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FCC and Manufacturer Conclude Consent Decree on Marketing of Noncompliant Device

02/17/2014

The FCC and the manufacturer of a device that wirelessly reports propane tank levels have entered into a Consent Decree that concludes an investigation into whether the company had been marketing a noncompliant RF device. It also provides a window into how the Commission occasionally resolves certain enforcement proceedings. The EnerTrac “Big Drops System” operated as an unlicensed Part 15 intentional radiator on 433 MHz; the manufacturer has since shifted to a licensed Part 90 frequency. According to the terms of the arrangement, EnerTrac will admit no wrongdoing, agree not to break the rules in the future, and make a “voluntary contribution” of $13,000 to the US Treasury. In return the FCC will drop the entire matter.

“After reviewing the terms of the Consent Decree and evaluating the facts before us,” the FCC said, “we find that the public interest would be served by adopting the Consent Decree and terminating the investigation.

As the FCC pointed out in the Consent Decree, intentional radiators must first receive FCC certification before being marketed in the US. Part 15 rules prescribe the maximum field strength emission limits for “periodic operation of intentional radiators that transmit at certain frequencies, including frequencies in the 433 MHz band,” the FCC explained. While the Amateur Service enjoys privileges on 70 centimeters on a secondary basis, many unlicensed Part 15 devices operate in the vicinity of 433 MHz on a non-interference basis.

Prior to marketing the Big Drops System, EnerTrac submitted relevant information and a sample device to the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET). The OET certified the device as being in compliance with Part 15 rules.

In July 2012, however, the FCC received a complaint that the Big Drops System was not operating within the terms of its authorization. The Commission issued a Letter of Inquiry to EnerTrac relating to the system’s compliance with Part 15. Responding to the inquiry, EnerTrac reminded the FCC that the 433 MHz Big Drops System had been tested for compliance with Part 15 rules and had been certified by the FCC. The OET tested the system, however, and determined that it exceeded Part 15 emission limits, suggesting that there may have been differences between the unit tested for certification purposes and the version that EnerTrac marketed.

Subsequently EnerTrac told the FCC that the devices it was marketing “had the same radio frequency characteristics as the device certified” and the device the OET tested. EnerTrac further reported that it had ceased marketing the 433 MHz Big Drops System in November 2012 and had begun marketing a new Part 90 (Private Land Mobile Radio Services) device to replace it.

In terminating its investigation, the FCC Enforcement Bureau agreed that “in the absence of new material evidence,” it would not use facts developed in the investigation to institute a new proceeding or take action against EnerTrac concerning matters that were at the heart of the investigation. The Enforcement Bureau also said it would not use any of the findings of its investigation in determining EnerTrac’s basic qualifications to hold FCC licenses or authorizations.

EnerTrac, in turn, agreed to a compliance plan, which the Consent Decree incorporates and spells out in detail. It includes development of internal procedures and policies to ensure that all devices the manufacturer plans to market comply with FCC technical standards and have been properly authorized. It also entails a compliance training program and stipulates that EnerTrac pull its 433 MHz Big Drops System devices out of service by the end of 2017. The company would have to remove immediately any device that is the subject of a complaint of unlawful interference, however.

 

 



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