I recently visited a friend while on vacation in the U.S. He had a computer that was interferring with an old VCR that he had. This VCR was quote old so I suspect the problem might have been partly with the VCR.
The computer was bought on eBay and has no FCC stickers or identification whatsoever. According to the manual the motherboard does have FCC certification, but a Google search shows it to be a "value" board. It sells retail for $44.99 on NewEgg.
The case appears to be made by "Diablotek". TigerDirect sells these retail for $39.99, including the power supply! I don't know if the power supply is compliant. I would guess that a quality motherboard, case and motherboard would cost about $250.00, or more, compared to a cost of about $85 (retail) for this eBay seller.
Anyway, my question is: Is it legal to sell computers in the U.S. without FCC certification? A look at some random eBay auctions indicates that there are sellers who are selling these kinds of computers in large quantities.
In looking at the FCC website, I can see where it is legal to assemble "Home-built" devices for personal uses in quantities of 5 or less (Sec.15.23). However, section 15.101, says, "Class B personal computers assembled using authorized CPU boards or power supplies" require a "Declaration of Conformity". This would appear to indicate that these sellers (and ebay) are violating FCC regulations with the sale of these computers. In looking at the ebay website, I can see where there is a statement that says: "Certain electronics equipment, including equipment deemed unlawful by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is not permitted on eBay." In doing a Usenet search the only thing that I can find on this general subject is an old post that appeared in the group "alt.culture.hawaii" on February 26, 1996. Interestingly, this would have been before ebay really got started. "eBay was founded in Pierre Omidyar's San Jose living room back in September 1995. It was from the start meant to be a marketplace for the sale of goods and services for individuals." It's also interesting to note that the original ebay business model was directed towards individuals and not businesses. My guess is that eBay is simply letting some stuff fall through the cracks because of their phenomenal growth and their transition to a model that includes business sales. I would also guess, though, that they would be legally liable for any possible damages.
This old 1996 post from Hawaii, for example, claims there is a potential danger to public safety. On the one hand, I would think that this danger is quite remote. On the otherhand, as the quantity of sales increase the risks obviously increase.
Here's a copy of the old Usenet post from Hawaii:
February 26, 1996 KAILUA-KONA The Big Island of Hawaii
Is Your Computer Illegal? PART I OF A THREE-PART SERIES Lawsuit Will Seek Refunds For Thousands Of Unsuspecting Computer Buyers in Hawaii!
A SPECIAL CONSUMER NEWS FEATURE prepared by staff atWould you be shocked to learn that the computer you use in your home or office is illegal and potentially dangerous? That's right, ILLEGAL and dangerous. What if you discovered that the person you trusted to buy your $3,000.00 computer from, was aware that the machine they "custom-configured" for you was actually illegally manufactured and illegally offered for sale?
The term "upgrading" one's computer system is about to undergo a rather unusual twist. Computer dealers and their insurers, in Hawaii and elsewhere, may eventually be forced to refund potentially millions of dollars to unsuspecting consumers for such "illegal" computer sales, as part of a bold new approach to correct the widespread problem. Consumers of PC's, purchased since 1987, are urged to contact a Honolulu law firm that will act on behalf of consumers who have purchased thousands of such "illegal" PC's. With the cost of the average PC, with most of the bells and whistles, averaging between $2,500 and $3,500, up until last year, the dollars involved are mind-boggling.
Very important federal regulations covering personal computer manufacturing specifications are unknown to the vast majority of consumers. However, life and death safety services, affecting police and paramedic operations, aviation, two-way mobile communication, can be severely disrupted by >these rogue machines. They can also generate static and illegal interference for nearby televisions, radios, telephones, etc. The devices have been bla>med for other incredible accidents and have been the subject of hundreds of studies in Europe about the dangers of their emissions if improperly manufactured. Those topics will be covered in greater detail in part II of of our series.
Generally, generic, no-name, IBM-compatible clones, tens of thousands of such computers have been sold to innocent, unsuspecting consumers, businesses, and even government agencies in Hawaii, and throughout the US. The computers, because of their lack of radiation emission compliance, pose a dangerous risk to public safety. The illegal computers are lesser-known and many times are brandless. You can most likely put your mind at ease right now, if your computer was made by well-known companies such as Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, DEC, and even respectable mail-order firms such as DELL and Micron amongst others.
Jack Shedletsky, a 32-year veteran in charge of the Federal Communications Commission in Hawaii, is very much aware of the problem. He is also very concerned that as the power of PC's internal CPU clock cycle [commonly referred to as the megahertz speed] increases, so do the dangers from these illegally manufactured computers. Mr. Shedletsky and his Waipahu office staff, however, have become the latest victims of the nation's ongoing budget battle. From his office on Oahu, on a tightly restrained budget,inter-island flights are now an uncommon event. Therefore, the means to monitor and enforce FCC compliance has been dramatically reduced.
Meanwhile, certain computer dealers and garage-type operations are cashing in on unsuspecting consumers, as sales in the PC industry have been energized by the Internet craze and the hurried scramble for even more individuals and businesses to participate in the latest stage of the PC Age.
How do you know if your computer is legal or illegal? According to Mr. Shedletsky, on the exterior of your computer, a label with the following statement MUST appear: "This device complies with part 15 of FCC rules." The statement refers to conditions 1 and 2 that are also listed on the label. What if your computer has no such label? "It's illegal. There's no room for debate beyond that point," stressed Shedletsky.
Several representatives at laboratories, which conduct FCC testing, stated that even semi-knowledgeable consumers are commonly hood-winked into believing outright fallacies. Chuck Kendall, of CK Consultants laboratory, in Mariposa, California, warned us, unscrupulous dealers commonly "play down the concern" and respond that "the individual parts are FCC certified." Does that pass Mr. Shedletsky's FCC rulebook? "Absolutely not. The computer itself, must have either the aforementioned statement or must have a specific FCC manufacturer product ID label, or it's illegal," according to the long-time FCC agent.
Kendall, also told us that chances are better that the monitor, keyboard, and printer will have proper FCC markings, since a very high percentage of these items are imported into the US and would never be able to get past customs without the appropriate certification statement. Kendall also told us, that his company recently ordered a printer which was delivered without FCC certification. Unacceptable, the rogue device was refused and shipped back to the seller pronto for a refund. Kendall recommends uncertain consumers to first check the underside of their keyboard or back side of their monitor to find the statement. After it's located they'll know what to look for, next check the backside of your computer, generally where all the cables are plugged into. The same label is most commonly placed there.
Where does the FCC feel the biggest problem exists in Hawaii? "It's island-wide, but the Big Island, for some reason is a major problem for the FCC. Not only with illegal computers, but we also get an inordinate amount of complaints about CB's over there," Mr. Shedletsky told us in an interview Friday afternoon. The bustling Big Island, complete with its sprawling cattle ranches, cactus, and paniolos [Hawaiian cowboys] is enough to conjure up a modern-day image of the 'The Wild West of Computing.'
Phone calls and visits to local computer stores and numerous one-man operations confirmed the FCC official's concern. Many computer stores on the Big Island do offer such "illegal" systems. When asked whether the systems were FCC certified as class A or B, the responses ranged from Kendall's prediction of "Well the individual parts are," to outright arrogance, such as one dealer's very explicit, "Look we've sold hundreds of these systems since we been in business and I'm telling you we don't need this FCC thing you're talking about."
Another dealer was a little more compassionate about our FCC question, when he in turn asked our staff member, "Is that important to you? " For a nanosecond, we thought we talking to a psychoanalyst. When we told him we had heard that it was dangerous and illegal to be sold without the FCC certification, he simply tried to allay our fears by telling us, "Lots and lots of computers are sold here without the FCC's approval, there's really nothing to worry about."
Those days on the information highway will soon come to screeching halt. Although the FCC currently lacks the funds and staff to completely enforce its regulations, Shedletsky was gladdened to see what he called, "Certainly a new approach to the problem. The consumers of these illegal computers certainly have the law of the land behind them. It will be interesting to see the reaction of these folks once the attorneys begin contacting them" It's also a solution that's likely to gain the interest of attorneys nationwide. "Even if the purveyor of the equipment has limited assets, many will forced to seek the refuge of their product liability coverage from insurance companies. Most of the monetary settlements, in the end, could be a result of negotiations with their insurers," stated one veteran of the PC industry..
The FCC doesn't take kindly to dealers who feel they're above the law. We asked Mr. Shedlestsky what he thought about the computer dealer who told us not to worry about their computers lack of FCC approval. "The FCC has the authority to impose $10,000.00 fines per day, per offense." The dealer is now one of several under the scrutiny of Mr. Shedletsky's office.
Why do people buy these computers in the first place? Laboratory officials unanimously told us that it is usually based on the consumer's misguided notion of supposed savings. One official also told us, "Because the dealer is cutting corners by using low-end components, not engineering the system's radiation emission shielding properly, and avoiding FCC testing and approval, the dealer in turn pockets those extra dollars for themselves. Many of the systems consists of components, mainly motherboards and add-in cards, which are very often of inferior quality."
What should you do if you're already the owner or operator of one of these rogue computers? Working, or perhaps, in many cases, not working, to qualify for a refund of your purchase, you'll need copies of the proof of purchase [store receipt or credit card statement] of a computer purchased since 1987. A well-known law firm on Oahu is compiling information from consumers as it prepares its litigation.
MORE IN PART II --- Computing in Hawaii - Is Your Computer Illegal?
Visitfor parts upcoming parts II and III of this feature story.