Some FCC regulations are carved in stone, changing about as often as the rules of chess. But not the equipment authorization rules, which lay out the procedures manufacturers and importers must follow to market devices having potential to cause interference to radio communications. The FCC likes to revise and update these every few years. This post reports on a recent set of rule changes adopted on July 13, 2017 (released on July 14, 2017), some of which could become effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register –possibly as soon as August.
Products subject to the equipment rules include transmitters, of course, and also some receivers, most digital devices, and a few other odds and ends. All of these add up to some large fraction of whatever plugs into the wall or takes a battery. Manufactures and importers should familiarize themselves with these changes.
Manufacturers or importers of devices that pose a relatively low threat of interference can confirm compliance with the FCC’s technical rules on their own, without getting an okay from anybody else. There used to be two procedures for doing this, called verification and Declaration of Conformity (DoC). The recent change now merges these into one, called Supplier’s Declaration of Conformity (SDoC). This handy chart compares the requirements.
|test in accredited lab||(optional)||Yes||(optional)|
|label with FCC logo||No||Yes||(optional)|
|include compliance statement with product||No||Yes||Yes|
|responsible party in U.S.||(optional)||Yes||Yes|
Those used to the former verification procedure will see added requirements: the product package must include a compliance statement; and the responsible party identified in the compliance statement must be located in the United States. Verified devices include most outdoor, fixed transmitters that don’t communicate with mobiles and portables, and TV and FM receivers.
Users of the former DoC procedure will see relaxed requirements: compliance testing no longer needs an accredited lab, and labeling with the FCC logo has become optional. DoC devices include most products that contain digital circuitry.
Devices previously approved under verification or DoC can be continue to be marketed indefinitely without further action.
Devices that pose a higher risk of interference must follow a more stringent FCC procedure called “certification.” Affected devices include most mobile, portable, and unlicensed transmitters, fixed transmitters that communicate with mobiles and portables, low-power FM transmitters, and a few others. The responsible party (usually the manufacturer or importer) has the product tested for compliance with the FCC’s technical rules. These cover power, bandwidth, out-of-band emissions, and sometimes other properties, depending on the device. The test results go to an FCC-approved entity called a Telecommunications Certification Body (TCB), which issues a certification on behalf of the FCC. The manufacturer must label the device with an FCC ID number that identifies it in the FCC’s records, and for some devices, must label with other text as well.
As an alternative to physical labels, the FCC has long allowed electronic labeling (on displays) for certain narrow categories of equipment. Manufacturers like this approach and have asked the FCC to expand it. Congress stepped in with a 2014 statute that required the FCC to permit manufacturers to use electronic labeling. The statute also required the FCC to have done this two years ago, but hey, it’s been a busy time.
The new rule allows most FCC-required labeling to be put on a device’s electronic display (except for a few safety-of-life devices). The user must be able to access the labeling without special codes and in no more than three steps. Instructions for doing this can either be packaged with the product or provided on a product-related website. Temporary physical labels will be required in a few instances, to carry information needed before the device is first powered on. A device with no display must have a permanent physical label, as under the old rules. If the device has no display and is too small to carry the required labeling in four-point type (really small!), the information can go in the user manual.
A rule change brings the long-awaited elimination of Form 740, previously used to declare the regulatory status of imported devices. The FCC emphasizes, though, that some responsible party must stand behind the compliance of each device. The number of not-yet-approved devices allowed to be imported for trade shows is increased from 200 to 400. Where the present rule allows for the importation of up to three “unintentional radiators” (such as receivers or digital devices) for personal use, that permission now extends to certain narrow classes of both licensed and unlicensed transmitters.
The FCC maintains complex rules on how to test devices for technical compliance. It has now made several changes to these. The changes are critically important to the test labs and TCBs, and perhaps also to some large manufacturers. but less so to the rest of us, so we will not spell them out here. Check the FCC document linked in the first paragraph above if these concern you.
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Some of the new rules take effect immediately on publication in the Federal Register, without the usual thirty-day wait. Federal Register publication will probably happen in August. Rules that impose new or modified requirements for information collection must await approval from the Office of Management and Budget. How long that will take is anybody’s guess.