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FCC Upholds $7000 Forfeiture Order to California CB Operator

07/30/2012

After a Merced, California man refused to let FCC investigators inspect his Citizens Band (CB) radio station, the FCC issued -- and upheld -- a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) for $7000 for not allowing the inspection. In issuing the NAL in March 2011, the FCC found that Ira Jones “apparently willfully and repeatedly” violated Section 303(n) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and Section 95.426(a) of the Commission’s rules (CB Rule 26) by failing to permit the inspection. Jones responded to the NAL, but the FCC upheld the forfeiture amount, saying that Jones’ arguments were “irrelevant” and “unpersuasive.”

Background

In March 2010, agents from the FCC’s office in San Francisco responded to a complaint regarding radio frequency interference within the radio communication system equipment of the Merced County Fire Department. The agents observed that transmissions on 27.165 MHz -- a frequency within the CB radio spectrum -- appeared to match the audio distortion received on frequency 154.4 MHz within the Merced County Fire Department’s audio receiver and speaker system. According to the FCC, this appeared to be audio rectification interference within the department’s receiver and speaker system. Audio rectification interference occurs when an electronic circuit -- usually an amplifier -- which ideally should respond only to audio frequency signals, responds to external RF signals. Typically, the circuit picks up signals from a nearby radio transmitter in addition to the sound the listener wants to hear.

The agents monitored the radio transmissions on 27.165 MHz and used radio direction finding techniques to locate the source of the signal and found it to be emanating Jones’ residence in Merced, California. A week later, the agents monitored frequency 27.165 MHz again and located the interference be coming from Jones’s residence. Later the same day, the agents approached Jones’ residence, knocked on his door, identified themselves as agents of the FCC and presented their official badges and credentials; the individual answering the door identified himself as Jones. The agents told him about the radio frequency interference complaint and asked him if he was the owner or operator of the CB radio station.

Jones acknowledged that he was the operator of the CB radio station, but denied causing any interference to the Merced County Fire Department. The agents then requested that they be allowed to inspect the CB radio station to determine the cause of the interference. Jones denied the agents’ request. The agents warned him that refusing to allow an inspection of a CB radio station is a violation of Section 95.426(a) of the FCC’s rules and Section 303(n) of the Communications Act; they explained that these rules require CB operators to make their stations available to authorized FCC representatives for inspection. Jones again denied the request and asserted that the FCC must have a search warrant to inspect his CB station. The agents advised him that he was required to take necessary precautions to avoid causing radio interference by operating at power levels that do not exceed legal limits and by refraining from using a radio frequency power amplifier.

Prior to leaving the premises, the agents issued Jones an on-scene Notice of Unlicensed Operation, expressly warning that refusal to allow inspection of his radio equipment violated Section 303(n) of the Communications Act and included the full text of Section 303(n). Jones refused to accept a copy of the Notice and the agents left the document on a chair near the front door of the house. The agents then left the premises, but continued to monitor 27.165 MHz and heard Jones describe the agents’ attempted inspection.

In August 2010, in response to a another complaint from the Merced County Fire Department, San Francisco agents again monitored 27.165 MHz and located the source of the interfering signal to a CB radio station operating from Jones’s residence. Later the same day, the agents -- along with two Merced City police officers -- approached Jones in his front yard, identified themselves as FCC agents and presented their official badges and credentials. The two Merced City police officers identified the man as Jones. The agents told Jones about the radio frequency interference complaint and requested that they be allowed to inspect the CB radio station to determine the cause of the interference. Jones denied the request, again admitting that although he was the owner and operator of the CB radio station, he was not the owner of the house and that he had to refuse the inspection. The agents explained that refusal to allow an inspection could result in a $7000 forfeiture assessment, and Jones said that he understood.

After further conversation with the agents and the police officers, Jones admitted to being the owner of the house. The agents again requested that they be allowed to inspect the CB radio station and reiterated that his refusal to allow an inspection of a CB radio station was a violation of Section 95.426(a) of the FCC’s rules and Section 303(n) of the Communications Act and subject to a forfeiture. Jones again denied the inspection request. The agents then gave him an oral warning and issued Jones a second on-scene Notice of Unlicensed Operation. He again refused to accept a copy of the Notice and the agents left the document on a wooden yard border and then left the premises. Two weeks later, the San Francisco Office received another complaint from the Merced County Fire Department stating that Jones had resumed CB radio station operation and interference within its radio communication system equipment had also resumed.

FCC Calls Jones’ Arguments “Irrelevant” and “Unpersuasive,” Says $7000 Forfeiture Is “Warranted”

Jones was given until April 9, 2011 to pay the $7000 forfeiture, or file a written statement by that date, seeking a reduction or cancellation of the amount. In his filing, Jones argued that he should not be subject to forfeiture because he had not seen a complaint from the Merced Fire department naming him as the source of the interference. “This argument is irrelevant to the investigation of Mr Jones’ violation of the Commission’s requirement that he make his CB station available to FCC representatives for inspection,” the FCC stated. “Neither Section 303(n) of the Communications Act nor Section 95.426(c) of the FCC’s Rules requires that a complaint be filed as a prerequisite for FCC representatives to inspect a CB station. There is no question that Mr Jones’ CB equipment was the source of the complained-about interference. The agents used direction finding techniques to determine that the source of the signal associated with the interference to the Merced County Fire Department came from Mr Jones’ residence. Mr Jones does not dispute that the San Francisco agents located the source of the interference to his house on three separate occasions.”

According to the FCC, Jones also alleged that the agents neither presented appropriate identification and nor gave him oral or written warnings: “We find Mr Jones’ allegations unpersuasive. As discussed above, consistent with practice, the San Francisco agents approached Mr Jones’ house, presented their government-issued identification to him and requested to conduct an inspection to determine if Mr Jones’ CB radio equipment was the source of the interference on frequency 27.165 MHz. With respect to whether Mr Jones received any warnings, the response itself includes copies of the two Notices left by the agents. Both Notices clearly state ‘agents of the Federal Communications Commission noted the following condition regarding the Citizen Band (CB) radio station located at [Mr Jones’ address]: Your refusal to allow a inspection of your radio equipment in violation of Section 303(n) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended. You are hereby warned that refusal to allow inspection of your radio station constitutes violation of the Federal laws cited above and could subject the owner of this illegal operation to the severe penalties provide, including, but not limited to, substantial civil forfeitures, a maximum criminal fine of $11,000 and/or one year imprisonment, or arrest of the equipment for the first offense.’”

Jones, in his response to the FCC, also alleged that when the San Francisco agents requested an inspection on August 27, 2010 with two Merced City police officers, one of the police officers suggested that a warrant may be necessary. “Mr Jones provides no information to support this claim and we reiterate what the San Francisco Office stated in the NAL: Commission agents are not required to obtain a warrant prior to conducting a radio station inspection,” the FCC noted. “Accordingly, as a result of our review of Mr. Jones’ Response, pursuant to the statutory factors above, and in conjunction with the Forfeiture Policy Statement, we conclude that he willfully and repeatedly violated Section 303(n) of the Communications Act and Section 95.426(a) of the FCC’ rules, and we find that a forfeiture in the amount of $7,000 is warranted.”

Jones has until August 25, 2012 to pay the $7000 forfeiture.



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