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TracMe to FCC: You Can’t Make Us…

Well, the TracMe “Personal Locator Beacon” saga continues. For background on this issue, please review the following Equipped.org Blog entries:

Original TracMe Blog Entry: “That’s No Personal Locator Beacon!

Follow-on TracMe Blog Entry: TracMe: “Curiouser and Curiouser

In response to the FCC request that TracMe cease using “Personal Locator Beacon” to refer to their device (technically an FRS radio), on August 9th, 2007, American TCB, the Telecommunication Certification Body (TCB) that actually issued the TracMe FCC certification, sent the FCC a terse email that said, “Grant has been revised and sent to client.”

After it was clear that TracMe had not complied with the FCC request, I contacted the TracMe CEO, Joe Rainczuk, and asked him, “do you intend to continue to use this term, despite the FCC’s notice to you that this is not appropriate? If so, on what basis do you intend to do so?”

Here is Rainczuk’s response:

The FCC have not stopped us from using the term ‘Personal Locator Beacon’. I have extracted from our FCC lawyers letter to the FCC, part of the response that legally explains our position. Below is only part of the 6 page letter that will be sent.

There is No Basis for a Name Change in the FCC’s Rules

Nothing in the FCC’s rules supports the Office of Equipment and Technology’s implicit assumption that the phrase “personal locator beacon” can be used only for satellite-connected personal locator beacons governed by Part 95K of the Commission’s rules. To the contrary, the Part 95K rules demonstrate clearly that the phrase “personal locator beacon” refers broadly to equipment used to locate individuals for search-and-rescue purposes. When the rules turn to the particular requirements for satellite-connected personal locator beacons, they stop referring to “personal locator beacons” in general and start referring to the narrower satellite-connected subclass: “406 MHz PLBs.”[1] These contrasting references – to personal locator beacons in general and to the specific satellite-connected subclass – compels the conclusion that the generic phrase “personal locator beacon” applies to both satellite-based and non-satellite-based devices.

Even if there were policy or regulatory reasons for a change (although, as explained above, there are not), the time for revisiting TracMe’s certification has long since passed. The TCB certified TracMe’s device on June 21, 2005, and the deadline for filing requests for review expired 30 days later.[2] The Coast Guard’s request for review was submitted two full years after the deadline, and the FCC is therefore precluded from acting on it.[3]
[1] See 47 C.F.R. § 95.1402 (listing the requirements for use of 406 MHz personal locator beacons).

[1] See 47 C.F.R. § 2.923 (providing for applications for review pursuant to 47 C.F.R. § 1.115); 47 C.F.R. § 1.115(d) (application for review of action taken pursuant to delegated authority must be filed within 30 days of the challenged action).

[1] See, e.g., Karen de Brum, Petition for Reconsideration, 22 FCC Rcd. 5069 (2007) (dismissing a petition for reconsideration that was filed four months after the 30-day deadline, holding that “[t]he Commission lacks authority to extend or waive the 30-day filing period for petitions for reconsideration unless the petitioner shows that its failure to file in a timely manner resulted from ‘extraordinary circumstances.’”). The TCB itself could have taken action to correct administrative errors in the certification, but only within the same 30-day period. See 47 C.F.R. § 2.962(f)(4).

I then asked if there was some reason he didn’t want to share the entire 6-page letter? He responded that “the entire letter is privileged information.”

I then asked if it wouldn’t be published in their file in 30 days or less by the FCC? He responded:

“No, my FCC lawyers asked the FCC for a face to face and once this happens and everything is resolved verbally there won’t be a need to publish anything. Status Quo stays. The 6 page letter shows legally why we are able to use the generic term ‘Personal Locator Beacon’. If there was a problem with us using PLB it would have been brought up 2 years ago when we got the certification.

Our competitors should not see us as a threat, but should see us as a complimentary life saving device. I always tell groups that want to buy TracMe to make sure they have at least 1 satellite PLB when they go on an adventure.”

So, this is where things stand at the moment. Why TracMe seems to think that my concerns, and that of others, is somehow the result of influence by the PLB manufacturers is beyond me. They have been clearly advised by numerous members of SAR organizations, by the Coast Guard and the Air Force RCC, and by others such as myself that their use of the term PLB is misleading and will likely lead to loss of lives due to consumer confusion. There is no hidden industry agenda, it’s not the PLB manufacturers out to get them, though they are not happy. All of us involved in SAR are perfectly capable of telling the PLB manufacturers to stick it. It is plain and simple that marketing TracMe as a PLB is a deception, regardless of whether it is legal or not.

It’s unfortunate that TracMe’s attitude appears to be along the lines of “you can’t make us.” TracMe appears to prefer to subvert the process in order to continue to use the term to their marketing advantage. It may well be legal, or it may well be that the FCC’s screw up earlier in the process provides TracMe legal cover so the FCC cannot fix their mistake now, but that doesn’t make it right.

The TracMe homing beacon is NOT a Personal Locator Beacon

The ETS evaluation of the TracMe is now available: www.equipped.org/tracme_eval.htm