The Federal Communications Commission has the authority to inspect most
radio installations. Responsibility for conducting these inspections
generally rests with the Enforcement Bureau's Field Agents. In the
course of fulfilling this responsibility, the Agents often receive
questions concerning the authority and procedure under which they are
working. The Enforcement Bureau has assembled this general information
sheet to address some of the more commonly asked questions concerning
inspections and to clarify why and how inspections occur.
Frequently Asked Questions Related to Residential Inspection
of Radio Equipment by the FCC
Section 303(n) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, (Act)
gives the Federal Communications Commission the "authority to inspect
all radio installations associated with stations required to be
licensed by any Act, or which the Commission by rule has authorized to
operate without a license under section 307(e)(1), or which are subject
to the provisions of any Act, treaty, or convention binding on the
United States . . ." 47 U.S.C. 303(n) Both Section 303(n) of the Act,
and the Rules which implement the Act, grant the right to inspect most
radio operations to the Commission, and by delegated authority to the
Commission's Bureaus and agents. The Enforcement Bureau conducts
inspections of radio installations as part of the Bureau's function to
"[e]nforce the Commission's Rules and Regulations." 47 CFR 0.111(a).
Both licensees and non-licensees must allow an FCC Agent to inspect
their radio equipment. Along with the privilege of possessing a license
come responsibilities such as knowing the applicable rules, including
allowing the station to be inspected. Licensees should be aware of the
Commission's right to inspect. Equally important, FCC Agents are
allowed to inspect the radio equipment of non-licensees. Non-licensees
include those individuals or entities operating in accordance with Part
15 of the Rules. Non-licensees also include those who should have a
license to operate their equipment but have not obtained a license and
are operating without authority.
Radio equipment is generally used in a commercial setting (e.g.,
commercial broadcast station, land mobile station, commercial delivery
service) or a residential setting (e.g., amateur, citizen's band (CB)
radio). Home-based businesses may also operate radio stations. This
fact sheet addresses inspection of radio stations in both the
commercial and residential settings.
Q: Why must operators of radio frequency devices allow the FCC
to inspect their equipment?
Frequently Asked Questions for the Business Environment
A: The Commission must ascertain essential facts pertaining to the
operation of a station which may be vital to the resolution of a number
of questions, including interference problems involving public safety.
For this reason, the FCC must be able to check all covered equipment
that have the potential to emit radio frequencies. Section 303(n) of
the Communications Act gives the FCC this authority.
Q: What happens if I do not allow the FCC agent to inspect my
A: Failure to allow inspection forecloses the opportunity to resolve
the problem. Thus, refusal to allow inspection is a serious challenge
to the Commission's authority to inspect radio stations and is a
violation of the Rules. Such a refusal may lead to revocation of a
license, maximum monetary forfeiture, or other Commission sanctions.
Q: The FCC Agent standing at my door does not have a search
warrant, so I don't have to let him in, right?
A: Wrong. Search warrants are needed for entry involving criminal
matters. One of the requirements as a licensee, or non-licensee subject
to the Commission's Rules, is to allow inspection of your radio
equipment by FCC personnel. Whether you operate an amateur station or
any other radio device, your authorization from the Commission comes
with the obligation to allow inspection. Even radio stations licensed
under a "blanket" rule or approval, such as Citizen's Band (CB) Radio,
are subject to the Commission's inspection requirement.
Q: Well then, if I am a low-power broadcaster and don't have an
FCC license, they need a search warrant, right?
A: Wrong again. The FCC agents have the authority to inspect all radio
equipment; even if you do not have a license, the FCC can still inspect
your equipment. Section 303(n) of the Act gives the FCC the right to
inspect all "stations required to be licensed." This language covers
your low-power radio station. The FCC agents are inspecting the
equipment, not searching your house.
Q: Okay, I understand now why the Agent doesn't need a search
warrant, but how do I know what the Agent will do next?
A: Once you open the door, the agents should show their FCC
identification card and badge, identify themselves by name and agency,
and should state the purpose of the visit. They then should request
permission to inspect the radio station. The agents may also ask to see
records such as licenses for the station or operator. Agents, however,
should never open private cabinets, drawers, or other private items in
the search for license documents.
Q: Can the agents come to my residence at any hour of the day
or night to conduct an inspection?
A: FCC Agents inspect during the hours of operation. If you are
operating your station during late or unusual hours you cannot use the
time element as justification for refusing to permit an inspection at
that time. You cannot avoid an inspection by electing to operate only
during late or unusual hours.
Q: The FCC Agent said that I had to allow inspection of my
radio station without unnecessary delay. What does "without
unnecessary delay" mean?
A: Immediate on-the-spot inspections are generally necessary. In most
cases, any delay can result in changed conditions of the transmitting
equipment or its operation, adversely affecting the efficacy of the
inspections. For that reason, Agents cannot return at a later time to
accommodate the operator, cannot wait for the operator to make any
adjustments to the equipment, and cannot spend time repeating the
reasons for the inspection.
Q: Why don't the FCC's agents have to make an appointment with
me to inspect my equipment?
A: The Commission has no means of determining whether a station is
being operated as licensed except through immediate on-the-spot
inspection. To establish the amount of operating power of a station,
the input power of the last radio stage of the transmitter must be
actually measured with test equipment. To delay an inspection for the
convenience of a licensee would allow the licensee time in which to
modify or restore the transmitter to its licensed condition, thus
permitting the licensee to avoid detection. This same theory also
applies in the case of whether a station is operating with an
unapproved type of transmitter.
Q: What can happen to me if the agent determines that I am
using illegal or unauthorized equipment?
A: There are several different ways that this situation can be handled.
You may volunteer to surrender the equipment to the agent who will then
destroy it under FCC procedure. If you choose not to surrender the
equipment, the FCC can bring a proceeding against you to take the
equipment. This is known as an in rem (i.e., property) forfeiture
proceeding . Additionally, if you choose not to surrender the
equipment, you can be issued a civil monetary forfeiture penalty.
See 1997 Forfeiture Policy Statement 12 FCC Rcd 17087(1997).
Q: Am I required to surrender any illegal or unauthorized
equipment to the agent?
A: No, surrender is voluntary. However, it is the best way to avoid a
large monetary forfeiture.
Q: Is the inspection procedure for various services different?
Is the procedure different for licensees and non-licensees?
A: The inspection procedure is essentially the same for all of the
services. Similarly, the inspection procedure is the same for licensed
and non-licensed stations. This is because the FCC has the right to
inspect ALL covered radio equipment.
Q: FCC Agents arrived to inspect the radio at my office. My
boss isn't here. Should I call my boss to be present for
A: You may call your boss if you wish. If the company is open for
business, however, the inspection should be permitted regardless of
whether your boss is present. This is not an acceptable reason to delay
Q: My boss didn't tell me anyone would come by to inspect our
radio so I don't have to let the FCC inspectors in, right?
A: Wrong. The licensee is responsible for knowing the rules and those
include the FCC's right to inspect. Because the employer is responsible
for the acts of the employee, it is up to the licensee-employer to
inform its staff as to its responsibilities concerning the operation of
the radio station.
Q: I run a small daytime only AM station. Do I have to allow
the agents to inspect the station late at night?
A: The FCC inspects during hours of operation. Thus, a day time
station, by definition, should not be operating at night. If FCC agents
determine that radio signals are emitting from the daytime station
during night time hours, however, an inspection must be allowed if
requested by an FCC agent.
Q: How do I know that these are really agents from the FCC?
A: FCC Agents have a badge and credentials with their names and the FCC
seal which they will present to you when requesting your permission to
inspect. If you would like to further confirm their identity, you may
call the FCC's Communications and Crisis Management Center in Washington,
D.C., at (202)418-1122. It is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Q: If an agent is testing my FCC authorized equipment and the
equipment breaks or malfunctions during the tests, is the
A: If the agent was negligent, you may have a claim under the Federal
Tort Claims Act (FTCA) to recover damages for your property. The FCC
will make the initial determination whether the agent was negligent.
Q: Can I have my attorney present during the inspection? Can I
make the agent wait to start the inspection until my
attorney is present?
A: You may have your attorney present during the inspection; however,
there is no constitutional right to have your attorney present.
Therefore, you may not make the agent wait until your attorney arrives.
Making the agent wait for your attorney conflicts with the "unnecessary
delay" requirement discussed earlier.