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RFI Interference Letter

From Cliff Wildes, President and CEO of Microtech International

To the Editor:

Recent articles and discussions in the Macintosh community have focused on safety concerns related to the marvelous machinery we rely on for our work and enjoyment. As a manufacturer of peripherals for the Macintosh market I’ve been surprised to see a crucial safety and quality standard missing from the demands we make of our industry. I’m referring to the importance of strict adherence to FCC (Federal Communications Commission) Part 15. This federal regulation governs the release of radio frequency interference (RFI) generated by computer hardware. For many of us the words "FCC certified" have simply meant that our systems won’t stumble when we turn on a radio or our neighbors won’t complain that each time we fire up our Macs, their TV goes scrambly. But the real issue is far more serious.

RFI poses a threat to aircraft control towers, police and fire emergency response radio transmissions and medical life support systems. With the greater proliferation and mobility of our computer systems, this potential danger increases. An uncertified monitor attached to an otherwise "clean" system may cause your hard drive to fail intermittently. That’s annoying at best, but consider the potential for tragedy if a "noisy" modem delays your local fire department from reaching a blaze. Or if interference from a laptop with an unfiltered power supply conflicts with the air traffic control communications on the next plane you fly. The value of strict compliance with FCC Part 15 certification becomes clear.

Sadly, noncompliance is frequent in our industry. At the Fall 1991 Comdex computer trade show, more than 100 companies were fined by the FCC. Last summer, 3 stores were fined $2,000 each for the sale of uncertified equipment to home users. Our own research has shown that the majority of Macintosh subsystem manufacturers are shipping hard drives, optical drives and tape systems that are uncertified. Manufacturers fail to do the required testing or fraudulently use old or fictitious FCC registration numbers. As noncompliance has become more commonplace, so has the potential for problems. With the growth of ever more complex business networks, the risk of serious interference problems explodes with so many different computer peripherals interfacing throughout our systems.

The publications which test and review products in the marketplace have themselves been slow to require authentic proof of certification as a qualification for hardware reviews. All too often, benchmark tests and "best buy" recommendations lead consumers to products which manage a lower price point by sidestepping the admittedly expensive but legally and morally essential RFI review process. And those of us who take the time and expense to meet these critical safety standards often cannot match pricing based on such unethical practices.

For the past two years, I have raised this issue with trade publications. Demanding compliance and certification is merely a demand for meeting minimum legal requirements for the products we sell, a demand for responsible journalism. When publications ignore noncompliance, they shortchange consumers, degrade our industry and condone unfair competition. If the trades placed more of their emphasis on investigating the companies which advertise in their pages, they might prevent a product that is not tested and certified by the FCC from appearing in their recommendation lists or on the cover of respected industry publications. I would hate to think that these publications have given major awards to companies that manufacture illegal products!

Our industry has moved into a "commodity" phase and the temptation grows to rush development, use lower quality or used components, or degrade standards in order to ship faster and sell cheaper. Sound managers however recognize that such economies are self-defeating. When we try to pass off lesser components and potentially dangerous products to our consumers, we may gain a quick profit but we undermine long range achievement. While we decry the success of Japanese manufacturers, we cannot compete as quality producers if we ignore even basic safety standards. What kind of lessons are we teaching the new developers, dreamers, users in our industry? That it’s okay to ignore the law if it brings in more advertising dollars, cuts corners for profit or market share? Do we really want "As long as you make a buck, it’s okay?" to be our industry’s message?

As manufacturers of storage solutions, Microtech has made it a point to market only products which comply with and are certified under the FCC rules. We’ve spoken up for effective enforcement by the FCC. We’ve advocated strict standards amongst our colleagues in the marketplace. We’ve adopted a policy of nonparticipation in reviews which do not demand FCC compliance and certification for recommendation. We know all too well the costs of this process – Microtech alone has invested an estimated half million dollars in our own compliance efforts. Obviously, we’d love to be able to bring to market a new drive without facing the rigors of this process, the delays, the costs and the paperwork required. But we know that not only would that be illegal, it would be immoral. And we know that the long term health of our company and our industry rests on maintaining the highest quality. We require this of ourselves and we ask that all members of the Macintosh community demand the same from themselves, the companies they deal with and the publications we all rely on.


Cliff Wildes
President and CEO
Microtech International, Inc.

Information from:
Christina O’Connell, Microtech — [email protected]

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