Most marketers are aware that the FCC has something to do with the regulation of computers and computing peripherals, products that are widely sold online. Unfortunately, marketers sometimes do not realize that the FCC’s rules also apply to a host of household devices such as coffeemakers, electric razors, car battery chargers, jewelry polishing devices, and similar electronic products that are also widely sold online. Even more problematic is that the FCC tends to take failure to comply with its rules governing these devices very seriously and can and does assess stiff fines for even innocent violations.
FCC regulations in Part 15 and 18 of its rules are intended to ensure safety over communications networks and to prevent “harmful” interference to the communications networks and other licensed uses of the spectrum, such as TV sets, as well as public safety and military uses. Although the rules do establish graduated levels of review and “certification” and recognize that the marketer of a device may not be the manufacturer, the regulatory regime is expansive and failure to comply can lead to serious consequences, including the prohibition on the importation of noncompliant products and what amounts to recall orders.
And the FCC regularly enforces against Part 15 noncompliance. Last month, the FCC announced a $590,380 fine against Pure Enrichment for the company’s failure to certify and label household humidifiers in accordance with the requirements of Part 15. The Commission found that Pure Enrichment had neglected to undergo proper testing and authorization procedures before sending its humidifiers to market. There was no claim that the Company had acted deliberately or had tried to evade the rule. And, indeed, there was no claim that the devices were actually causing harmful interference. The six-figure fine is evidence that the FCC views Part 15 violations as a serious problem, and that large fines are intended to serve as a deterrent to even innocent mistakes.
In part, the penalties imposed by the FCC in these kinds of cases are steep because the FCC does not regard any excuse for noncompliance as valid. The technical standards vary depending upon the type of product and it is true that computer devices are subject to more stringent standards than products like electronic humidifiers; the types of reports that must be submitted also depend upon the device in question. But, especially for items like electric toothbrushes and other incidental spectrum radiators, the cost of compliance is quite modest.
The Pure Enrichment decision makes it equally clear that, in assessing fines for noncompliance, the FCC does not particularly care who is responsible for noncompliance. Under the FCC Rules, the party responsible for Part 15 compliance is the manufacturer or, in the case of imported equipment, the importer. If, subsequent to manufacture and importation, the equipment is modified by any party not working under the authority of the responsible party, the party performing the modification becomes the new responsible party. Companies importing electronics or component electronic parts into the United States should be sure that their supplier agreements spell out which party bears the responsibility for FCC Part 15 compliance.
If you are a company that sells or distributes electronic products, be sure that FCC compliance is on your pre-market checklist. The cost of compliance is guaranteed to be less than the cost and headache associated with an FCC fine.
Venable’s Advertising Law Group is always ready to assist clients as they navigate Part 15 and similar regulations.