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Proposed Senate bill would remove regulatory stamps from hardware

updated 10:33 pm EDT, Fri July 11, 2014

Emblems would still have be available to view on mobile screen

A new proposal introduced in the US Senate called the "E-Label Act" would allow electronics manufacturers the option of using "digital" stamps of regulatory approval on devices rather than the physical emblems now required to show that the device has passed required safety and federal inspections. The bill is a bipartisan effort, with a goal of lowering costs for manufacturers as well as allowing further design freedom. It would not remove all such markings, due to the international nature of some of them.

To use a typical example, an iPhone has six markings on the back of the device not required by Apple. Beyond Apple's own etchings, there is an FCC ID number, a IC number (for Industry Canada), and the IMEI number. Below that are logos for (from left to right), the FCC regulatory approval, the European WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive, the European CE mark ("Conformité Européene") and number, and finally a symbol with an exclamation point in a circle.

The latter is an alert from the EU that the iPhone is a "Class II" device and might operate on frequencies that are restricted in certain countries. For example, in France the iPhone is only allowed to use a narrow portion of the 2.4GHz band for cellular communications, but its radio is capable of using other frequencies when it can detect them (such as picking up German networks near the border, where the other frequencies are allowed).

Samsung's markings are behind removable plate

Should the proposed Senate bill become law, the E-Label Act would offer manufacturers the option of removing the physical markings for US agencies and replacing them with "digital stamps" that could be seen on demand on the device's screen. Unless the EU goes along with the sentiment, this would only remove the FCC markings from the back of a device like the iPhone, but would still marginally lower the cost of manufacture. A worldwide switch to digital stamps might make a more significant impact on costs.

The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska) and Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) has also found bipartisan support for the idea in the FCC. In a joint statement, Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel (D) and Michael O'Rielly ®, said that the bill would "lead to more devices and new technologies ... designed with innovation in mind rather than regulatory labeling requirements." A statement from the Consumer Electronics Association also applauded the bill as "a common sense approach for the digital age" that would be "cost-effective, in keeping with the consumer electronics industry's important ongoing environmental sustainability efforts and a beneficial and innovative use of today's technology."

While passage of the bill would only be a start at reducing engraving costs for manufacturers, the number of devices affected by the law would be enormous. Currently, all electronic equipment sold in the US and worldwide must bear the regulatory stamps of the various approving agencies. "As manufacturers continue to produce groundbreaking technologies, it only makes sense that federal labeling requirements for these products are updated to further promote innovation and create new opportunities in the digital age," said the Fischer, the Republican sponsor of the bill.

by MacNN Staff




  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    On the face of it, this is completely illogical and will greatly increase the presence of "fake" and unsafe goods in the market place. The stamps are on physical objects to ensure that they are electrically safe and so forth and a counterfeiter putting "fake" marks on is breaking a rather imposing law to do so. If the law no longer exists, then how can one pick up said physical object and examine it to see if it's fake or not? There should be both physical AND digital marks on objects that are both physical and digital. How does it help the consumer if someone can manufacture a blender or a toaster with no authenticity marks except those that can be seen through a series of arcane button presses on a tiny LCD display screen that they likely never even use? It's a total loophole for fakes and consumer fraud if this goes forward.

  1. chimaera

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 04-08-07

    I didn't have a comment on this until Gazoobee posted. He's right. Limiting those stamps may save a tiny amount for the manufacturers. But those stamps are not there to benefit the manufacturers, they are for the buyers. Us chickens. The stamps should be human-readable, since most of us are human.

  1. nostrademas

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-17-06

    As governments themselves tend to be the last to think about these things, I suspect the pressure from the manufacturers is a lot less to do with etching costs as it is cosmetic appeal.

  1. OldMacGeek

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-04-10

    The amount of conformity marks and declarations is only going to increase. Many countries are saying "Me too!" to these marks. Battery marks are getting popular. Wireless homologation marks are increasing. And don't get me started on India and the increasing and ever-changing requirements there!

    Gazoobie, be honest; how many customers really care about these marks? And counterfeiting? If a company doesn't care enough about copyright violations, what makes you think that counterfeiting a compliance mark will make them pause? Both can lead to their products being seized and heavy fines.

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