Yesterday, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a legislative hearing on the E-Labeling Act, a bill that would give electronic equipment manufacturers the option to offer Federal Communications Commission (FCC) labeling information electronically, instead of engraving it onto their devices.
Originally introduced by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Deb Fischer (R-NE), this bill was sponsored in the House by Representative Bob Latta (R-OH). These efforts to switch to ”e-labeling,” while admittedly a relatively modest proposal, are a useful step towards more innovation, lower costs, and better design for the Internet of Things.
The FCC currently requires that any electronic equipment that could create electromagnetic interference—such as televisions, smartphones, Bluetooth devices, key fobs, and computers—must have a label etched onto the device. Each label is unique with 4-17 characters, which allows the commission to identify it and verify that it has been certified.
Etching 17 characters into a phone might not seem like a Herculean feat, but as wireless devices have proliferated and shrunk in size, many manufacturers have been forced to buy increasingly expensive equipment and invest more design time into placing the label. In April 2013, Apple boasted that it sold 338,000 iPhones a day—a figure higher than the world’s average daily birthrate. Even if each engraving only costs the company a few cents, the savings from this bill could amount to millions of dollars. By taking out this needless burden, electronics producers can cut costs, save time, and bring better-looking products to market.
Electronic labels are carried on the device’s screen, letting the owner see this information whenever the device is turned on. If the E-Labeling Act is enacted, manufacturers will be able to give their consumers more relevant information about the device than can currently be gleaned from the FCC’s 17-digit label. FCC Commissioner O’Rielly says that future consumers could receive information about their device’s warranties, recycling, and trade-in opportunities when they view their phone’s electronic label. Manufacturers could even fix typographical errors on electronic labels with a digital patch.
The E-Labeling Act is also a homerun for the continued proliferation of the Internet of Things. This concept refers to the idea that the Internet is no longer simply a global network for people to communicate with one another, but also a platform by which devices communicate with the world around them. Data flows from one device to another through ubiquitous wireless connectivity, and while change may be incremental, there is the potential to address a myriad of real-world problems through the expansion of the IoT.
There is already tremendous growth of the Internet of Things in every aspect of our lives and the International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that there will be approximately 212 billion “things” connected globally by the end of 2020. As we have seen with the advent of smart watches, miniature tablets and Google Glass, devices will continue to get smaller and sleeker. Electronic labeling will just be another step to enabling this process and reducing the barriers to adoption of these devices.
The FCC seemed to give its tacit endorsement of the bill by welcoming it with an “Electronic Labeling Guidance” document. This paper is meant to help manufacturers properly present the required information for using electronic labels on their products. In his testimony, Representative Latta lauded the Commission, saying its efforts could help modernize our communications laws for the digital age. With the FCC’s electronic seal of approval, lawmakers should move expeditiously to pass the E-labeling Act, a modest step to lower costs, improve product design and promote the Internet of Things.