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Redacted FCC Emails Cloud Energous' Landmark Approval

Summary

The FCC recently responded to a FOIA request, releasing heavily redacted emails between the FCC and Energous concerning the safety of Energous' device approved in December, 2017.

The emails show consistent concern on part of the FCC.

The dialogue reveals changing methodologies over months of testing to push compliance with SAR standards.

The liberal use of Exemption 4, trade secrets, to redact pages of material, and other documents entirely, just creates more questions than answers.

Background on Specific Absorption Rate (SAR)

Part 18 of the FCC's rules hold limits on SAR to prevent unsafe levels of RF exposure to consumers. A key issue with wireless charging at a distance is that in order to transmit useful amounts of power, the transmitter sends strong enough RF signals that usually exceed acceptable levels. This is why Energous' ability to obtain Part 18 certification for its transmitter, albeit at an undisclosed power output, caused such a tremendous spike in its stock.  

The Documents

The FCC recently provided a batch of emails (I have shared online) in response to a FOIA request for exchanges between the FCC and Energous (WATT) concerning the safety of its mid-field transmitter approved in December, which caused the stock price to more than triple in just a few days. The heavily redacted documents came after weeks of delay and several re-reviews within the FCC, clearly a sensitive matter for the agency.

The documents read in order provide a steady stream of strange interactions between the two organizations. In Doc 9 from June 2018, Rashmi Doshi of the FCC emailed Jeff McNeil, then SVP Operations at Energous, curiously noting that although measured SAR values "seem to meet the limit" they couldn't understand the results they were seeing, and asked for a call for the results to be "clearly explained".

Conversations from July detailed in Doc 10 show Kwok Chan of the FCC emailing Jeff McNeil and stating, "It will likely be early next week before I can review the uploads from the lab and determine if the existing results are sufficient or if additional SAR measurements would be necessary to address the concerns we had discussed during our meeting".

Doc 16 reveals Energous changed receiver configurations, seemingly without addressing it head on with the FCC, nor updating SAR measurements accordingly. Ramashi Doshi states to Jeff McNiel, "The points you have noted below regarding the changes in receiver configurations which impact the field distributions and SAR data need to be clearly resolved."

A terse response from Ramashi in August to questions from Jeff about SAR testing in Doc 18 states, "The primary purpose of the data is to demonstrate that the system operates in a safe manner and that the RF fields show compliance with the rules".

In October, Doc 29, an attachment from the email exchange in Doc 27, has two and a half pages of concerns and questions from the FCC regarding Energous newly updated test conditions that are entirely redacted. Doc 32 provides insight that Energous created a revised 'keep out boundary', presumably because the original setup was categorically unsafe.

Incriminating Statements

As the press release and approval date get closer, pieces of conversation grow increasingly bizarre. In late November (Doc 41), roughly one month before the Energous' approval press release, Kowk Chan of the FCC emails Jeff McNeil of Energous and David Waver of UL noting he needed to, "figure out what to do or look for options". Why would Kowk, on behalf of the FCC, need to look for options for Energous? Shouldn't the onus be on Energous, and Energous alone, to prove that their devices are complaint with the governments standards? This exchange suggests some sort of cooperation by the FCC to, one way or another, get Energous' device pushed through its approval process.

Smoking Gun?

What should also raise eyebrows is later, in the same document #41 regarding SAR testing, Kwok states that the reported information should be consistent as the test reports, "may raise questions when [they] are in the public record". Was there pressure within the FCC to push this approval though, and did it cause the agency to part with best practices to such an extent that they were trying to cover their own tracks?

Doc 52: The final document in the batch from just 11 days before Energous' stock catapulting press release - an email between Tim Harrington of the FCC and Billy Manning - Director of Regulatory Operations at Energous just says "fyi other backgroud fyi... between you and me" with a single attachment. A follow-up request with the FCC revealed that the attachment dated December 18, 2017 had been withheld as the entire document had been redacted.

Odd further still that Jeff McNeil who seemingly led this FCC approval that for shareholders was the single biggest value creator since the company's IPO, appears to have been pushed out within a month of the approval.

Ultimately, the lack of transparency from the FCC around the safety of the Energous device that they approved should give any investor serious pause. The majority of the emails are redacted, and other documents were withheld for being entirely redacted. The over-use of redaction suggests that Energous and the FCC have something to hide. Certainly if you couple that with the FCC Chairman's promotion of the company, Energous' continued inability to commercialize product, and former touted partners such as Myant deciding to ditch them in favor of a wired solution, you need to question the validity of the FCC approval.

Disclosure: I am/we are short WATT.