Chinese site in signal-jammer sting could pay record $34.9M FCC fine

The company allegedly told US shoppers some of its illegal jammers were FCC-approved

A Chinese electronics vendor accused of selling signal jammers to U.S. consumers could end up leading the market in one dubious measure: the largest fine ever imposed by the Federal Communications Commission.

The agency wants to fine CTS Technology US$34,912,500 for allegedly marketing 285 models of jammers over more than two years. CTS boldly -- and falsely -- claimed that some of its jammers were approved by the FCC, according to the agency's enforcement action released Thursday. Conveniently, CTS' product detail pages also include a button to "report suspicious activity."

The proposed fine, which would be bigger than any the FCC has levied for anti-competitive behavior, not airing children's shows, or a wardrobe malfunction, comes from adding up the maximum fines for each model of jammer the company allegedly sold in the U.S. The agency also ordered CTS, based in Shenzhen, China, to stop marketing illegal jammers to U.S. consumers and identify the buyer of each jammer it sold in the U.S.

Selling, buying or using a wireless signal jammer is illegal in the U.S. for everyone except law enforcement agencies. They're a direct danger to public safety because they can prevent citizens from making 911 calls and first responders from communicating in emergencies, the FCC says. It regularly cracks down on jammer sellers and users. But CTS so far leads the pack in proposed punishment, with the FCC applying the maximum fine for each jammer model the company allegedly marketed.

There are numerous jammers offered on the CTS site, ranging in size from handheld to a rolling suitcase. One handheld model, made in Guangdong, China, and priced at US$240, is advertised as having a range of 20 meters, "ideal for a large room, restaurant, cinema ... Or whilst having a conversation and you want to eliminate others from using mobile telephones."

A larger, stationary model with eight antennas is said to cover "all of the popular wireless RF signals including, 2G/3G/4G mobile phone, WiFi Bluetooth, UHF, VHF, GPS, LoJack, remote control and so on." According to CTS, it is sourced from Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.

CTS has 30 days to respond to the allegations or pay the $34.9 million. In past actions against violators based overseas, the FCC has used procedures under the Hague Service Convention, a 1965 multilateral treaty.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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