FCC: That Cheap Chinese TV Box may end up Costing you $147,000

Orange Pi Development Boards

Buying inexpensive TV boxes from China is fun, but in order to provide the lowest possible price, some manufacturers may cut corners, and forgo things like FCC certification. It seems the FCC has noticed an issue an enforcement advisory / public notice entitled “VIDEO TV SET-TOP BOXES, INCLUDING THOSE THAT STREAM INTERNET CONTENT, MUST COMPLY WITH FCC EQUIPMENT AUTHORIZATION REQUIREMENTS” with the threat of fines exceeding $147,000.

FCC TV Box Fine
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If you are an individual you may think that you are safe since you are not “marketing” anything, but a footnote explains the meaning of marketing:

Importing, advertising and selling are three aspects of “marketing” under the Commission’s rules.

The text of the notice further mentions that even just operating the device is a violation, and anyone doing so should stop immediately. The document explains a little more about the fines:

Users, manufacturers, importers, and retailers that violate Commission marketing or operating rules may be subject to the penalties authorized by the Communications Act, including, but not limited to, substantial monetary fines (up to $19,639 per day of marketing violations and up to $147,290 for an ongoing violation).

If you are based in the US, and still want to keep on purchasing TV boxes from China or other places, you should make sure the “Video TV Set-Top Box” has proper FCC authorization, for example for the WiFi module, the enclosure’s sticker shows the FCC ID, and the user manual “must contain consumer disclosures … warning consumers of the device’s potential for causing interference to other radio communications and providing a list of steps that could possibly eliminate the interference.”

Checking also those points seem really impractical for people purchasing from Aliexpress or GearBest, and the FCC stresses out that the presence of the FCC logo is not sufficient as the FCC ID must be labeled on the device.  While I’ve not been able to get hold of TV from China in recent years due to a different set of regulations where I live, I can’t remember ever seeing a user manual with radio interference warnings in the many boxes I received in the years prior, so most will fail compliance.

Thanks to Bennett for the tip.

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Ronald Redneck
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Ronald Redneck

Another facet of the Donald John Trump anti-China-trading tactics to bring the red communists to their knees and conclude a bigly new greatest grandfather-of-them-all trade deal that will Make America Great Again. Go Trump 2020!

dgp
Guest
dgp

The problem with your amazing political satire is that the FCC and these rules pre-date the trump administration by a long way. You might as well blame Russia for it at the same time.

TLS
Guest
TLS

Seriously? Without WiFi, it’s only US$2,000 to get a device FCC certified, hardly a big deal.

Member

You can self certify the emissions part of FCC. You only need the lab for intentional radiator (ie radio transmitter). There are multiple labs in Shenzhen which can certify intentional radiator for as little as $1000.

The easiest way to pass emissions is to simply buy a power supply that has passed. Ask for the ID number and look it up online to ensure that the certificate isn’t faked. All of the large power supply vendors are legitimately certified.

dgp
Guest
dgp

To be honest I think it’s unlikely the FCC will go after anyone that buys a TV box off of Aliexpress and friends.
If they were to go after anyone it would be people reselling within the US via Ebay, Amazon etc. Even if the TV boxes have the FCC registration for the RF certification AFAIK they are still responsible to present to the FCC the test results for everything else when the FCC asks for it and I doubt any of them have that or even know that they should.

Member

What may happen is that when customs inspects the packages if there is no FCC ID on the box that can be looked up, customs will impound the shipment. This is already happening with large volume shipments. They may start doing it for small purchases too.

dgp
Guest
dgp

I don’t think it’d be economically viable to filter through all of the TV box sized packages coming from China and work out if they have the right logos and the FCC id matches up etc. Much easier to put out a scare notice like this and focus on containers of TV boxes or companies like banggood that have warehouses in the US instead.

The process for actually investigating and handing out the fines seems to be pretty intensive as well. I remember HobbyKing (RC vendor, has a US warehouse like banggood, sells a ton of RF gear) got busted by the FCC years ago and after a quick google it looks like they got caught in 2016 and in 2018 the FCC had just gotten around to announcing the fine they want to impose.

Member

I personally know someone who had a large shipment impounded by customs due to lack of FCC certification. Customs just has to note that there is no FCC ID on the exterior of the device and they can impound. It then up to you to provide proof of FCC certification to recover your goods.

The FCC logo is meaningless and customs knows that. There has to be an FCC ID number. A two second online search will render pictures of what the device looks like. That is used for suspected forged ID use.

I don’t know anyone who has received an FCC fine, but I have read about it in the news. It is far easier to impound in customs than it is to fine someone.

As for small orders… maybe one in ten of my small orders gets opened by US customs. The most obnoxious of these was a shipment of a case of SD Cards. It was delayed in customs for about three months. When I received it the retail packing on about 100 of the cards had been opened. They suspected the cards were pre-loaded with copyright music/videos.

Member

Magic words: LARGE SHIPMENT.

Member

Single devices will **NOT** be intercepted that way.

itchy n scratchy
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itchy n scratchy

I could imagine latest whrn some mobile provider claims someone has disrupted their services the fcc will knock on your door side by side eith some lawyers of the former…

Jonathan
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Jonathan

That’s a good enough reason to go back to wired Ethernet.

Christopher de Vidal
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Christopher de Vidal

Wired Ethernet devices must pass FCC as well. But to your point, they are less detectable outside your home.

zoobab
Guest

Here is what they say: “There may be instances where the Video TV Set-Top Box does not contain a radio
frequency transmitter for external communications; however, because it still has the potential to generate radio
frequency energy for use within the device (i.e., is an unintentional radiator), it must be authorized either through the
Certification process or under the SDoC procedures. See 47 CFR §§ 2.906, 15.101.”

Then any PCB with a chip like a USB-serial dongle needs also FCC certifcation, because bitbanging a pin can create RF interference… Mmmh…

Time for Zooland:

http://www.zoobab.com/zooland

theguyuk
Guest
theguyuk

There is I suggest more to this than meets the eye. Cable in America are having customers turn to just subscribing to a internet connect and then using Netflix, Amazon, YouTube TV, Roku etc.
It has been a good month worth of articles bashing cordcutting and falsely claiming it cost more. American cable companies charge you per box for each TV and a charge to record shows, oh and you get taxes as well on top!

Fun facts

Nvidia Shield TV made in China
Xiaomi Mi TV box made in China
Mobile phones lots made in China

Cost cutting and logo fraud does happen but there is mountains of political spin going on here.

Member

It costs about $1,000 to get a box certified and it can be done locally in Shenzhen. The much larger danger here is having customs seize shipments due to missing FCC certification. I know someone who had an entire container load seized and it took months and $$$ to get it returned.

One big reason for this certification is due to Japanese wifi bands being on the same frequency that US airport landing radar is on. Radar interference from wifi has been a problem in the US multiple times.

Getting certified is a two way street. I also know people who discovered that their wifi antenna and range were awful after testing. This led them to redesign their antenna to increase performance.

Member

The danger here is not to anyone discussing this on this forum…unless we’re importing a partial or full intermodal container of the things into the States.

Christopher de Vidal
Guest
Christopher de Vidal

This drove me batty with the OrangePi and NanoPi. I wanted to integrate them into a product but they are not certified and yes I have seen their PDFs claiming certification. (They are mere verification.) Surprised they haven’t been fined yet.

In the end I went with a Raspberry Pi Zero W. Better software support to boot. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

Deets
Guest
Deets

Nano pi uses ampak shielded modules which should be modular certified.

dgp
Guest
dgp

>Nano pi uses ampak shielded modules which should be modular certified.

Are you sure? The AP6212A module seems to have been through the modular approval process at some point (https://fccid.io/ZQ6-AP6212A) but I’ve yet to see any Ampak module with the required FCC markings and my guess was that they probably offer the AP6212A as an approved module on special order or something. Looking at the other listings for Ampak (https://fccid.io/ZQ6) they’ve only certified 3 or 4 of their wifi modules.

Member

Modular approval requires that the exact antenna used for modular approval be shipped with the product. If you change the antenna (which they all do) the modular approval is lost. We use Ampak and had to recertify with our own antenna.

Checkout the Ampak certification. It specifies a specific antenna.
https://fccid.io/ZQ6-AP6212A/External-Photos/External-Photos-3478380

This does mean that things like ESP modules that have a FCC ID and an integrated antenna are ok to use without recertification.

Getting certified is no big deal. Just send a box to the lab and pay the $1000. It’s not wasted money, you’ll get back some nice data on your wifi performance for your money. Sometimes you discover that your wifi implement is awful.

dgp
Guest
dgp

>This does mean that things like ESP modules that have a FCC ID and
>an integrated antenna are ok to use without recertification.

Espressif have done pretty well with their modules. They have regulatory approval for almost everywhere.
It probably doesn’t matter so much to makers but for the vendors importing them I think it’s probably a massive plus point.

>Getting certified is no big deal. Just send a box to the lab and pay the $1000.

I think the latest product at $DAYJOB cost a lot more than that to get fully RF certified but it was done in the US. It all starts to add up if you add in other certifications like the WiFi alliance stuff, MFI if you want to target the Apple world and so on.

>It’s not wasted money,

There’s that and you pay a premium for pre-approved modules. Previous product at $DAYJOB used a module that I think is around ~$7 if you go for a vanilla unapproved equivalent. The module with approval was something was around $10. $3 is a lot when you use hundreds of thousands of modules.

Member

FCC from US lab is in the $10-15K range. It is way, way cheaper to do it in Shenzhen. The Shenzhen labs are totally legit, you can look them up on the FCC website. The Chinese labs are so much cheaper due to a treaty from decades ago.

The Chinese labs do offer a menu of services. You can spend $5-10K there if you want to. $1K is rock bottom minimum work needed to get the ID.

Without an external PA it is almost impossible to fail FCC testing with these integrated wifi units. More likely you will discover your power is too low and your radiation pattern is bad.

cc jj
Guest
cc jj

so if the box im using happens to not be certified and im on Ethernet, am i going to get caught and fined? can they actually track me, i dont use vpn.

David
Guest
David

“…am i going to get caught and fined?”

It depends, what political party do you belong to?

nobitakun
Guest
nobitakun

I’m the owner of the signal that goes all over my home. If I reduce the power of the signal to not go outside home, I can use whatever I want.

I will continue buying stuff from china like millions of people, so there is little impact on all of this.

Member

Importing for personal uses doesn’t count, folks.

If you don’t know the laws here…ASK. They don’t always act/sound like you’re reading.