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Under the radar



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Comments:
 well for what its worth guys... i
found this online at work and figured i would send it along. hmmm
our taxi probs well....

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Under the radar

by Robert H. Schwaninger Jr.

Online Exclusive, Jan 23, 2001, 12:00 a.m. ET

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<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">If you read the stack of daily decisions put out by the
Federal Communications Commission, you might be under the impression that the
agency has increased its enforcement effort. You would be right. But despite the
greater emphasis on enforcement, there are still areas that the feds simply
ignore.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">For example, everyone knows about the "color-dot"
radios made popular via sales from outfits like Samís Club. For a relatively
low price, any chump could buy a couple of VHF mobile units that were type
accepted by the FCC. Although the buyer was supposed to get a license to operate
those radios under Part 90, that just didnít happen.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">Because the users didnít get a license, their operation of
the radios was a clear violation of law, subject to the FCC dropping the hammer.
But the hammer never fell. Why? Because the people violating the rules were
consumers, and the FCC has no effective mechanism in place to go after
consumers.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">Illegal or unlicensed devices make it into the marketplace
every day from a variety of sources. But once the device is in the hands of the
user, the FCC is no longer interested in enforcing its rules. There are
exceptions, of course, such as unlicensed radio operation by people using base
stations, e.g. pirate broadcasters and corporations that just fail to get
authorization. But a radio in the hands of John Q. Public isnít on the FCCís
radar screen.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">In case you are wondering why the FCC doesnít go after the
retail outlets for this stuff, the answer is simple in the case of many of the
devices. The devices have been approved for operation by the FCC and, therefore,
sales of the devices are legal. The responsibility for getting a license is not
on the retailer. Itís on the customer. The sale is legal. The after-sale use
isnít.
<b>
<font COLOR="#06538a">Domestic offenders</font>
</b>
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY"><font COLOR="#000000">In a twist of irony, itís easier to
violate the FCC rules in the manufacture and distribution of illegal equipment
if your manufacturing facility is in the United States. Although that might
sound wrong, itís right.</font>
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">If equipment is made offshore and imported into the United
States, that equipment must go through U.S. Customs Service. Included in the
required paperwork for the importer is evidence that the equipment complies with
the FCC rules. If the importer doesnít have an authorization issued by the
FCC, or if the equipment is improperly labeled, it isnít making it past the
docks.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">So, the FCC has a partner in the U.S. Customs Service in
ensuring compliance with its rules. But that conscientious partner isnít
policing domestic manufacturing. And, in truth, neither is the FCC.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">For example, there is a domestic manufacturer that produces
dog tracking devices that attach to a hunting dogís collar and use a yagi-type
receiver to find out where olí Shep went off to. You can buy this dog tracking
system through catalogs and over the Internet. It isnít a secret. What also
isnít a secret is that the system has never been approved for sale by the FCC.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">I contacted the FCC about this manufacturer and its illegal
dog tracking device. An FCC employee told me that the commission was aware of
these kinds of devices but rarely did much about them. When asked why, he
started mumbling about priorities and resources. Nor did I get far when I asked,
"How many resources does it take to send a letter to the manufacturer
saying ĎCut that out.í?" More mumbling.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">These types of niche markets breed illegal devices and
operations. Manufacturers will pick a band that holds the cost of production
down and that wonít immediately be detected by co-channel users (the doggie
Lojack system operates in the 216MHzĖ220MHz band). Then they start cranking
them out with impunityóeven advertising availability at shows and in trade
publications. One such manufacturer said, "Weíve been getting away with
it for over 20 years, so we figure the FCC just doesnít care."
<b>
<font COLOR="#06538a">The survey says interference</font>
</b>
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY"><font COLOR="#000000">When returning from a conversation with
the less-than-helpful FCC employee, youíll find that your tongue is raw from
biting. What you said in moderated tones and what you wanted to say in a less
diplomatic style are far different. What you wanted to say is something akin to,
"You just donít get it, do you? These people are causing harmful
interference, occupying scarce spectrum, and getting rich operating a black
market operation that is also anticompetitive in nature! What part of this does
not motivate you to enforce your rules?!"</font>
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">Letís start with the obvious. If the device is illegal, the
operation of it doesnít appear in the FCC database. The spectrum is,
therefore, available for operation of licensed radio devices. A legitimate
operator gets or has a license, and without warning the value of that license is
reduced or negated by the operation of the illegal device.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">A particularly vexing example is surveying equipment that
uses UHF channels for GPS error-correction. Manufacturers of GPS equipment for
surveying have tuned these devices to a number of UHF channels that are
allocated under Part 90. Most, if not all, of the available channels in the
surveying equipment are already licensed to local operators for operation of
community repeaters.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">A community repeater working fine one day suddenly is
bombarded with data tones from this surveying equipment. If the community
repeater operator investigates the situation, he will come across a nice,
well-meaning surveyor who apologizes for causing a problem. The equipment they
are using is approved by the FCC for manufacture, so whatís the difficulty?
Thatís when it gets weird.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">You find yourself standing there, trying to explain to a
surveyor that just because the equipment is approved for use, it doesnít mean
you can use it with impunity. The FCC rules say that you have to get a license,
monitor the use of the channel, and avoid interference. <i>Good luck.</i>
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">Once again, the FCC approves devices for manufacture and
distribution in the marketplace, but drops the ball when it comes to regulating
the actual use of these communications-destroying devices. By the way, Small
Business in Telecommunications (SBT) requested that the FCC publish a public
notice about this problem so that operators could use it to inform surveyors who
might wish to use this problem equipment. That request and many others havenít
even netted a nod of interest from the commission.
<b>
<font COLOR="#06538a">Unfair trade</font>
</b>
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY"><font COLOR="#000000">Letís pretend that youíre a
good-guy manufacturer. You want to follow the rules and make sure that your
company gets all the necessary authority to produce a given device like our
earlier mentioned dog tracking system. Your company is at a distinct
disadvantage in the marketplace.</font>
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">The cost of doing the right thing will be a portion of the
overall cost of the device that needs to be recaptured on sale; therefore, you
have to set a higher price for your legal device. Pricing disadvantage is a
serious problem for a competitor, and so is the design process if one guy is
making whatever equipment is the cheapest, while the other is designing to meet
the more stringent FCC rules.
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">This leaves the good-guy manufacturer with a few lousy
choices. The good guy can either swallow the costs and take a beating in the
marketplace, or duplicate the evil practices of the other manufacturers and hope
the FCC doesnít care. There is one other choice. The good guy can decide not
to produce the device and bask in the knowledge that he has done the right
thing. <i>Yeah, right.</i>
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">The FCCís refusal to take action in these areas encourages
duplication and proliferation of these illegal activities. Manufacturers with
the need to make earnings and compete effectively are implicitly directed to
join the ranks of the non-compliant majority. Meanwhile, the FCC gently strokes
its violin while the spectrum burns.
<b>
<font COLOR="#06538a">Garbage in . . .</font>
</b>
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY"><font COLOR="#000000">Unfortunately, this "regulation by
still life" is the norm for many kinds of activity. But rest assured that
the FCC has a time-honored method of dealing with universal non-complianceó
deregulation. Or, stated another way, when the regulation gets tough, the
bureaucrats get rid of the regulation.</font>
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">In a recent FCC decision, the agency got rid of its pesky
color-dot radio problem. It reallocated the channels that these devices operated
upon to the CB radio service. Thatís right. The agency admitted that the
radios had turned viable spectrum into a junk band that is no longer fit for
intelligent use by business. Now it is right up there with CB chat rooms where
you can get recipes, talk to passing truckers, and say stuff like "Whatís
your handle, good buddy?"
<p ALIGN="JUSTIFY">For the manufacturers and operators of legitimate radio
operations that strive to bring efficiency to business and public safety
enterprises, this decision is frightening. Years of investment might be rendered
worthless if some retail chain starts selling radios on your channels that the
public is using to call its dogs. Maybe this wouldnít be so vexing if the FCC
did more than bury this bone of contention every time somebody raised it. But itís
hard to teach an old dog new tricks. n

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Copyright 2001 IndustryClick Corp., a PRIMEDIA company.  All rights reserved.  This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of IndustryClick Corp.



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