The FCC on GMRS: SOL or ROFL?
September 16, 2008 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Is the FCC enforcing licensing requirements for GMRS two-way radios?

Many inexpensive two-way radios now have the capacity to broadcast and receive on General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) frequencies, greatly extending their range. What is rather poorly advertised on these devices is that these frequencies require an FCC license to use, which appears to cost $85.

So: 1) Does the FCC actively enforce these rules, and if so, how can it do so? 2) Are these devices being sold with a wink and a nod, with the expectation that no one is acquiring the necessary licenses?

I've thought about getting a pair of these radios but I've always been curious about this limitation.
posted by itstheclamsname to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have a pair of these and actually did get the license. I have no earthly idea how it would ever be enforced, though. I simply received a piece of paper from the FCC declaring that I paid for the license.
posted by odinsdream at 10:29 AM on September 16, 2008


I think you'll find a lot of the 'detection' is done by old curmudgeonly radio freaks (many of them are amateur radio operators, but not all...). They scan the airwaves for people misusing the freqs, then complain to the FCC. I don't know if you need to use a callsign on GPRS, but if you do need one, and you don't use one, then if you get caught I bet that's how it would happen.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 11:13 AM on September 16, 2008


It's angered a lot of GMRS users, who would definitely support your "these devices [are] being sold with a wink and a nod, with the expectation that no one is acquiring the necessary licenses? "

There is no way that the FCC is going to be able to police every violation though. But some GMRS users have a lot invested in powerful repeater setups, and they could go to to the FCC. However, a complaint of, "Some guy with an FRS radio is interfering with my licensed GMRS repeater" isn't going to result in myriad white vans crawling the neighborhood: anecdotally, at least, it seems you need to have more. (Such as a pattern of malicious interference, coupled with locating the user.)

Of course, half the FRS frequencies are GMRS frequencies...
posted by fogster at 11:19 AM on September 16, 2008


I think the licensing on this is meant to provide the framework to slam corporate entities who violate the spectrum, since licenses are restricted to individuals. Now that wireless consumer devices are popular, it looks like they're changing the application fee to just $5 down from $50 and doing away with the regulatory fee ($25).

Here's the latest annual review of the FCC regulatory fees from August 2008:
Assessment and Collection of Regulatory Fees for Fiscal Year 2008

...

57. General Mobile Radio Service ("GMRS"). GMRS is a two-way radio service licensed to individuals.107 Prospective licensees pay a $50 license application fee for a five-year license term as well as a $25 regulatory fee. Such costs may be larger than the price of the GMRS device. In addition, other individual radio devices, such as the Family Radio Service,108 do not pay such fees. These issues may contribute to the low rate of compliance with our licensing requirements for GMRS. We therefore propose to eliminate the regulatory fees for GMRS devices. The application fee would continue to apply for this service. We seek comment on this proposal.

...

(The $5 is listed in a big 'our new fees' table later on)
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:54 AM on September 16, 2008


The FCC's Enforcement Bureau actually does police the airwaves. Not in terms of content, but in terms of spectrum enforcement. The Commission has field offices in about a dozen major cities, and they have engineers tooling around with radio spectrum detectors. True, a lot of enforcement is complaint-driven, but the FCC does in fact go after people. Usually it's in the form of a letter which says "Don't do that," and that's enough. But if you continue to operate without a license, someone will find out about it, either another operator or FCC agents directly.
posted by valkyryn at 12:01 PM on September 16, 2008


I think everything said here so far is true. The ARRL (national organization for ham radio operators) regularly publishes an account of all FCC enforcements regarding ham operators. I've never seen any mention of action on GMRS, but I don't know whether they would mention it.

One thing's for sure: fines for malicious operation in the ham bands are huge.
posted by neuron at 1:00 PM on September 16, 2008


valkyryn; But what exactly do non-complaint-based enforcements look like in practice? As far as I can tell, nothing distinguishes my (licensed) transmissions from unlicensed transmissions. I have a piece of paper filed away in my office, but other than that, nothing. I don't remember reading anything about use of a callsign.
posted by odinsdream at 6:55 PM on September 16, 2008


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