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FCC threatens fines against man for using cameras on T-Mobile frequencies

The wireless operator complained about alleged interference last year.

The wireless operator complained about alleged interference last year.

An engineer climbs a wireless network tower.
An engineer climbs a wireless network tower. (Photo courtesy T-Mobile US/Deutsche Telekom, Graphic by The Desk)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has threatened to issue financial penalties against a Pennsylvania man whose surveillance cameras are allegedly interfering with radio frequencies used by T-Mobile.

Last week, the FCC issued a citation against York resident Luis Martinez that orders him to stop using the cameras or face potential fines of $23,727 for every day that the cameras are in operation.

The citation stems from a complaint filed by T-Mobile in May 2022 that said someone in the York area was using electronic devices that interfered with its 2.5 Gigahertz (GHz) radio spectrum. T-Mobile obtained the rights to use that part of the spectrum four months after the complaint was filed, though due to bottlenecks at the FCC, it doesn’t actually hold licenses to transmit on 2.5 GHz radio frequencies.

Someone who is apparently transmitting on the 2.5 GHz frequencies is Martinez, according to the FCC order, who may be using surveillance cameras erroneously marketed as working on the 2.4 GHz spectrum. Those devices are commonly and legally sold, and use the same radio spectrum as wireless Internet routers and cordless telephones.

Agents with the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau visited Martinez’s home in York and located surveillance cameras that appeared to be interfering with the 2.5 GHz network that was eventually awarded to T-Mobile. Those agents later provided Martinez with a video supplied by T-Mobile that offered instructions on how to modify the radio frequencies used by the cameras, and Martinez agreed to disconnect a camera at the rear of his property.

But the interference continued, the FCC says, because Martinez apparently didn’t change the settings on two other cameras. In October, T-Mobile again complained to the FCC that the interference continued. Agents visited Martinez’s home a second time, and confirmed that the interference stopped when the surveillance system was turned off entirely.

Martinez allegedly turned some or all of the system on at least two more times, prompting fresh complaints from T-Mobile. The FCC later determined Martinez was deliberately using surveillance cameras with full knowledge that they interfered with T-Mobile’s network, apparently ignoring pleas from both the wireless company and the federal agency to fix things or stop using them.

The FCC citation issued this month doesn’t impose any immediate fines against Martinez; instead, it orders him to take affirmative steps to stop interfering with the radio spectrum set aside for T-Mobile, and to respond either in writing, by phone or in person with a promise that the situation has been resolved.

But if he doesn’t do all of those things, and stick to it, the FCC says it will move forward with fines, which could see Martinez liable for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in financial penalties.

“The Commission is charged with protecting licensed radio operations from harmful interference,” a spokesperson for the FCC wrote in the order. “Harmful interference to wireless providers, such as T-Mobile, is particularly problematic in that it can interfere with 911 service and undermines the Commission’s ability to manage the nation’s radio spectrum.”

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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).