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February 21, 2013

FCC Demands that Two Million Signal Boosters be Shut Down

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

Last night came some bad news for two million people in the United States who are currently using wireless signal boosters for their cell phones. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) has launched a set of new rules that will require the devices to be shut down. But there's a silver lining in this gray cloud that says that those signal boosters may not be out of commission for long.

Under the new rules, everyone who owns a wireless signal booster is now required to not only shut it down, but will only be permitted to reactivate it under two conditions: one, users must seek the permission of their wireless provider to use the devices, and two, users must register their boosters with the wireless provider in question.

While this may sound like more government meddling in normal people's affairs, there are actually sound reasons behind the move. Wireless signal boosters may prove to interfere with normal cellular network traffic, though admittedly, the current stock of them hasn't done so as of late. But there are already many wondering if the FCC's going too far in terms of demanding the devices be registered, and even the wireless carriers themselves aren't ready to actually tell their users how to register those devices and stay out of the FCC's fire.

Image via Shutterstock

Of course, from an operational standpoint, most realize the FCC's demands are mostly empty bluster. Chances are the FCC isn't going to go looking for unregistered boosters, especially those that aren't already causing problems; the FCC has even reportedly said it expects minimal compliance with the registration aspect of things. Moreover, wireless carriers aren't exactly unhappy that the devices exist in the first place. After all, wireless boosters--according to Public Knowledge's (News - Alert) legal director Harold Feld--save carriers money by allowing users to take better advantage of an existing network's capabilities instead of forcing the carriers to build their networks out.

Word from one maker, Wilson Electronics (News - Alert), shows that the carriers likely won't be standing in the way. Over 90 different carriers, Wilson Electronics said, had issued blanket approval to any signal booster that meets standard specs. Given that booster manufacturers have fully one year to sell out their current stocks before having to offer new versions that meet interference rules, it's a safe bet that the current stock really isn't having much of an effect on anybody's systems.

So while the new requirements may be a little on the onerous side for the people who bought the signal boosters, the key point is that it's set to be a relatively painless process to get approval for these devices, and many of them are likely to be approved already. Some have already even indicated that the problem here was, as ever, "poorly-made devices" that were interfering with signals, and for the most part, most devices didn't actually interfere with anything.

Most consumer signal booster users will likely find themselves minimally impacted by this development, so chances are this will be a ruling that will ultimately help the consumer rather than hinder the consumer's operations.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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