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Importing Products From China: Beware FCC Regulations

By John DiGiacomo

There are many startup and already successful e-commerce entrepreneurs who are importing products from China and then make good profits by re-selling them on Amazon and/or on similar online sales platforms.

However, special care should be taken with electronic devices because such must comply with the Communication Act of 1934, as amended, and with regulations promulgated by the Federal Communication Commission (“FCC”). Electronics emit radio signals that are regulated by the FCC. It is not just the computer or the tablet or the phone that must comply. Surprising components like the power transformer must comply with the regulations. You need to know what you are doing; you need your proper:

  • Certification OR
  • Verification OR
  • Declaration of Conformity

If your products ever get seized by US Customs, you are in a world of hurt.

What is the Communications Act?

The US federal government has been regulating broadcasting and communication technology since at least 1910 when Congress passed the Mann-Elkins Act that regulated telephone service. In 1934, Congress passed the Communications Act now codified at 47 U.S.C. ยง 151 et seq. The Act combined and reorganized several existing law including the Mann-Elkins Act, the Radio Act of 1925, parts of the Federal Interstate Commerce Act, etc. The Act created the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to replace the Federal Radio Commission and transferred some regulatory authority away from the Commerce Commission.

What Does the FCC Have to do With Electronics?

The Communications Act of 1934 authorizes the FCC to regulate all broadcasting and communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in the United States. As such, the FCC is the agency that regulates the emission of radio frequencies, whether those emissions are intentional or unintentional.

Many people do not know this, but almost all modern electronics create and emit radio frequencies. Obviously, many times the emissions are by design. Your cellphone or your wireless tablet emits radio signals on purpose. Otherwise, the device would not function as intended. However, many components of computers and devices radiate frequencies unintentionally such as circuit boards and power supplies. The unintended “broadcasting” can occur as the component itself radiates the frequencies or as the frequencies are conducted over accidental broadcast “antennas” like the attached cords and cables (all of which contain copper and other highly conductive metals).

These intentional and unintentional emissions cause interference with other nearby devices that are transmitting and receiving radio signals. When you are taking an airplane flight, everyone is told to power-down their electronic devices prior to take off and prior to landing. This is because a plane-load of electronics is giving off a substantial amount of radio emissions which can interfere with the signals being sent to and received by the equipment in the cockpit.

FCC Regulations: Testing, Certifications, and Verifications

In general, the FCC stipulates that “devices may not cause interference” with radio and other broadcast communications. The FCC regulations require that personal computers and digital devices must be designed to contain the “radio noise” to prevent the harmful interference.

To ensure that computers and devices do not emit harmful “radio noise,” the equipment must be tested and shown to be compliant before they can be marketed for sale. Two levels of compliance are available – certification granted by FCC and verification. Some electronics (like personal computers) must be certified and cannot be sold without the FCC-authorized label. Many other devices require only verification. A long summary of the process can be found here.

Third-party testing is needed in either case. The lab testing evaluates the specific frequencies being emitted, at what quantity and via what vector (direct or conducted through the cords and/or cables). The test also measures distance and, ultimately, the ability of the device to interfere with other nearby devices.

What Should You do?

If you are planning on importing products from China or from any overseas manufacturer, there are several steps you should take to ensure compliance with FCC regulations.

  • Select suppliers with good compliance track records — FCC compliance is common among many overseas manufacturers partly because the European Union and Japan have similar regulations
  • Research your supplier’s track record for your specific device — your chosen manufacturer might have good FCC compliance generally, but the compliance must be specific to what you want to resell on Amazon or eBay
  • Get documentation — a supplier with good compliance will have extensive documentation
  • Beware of fake documentation — manufacturers who insist on using their home-town small obscure testing company are probably trying to hide something
  • Confirm which authorization procedure applies to your product — as noted, personal computers require certification and other devices only require verification; you have to know which is required for the device you want to sell
  • Buy a small sample and conduct third party testing (unless you have the technological capability to conduct the testing yourself) — even with good documentation from the manufacturer, it is wise to have the electronics tested
  • Be aware of labeling requirements — the FCC has stringent labeling requirements violation of which is non-compliance

What Happens if I Sell Non-Compliant Digital Devices?

Selling non-compliant digital devices subjects the seller to the following:

  • Forfeiture of all non-compliant equipment
  • Possible $100,000/$200,000 criminal penalty for an individual/organization
  • Possible criminal fine totaling twice the gross gain obtained from sales of the non-compliant equipment
  • Possible civil fine of $10,000 per day per violation

Remember that the FCC regulations apply to the company importing the digital devices. The importer is responsible for ensuring compliance. Note also that you cannot avoid FCC compliance by having the products shipped directly from the manufacturer to the buyer. If you are selling them, the products must be compliant. And — bottom line — the only way to ensure compliance is by submitting samples for third-party testing.

Contact Revision Legal Today

If you have questions or need more information about complying with FCC regulations, contact Revision Legal. We are experienced business and internet attorneys with the skills and dedication to help if your import business avoid violating laws and regulations. Hire the firm that knows your e-commerce business. Contact us via email or call us at 855-473-8474.


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