FCC Modernizes Its Experimental Licensing Rules

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted April 29, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

The FCC's revised rules for its Experimental Radio Services ("ERS") were published in today's Federal Register, and become effective on May 29, 2013 (except for several rules that contain new or modified information collection requirements, which require further approval by the Office of Management and Budget). These revised rules allow parties, including manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and students, to engage in a wide variety of experiments involving radio spectrum, including, for example, technical demonstrations, equipment testing, limited market studies, and development of radio techniques. The FCC's revisions streamline and modernize the ERS rules, allowing parties to more quickly develop new technologies and products for the marketplace.

One of the primary changes to the rules is the creation of three types of ERS licenses: (1) Program Licenses; (2) Compliance Testing Licenses; and (3) Medical Testing Licenses. An applicant for a license must demonstrate in its application that it meets the eligibility requirements, must provide a certification of radio frequency (RF) expertise or partner with another entity with such expertise, and must explain the purpose of its experiment. Each license has a term of five years and is renewable.

Under a Program License, the license holder is permitted to conduct an ongoing program of research and experimentation under a single authorization without having to obtain prior FCC consent for each distinct experiment or series of unrelated experiments, as would have been required under the FCC's prior rules. Eligibility is limited to colleges, universities, research laboratories, manufacturers of radio frequency equipment or end-user products with integrated radio frequency equipment, and medical research institutions. Authorized entities must provide a "stop buzzer" point of contact, identify the specifics of each proposed experiment in advance of the testing on a public web database established by the FCC, and post a report detailing the results of each experiment upon completion of the experiment (A "stop buzzer" point of contact is a person who can address interference concerns and cease all transmissions immediately if interference occurs).

A Compliance Testing License allows a test lab to conduct testing for FCC equipment authorizations. Such licenses are available to labs that are currently recognized for RF product testing as well as any other lab that the FCC finds has sufficient expertise to undertake such testing. Unlike a Program Licensee, a compliance testing licensee does not have to identify a "stop buzzer" point of contact, provide any notification period prior to testing, or file any narrative statement regarding test results. Testing is limited to those activities necessary for product certification.

The third type of experimental license is a Medical Testing License. This license allows an eligible entity to conduct clinical trials of medical devices (i.e., a device that uses RF wireless technology or communications functions for diagnosis, treatment, or patient monitoring). Only health care facilities (defined as hospitals and other establishments that offer services, facilities and beds for beyond a 24-hour period in rendering medical treatment, as well as institutions and organizations regularly engaged in providing medical services through clinics, public health facilities, and similar establishments, including government entities and agencies) are eligible for this type of experimental license. Medical devices tested under a Medical Testing License must comply with the FCC's Part 15, 18 and 95 rules. Authorized health care entities must provide a "stop buzzer" point of contact and also follow the same notice and reporting requirements as Program Licensees. A Medical Testing Licensee is required to file a yearly report with the FCC on the activity that has been performed under the license.

The FCC's other changes to its ERS rules include:

  • consolidating all of the experimental licensing rules into Part 5 of the FCC's Rules;
  • consolidating its rules regarding marketing of unauthorized devices;
  • allowing demonstrations in residential areas of devices not yet authorized, so long as the relevant spectrum licensee is working with the device manufacturer;
  • permitting, without an experimental license, the operation of devices not yet authorized, so long as the devices are operated as part of a trade show demonstration and at or below the maximum power level permitted for unlicensed devices under the FCC's Part 15 rules;
  • allowing more flexible product development and market trials;
  • standardizing and increasing the importation limit for devices that have not yet been authorized to 4,000 units; and
  • codifying the existing practice of allowing RF tests and experiments conducted within an anechoic chamber or Faraday cage without the need for obtaining an experimental license.
Parties interested in learning more about the FCC's revised ERS rules should contact their communications counsel for advice.

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