Office illumination caused radio noise on a commercial wireless frequency.

First the U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered a children’s magician to set up a disaster plan for his rabbit. Then the FCC asserted jurisdiction over a lighting fixture. It must be something in the water here in Washington.

The offending fixture, which illuminates an office building in San Jan, Puerto Rico, apparently put out a stray signal at 712.5 MHz. That frequency is part of an auctioned band used for commercial wireless communications. The FCC does not say, but we think it likely that the wireless provider tracked down and fingered the office building, much as other wireless providers have complained about other sources of interference.

And, yes, the FCC has jurisdiction over all sources of radio interference, including lighting fixtures. It issued an official warning, called a citation, to the building’s occupant, alerting it to possible monetary forfeitures up into six figures if the interference continues.

For the last few months, a new phrase has been turning up in FCC citations relating to radio interference (and one on automatic dialing). Previously, a citation recipient who commits the same offense a second time has been subject only to penalties for the new offense. The new language makes the re-offender also subject to additional penalties for the original offense that triggered the citation. It’s as if the police stop you for speeding on Monday and give you a warning, stop you again on Tuesday, and thereby make you retroactively liable for Monday’s fine as well as Tuesday’s. Whether or not the imposition of additional penalties based on alleged misconduct that hasn’t been fully adjudicated is really consistent with the Communications Act (and simple fairness) isn’t entirely clear – but so far, the issue has not yet made it to the courts.

Our friend Gary Cavell suggests the office building switch to candles and kerosene lamps – except that might violate environmental laws and create a fire hazard, so their only legally safe choice may be to sit in the dark.