Home Depot's marketing of RF lighting devices rankles amateur radio group

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for amateur radio, filed a formal complaint with the FCC, alleging that the Home Depot chain has been illegally marketing certain RF-ballast lighting devices to consumers in violation of FCC Part 18 rules.

The ARRL says that recent surveys in several states, including California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Connecticut, showed an alarming number of non-consumer rated ballasts mixed in with consumer products.

In one of four cases highlighted in its report, a consumer purchased a GE UltraMax ballast from a Home Depot in Wilbraham, Mass.--the same brand that was identified as causing problems for a Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) cell site after it was found in a Los Angeles office building, and the same kind pinpointed for causing problems for AT&T's (NYSE:T) network in San Antonio two years ago. In AT&T's case, the ballast was in a hair salon.

"Clearly Home Depot's marketing and sale of non-consumer ballasts is not adequate to ensure compliance with FCC Part 18 requirements," concluded ARRL Laboratory's Mike Gruber in a 20-page report. The ARRL is asking the FCC to investigate and commence an enforcement proceeding regarding Home Depot's retail marketing and sale of RF lighting devices in the U.S.

In a letter to FCC Enforcement Bureau Spectrum Enforcement Division Chief Bruce Jacobs and Office of Engineering and Technology Laboratory Division Chief Rashmi Doshi, the ARRL noted that it has received numerous complaints from the amateur radio community of "significant noise" in the bands between 1.8 and 30 MHz from so-called "grow light" ballasts and other RF lighting devices regulated under FCC Part 15 and Part 18 rules.

"These devices are easily capable of emitting RF noise sufficient to preclude Amateur Radio MF and HF communications (and as well, AM broadcast station reception) throughout entire communities and at distances of up to half mile from the device," the ARRL said.

Gruber's report noted that the conducted emission limit for consumer-rated devices are 22 dB lower than their commercial counterparts for all amateur bands below 30 MHz.

"In most of the stores surveyed, unsuspecting consumers have no way of knowing the significance of consumer vs. non-consumer ballasts," the league said. "In some cases, 'commercial' grade ballasts, with their associated non-consumer emission limits, appeared to be a heavier duty or superior product. The display signage typically used implies, therefore, that commercial ballasts are also a product upgrade for home use." The ARRL said that store display signage typically did not mention or adequately address applicable FCC Part 18 requirements, as they pertain to interference in a residential environment.

The league said that in the four instances where actual purchases of RF lighting devices were made at Home Depot retail outlets, purchasers "specifically asked about residential deployment of non-consumer RF lighting ballasts."

"If this activity is left unchecked the Commission will continue to note a deterioration in ambient noise levels and preclusive interfering signals for both AM broadcasters and amateur radio licensees in the entirety of the high-frequency bands," the league's complaint said.

A Home Depot spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

The ARRL asked the commission to "take appropriate action" with respect to the Home Depot and other retail outlets marketing such RF lighting devices "without delay." A copy of the letter was sent to the Home Depot's Atlanta Store Support Center.

In 2013, a GE UltraMax fluorescent fixture in a Perfect Cuts Salon in San Antonio, Texas, was blamed for causing problems for AT&T. By flicking the salon's lights on and off, AT&T representatives were able to confirm that the salon's interior fluorescent lighting was the source of interference impacting a neighboring AT&T cell site.

The ballasts in that building were the same ones found last year in a Los Angeles office building allegedly interfering with a Verizon Wireless cell site, prompting the FCC to referee the dispute between Verizon and the building owner.

For more:
- see this ARRL post
- see this Southgate Amateur Radio News article

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