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Misuse of Two-Way Radios Costs Auto Dealer

Commission is unsympathetic to claim of ignorance

Imagine you’re a business that sits on a large property, and you want your employees to be able to talk to one another around the lot. You buy some “walkie/talkie” radios, thinking they could save your employees some time and money. Maybe you don’t read the manual too closely, but the radios seem easy enough to operate.

A few months later, you get a letter from the FCC saying you need a license. Even though no one was hurt by what you did, you stop using the radios; after all you’ve never had an FCC license or caused the commission any problems; and you hadn’t meant to break the law.

But you are then hit with a $10,000 fine from the commission for the original transgression.

That’s what happened to an Arizona auto dealer. The Spectrum Enforcement Division of the FCC Enforcement Bureau says Scottsdale Lexus used a General Mobile Radio Service system. GMRS requires a license, and it is supposed to be used by “persons for short-distance two-way communications to facilitate the activities of licensees and their immediate family members.” Only individuals may obtain them.

The dealer told the FCC it had bought 46 two-way units for use by employees on its property, and that it had been unaware it needed a license until it got the letter from the commission in response to a complaint.

The units are Midland Radio model GXT720VP3, described as 36-channel “GMRS/Family Radio Service” two-way radios. The Family Radio Service is a short-distance service that does not require a license; however it is set aside for use by families; further, according to the commission, the owner’s manual of the radios states the “GXT720/775 Series operates on GMRS frequencies which require an FCC license. You must be licensed prior to operating on channels 1–7 or 15–36 …” The Lexus dealer acknowledged using Channels 1–7. It said it stopped doing so immediately when the FCC contacted it.

The commission now has decided that the Lexus dealer “apparently willfully and repeatedly” violated the law, and that as a business, it is not even eligible for a GMRS license. Unfortunately for Scottsdale Lexus, the base forfeiture amount for operation of a radio station without commission authority is $10 grand, and the commission staff was unyielding in adjusting that amount.

“Lack of specific intent to violate commission rules (even based on a lack of knowledge) is not a mitigating factor that warrants a downward adjustment,” the staff wrote. It said the owner’s manual also had made clear that “serious penalties” could result. They rejected the dealer’s other arguments for a reduction of fine as well.

Scottsdale Lexus now has 30 days to appeal the proposed forfeiture.