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Write the FCC a Check for $20,000. Right Now

According to the Self Storage Association of America, the average gross revenue of a self storage business is $480,000 a year. Pretty good. But an unexpected $20,000 fine would still be a hefty expense. Emigrant Storage LLC in Reno, Nev., received a $20,000 fine in 2004, levied by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), for using two-way radios for more than nine years without filing a timely application to renew its license. Emigrant is a long-standing business in Reno, established in 1995, and when it received the penalty, management behaved like good citizens – they didn’t deny their actions, but they did ask for leniency due to the dollar amount. Because their continued operation caused interference to an authorized spectrum user, the FCC denied their request for leniency and levied the full $20,000, citing that Emigrant operated in violation of the rules both “willfully” and “repeatedly.”

Your business too could receive a surprise visit from the FCC, and that visit may lead to fines of $11,000, $13,000 or, as in the case of Emigrant, even more. It’s easy to prevent both the visit and the fines if you know why this might happen and the steps you can take.

The FCC has responsibility for regulating two-way radios and other wireless devices. Recently, the agency has significantly ramped up its enforcement initiatives for interference, operations and licensing.  This means that some business owners are getting unexpected visits from FCC enforcement agents, leading to citations and hefty fines. In fact, FCC fines totaled $25,287,000 in FY 13.  And to help do enforcement jobs even better, the FCC recently requested more than $52 million, with a good portion of that for new radio direction-finding vehicles and electronic monitoring equipment.

While you share your radio’s operating frequencies with other users, you won’t know that someone is monitoring your frequencies until one of your co-channel neighbors has a problem with their system and reports it to the FCC, possibly leading to a visit from an enforcement agent. If the agent tells you that you are not operating on the authorized frequency as stipulated on your license and you respond that your radio dealer programmed your company’s radios, you will soon learn that responsibility rests with the licensee name – yours.

This action could lead to a Notice of Violation (NOV) and a fine that could cost your business $7,000 for the interference and $4,000 for the use of an unauthorized frequency, an $11,000 fine for something you may not have even known you were doing wrong. Your dealer, because of the programming error, would likely receive a Citation for Illegal Programming of Unauthorized Frequencies that could cost $16,000 a day and even seizure of equipment. The possible fines don’t end there. Your company is responsible for responding to the FCC within 20 days. A delay in responding could cost another $4,000. The fines add up!

License expiration may bring the FCC Enforcement agent to your door. This happens frequently when the person with license responsibility leaves your organization and expiration notices are ignored. As with the Emigrant example, that can be an expensive mistake.

You can file a Special Temporary Authorization (STA) to continue operating, or you may simply stop using your radios. Continue operating without the STA and the FCC can issue a NOV for operating without a license, which means a $10,000 fine for operating without a valid license and $3,000 for failure to file the required renewal forms.

You may be feeling confident that your business is operating in compliance with the narrowband mandate, which became effective January 2013, but  are you sure your actual license is in compliance as well? The FCC will not renew a license if there is still a wideband emission showing on the license – even if there is appropriate narrowband operation taking place. The NOV fine for this particular piece of overlooked paperwork is $4,000. Unless you don’t respond in a timely fashion to the NOV, in which case, you can incur another $4,000 fine for tardiness.

A visit from an FCC Enforcement Bureau agent is easy to avoid.  Your business is the responsible party for your license. Be proactive about possible interference, operations and license issues by contacting your two-way radio dealer to make sure you are completely in compliance. Or contact EWA for a Detailed License Analysis that checks everything from your authorized frequencies to the correct contact and mailing address. These are simple steps that can help you avoid a costly notice or visit from the FCC.

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