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FCC says B&H Photo sold illegal FM transmitters

The FCC cited B&H Photo for selling these FM transmitters that the agency said were not authorized to operate on some FM bands.
The FCC cited B&H Photo for selling these FM transmitters that the agency said were not authorized to operate on some FM bands. (Composite graphic by The Desk)

The Federal Communications Commission has cited New York electronics retailer B&H Photo for selling more than a half-dozen FM transmitters that used unauthorized frequencies or were otherwise not certified for sale by the agency.

The transmitters were mostly marketed and sold as a way for consumers to listen to smartphones, tablets and other portable audio devices in their cars using FM frequencies, though at least one of the infringing devices included a FM transmitter that was intended for professional audio use.

According to a citation and order published by the FCC this week, B&H Photo — whose official business name is B&H Foto & Electronics — sold these devices even when they knew they operated on frequencies beyond what the FCC allows. In some cases, the problematic gadgets didn’t have FCC approval to be sold at all. The FCC generally requires any device using radio transmitters to receive certification before they are sold, to ensure that any interference they cause is minimal.

The FCC said it notified B&H Photo in December 2020 that its website was selling a FM transmitter that didn’t conform to the agency’s rules. The Rolls HR70 FM Broadcast Transmitter was found to be in violation of FCC rules because it operated on frequencies beyond the FM frequency band of 88 to 108 Megahertz (MHz) and did not use an antenna that conformed to the FCC’s standards.

The agency affirmed B&H Photo complied with a letter of inquiry sent to the retailer about the Rolls FM transmitter, and that it admitted the manufacturer had told B&H Photo that the transmitter was able to operate beyond the FM frequency band. The store stopped marketing and selling the transmitter after the FCC’s inquiry, the agency said.

But the FCC later learned that B&H Photo sold six other problematic FM transmitters that it knew, or should have known, were equally problematic. The other transmitters the FCC said B&H Photo illegally sold were:

The Scosche-branded gadgets contained FCC identifiers, which indicates the agency approved them for sale. But the FCC said they were only allowed to transmit between 88.1 FM and 107.9 FM — which is in line with most portable and car FM radios. B&H Photo eventually told the FCC that it knew the Scosche transmitters were capable of broadcasting on the FM band between 87.5 FM and 88.0 FM, which they were not authorized to do.

Despite knowing that the Scosche-branded devices operated on FM frequencies beyond what the FCC allowed, B&H Photo continues selling them, according to the agency. B&H Photo stopped selling the Aluratek and Hypergear transmitters after manufacturers for both devices failed to provide documentation supporting FCC authorization.

The FCC’s citation and order merely asks B&H Photo to stop marketing and selling FM transmitters that it knows are problematic — mainly, the Scosche devices that it continues to offer for sale on its website. The order says B&H Photo faces a possible find of over $22,000 for each problematic device sold. That fine will accrue daily until the FCC is satisfied that B&H Photo is no longer selling the devices.

As of Thursday, B&H Photo continues to sell many of the devices listed in the order, with some of the Scosche gadgets showing a “Special Order” label and an estimated delivery time of two to four weeks.

It is at least the second time the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has issued a citation and order over electronics that illegally use wireless spectrum. In August, The Desk reported the FCC hit New York-based microphone manufacturer Pyle USA with an $685,000 fine because some of its wireless microphone interfered with spectrum set aside for aviation use.

In 2020, the FCC cited a California radio retailer for marketing and selling handheld devices that allowed users to transmit on frequencies that were not authorized by the agency.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).