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L.A. Building's Lights Interfere With Cellular Network, FCC Says 158

Posted by timothy
from the can't-you-hear-me-now? dept.
alphadogg writes "When a certain Los Angeles office building lights up, it's a dark day for nearby cellphone users, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Fluorescent lights at Ernst & Young Plaza, a 41-story tower near the heart of downtown, emit frequencies that interfere with the Verizon Wireless 700MHz network, the agency said in a citation issued against the building owner. The FCC's message comes through loud and clear in the filing: the building owner could be fined up to $16,000 a day if it keeps using the interfering lights, up to a total of $112,500. The alleged violation could also lead to 'criminal sanctions, including imprisonment,' the citation says."
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L.A. Building's Lights Interfere With Cellular Network, FCC Says

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Isn't this a case where the manufacturer of the fluorescent fixtures needs to fix them so they don't emit interference? Don't electronics of that type have to go through FCC testing?

    • by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @12:11PM (#46202915) Homepage Journal

      If they continue to use the bulbs, yes the building owners are at fault. They cant just point the finger elsewhere once they have been notified.

      • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        I'm imagining emailing the "abuse" contact for a electronics manufacturer about thier abusive light-bulbs, them opening a ticket, emailing you back a month later only to claim that they looked into it and they can't find any abuse coming from thier line of toasters. Maybe a few links to an FAQ about protecting yourself from abusive fridges.

    • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @12:28PM (#46203005)

      Isn't this a case where the manufacturer of the fluorescent fixtures needs to fix them so they don't emit interference?

      That only works before the person/company operating the fixtures is informed of the interference: once informed, they must disconnect the fixtures and cease operating them immediately --- otherwise, they are liable for potential forfeitures or criminal sanctions.

    • by beelsebob (529313)

      Chain of responsibility. The FCC tells the building owner to fix their building (which is emitting RF interference), the building owner take the lights down, replace them, and tell the maker of the lights to refund them or replace the lights with correctly working ones.

    • The manufacturer of the ballasts already said they would replace them. But the building owners haven't taken advantage of this.

      Devices of that sort (unintentional emitters) are subject to FCC regulations but do not go through FCC testing. They are generally self-certified. That is, the makers submits a document indicating they have tested the device and it conforms.

      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        I think part of the issue is, sure GE will replace them, but who is going to install them.

        Most of the time, building maintenance will handle changing out a bad ballast. Telling them to go change *all* of them is a pretty big deal.

        In one building I worked in, they swapped all the florescent for LED fixtures. They worked every night for about a month, changing fixtures. It was a hired contractor who did the work, changing *all* the fixtures is way beyond the abilities of a handful of maintenance people.

        I

  • Who are they planning to imprison for this? The president of the company? The guy who changes out the lightbulbs? Will they build a giant prison around the building?

    Neither Ernst nor Young are around to throw in the slammer, both having started their corps. in the early 1900s.

    • As the decriminalization of marijuana continues along it's mary way, there will develop a need to fill prison beds.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Kierthos (225954)

      Obviously, instead of imprisoning any of the current executives (because we can't have that), the building manager will be thrown in prison, because clearly, it's his fault.

      • by PuckSR (1073464) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @01:03PM (#46203221)

        What are you talking about? Imprisoning executives? Do you understand how FCC regulations work?

        Very simple. The FCC is the "radiowaves police". If you get pulled over in a brand new car that has a faulty speedometer which is showing your speed as 20 mph slower than reality, the cop is still going to write you a speeding ticket ticket. Sure, it is the manufacturer's fault. The traffic cop's job is to make sure everyone is driving at the correct speed. The traffic cop isn't going to drive back the manufacturer and write them a citation.

        The end-user IS ALWAYS responsible for using equipment that interferes. It doesn't matter if he bought it legally. It doesn't matter why the interference is being caused. If you have a transmitter that is causing illegal interference, you are responsible. This just makes sense. Even if they went back to the reseller or manufacturer; that doesn't fix the problem in the "here and now". The only way to fix the immediate problem is to compel the end-user to STOP TRANSMITTING.

        • The only way to fix the immediate problem is to compel the end-user to STOP TRANSMITTING.

          This is true on so many levels.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      Who are they planning to imprison for this? The president of the company? The guy who changes out the lightbulbs? Will they build a giant prison around the building?

      They could probably very well start by giving the utility operator a law enforcement order to disconnect and keep disconnected all electrical power service at the location.

      They would probably be making the forfeiture order against the company itself.

      As for criminal sanctions involving prison time ---- this would potentially go to officers

    • I think that it is the board members that ultimately have legal liability for incorporated entities is it not?

      • It is not. Corporations are limited liability organizations - They are legally liable up to the value of the corporation. After that it goes bankrupt.

        Now, one can sue board members if they were negligent - as in failed to due their duties - not in making bad business decisions. That being said, the are usually only a few 10s of millions of dollars between the board members and their insurance companies (and yes, most of them take out insurance.) so if they caused a multibillion dollar corporation to go bust

        • Limited liability is about money, it does not mean you can swap jail time for bankruptcy.
          • True. But I thought that the thrust of this thread was about civil actions and fines and if one can lock away board members for something the company does. And you can't.

            Now, if those board members fail to due their duty they can be sued for money in civil court. If they personally commit fraud that would be a different story - that would be criminal and jail time would apply.

    • by lairdb (244939)

      Yes -- the corporate officers are potentially criminally liable for the acts of the corporation. Assuming that the underlings acted responsibly and according to company policy and direction, then the criminal liability will run upstream, probably to the COO. (Of the building operator, if that wasn't obvious; typically the same as the building owner.)

      Incorporation is not a magic shield, however much the anti-corporatists would like you to think so.

  • by pla (258480) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @11:45AM (#46202765) Journal
    What ever happened to the ubiqitous 47 C.F.R. 15.5? How did this building even find noncompliant lights to install, in the US? And weirder still, why the hell would a lighting system use 700MHz?
    • by Tom Hek (1082667) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @11:51AM (#46202795) Homepage
      Switching transformers that are out on the market nowadays put out all sorts of crap, including noise on those frequencies. In Europe, police in the Netherlands and other countries search for illegal marijuana growers by scanning the RF band for strange noise from the transformers used for the lamps, sometimes they even get discovered by the cable companies that get complaints about channels not working or with a fuck load of noise, etc.
    • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @12:00PM (#46202859)

      Cheap switching power supplies crank out plenty of harmonics, and you don't need a very high percentage of the power lighting an entire high-rise to overwhelm cellular signals.

      As for compliant lights (and drivers), I think most certifications specify "when installed according to specifications". For an industrial-scale lighting installation, I'd bet there are plenty of places where contractors could cut corners on grounding or shielding, throwing a product out of compliance.

      I'm no expert, though, so I'll defer to those who are.

    • by quetwo (1203948) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @12:01PM (#46202865) Homepage

      It's not that the lighting system uses 700 Mhz, but that the ballasts or other high-energy equipment that is used to power these lights leak RF in the 700Mhz band. Cheap electronics are noisy and they leak out RF like crazy. Hell, just last week I found an old CRT monitor that was flooding out the aeronautical band at about 9,000 mV -- enough for my meter to go crazy over a football field-length away.

      Most likely the electronics are not grounded properly, or they aren't properly shielded. That is why the UL and and FCC require certifications on most classes of devices in order to catch this stuff. Of course, with our global economy it is easy to order cheap crap from Asia or elsewhere that was never tested by the UL or FCC.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        Of course, with our global economy it is easy to order cheap crap from Asia or elsewhere that was never tested by the UL or FCC.

        Isn't that exactly the type of stuff customs is supposed to be keeping out of the US if not bearing the proper UL or FCC cert?

        • by Yew2 (1560829)
          not when youre paying $2 for it on ebay and its coming in zillions of tiny packages one at a time
          • by mysidia (191772)

            not when youre paying $2 for it on ebay and its coming in zillions of tiny packages one at a time

            They just have to check 1 in 10 of the zillions of tiny packages, and fine the crap out of the recipient, as in a $10,000 penalty for whoever the tiny package was being shipped to, every time a shipment found to contain uncertified electronics requiring FCC/UL certification for import.

        • by jonbryce (703250)

          Only if they are aware there is a problem. Mostly they will look, see it is lighting stuff which is legal to import, and make sure the importer has paid the appropriate import tax on it.

        • by cusco (717999)

          Apparently you don't realize that the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is not a Federal agency, so has no say as to whether anything can be imported or not. UL approval may be required by insurers (thus the 'underwriters' part of the name) and may be incorporated into building codes, but nothing about UL approval has the force of law.

      • by sjames (1099) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @05:01PM (#46205035) Homepage

        In this case, the fixtures are GE branded. GE has admitted that some of that model have a defect.

      • by NIK282000 (737852)

        I would guess that the ballasts have plastic cases instead of metal, same for the fixtures. Normally between the housing and fixture all the RF gets stopped.

    • by grumling (94709)

      One of our club repeaters started getting a lot of QRM (interference) back in November. It is located on top of a ski mountain in a building that houses a small restaurant. It turned out when they opened the restaurant and turned on the florescent lights the QRM started. At the end of the day they shut off the lights and it stopped. It took the better part of a day for the guys to track down the source, thinking it had to be something like a wireless router or plasma TV. It's likely that it was just one bad

      • by J Story (30227)

        For the terminally curious, can you tell us how the situation was finally resolved, and how much effort/money it took?

        • by grumling (94709)

          I don't know what the cost of repair was, it wasn't up to our club to fix it. In fact, I'm not entirely sure it has been fixed yet, but if we don't get resolution we can contact the FCC. We all hope it doesn't come to that, and I'm sure the owner will cooperate with us since we rent space in the same building.

    • by dbc (135354)

      Part 15??? Ha ha ha..... hooooweeeee..... let me catch my breath......

      You mean the part of the Code of Federal Regulations to keep unlicensed RF emitters from causing excessive harmful interference? You mean the part of the CFR's where manufacturers self-certify that they pass? You mean the part of the CFR's where even *if* the manufacturer sends out for certification, they only send a few sample "lab queen" units that have been carefully selected? And where they send it to a lab that has zero oversight

    • by evilviper (135110)

      What ever happened to the ubiqitous 47 C.F.R. 15.5? How did this building even find noncompliant lights to install, in the US?

      Paragraph 6 of TFA...

    • I never understood what that sentence means anyway. How could you even create a device that doesn't "accept" interference? If you figure out a clever way to filter out noise, you're not allowed to use it?

      • by pla (258480)
        It just means that the FCC likes its money the same way all government agencies do.

        If they license (aka "accept a bribe for monopoly use of a free public resource") a chunk of spectrum to your neighbor so he can run a Christian Rock radio station, you have absolutely no right to complain that your microwave, can opener, and dog fountain all buzz along non-stop to Petra's Greatest Hits.

        If, however, your blender causes even the slightest bit of feedback for your neighbor's radio station, you can expect th
        • Not that I'm a great fan of Christian Rock, but I have to feel that there are more people who would prefer to listen to that genre of music as compared to the random electrical noise of your blender. Haven't recently checked on the popularity of the heavy metal scene, but I think I'm right.

      • by sjames (1099)

        In the sense that if there is interference you cannot get it resolved by filing a complaint with the FCC.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        I never understood what that sentence means anyway. How could you even create a device that doesn't "accept" interference? If you figure out a clever way to filter out noise, you're not allowed to use it?

        Basically it means that if there's some interference that occurs from a licensed user that results in your product exploding when powered on, it's your fault. You cannot redirect blame to the licensed spectrum user. Your product may accept it by handling it safely (i.e., not blowing up) using filters and wh

        • by thejynxed (831517)

          The only caveat to this is in the cases of the following:

          1) Medical devices

          2) Aeronautical devices

          3) Emergency Response devices

          4) Milspec devices

          For these, the owners CAN go after the licensee of the spectrum if their operating even slightly out of spec interferes with the operation of these devices.

    • "What ever happened to the ubiqitous 47 C.F.R. 15.5? How did this building even find noncompliant lights to install, in the US? And weirder still, why the hell would a lighting system use 700MHz?"

      They don't operate at 700mhz, they do use a high frequency switching square wave operating at 30kHz to 100kHz, which produces harmonics at multiple of the fundamental frequency and not enough shielding can lead to electromagnetic interference [gavita-holland.com] ..
    • by sjames (1099)

      Part 15 devices may not emit disruptive signals. The devices must accept such interference but the FCC doesn't have to.

      Apparently they got the lights from GE who have admitted that some of that model do have a problem with RF emissions in that range.

      60Hz flourescents cause headaches and eye strain. Good florescents run at a higher frequency to eliminate the flicker. Going with a higher frequency in a switching power supply also allows for use of a smaller, lighter, and cheaper transformer.

      700MHz is quite hi

    • The issue isn't acceptance. The receiving devices are accepting the interference. The issue is the radiation:

      http://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr... [cornell.edu]

      b and c indicate what's going wrong here.

      The system isn't emitting on 700MHz intentionally. It's just that the equipment is out of spec. Either it was designed wrong and the proper testing not done or else it was designed correctly and not built properly so the particular units that were installed in this building are out of spec.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    - Building has non-compliant GI made FL ballasts, that they know there are some defects, it otherwise passed the FCC
    - Building management seems negligent on fixing the problem in a timely manner.

  • Upgrade to LED lights. High upfront costs but can use the same fixtures, uses less power, and absolutely no chance of having frequency issues.
    • by grumling (94709)

      Cheap switching power supplies can still put out a bunch of RFI. Cost of upgrading is non-trivial when talking about an entire office building. If the cell tower is on or next to the offending building it can be degraded by only one or two faulty units.

      • It was my understanding from the article that the ballasts were the issue. LEDs do not use the fixture's ballast, they have their own built in. To hook them up, you must disconnect the fixture's ballasts completely. And yes, at roughly $25 a tube, they're pricey for an office building that probably has a few thousand.
    • uses less power,

      Nope.

      No commercial buildings are using incandescent lights (and certainly not this one sine they're RF quiet). Modern LEDs and modern fluoresent tubes have comparable efficiency. They both top out at a little above 100lm/W in practical situations.

      IOW, LEDs won't save any money at all.

      • uses less power,

        Nope.

        No commercial buildings are using incandescent lights (and certainly not this one sine they're RF quiet). Modern LEDs and modern fluoresent tubes have comparable efficiency. They both top out at a little above 100lm/W in practical situations.

        IOW, LEDs won't save any money at all.

        I don't think that's accurate. Most LEDs I've seen are a little more efficient fluorescent bulbs, plus they last a lot longer. While the LED bulbs are still more expensive initially in most cases, I think the increased efficiency and longer life will balance out in their favor at the end. You might be right if (only) the fluorescent bulbs were free.

        • Most LEDs I've seen are a little more efficient fluorescent bulbs, plus they last a lot longer.

          Two things: CFLs are less efficient than standard linear. light fluorescents. Second, commercial CFLs and fluorescents last a lot longer than cheapie ones you might get from most stores: tubes exist for ratings up to 30k hours.

          Thirdly...

          Our three main points are: 1) linear tubes, 2) longer life and 3) don't forget to compare modern tubes on modern ballasts and starters. And an almost fanatical devotion to the pope

        • > I think the increased efficiency and longer life will balance out in their favor at the end.

          The efficiency of fluorescent tubes with a modern ballast is comparable. So the only two factors are cost and lifespan. At say 2 years per tube, about $20 will cover ten years of use. With bulk discounts, it might cost half that, $10.

          An LED fixture with approximately the same light output is $472. For now, and probably for the next 10 years, florescent, halide, and some other options make sense for bulk light

      • Modern LEDs and modern fluoresent tubes have comparable efficiency.

        In more detail: LEDs have the potential to be about as much more efficient than switcher-ballasted flurorescents as such fluorescents are more efficient than generic incandescents. Actual LED fixtures have been improving and right now are at the point where they're matching and starting to edge past fluorescents.

        Give 'em a few more years and LEDs should be substantially ahead of fluorescents. But this year they're just about tied.

        (This is

  • by grumling (94709) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @12:58PM (#46203179) Homepage

    As Verizon (especially) lights up LTE they bring in trucks that look for problems in the 700MHz bands. They are taking a proactive approach to cleaning up the band before RFI causes problems. This makes sense since LTE uses QAM and high symbol rates to push data, meaning that the carrier to noise requirements are much higher than 3G. Most cable companies use the same frequency band, up to 750MHz. To make matters worse, cable systems use QAM carriers too, so the demodulators can get confused and pick up the wrong carrier.

    Cable companies monitor their plant for signal egress from broken coax, cracked housings, poor craftsmanship, etc (leakage), but usually around 115MHz, in the aeronautical bands (since there's been cases of planes lining up on leaks instead of the glide path). Because some types of leaks are frequency dependent, a system that looks great in the aeronautical band might leak like a sieve at 700MHz. In fact a certain set top box happened to have vent slots that made a perfect antenna at 700MHz.

    http://www.slideshare.net/Cisc... [slideshare.net]

    • by quetwo (1203948)

      CATV is heavily regulated by the FCC, because they use high RF energy that duplicates the RF spectrum that exists outside the cable network. Leaks of RF can and are very problematic for everybody involved. Cable companies are required to do very regular checks of their plant for leaks and if they find them are required to do immediate remediations. While a big focus of CLIs are in the aeronautical band (because of the atmosphere, leaks often go "up" and cause issues for airplanes), the entire spectrum ne

      • by grumling (94709)

        You're sort of confusing leaks and ingress, but because they go hand in hand you get a pass. A leaking cable system usually doesn't cause problems for the cable system, except that a break in the shield will often cause an impedance mismatch, which will in-turn cause microreflections (standing waves) on the transmission line. I've driven out poorly maintained plants, where my leakage detector never stopped, but for the most part the plant still was able to deliver good bit error ratios and decent analog pic

  • "Here’s what you need to know about dimming fluorescent lighting" link [electronicproducts.com]
  • I'd say whoever made the light fixtures, and sold them for general use emitting that much interference is really the person against whom they should be acting.

    The article says the lights are made by GE, who was aware that some of their ballasts were causing interference. IF the building owner was advised, and they failed to replace them, then they're at fault. If GE's replacement program was chintzy (ie they'd replace the fixture, but building owners had to pay for labor, for example), then they should be

    • by sjames (1099)

      It doesn't matter what GE does if the building keeps the old fixtures in use.

      The building management was notified of the problem last April by the FCC. The management claimed they knew about the problem and were investigating. They agreed to send a report of the problem and remediation plan in 60 days. At that time, no fines were contemplated. Here we are 10 months later and no report and no remediation. Given that, the FCC has no reason to believe they'll ever do anything about it without significant prodd

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It doesn't matter what GE does if the building keeps the old fixtures in use.

        The building management was notified of the problem last April by the FCC. The management claimed they knew about the problem and were investigating. They agreed to send a report of the problem and remediation plan in 60 days. At that time, no fines were contemplated. Here we are 10 months later and no report and no remediation. Given that, the FCC has no reason to believe they'll ever do anything about it without significant prodding.

        Back in April, they had plenty of time to contact GE and insist on replacements and compensation for the cost of swapping them out. Had they done it then, they could have avoided major disruptions.

        Bingo. Presumably they could have hired someone to come in with a spectrum analyzer or some such equipment and pinpointed the problematic fixtures... at the least, they could have come back in 60 days and said "we have 10,000 fixtures and we've retained a company to help us identify the faulty ones, but need another 90 days to find & remediate them ("a plan") - and it would have at least shown they were doing something. They chose to do nothing, and it's been the better part of a year - they obviously

  • 112 grand fine is cheaper than redoing the lighting system of a skyscraper, besides why is verizion that low anyway

  • Wondering what happened to all those people who fall over themselves denouncing the government interfering with free markets, regulations being job killers and taxation being theft etc etc? All those ideas look attractive in the abstract. On the ground when the free market is interfering with your drinking water supply (like it happened in Charleston recently) or when some building interferes with cell phones, that is when we want the regulators to have some power. But we have systematically cut their budge
  • Just the other day I read in a magazine how a lot of LED lights are not at all EMC-proof. They may have an efficiency of 80+ percent, but they emit radio for the rest of it.

    • by vandamme (1893204)

      It's the switching power supplies, that generate high-speed, high power pulses, that radiate if not shielded or filtered properly. This is just an engineering problem, not an innate characteristic of LEDs. Best is to use inductors to feed the LEDs, so they have a constant current.

  • After a bunch of anecdotal reports we did some measurements of radio interference caused by LED lighting (and the power supplies included in these globes).

    Most were OK, but there are a bunch that spray out a large amount of broad band interference. Some spectrum graphs are here showing a few lights in their on and off states.
    http://www.ledbenchmark.com/fa... [ledbenchmark.com]

    Interference was seen in the digital radio bands, FM radio, DAB bands, everywhere really. So the only thing surprising about this post is the lack of pu

  • How can these ballasts cause disturbances outside the building? - The building itself will act as a partial shield (try getting a cell signal inside - can be next to impossible) and the basic emission cannot be that powerful.

    • by vandamme (1893204)

      The wavelength at 700 MHz is 42 cm, so a half-wavelength hole (less than a foot) will radiate. It can also disperse, attenuate and garble a nice clean signal like your cell phone, so you don't get a clear signal. But hundreds of noisy switching power supplies in a building can generate some bodacious noise outside.

  • Grocer's apostrophe. Idiots.

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