Thursday, October 09, 2008

Riley Hollingsworth and the FCC Enforcement Bureau

A significant amount of space in September's QST was taken up by content related to Riley Hollingsworth's retirement from the FCC.  The FCC has long paid rather little attention to amateur radio.  It's not that they especially dislike amateur radio; they pay equally little attention to most of the other services as well (as anyone who has used a CB in the past three decades can attest).  The FCC is grossly underfunded, and because the FCC is funded primarily by "user fees" (that is, license fees) it is incented to give extra consideration to the interests of those licensees that pay the most to get their licenses.  That means that broadcast licensees and cellular operators (who pay a lot) tend to figure a lot higher in the FCC food chain than do amateurs, the various licensed-by-rule services, and part 15 users (who pay nothing).  And, of course, we all know who has the better-paid lobbyists.

Riley, while he was there, helped to stem that tide, and during his service it was remotely possible that a ham might actually be able to get the FCC to take notice of a problem being caused by illegal operation and actually deal with it in some way.  He was, for all intents and purposes, a one-man enforcement agency, though, and now that he's gone it's a safe bet that there's not much hope of getting any response from the FCC on things like interference or really anything at all. 

There was also a mention in QST of a Kohl's store whose security system was disabling carfobs in their parking lot.  The QST article focuses, of course, on how nobody could identify what was killing the fobs until some local hams were finally recruited to investigate.  The FCC took no action, of course; the keyfobs are Part 15 devices and are not entitled to protection from interference, even when that interference is from a Part 15 device that is obviously not functioning within the scope of Part 15.  However, I recall a similar case where a similar security system interfered with a cellular site.  In that case, the operator (Macy's) was hit with a citation for unlawful operation and threatened with fines.  Both Kohl's and Macy's did the same thing (own and operate noncompliant Part 15 devices), but Macy's got threatened with fines and Kohl's got basically ignored, simply because the complainers in the Macy's case were "more important" to the FCC than those in the Kohl's case.  That's wrong, and it really illustrates how far off-base the FCC's attitude (and really government in general) has gotten.

Anyway, we were lucky to have you, Riley, and you'll be missed.  Enjoy your retirement.