With ever more streaming options and set-top boxes than any one person could ever possibly need, it’s certainly much more convenient to cut the cord than ever before. But if you’re looking to cut corners with the devices you’re using for those services, you may want to reconsider.
The Federal Communications Commission last week issued an enforcement advisory to remind consumers and distributors about its policies around unauthorized set-top boxes and streaming devices—namely, don’t even think about it.
According to the notice, the FCC has seen a spike in the marketing of these kinds of devices, and those using, selling, or making them could be looking at substantial fines.
“Users, manufacturers, importers, and retailers that violate Commission marketing or operating rules may be subject to the penalties authorized by the Communications Act, including, but not limited to, substantial monetary fines (up to $19,639 per day of marketing violations and up to $147,290 for an ongoing violation),” the advisory states. Yikes.
We’ve reached out to the FCC for more information about how this affects consumers. But according to trade journal TV Technology, an agency spokesperson stated that fines of more than $100,000 could technically apply to consumers as well.
The FCC’s rules around these devices, the advisory stated, “ensure that radio frequency equipment is legally used and marketed, and that such devices comply with the Commission’s technical requirements to avoid causing interference to other authorized operations.”
So what qualifies as an unauthorized device? According to the FCC, set-top boxes must have valid FCC ID numbers and prominently placed product information as well as additional consumer disclosures about the potential for signal interference. The FCC does note that some unauthorized devices bear the FCC logo but are not, in fact, authorized devices.
Basically, your Apple TV or Roku is fine, but that bootleg Kodi box that you picked up online with the “unlimited” movie plan is probably a non-starter. You shouldn’t chance using any sketchy devices if you’re unsure whether they have proper FCC approval.
Update: In an email to Gizmodo, an FCC spokesperson appeared to backpedal on some of the agency’s original claims. The spokesperson wanted to clarify that:
“To the extent a consumer are ‘operating’ such devices, they could technically fall under the stipulations of the ‘What Happens if Manufacturers, Retailers, or Operators Do Not Comply with the FCC’s Rules?’ part of the advisory. That said, we simply advise consumers to not use unauthorized devices.”