On the heels of admonishing a half-dozen people for hawking cell-phone and GPS jammers on Craigslist earlier this month, the FCC unveiled a new web portal and toll-free hotline for reporting the use of such devices. In doing so it cited another six people for their online sales shenanigans.
Within these documents (sample), the FCC details its planned strategy for enforcement in this domain:
While we previously have issued warnings to operators in the first instance -primarily because non-monetary penalties historically have proven effective in deterring unlawful operation by individuals – we are not required to do so. We are mindful of the serious risks posed by jamming devices and the apparent need to provide greater incentives…to cease the operation, importation, and sale of jamming devices altogether. Therefore, we caution you and other potential violators that going forward, and as circumstances warrant, we intend to impose substantial monetary penalties, rather than (or in addition to) warnings, on individuals who operate a jammer.
Translation: fines for such activity are forthcoming. They will begin at $16,000 “for each such violation or, in the case of a continuing violation…up to $16,000 for each day of such continuing violation up to a maximum forfeiture of $112,500 for any single act or failure to act.”
I can understand the FCC’s predicament. Cell-phone and GPS jamming devices are intentional interferers with a legitimate public safety implication. But I’m kind of surprised that the base fine for selling one is but $6,000 more than what the FCC dings unlicensed AM and FM broadcasters for, considering that they (by and large) interfere with nobody and pose a relatively infinitesimal safety risk to the public.
It’ll be interesting to see how the agency’s chronically understaffed field enforcement adapts to chasing down the people behind Craigslist postings and other online venues for selling jammer devices. The latest Citation and Orders ask the violators to either visit their nearest FCC field office (which could be hundreds of miles away) for an interview OR respond in writing to the C&O within two weeks. No physical jammer-hunting on the menu yet, though the opening of a public tip-line to report their use is likely to lead to that.
The prohibition against jamming devices will only work if the threat of likely penalty makes the sale of them unprofitable. Constrained by the relatively passive nature of administrative tactics, one can’t help but wonder how this campaign might affect the time and resources allocated to other enforcement activities.