Photo by Tony Webster https://www.flickr.com/photos/diversey/36200726665/

Those bright, colorful LED signs are up everywhere. They advertise gasoline prices, announce church services, and promote specials at the dry-cleaner. You can program them to say anything you want, with eye-catching animation. And sometimes they cause interference to radio communications.

Wait — LED signs? CommLawBlog readers know all about radio interference from well pumps and fluorescent lights and (of course) bitcoin mining machines. But LED signs are a new one.

Not, though, to the engineers for the wireless phone companies, who put a lot of effort into tracking down interference into their customers’ cell communications. Lately a lot of those searches have ended at a company’s LED sign. Now, the FCC has gotten involved trying to head off the problem at the source: with the companies that market the signs.

Perhaps to the surprise of those companies, the FCC does have authority over the signs, because they incorporate digital devices and produce radio waves as an unwanted byproduct. The FCC regulates those emissions to minimize the risk of interference. Someone in the distribution chain – usually the manufacturer – is supposed to have the device tested for compliance with the FCC’s limits and,  if the device passes, to apply certain labels and provide certain information in the manual.

By our count, six sign companies recently settled with the FCC for failure to follow those rules. They paid substantial fines: Liantronics, LLC ($61,000), Optec Displays, Inc.($54,000), Boyce Industries, Inc. d/b/a VISIONTECH ($39,500), Media Resources, Inc.($19,500), Anthem Displays, LLC ($18,000), and Tradenet Enterprise Inc. d/b/a Vantage LED ($15,000).

Nowadays pretty much anything with a battery or a wall plug contains digital circuitry, which means all of those devices come under FCC regulation (apart from a very small number of exceptions). In addition to paying fines, companies that ignore the rules risk expensive interruptions to production and sales, and possibly an accumulation of un-sellable inventory.

In short, manufacturers and importers can save a lot of money and trouble by complying up front. If you don’t know how, we can help.