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FCC Approves Early 5G Device Import, Marketing & Pre-Sale

FCC Building
(Image credit: FCC)

In a win for Big Tech companies, the FCC is proposing to allow them to import and pre-sell 5G devices before the FCC approves them.

FCC commissioners voted unanimously on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to that effect at Thursday's (Dec. 10) monthly meeting. That came at what will be the second to the last meeting for FCC chairman Ajit Pai and the last for outgoing Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly.

Since the item is a proposal, the FCC will still need to vote on a final order after it has collected more comment, but since the vote was unanimous, that will likely happen even if the FCC remains at a 2-2 political tie after the exit of Pai by Jan. 20. A replacement for O'Rielly, Nathan Simington, has already been confirmed.

Related: CTA Asks FCC for Early Jump on 5G Devices

Consumer tech companies last July had asked the FCC for more flexibility to import, market and pre-sell 5G devices before the FCC approves their use, something they argued is critical to winning the race to 5G.

Amazon, for one, has said the move "will make it easier to gauge demand and bring innovative new devices to customers." Google said it will "remove obstacles that slow down delivery of 5G, Wi-Fi and other important technologies."

The NPRM:

• "Proposes to modernize the Commission’s marketing rules to permit conditional sales of radiofrequency devices to consumers [through Kickstarter, for example] prior to equipment authorization, provided those devices are not delivered to consumers until equipment authorization has been obtained.

• "Proposes to modernize the Commission’s importation rules to permit importation of a limited number of radiofrequency devices for certain pre-sale activities prior to the devices obtaining a certification." The devices could not be sold prior to FCC authorization.

•  "Pre-sale activities would include packaging and shipping devices to retail locations, as well as loading devices with specific software to demonstrate specific features and capabilities of the devices.

• "Seeks comment on conditions to ensure that radiofrequency devices comply with this new importation provision prior to obtaining equipment authorization."

O'Rielly, who was a leader on the item, said pre-sale periods for communications devices "before every regulatory T is crossed and I is dotted" is just "common sense." Allowing a set number of devices for retail display, beyond today's allowance of a few devices for trade shows, also must makes sense, he suggested. He said the proposal may not seem to be monumental, but despite its low profile will nonetheless benefit consumers. 

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks called it a "good, common sense" proposal. 

Pai praised O'Rielly's work on the item. He said the goal was to reform rules to benefit consumers without undermining consumer protection and he thought the item struck that balance, in part thanks to O'Rielly.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.