RFI – More Vigilance Coming?

A posting yesterday in the Yahoo MW DXer's Group pointed to a new article at RadioWorld.com, re the new urgency within the broadcast field to address the growing noise floor.

The article "Noise Inquiry Spurs Recommendations" discusses the fallout from last year's FCC Technical Advisory Council's (TAC) Inquiry ET-16-191, seeking public comments on the rapid increase in "man-made RF noise issues".

As radio amateurs have known for decades already, there is a huge problem when it comes to spectrum noise levels. They were even complaining about this way back in 1932's Short Wave Craft ... "The reasons for this extraordinary amount of noise which we have to contend with at the present time are manifold." If only they knew how quiet it really was!

Now that noise is beginning to have severe affects on profit margins when it comes to AM, FM, TV and Wi-Fi connected devices, it seems that there may now be a larger appetite for some resolution.

"Other industries using RF wireless technologies report growing noise trouble as well. A recent IEEE Spectrum article was subtitled “Electronic Noise Is Drowning Out the Internet of Things.” Designers of IoT devices are not getting the range they expect due to unexpectedly high background noise, it reported."

Comments to the enquiry pointed out the usual offenders, all well-known to hams, such as noisy powerlines, switching power supplies, noisy motors etc and emphasized the fact that none of these offenders should cause interference if properly designed.

The TAC Working Group recommended some steps that it thought the FCC should take with the key one being an FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to "resolve unanswered questions and take corrective action".

According to a recent meeting between The Association of Federal Communications Consulting Engineers and FCC officials, it was pointed out that:
  • there had been no official RF noise studies done in over 40 years. 
  • some manufacturers are deliberately cheating to skirt emission requirements.
  • those in charge of enforcement (FCC) need to be more diligent. 
Much can be said for the same conditions here in Canada where our ISED has failed to properly safeguard spectrum noise pollution.
Other somewhat "telling" recommendations were also put forward and can be viewed in the Radioworld article here.

If you're one of the hundreds (thousands?) struggling with a new mystery noise source, perhaps you can identify the noise signature from one of these two sites:



It is reported that the new FCC Chairman seemed receptive to the concerns presented but so far there has been no official action. Hopefully he will soon tackle this with the same gusto shown for chasing down illegal broadcasters. With recent FCC cutbacks and proposed budget slashing from Washington, one wonders if this problem will be given the attention that it needs before it is truly too late to reverse.
Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “RFI – More Vigilance Coming?”

  • Dave NK7Z:

    Until the FCC gets some teeth, and uses those teeth, as often as possible, RFI will continue to increase. RFI will not solve itself, and solving the RFI problems for Amateurs will take a concerted effort by the FCC, and the ARRL.

    The ARRL is doing it’s part, some within the FCC are doing their parts, but it appears that the FCC as a whole, is not fully behind solving this problem yet. The FCC needs to get fully on board with reducing the noise floor across the spectrum, and soon.

    This problem has been building for decades, and for decades the ARRL, and broadcasters have been telling the FCC about it.

    I believe that the decades of non-enforcement by the FCC have created the RFI problem. The FCC should immediately begin to restrict items which generate RFI at the border and fine hell out of anyone falsifying a test report.

    RFI is out of control now, and the cleanup will take years.


  • Walt n5eqy:

    First we could start with wall warts and clean them up , then LED lighting, then wireless filtering of useless harminics and other digital non filtered junk gadgets that litter our spaces at home and work. Sooner or later it will become popular to junk or convert the noisy spectrum hogs to better non rf polluting junkware. Seems none of the cheap junk we buy has any filtering in it. Its spilling over into other devices and RF from cell phones is turning people into brain dead zombies. We as a collective society had better get with the program before we make all the space around us dangerous to our survival.

  • Lowell KM4QEG:

    Cheap imported electronics from Asia and Pacific Rim areas don’t include even a nod to RF filtering. My automotive USB charger wipes out the entire FM broadcast band when used.

    LED lighting internal power supplies radiate up and down the HF band not just from the circuit board but they co-opt the AC wiring in the structure as an antenna. A cursory look at that supply shows no bypassing, no filtering, no consideration for RFI mitigation what so ever.

    Those design elements to make these devices ‘quieter’ require additional engineering and additional parts and board real estate.

    I doubt we’ll see any change from these low ball manufacturers at all. As long as they have a buyer lined up for a shipping container full of them, they’re going to ship a container full of them.

  • Steve VE7SL:

    These are all valid points of concern. I don’t know a lot about the process involved in importing and selling this kind of garbage. I’m sure that before anything can be imported and sold that it is supposed to go through some form of ‘approval’ to meet set standards so why is this clearly not happening? Is it simply that the process is underfunded or is it so overwhelming that they have thrown up their hands and given up? Does it just come down to slowing the process down and making sure all of the checks have been made? Seems a simple enough concept but somehow it has gone off the rails. It would be great to see less reliance junk imports and more domestic manufacturing but of course things would be more expensive. It seems that consumers drive the market’s rush to import but why aren’t the tests being done before this crap hits the market? It’s the same here in Canada … cheap noisy junk is being sold everywhere.
    When the RFI just bothered hams, it was easier to ignore but now that the spectrum has become so polluted that it is disrupting critical systems, it has suddenly become concerning. Rather like closing the barn doors after the cows have escaped. If it is to be reveresed, it’s not going to be a cheap process.

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