unverified digital sign, there is a high likelihood that it is emitting interference at illegal levels. Illegal products are subject to forfeiture, and you may be subject to fines. Imported products that do not have FCC verification may be held at customs. Also, lack of FCC compliance means the products have never been evaluated for electronic compatibility. This is a sign of substandard quality, not to mention irresponsible business practices that put consumers at tremendous risk. If something so basic as emissions requirements have been ignored or cheated, what other regulatory requirements might not have been evaluated? FCC enforcement action is often levied against sign owners and end users, especially where the manufacturer is located outside US jurisdiction.
Q: What is a manufacturer’s responsibility?
Manufacturers of covered electronic products must ensure their products are compliant with the radio pollution limits and equipment authorization procedures. For digital devices, this involves testing at a laboratory and archiving the test report. For wireless devices, an additional step is required of seeking certification from a Telecom Certification Body licensed by the FCC.
Q: Is testing required?
As Unintentional Radiators, digital signage must be independently tested and verified according to FCC standards in order to be compliant. For unintentional radiators that connect with PCs or television systems, a declaration of conformity may also be required. Technical expertise is needed to evaluate the design to ensure correct authorization.
Q: Is there an FCC compliance certificate or are the labels on products proof enough?
There is no FCC compliance certificate. The FCC has implemented a self-directed testing program, which puts manufacturers in an “honor system” to test for compliance and then display the appropriate labels. Once verified, the FCC’s Part 15 requires that a sticker, also known as a Two-Part Warning, be displayed. The label should state, “This device complies with part 15 of the FCC Rules. Operation is subject to the following two conditions: (1) This device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) this device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation.” Manufacturers who fraudulently place stickers on unverified products face harsh fines and penalties from the FCC.
Q: How are FCC violations tested in the field?
Often, a problem may not be noticed until interference causes an issue with electromagnetic waves.
Q: Is this really a big deal?
It may seem like a benign issue if it isn’t affecting you. But like many types of catastrophes, this doesn’t seem like it could happen to you, until it does. Unscrupulous manufacturers who are selling non-compliant, entirely illegal signs will hide from this issue and tell you it hasn’t happened to them and consumers shouldn’t worry. As the consumer, it’s your investment and your risk, so you should educate yourself before purchasing.
Q: As a consumer, how do I do my due diligence on this issue before making a purchase?
Here are some questions to ask the sign manufacturer:
1. What specific rules govern your product, and how specifically have you complied with these rules?
2. Do you fall under any exemptions as outlined in Title 47 Part 15.103?
3. Can you provide the test reports that shows that this exact model meets the requirements of Title 47 Sections 2.955, 15.105, 15.107 and 15.109?
4. Was the equipment tested under normal operating conditions and in a state, such as to cause maximum emissions as prescribed by FCC Part 15?
5. Can you provide a photo of the label that meets the requirements of Title 47 Part 15.19?
Since the FCC has implemented a self-directed testing program, the environment is ripe for importers to skirt the system. As we move toward a society with more technology devices in use, an increased incidence of interference reports is likely to rise as well. It is more important than ever for consumers to be educated on this issue and rely on manufacturers who comply with FCC rules, and can verify and guarantee their compliance for the consumer’s peace of mind.