FCC Cites Hair Salon for Cell Site Interference

This week the FCC issued a Citation and Order against the operator of an incidental radiator for causing interference to an AT&T cell site next door. The incidental radiator was transmitting on 705 MHz. The interference wasn't from a computer or other electronic device, but rather from fluorescent lighting fixtures used in the Perfect Cuts Salon in San Antonio, Texas.

In response to an FCC inquiry about the interference, the owner of the salon, Ronald Bethany, said that the lighting wasn't causing him any problems and he saw no reason to repair or replace the fixture to resolve the interference. On a telephone call on 7/31/2013, the FCC Enforcement Bureau agent reiterated Mr. Bethany must resolve the interference or be in violation of the Rules.

The Citation and Order directs Mr. Bethany “to describe the steps he has taken or plans to take to eliminate the harmful interference caused by his incidental radiators, i.e., lighting fixtures, as well as a time line for any pending corrective actions, within thirty (30) calendar days after the release date of this Citation.” It warns, “A failure to respond in writing, or an inadequate, incomplete, or misleading response, may subject Mr. Bethany to additional sanctions.”

The Citation and Order further noted: “If, after receipt of this Citation Mr. Bethany again violates Section 15.5(b) of the Rules by engaging in conduct of the type described herein, the Commission may impose monetary forfeitures not to exceed $16,000 for each such violation or each day of a continuing violation, and up to $112,500 for any single act or failure to act. For instance, the Commission could impose separate forfeitures for each day on which his incidental radiators cause harmful interference.”

The Citation and Order stated that failure to comply could also result in seizure of equipment and even imprisonment.

For specifics see the Citation and Order (DA 13-2077).

What I find troubling is the possibility that similar fixtures in different businesses around the country are radiating signals in the UHF band strong enough to interfere with a nearby cell phone sites. Such devices are also likely to cause interference to TV reception, but with the transition to digital, viewers no longer see slowly rolling bars from interference modulated with 60 Hz and multiples of 60 Hz rolling through the picture to give them a clue that local interference is the reason they can't get that channel.

As the owner of the incidental radiator, Mr. Bethany is the one the FCC will hold responsible, but it seems to me the company that installed the lighting and the manufacturer (assuming it was installed correctly) should bear the cost of fixing it, as well as testing and if necessary replacing similar fixtures installed elsewhere.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.