Small But Potentially Significant Spectrum Ruling

Unnoticed by most folks, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a public notice on the legality of cell phone jammers. (They aren’t.) Oddly, this may have very significant impacts for users of unlicensed spectrum.

There are two significant things about this public notice. The first is the scope. The notice broadly prohibits manufacture, sale, marketing or operation of cell phone jammers. Second, the FCC specifically invokes Section 333 of the Communications Act (47 USC 333), and quotes the full text- no malicious interference with any signal licensed or otherwise authorized by the Commission.

The interesting question is, what about devices designed specific to jam unlicensed devices, or, as some network managers say “suppress rogue access points.” This has been subject to debate for some time. Last year, a different Bureau of the FCC issued a ruling the OTARD Rule, which prohibits any landlord from prohibitting a lesee from using a personal antenna, applied to unlicensed devices and that therefore landlords could not prohibit tennants from setting up their own wireless networks.

The FCC has not yet decided a case on whether Section 333 applies to unlicensed devices. I have certainly argued that it does, and my impression from talking to folks around the agency is that if a case were presented, that’s what they’d decide.

I see this ruling, with its fairly aggressive language and scope, as another tea leaf that Section 333 applies to unlicensed devices. The problem, of course, is that pressing a succesful Sec. 333 claim would require fairly incontrovertible proof that you actually intended to mess with someone else’s signal. That’s rather hard to prove. Under the rules governing 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.8 GHz, I can be a thoughtless irresponsible idiot. I can set up my network in a way that messes with yours, and when you call me up I can say “too bad, I don’t feel like fixing it.” Where we will see a test is when someone manufactures a jammer and markets it as a jammer.

Stay tuned . . . .

One Comment

  1. The other side of this coin seems to be defining "willful interference." This problem is as old as the technology of radio communication. A recurring problem with all unlicensed spectrums is the manufacture of a variety of devices that use those spectrums in different ways and for different purposes. So technically speaking, if I want to jam an unlicensed band, all I need is another device that uses that band with a stronger signal.

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