FCC: Ham Radio is below the radar

andre kesteloot andre.kesteloot at verizon.net
Fri May 23 21:01:46 CDT 2008


William Cross, W3TN, a staff member in the FCC's Wireless
Telecommunications Bureau, and Riley Hollingsworth, Special Counsel for
the Spectrum Enforcement Division of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, spoke
at the FCC Forum on Saturday afternoon at the 2008 Dayton Hamvention.
Cross opened by explaining just where Amateur Radio falls in the FCC's

"The Mobility Division of Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has the
oversight of the Amateur Radio Service," Cross said. "We handle the
day-to-day administration of the Amateur Service and some of the
rulemaking activities that affect the Amateur Radio Service. The
Gettysburg office handles applications, licensing -- including vanity
calls -- and the ULS. Within the Commission, other bureaus also make
rules that affect you. The Office of Engineering and Technology handles
spectrum allocations and equipment issues. Our Managing Director's
Office is the office that handles matters relating to fees, such as the
fees relating to vanity call signs, Debt Collection Improvement Act
matters, the need for Federal Registration Numbers."

Cross divided comments into two areas: Proceedings where the Commission
has issued a decision and rulemaking requests that have been filed with
the FCC, but which are pending resolution by the Commission.

Calling the past year "interesting, because it has been a quiet year on
the regulatory front," he said that no big rulemaking items were
released. "This being an election year, there doesn't seem to be any
legislation on Capitol Hill that is of direct interest or impact on the
Amateur Service. This year is a good time for Amateur Radio to be flying
'below the radar,' and that's where ham radio is right now in terms of
the big picture -- below the radar," Cross said. "We wrapped up a couple
of Petitions for Rulemaking [PRM] that were pending and it doesn't look
like (at least in the near future) there will be anything else coming

One of the cases the FCC issued a decision on was what Cross referred to
as the Miller Order. This Order, released May 7, dismissed a PRM from
Mark Miller, N5RFX. Miller sought three points: To delete the FCC's 2006
addition to how it defines data, to amend the rules to prohibit
automatically controlled stations from transmitting on frequency
segments other than those specified in Section 97.221(b), and to replace
the symbol rate limits in Section 97.307(f) with bandwidth limitations.

"The effect of these changes," Cross explained, "when taken together,
would have been, as [Miller] said, 'A small number of wider bandwidth
modes, including Pactor III, would no longer be authorized.' Translating
that into English, what he was asking for was 'bye-bye Winlink.' Don't
get me wrong -- Winlink as a communications system seems to have become
the 'Brussels sprouts of ham radio' -- you either love it or you hate
it. And trying to bury it under ketchup or hollandaise sauce hasn't
changed the basic like or dislike for Winlink. Most of the controversy
here seems to swirl around how certain licensees use it. Some use it for
a radio e-mail system. Others use it for getting weather maps while they
are on sailboats in places the brave dare not go. Others use it for
their personal business activities, such as buying and selling stocks.
These uses are really a Section 97.113, a 'prohibited communications'
question, not a technology question."

Cross mentioned that there are "some things coming down the pike that
you want to keep track of. The ARRL has a pending petition -- RM 11325
-- that requests that we amend the rules that apply to the power
stations may use when transmitting spread-spectrum emissions -- BPL. The
DC Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the FCC's final BPL rules. The
Court did not vacate the rules, so they are still in effect. There will
be another proceeding to address what the Court told the Commission it
had to address."

The Northern California Packet Association has filed a request for
clarification that the FCC define what is meant by the term
"simultaneously" as it is used when defining a repeater. "The issue here
is that in California," Cross explained, "D-STAR repeaters have been
coordinated on channels that are set aside for auxiliary stations, on
the basis that, because there is a delay in retransmission of the
signal, the retransmission is not simultaneous, and therefore the
repeating station is not a repeater." Cross said others have advanced
what he calls "the duck argument: If the station looks like a repeater,
if it functions like a repeater, and it sounds like a repeater, it
should be treated as a repeater -- and confined to the repeater
subbands. A decision on this will be coming [from the Commission]

When Hollingsworth stepped up to the podium, he spoke about what he
called "the magic of radio," saying, "we need to realize the debt we owe
to those who work so hard to further the goals of Amateur Radio, whether
it's the Emergency Communications participants, club members, teachers,
VEs, the League. One of the richest rewards in doing something is to
experience joy in doing it. And with so many people working so hard on
their own time to further the goals of Amateur Radio, we're all a little
more free to enjoy radio and to make it fun as well as a public

Saying that "things have calmed down a lot in the Amateur Radio
Service," Hollingsworth explained, "[that] when it comes to the Amateur
Radio Service, there's one enforcement tool we need very badly and we
just don't have it -- and that's straitjackets," he deadpanned,
eliciting guffaws from the crowd of more than 150 people. "Some days I
want to ask, 'Why can't everybody just get along?'"

Hollingsworth noted that since the 75 and 80 meter phone band has been
expanded, "a lot of these regular small groups, ragchews and some of the
Nets should consider "spreading out, because a lot of the regular
operations every night are clumped together. Yes, there are still
interference issues and interference allegations, but if everybody would
spread out a little bit, now, it's going to take a real change of habit
by a group that has used the same frequency for 40 years to talk across
the state, but you really need to spread out and take advantage [of the
band] expansion."

He also noted that interest in Morse code "seems to be higher than ever
before." On the enforcement side, Hollingsworth said he has noticed "no
difference in enforcement problems related to no-code, and I think I'm
seeing more young people at events that I go to." He reminded audience
that only 1 percent of Amateur Radio licensees filed comments in the
Morse code Proceeding. "I see the new code keys for sale here, and I
always see a big crowd of people around anything related to code or code
keyers. I think the interest has really peaked."

Hollingsworth pointed out a 12 year old boy who sat in the front row.
When asked, the boy responded he received his license three years ago
when he was 9. "The future President of the League might be sitting
right there," Hollingsworth explained, pointing at the boy. "That's our
future, right there, and we're depending on you. We need a lot more
young people and I think that Morse code seems to interest young people
-- hopefully they're getting tired of instant messengers and the
Internet. Last night someone told me about a 14 year old Net Control
Operator on a national Net."

Calling for "more courtesy" on the Amateur Radio bands, Hollingsworth
said, "This fighting amongst yourselves is the worst thing that you can
do. You have some rude operators and operators who don't care and who
are hateful and bitter about life in general, but every group has that,
whether it's doctors, electricians, lawyers, plumbers, whatever, every
group has a certain percentage of people like that. What you have to do
is to remind yourself every day to stay on the high road and report to
us if you can't resolve a problem after you've given it a chance to go
away. There are plenty of ugly situations in the world and you don't
have to add to them. Now, there are a few idiots in your Service who
know all the answers, only because they haven't thought of all the
questions. They just want recognition and reaction. Don't give it to
them. Don't be baited. Don't feel insulted -- they are their own worst
punishment. Don't dignify them with a response."

Hollingsworth implored the audience to "never let the Commission get by
again with handing you 10 to 12 years of neglect. You have to stay
vigilant. Even though the bands may sound better to you, you have to be
vigilant to protect your Service, and be part of the solution -- not the
problem -- and operate as if the whole world is listening, because
generally it is."

You can listen to the FCC Forum in its entirety on the ARRL Web site

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