Last week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Consent Decree involving a “voluntary contribution” of more than a quarter of a million dollars by a well-known guitar manufacturer, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, relating to claims of unauthorized marketing of bass amplifiers, pre-amplifiers, tuners, audio mixers, and wireless microphones. While one might be puzzled by the FCC’s interest in regulating musical equipment, the fact is that these devices, like virtually all modern day products, incorporate digital circuitry and generate (intentionally or unintentionally) radio-frequency signals that can cause interference to other spectrum users. The FCC’s action is a reminder to all types of businesses that digital devices are regulated and must comply with the FCC’s Part 2 and Part 15 rules regarding equipment authorization, including certification, verification, and declarations of conformity.
The FCC’s investigation into Fender’s products began in June 2010, when the FCC sent the company a letter of inquiry. While the content of the letter is not publicly available, it appears that the FCC sought information about when Fender received equipment authorizations for certain products, the labeling of such products, and the information disclosed in the user manuals for those products.
Over the course of the next two years, Fender, through its legal counsel, submitted a number of filings responding to the FCC’s inquiry, and executed tolling agreements that permitted the FCC to extend its investigation. Ultimately, Fender reached an agreement with the FCC terminating the investigation. In the agreement, Fender did not acknowledge any wrongdoing (nor did the FCC reach any such conclusion), but the company voluntarily agreed to contribute $265,000 to the U.S. Treasury and institute an internal program to ensure future compliance with the FCC’s rules. While this is nowhere close to being the most expensive equipment-related contribution or fine the FCC has received or assessed for unlicensed devices (in one case the FCC assessed a $1 million dollar forfeiture), it does send a loud message to manufacturers and importers of almost all modern day electronic devices that the FCC polices its equipment authorization rules and treats potential violations seriously.
For an overview of the FCC’s Part 2 and Part 15 rules, you can check out our Client Advisory on the subject.