FCC Warns of Rise in Noncompliant Streaming Set-Tops

WASHINGTON—The FCC's Enforcement Bureau has noted a rise in the marketing of set-tops with internet streaming capability that do not comply with FCC equipment marketing rules, and has issued a warning about the consequences.

The rules apply to the "manufacture, import, sale, offer for sale, shipment or use of devices capable of emitting radio frequency energy," and the FCC's liberal definition of "marketing" includes the importation, shipment, distribution, sale or lease of the boxes.

Anyone who "markets" or even simply uses the noncompliant boxes should stop ASAP, the bureau said, suggesting they could face six-figure fines, though that would appear to apply only to the marketers, not the customers.

"Anyone marketing or operating noncompliant devices should stop immediately," it said in an enforcement advisory on the bureau website. "Violators may be subject to substantial monetary penalties that could total more than $147,000 per violation."

Then later it adds: "Users, manufacturers, importers and retailers that violate Commission marketing or operating rules may be subject to the penalties authorized by the Communications Act, including, but not limited to, substantial monetary fines (up to $19,639 per day of marketing violations and up to $147,290 for an ongoing violation)."

The parenthetical made it seem like the hefty fines may only apply to marketers, but an FCC spokesperson said that, technically, yes, consumers could indeed face that five-figure fine or have their equipment seized.

The FCC does have vans of roving engineers who check for such interference from home equipment, though generally enforcement on the user end is confined to requiring those found to be using noncompliant devices to stop using them.

The FCC has long tried to encourage the creation of a retail market in set-tops to compete with leased boxes from cable, and now cable/broadband operators. One of the challenges of creating that market is policing it for boxes that don't comply with FCC technical requirements preventing interference with authorized operations.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio WorldTV TechTV FaxThis Week in Consumer ElectronicsVariety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.