The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates all communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in the United States. Electronics creates radio frequency energy by themselves, either intentionally (e.g. WiFi enabled Tablets) or unintentionally (e.g. Power Supplies). Therefore, the FCC scope of regulations also apply to most consumer electronics and electrical equipment, and not only products intentionally transmitting radio waves.
In this article, we explain the basics of FCC regulations, and what you must know to ensure compliance when importing electronics from China, and other Asian countries. Before we get started, I’ll explain the two classifications set by the FCC:
An intentional radiator is a device that is intended to emit radio energy. This includes, among many other products, Cell phones, Tablet PCs, WiFi routers, Walkie talkies and Bluetooth headsets – essentially any item that transmits radio waves. Products that fall within one, or more, of the following definitions, are likely classified as an intentional radiator:
- Radio enabled
- WiFi enabled
- Bluetooth enabled
- Broadcast equipment
Compliance with FCC regulations is mandatory when importing products classified as intentional radiators, and must therefore undergo an equipment authorization procedure.
This one is a bit more tricky. An unintentional radiator is, in 47 CFR 15.3, defined as any electrical device “operating at over 9000 pulses per second (9 kHz) and using digital techniques”. This definition includes most consumer electronics containing a chip, such as USB enabled devices, even if not equipped with a WiFi or Bluetooth transmitter.
FCC Certification Procedure (Equipment Authorization)
There are various certification procedures. One of the following applies, depending on the type of product, and its classification as either an Intentional or Unintentional radiator:
- Certification: Must be submitted to a third party testing company and/or the FCC
- Verification: Self issued certification based on the suppliers in house testing
- Declaration of Conformity: The supplier must perform in house testing and submit a sample for further testing to an accredited third party
The supplier is, for certain products, allowed to issue an FCC Verification of Compliance based on their own compliance testing. As said, this is limited to specific products, and not applicable to all items. Many other products must pass an equipment authorization procedure performed by an authorized third party. Below follows a few examples that help you understand how the relation between a product and its certification procedure might look like:
- TV broadcast receiver: Verification
- FM broadcast receiver: Verification
- Radar detector: Certification
- All other receiver subject to FCC Part 15: Declaration of Conformity or Certification
- Class B personal computers or peripherals: Declaration of Conformity or Certification
- All other devices: Verification
Before you get started importing electronics, you need to confirm which Equipment authorization procedure applies to your product. I shall also add that third party testing is not entirely unnecessary, even if your product is not required to be submitted to a third party. Unless you have the expertise and equipment to verify that the product is compliant with all applicable FCC regulations, I advice you to let a third party testing (e.g. Bureau Veritas) company do it for you.
“Are all Chinese manufacturers FCC compliant?”
While FCC compliance is, in relative terms, common among Chinese electronics manufacturers, compliance shall never be taken for granted. Ensuring that a device is FCC certified, according to the applicable equipment authorization procedure, is critical before you place an order.
While I have no FCC compliance rate statistics to share, my estimate is that no more than 5 – 10% of China’s electronics manufacturers can show previous FCC compliance. I use the word “previous compliance” because an existing Declaration of Conformity (DoC), or other compliance document for that matter, is not a guarantee for future compliance.
An FCC Declaration of Conformity, or FCC Verification of Conformity, only applies to a specific device, and not the company itself. Therefore, you must not only verify that the supplier has an extensive compliance track record, but also that the specific products you intend to import is documented. Thus, the compliance rate within a supplier may also vary. While some manufacturers can show extensive documentation, others can only show certificates for one or a few products.
Keep in mind that a Declaration of Conformity is only valid to the specific component set up used at the time of testing. The radiation level can be affected, to a varying degree, if the supplier decides to change components. This is a tricky situation, as Chinese suppliers tend to be all but transparent. Perhaps even more so in affairs related to their subcontractors, from which components are purchased.
Fake FCC Certificates and DoCs
Why spend time and money on ensuring compliance with the FCC regulations when it’s so much easier to just make a certificate in Photoshop? As I think many of you are already aware of, this mindset is not exactly unheard of in China. Fake test reports and product certificates are rather common. Verifying the authenticity of an FCC Declaration of Conformity, or other certificate, is possible. All reputable product testing companies verifies certificate and test report authenticity through their website, free of charge.
However, certificate verification is not all that simple, if the certificate is not issued by a well known company. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of testing companies in China, of which the vast majority are not on the list of FCC authorized certification bodies. Such authorization is not always compulsory. Yet, suppliers exclusively using obscure, often local, testing companies, tend to have something to hide from their buyers. It’s far easier to control the outcome of the testing procedure when dealing with minor testing companies, compared to, for example, SGS and Asiainspection.
A quick and simple way to test a supplier’s confidence in actually manfuacturing FCC compliant items is by telling them, early on in the process, that you intend to use a large testing company, rather than letting them decide. If they, for any reason, still insist on using an unknown company, you are safe to assume that it’s time to move on and source another electronics manufacturer.
FCC Labelling Requirements
Most FCC regulated products must comply with the applicable labelling requirements. Take a look at your laptop charger and you’ll see what I’m referring to. As with the certification procedure, different labelling requirements apply depending on the product, and whether its classified as an intentional or unintentional radiator.
Normally, the FCC label shall be permanently affixed to the product unit (i.e. no stickers or temporary labels). However, recent changes to this rule will allow businesses to label the items digitally (e.g. in the software), rather than printing the FCC logo, or compliance statement , on the product unit. On the other hand, items that are not within the FCC scope of regulations may not be labelled with the FCC logo.
The stakes are high when importing electronics from China to the United States. So, what could actually happen if you are caught importing non-compliant electronics? Below follows a summary of non-compliance penalties:
a.) If the FCC finds that you have willfully or repeatedly violated the Communications Act or the FCC Rules, you may have to pay as much as $10,000 for each violation, up to a total of $75,000. (See section 503(b) of the Communications Act.)
b.) If the FCC finds that you have violated any section of the Communications Act or the FCC Rules, you may be ordered to stop whatever action caused the violation. (See section 312(b) of the Communications Act.)
c.) If a Federal court finds that you have willfully and knowingly violated any FCC Rule, you may be fined up to $500 for each day you committed the violation. (See section 502 of the Communications Act.)
e.) If a Federal court finds that you have willfully and knowingly violated any provision of the Communications Act, you may be fined up to $10,000 or you may be imprisoned for one year, or both. (See section 501 of the Communications Act.)
Keep in mind that it’s always the company importing the items that is responsible to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations. The only way to be sure that the items comply with all applicable FCC rules is by submitting samples to a third party testing company, which is, as specified above, also mandatory when importing wide range of products.
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