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How to Keep Your Digital Signage From Being Shut Down by the FCC
By Darrin Friskney
May 19, 2017
Recently, a fried chicken restaurant franchise in Texas was forced to turn off its imported outdoor LED signs at two locations because they were emitting so much radio interference that the FCC cited them for threatening the safety of airport communications miles away.

Digital billboards and LED signs also are increasingly being blamed for wreaking havoc with uplink signals to nearby cell towers. Recently, digital billboards in Tennessee, Oklahoma and New Jersey have had problems with emitting interference.

Complaints of this nature are on the rise in part due to growing reliance on the more sensitive 4G wireless technology, and most complaints seemingly are arising from the increased use of Asian-manufactured LED display products, which often are not FCC compliant.

The reason for this is that most Asian-manufactured LED signs and digital billboards have a common design flaw which produces high emissions and cannot be easily fixed. Specifically, the most common Asian sign architecture uses an intermediate controller unit called a "receiver card" that sits between the controller and the sign's LED panels or "modules." In this type of architecture, which is proliferating because it is cheap to manufacture, the modules are passive so they rely on data delivered from the receiver card over multi-conductor cables in order to display an image.

To correctly display the image using this architecture, the data must be transmitted at very high speeds, upwards of 30 MHz. Digital signals that operate this fast make multiples of themselves, which creates what are known as harmonics, or potentially harmful emissions at multiple frequencies.

Asian products with receiver cards distribute the data and clocks to the modules via a host of cables and connections, compounding the harmful emissions. Even if the cables are shielded, which often is not the case, they still emit too much electromagnetic noise to satisfy FCC guidelines.

Are FCC rules being disregarded?

The FCC requires that electronic equipment, such as digital signs, be tested in a worst-case scenario to ensure compliance with emissions limits, and to show that the equipment won't cause harmful electromagnetic interference to other devices. The specific section of FCC code that governs digital signs resides in Part 15 of Title 47.

However, the FCC does not actually perform this testing. Instead, an honor-system  requires that the manufacturer receives verification of the final product from an accredited third-party testing lab. There is no database or registry to document which products have been tested. Once the product has been verified, Part 15 requires that a sticker, sometimes referred to as a "two-part warning," be affixed to the exterior of the product.

Despite these regulations, many importers either don't have their digital signs tested, or their signs fail and the manufacturers continue to sell these products in the United States to unsuspecting buyers. Perhaps for this reason, many Asian imports are missing the required Part 15 verification sticker, a tell-tale indicator that verification has been omitted. In addition, independent testing of Asian-manufactured signs has confirmed that the tested products dramatically failed to meet the FCC's interference limits across the board.

Even more concerning is evidence that some importers are temporarily altering their LED signs to pass testing, and then changing them back for shipping and installation. Since high speed data is a major contributor to emission noise, these manufacturers eliminate data transfer from the controller by removing or disabling it during testing.

Because the FCC has implemented a "self-directed" testing program, the environment is ripe for importers to either skirt the system or to outright cheat. Perhaps their disregard for the law stems from the perception that their violations will go undetected.

Unfortunately, businesses owners who are buying these products often don't know enough to verify that a product is compliant with the FCC's rules. They trust in the system, and the manufacturer. All too often they first learn about the problem when they receive a cease and desist letter, either from the FCC or from one of the cellular companies.

The entire signage industry is at risk

Sign owners with a non-compliant sign are faced with shutting off the sign and paying a hefty fine. This can cost sign owners tens of thousands of dollars. The impact is particularly devastating for small business owners, who buy the majority of LED signs sold. Not only is their large investment in a digital sign rendered worthless, their main advertising vehicle also is taken away.

Once the FCC is involved, the manufacturers that sell equipment without the appropriate verification can be fined, but that's little comfort to a small business owner trying to keep the doors open.

In addition to the disastrous repercussions a sign owner might face, sign companies can be harmed as well, as they most likely will bear some of the cost to replace the offending signs. Certainly, their reputations will take a blow.

This contempt for American law can also have far reaching implications in the U.S economy. North American manufacturers, who have a history of following guidelines, face unfair competition from foreign manufacturers who are cutting corners to offer cheaper products.

How to avoid being a victim

There are several steps that sign operators and dealers can take to ensure the digital sign they are buying or specifying meets FCC Part 15 emissions guidelines. Here are some questions to ask the sign manufacturer:
  • What specific FCC rules govern your product, and how specifically have you complied with those rules?
  • Do you fall under any exemptions as outlined in Title 47 Part 15.103?
  • Can you provide the test report that shows that this exact model meets the requirements of Title 47 Sections 2.955, 15.105, 15.107 and 15.109?
  •  Was the equipment tested under normal operating conditions and in a state such as to cause maximum emissions as prescribed by FCC Part 15?
  • Can you provide a photo of the label that meets the requirements of Title 47 Part 15.19?
Reputable manufacturers will be happy to provide the information and education needed to ensure their digital sign product meets all FCC standards. 
Clear Channel Outdoor Americas Honored for Philanthropy by Ad Council
By Staff Writer
May 26, 2017

New York City-based outdoor advertising giant Clear Channel Outdoor Americas is the recipient of the Ad Council's Crystal Bell award for 2017. Each year, that award is presented to one out of home advertising company for its extraordinary contribution to the Ad Council's public service campaigns.

The Ad Council, a national non-profit organization, is the largest producer of public service advertising campaigns in the U.S. Through partnerships with non-profit organizations and federal government agencies, the agency works to drive change on public issues through PSAs and innovative communications programs. All Ad Council campaign PSAs are aired and run in donated media time and space.

In 2016, CCOA became the first exclusive out-of-home advertising partner for Project Yellow Light, a national contest that is part of the Ad Council's Texting and Driving Prevention campaign, which calls on students to create content to educate their peers on the dangers of using mobile devices behind the wheel of a vehicle.

CCOA featured the winners' creative nationally on its digital billboard network from June through December, and also hosted a launch event in Times Square to unveil the winners.

Clear Channel Outdoor has also supported other Ad Council campaigns this year, including Shelter Pet Adoption, Emergency Preparedness, Discovering Nature and Hunger Prevention.
Digital Billboard Rules Get a Do-Over in Palmer Township
By Rudy Miller
May 27, 2017
NJ -Palmer Township officials want to keep digital billboards away from homes and make sure they stay dim at night before any more go up.

They're near the end of rewriting the township's digital billboard regulations, according to township supervisors chairman Dave Colver.

A digital billboard is proposed behind Hess Wood Recycling at 2357 Newlins Mill Road, but the developer has agreed to wait until the revised rules are adopted. They're supposed to be ready by June or July, Colver said.

The township's original ordinance governing digital billboards was scrapped after a long courtroom battle with neighbors.

Charles Diefenderfer and residents in the 2900 block of Hay Terrace said the supervisors never should have allowed digital billboards to remain lit 24 hours a day. They said a billboard across Route 22 from their homes was so bright they couldn't sleep.

Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court agreed. So the judges decided Nov. 10, 2015, to scrap the township's billboard ordinance altogether.

Diefenderfer was unsuccessful in getting the digital billboard turned off from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Instead, the owner agreed to dim the lights at night.

"It's better," he said. "You can still see it at night but it's not as imposing."
He said trees and bushes block the sign for some of the neighbors but everyone suffers in the winter when the trees are bare.

Once a litigant against the township, now Diefenderfer has pored over the revised ordinance and offered his advice to make it better.

Colver said the new ordinance will better protect residents. The billboard on Route 22 is in an area zoned light industrial, but happens to be directly across Route 22 from an area zoned residential.

The billboard proposed behind Hess Wood Recycling wouldn't be near any homes, he said.

The new ordinance will require the digital billboard to be dimmed at night. Diefenderfer also wants to make sure billboards aren't too close together.

Colver said Diefenderfer's input has been valuable.

"It's not really been a contentious situation," he said.
NatGeo Puts Your Selfie With an Endangered Animal in Times Square
By Alexandra Jardine
May 22, 2017
National Geographic marked Endangered Species Day last Friday with a Times Square billboard takeover that let people take a selfie with an animal as background and then see it on the big screens.
Members of the public were encouraged to look for National Geographic Photo Ark posters, snap a selfie with the endangered animal, and share via Instagram or Twitter using #SaveTogether. Participants' images were instantly displayed on digital billboards.
The media space was donated by members of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) while the digital OOH activity was driven by OpenLoop, the real-time campaign management and distribution platform developed by ad tech specialist, QDOT. All the photos in the Photo Ark project were taken by photographer Joel Sartore.
Other U.S. cities running similar activations included Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. The campaign will now expand throughout the U.S. where Photo Ark animals will be featured on printed and digital billboards, bus shelters, airport dioramas, mall kiosks and other OOH formats.

Vintage Billboards on Alabama Highways, from 1930s-60s
By Kelly Kazek
May 25, 2017
Alabama highways were dotted with billboards from the early days of car travel. Check out the billboards during wartime and the tourism promotions from the 1950s.
  A promotional billboard for the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel in the 1950-'60s.

  An undated photo of a World War II billboard in Gadsden.

  Billboards in Montgomery in 1959 advertising Dr Pepper and Kool-Aid.

  An undated photo of an Alabama welcome sign.