In the early days of Amateur Radio, hams were being blamed for the inability of electronic devices to reject unwanted radio signals, and a solution was needed. At the time, the FCC did not have the authority to set minimum rejection standards for consumer electronic devices, and ARRL leaders knew the situation would only get worse. Amateur Radio needed a law that would amend the Communications Act of 1934 giving the FCC exclusive jurisdiction over RFI matters. This law would preempt regulation by state or local governments. During the "old days," amateurs did not want RFI law, but it became evident in the '70s that a law was needed--if the Amateur Radio Service was to survive.
The ARRL took a leading role by lobbying Congress for RFI legislation. Early attempts were unsuccessful; many bills were introduced, but they all died. It became clear that not everyone shared the ARRL's enthusiasm for giving the FCC authority to set RFI-immunity standards.
The industry was "dead set" against standards because they might be forced to add a $5 filter to the cost of a product. The industry lobbied fiercely against the bills.
Several major changes in the regulations were made on September 14, 1982, when President Reagan signed into law a measure that affected RFI as it relates to the amateur service. See "RFI Bill" Becomes Law, Amateur Radio Benefits!
The changes affect Amateur Radio and RFI in the following areas:
- The FCC was given the authority to regulate susceptibility of electronic equipment to RFI. In essence, this is an attempt to stem the flow of electronic devices that cannot function normally in the presence of RF energy.
- The FCC was authorized to use the services of volunteers in monitoring for rules violations. When assisting the FCC, the volunteers can issue advisory notices to apparent violators, but volunteers are not authorized to take enforcement actions.
The legislative history of the bill gave the FCC jurisdiction over RF susceptibility of home entertainment equipment. It states, in part:
"This law clarifies the reservation of exclusive jurisdiction over RFI matters to the Federal Communications Commission. Such matters shall not be regulated by local or state law, nor shall radio transmitting apparatus be subject to local or state regulation as a part of any effort to resolve an RFI complaint. The FCC believes that radio operators should not be subject to fines, forfeitures or other liability imposed by any local or state authority as a result of interference appearing in home electronic equipment or systems. Rather, the Commission's intent is that regulation of RFI phenomena shall be imposed only by the Commission."
This all sounds good on paper, but in practice, the results have been mixed. The FCC has opted for voluntary standards, rather than formal rules and regulations. The FCC and the ARRL are both active in an industry group (in cooperation with the American National Standards Institute, ANSI) that is studying "RF immunity issues." The Accredited Standards Committee C-63, has set an RFI-rejection standard for certain home electronic equipment. The voluntary standard provides for immunity of consumer equipment to some levels of RF field strength. This standard is not sufficient for full-power amateur stations under "worst case" conditions, but it covers the majority of cases. Starting in the second half of the 1990s, consumers started to see some built-in immunity in consumer products. The industry has a ways to go, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel.