FCC Reassessing Its Rules for Radiofrequency Exposure

Authored by: Robert Cleveland

On March 29, 2013, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making (FNPRM) and Notice of Inquiry (NOI), to make changes and proposals in its rules and regulations concerning human exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields and to consider whether FCC exposure limits should be revised (First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making  and Notice of Inquiry, ET Dockets 13-84 and 03-137, FCC 13-39, released March 29, 2013). The FCC action includes the adoption of certain new rules and procedures for evaluating fixed transmitters and wireless devices.  It also makes several detailed proposals for possible future adoption of new or modified policies and procedures for transmitter evaluation.  Of special importance is the NOI which seeks comment from the public and industry on whether changes should be made in the exposure limits now used by the FCC for evaluating human exposure.


The FCC Order adopts rules changes originally proposed in 2003.  Changes adopted include making clear the primacy of specific absorption rate (SAR) in determining exposure; establishing that the pinna of the ear will be considered in the same category as extremities of the body when evaluating exposure; clarifying the application of occupational exposure limits and responsibility for compliance evaluation at multiple transmitter sites; and items related to measurement consistency in the medical implant communications service, labeling of occupational wireless devices and labeling and installation of wireless consumer devices.  Of importance for FCC evaluation of wireless devices is the decision to update the FCC's rules to reference the FCC Knowledge Database (KDB) for specific guidance on appropriate methodologies for evaluating devices (The FCC publishes technical guidance documents on their Knowledge Database (KDB) website.  This guidance is developed by the staff based on individual inquiries for clarification of test procedures for new technology as well as discussions with test labs and Telecommunications Certification Bodies.). It was felt by the FCC that the KDB offers a more efficient and comprehensive means to provide guidance to device manufacturers on FCC approval policies and procedures.  All of these rule changes become effective 60 days after publication of the FCC document in the Federal Register.  Publication took place on June 4, 2013.


The FNPRM proposes many changes in the FCC's rules and policies including the establishment of various power and distance criteria to determine whether a transmitter or device is exempt from routine evaluation for RF exposure.  Further proposals are made concerning evaluation procedures for portable devices; mitigation techniques and procedures, especially at locations that involve occupational exposure; and the adoption of many recommendations contained in IEEE Std C95.7-2005 for implementing RF safety programs.

The NOI reopens the discussion as to whether FCC exposure limits and guidelines provide adequate protection for human health and safety.  The FCC explains that, "We continue to have confidence in the current exposure limits, and note that more recent international standards have a similar basis.  At the same time, given the fact that much time has passed since the Commission last sought comment on exposure limits, as a matter of good government, we wish to develop a current record by opening a new docket with this Notice of Inquiry (NOI, Paragraph 205)."  The FCC NOI requests comment on many issues including whether its exposure limits are adequate for protecting public health, or, possibly overly restrictive.  The FCC notes that, " We recognize that a great deal of scientific research has been completed in recent years and new research is currently underway, warranting a comprehensive examination of this and any other relevant information" (NOI, paragraph 206).  Among other things, the FCC requests comment on the exposure limits themselves, evaluation procedures, policies on reducing exposure, and providing consumers with information on exposure.


Comments in response to both the FNPRM and the NOI are due no later than 90 days after the June 4 publication in the Federal Register.  An additional 60 days beyond that deadline is allowed for the filing of reply comments.  Further information is available by contacting the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology at:  rfsafety@fcc.gov.


Additional details are available at:


http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-13-39A1.pdf and http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/proceeding/view?name=03-137