FCC Proposes Tripled Fine for Unauthorized Two-Way Radios

Base forfeiture tripled because offender is a multi-billion dollar global enterprise.

Here’s another reminder to stay on top of the licensing paperwork. Especially if your company is successful.

A company called Remel, Inc. manufactures and supplies microbiology products for clinical, industrial, and research laboratories. Its corporate parent, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc., is a global supplier of analytical instruments, laboratory and diagnostic equipment, chemicals and reagents, and related products and services.

The companies, like many others, use two-way radios. They say their radio supplier told them, incorrectly, that the radios did not require an FCC a license. (Apparently this happens a lot.) On finding out that a license is in fact required, the companies turned the radios off and applied to the FCC for a license on a different frequency for a higher-powered radio, which the FCC subsequently granted.

The FCC remained concerned, though, about the period of unlicensed operation, which spanned some nine years. Moreover, a frequency the companies used over that time was allocated to the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), a service intended for use by individuals, not companies. GMRS radios are popular with families on camping trips, and the like. In fact, only individuals, and not companies, are eligible for a GMRS license.

Not many individuals bother, though. Our friends over at SpectrumWiki.com note that the fee for a GMRS license is many times the cost of the radio equipment, so that only a very small fraction of GMRS operators actually obtain one. (Our law partner Peter Tannenwald wishes it known that he shelled out the eighty bucks and is duly licensed.)

The FCC could have acknowledged that Remel and Thermo Fisher made an honest mistake and fixed it, and then let the matter drop, or possibly charged a small forfeiture. Instead it proposed a forfeiture of $30,000. The FCC also emphasized that Remel and Thermo Fisher, not being individuals, would not have been eligible for a GMRS license. This put the FCC once again in the odd position of imposing sanctions for failing to obtain a license that the FCC would not have granted.

The base forfeiture for operating without a license is $10,000. The FCC tripled that on the ground that Thermo Fisher is a “multi-billion dollar global enterprise” and so “should expect the assessment of higher forfeitures for violations.”

The takeaway: Check your licenses. Don’t ever believe your radio supplier. And prepare for extra penalties if your company makes a lot of money.

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Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Stuart Snow - June 14, 2013 5:18 PM

I was not aware the FCC had a forfeiture structure based on income. I would like to see that so I'll know what forfeiture bracket I fit into.

Marc Ressler - June 17, 2013 6:30 AM

I'm glad Peter decided to be "legal" - though I'm sure he realizes the license is only good for 5 years (but as the head of household he can buy lots of GMRS radios for use by his offspring, and aunts, nephews, etc... under his license.

It is hard to find a FRS-only radio any more. Mostly they seem to sell dual purpose GMRS/FRS radios since a number of channels overlap. The last ones we got do run the lower power that FRS uses on those channels that are in common. The FCC seems to recognize this problem as they remind FRS users they have to run lower power. Does this mean they also recognize that an FRS user does not need to get a GMRS license, as long as they stay off GMRS channels? How would they enforce this? (Actually, how do they enforce the rules for CB radios - or do they bother?)

Jared - May 27, 2014 11:59 AM

Why is this author addicted to pointing out that the FCC gives fines for not having an un-obtainable license? Not being able to get a license doesn't make it more or less legal to do the practice.

I can't get a license to punch somebody in the face. If I punch somebody in the face, it doesn't matter whether I can get a license to do it or not. I broke a law, and I should get punished for breaking that law.

Even if they could have gotten a GMRS license, they didn't apply for one because they didn't know they were using a GMRS frequency. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Just try telling a police officer, "I didn't know I couldn't go around punching people in the face."

Officer: "You should have applied for a punching people in the face license."

Me: "Would it have been granted?"

Officer: "No."

Me: "Oh."

(Jail cell door slams shut)


The fact that you can't get a license in order to do something illegal doesn't seem very strange to me at all. In fact, I would be very concerned if it was any other way. Ability or inability to get a license does not change the law. It's just that simple.

gary - April 25, 2015 8:27 PM

What is the fine for unlicensed gmrs/frs radios???

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