ARRL Withdraws “Regulation by Bandwidth” Petition, Plans to Refile

I used to write for an engineering trade magazine, Test&Measurement World. If anything that I’d written had caused “widespread misconception” it was undoubtedly because it was poorly written, and the fault was mine. It was most definitely not the fault of my readers.

Maybe it’s just me, but everything I’ve read from the ARRL on this issue sounds high-handed. Instead of taking the blame for a poorly-written proposal, they continually try to assert that the problem is not with their proposal, but with the amateur radio community. Calling a glaring mistake an “unintentional editorial error” (isn’t “unintentional error” redundant?) doesn’t really instill confidence now, does it?

At any rate, kudos to the ARRL Board and ARRL President Joel Harrison, W5ZN, for taking a step back on this issue. Let’s hope we can build a more solid consensus next time around…….Dan

From the April 27, 2007 issue of the ARRL Letter:

The ARRL has withdrawn its controversial November 2005 Petition for Rule Making (RM-11306), calling on the FCC to establish a regulatory regime to segment bands by necessary bandwidth rather than by emission mode. The League cited “widespread misconceptions” surrounding the petition as a primary reason for deciding to remove it from FCC consideration. The ARRL left open the option of refiling the same or a similar petition in the future, however.

“The withdrawal of the petition will permit a full discussion and consideration of options at the July 2007 meeting of the ARRL Board of Directors,” said ARRL President Joel Harrison, W5ZN. “The petition then can be recast with a better explanation of its scope and the reasons for the proposed changes.”

The ARRL Executive Committee recommended withdrawing the petition when it met by teleconference April 10. The ARRL Board of Directors subsequently okayed the EC’s recommendation by mail vote.

The ARRL Board continues to support the concept of regulation by maximum emission bandwidth as a way to facilitate the eventual transition from analog to digital communication modes. ARRL CEO David Sumner, K1ZZ, emphasized that the League seeks a regulatory framework that’s “fully compatible with both narrowband and wideband analog emission modes now in common use” on the ham bands.

Sumner expressed the hope that a refiled regulation-by-bandwidth petition would “address — and hopefully avoid — widespread misconceptions” about RM-11306, either in its original form or as amended earlier this year. Irrespective of the present controversy over the petition’s proposals, he pointed out, the League repeatedly sought comment on its regulation-by-bandwidth concepts before filing its petition with the FCC.

The ARRL first sounded out the Amateur Radio community regarding regulation-by-bandwidth three years ago. A September 2004 “It Seems to Us . . .” QST editorial “Regulation by Bandwidth” followed, explaining the concept and its rationale. Hundreds of subsequent comments from ARRL members and others “helped to bring the issues on which the amateur community was not in agreement into focus.”

That led to a second editorial, “Narrowing the Bandwidth Issues,” in April 2005 QST, soliciting additional comments on the plan’s most contentious points. That drew hundreds more constructive and critical comments, and the ARRL took all input into account in developing a draft petition for the Board’s consideration. The ARRL filed the petition in November 2005, and the FCC put it on public notice in January 2006.

In all, the amateur community has posted upward of 1000 comments on RM-11306. While some comments appropriately reflected concerns about the proposed substantial shift in regulatory philosophy, others tended to reflect a lack of understanding of existing rules, of the ARRL’s proposals, or both. Some expressed the view that the League was attempting to promote or legitimize particular data modes, such as Winlink.

“The petition, in fact, had nothing specifically to do with Winlink or any other particular data mode,” Sumner maintains. “It was, rather, a means of facilitating data experimentation, which is somewhat stifled under the current rules” that apply almost exclusively to analog modes.

A major distraction in the public debate related to automatically controlled data stations, and assertions that adopting the League’s petition would permit such facilities to run roughshod over CW and other traditional modes. Sumner says automatic control is not even an essential component of the League’s regulation-by-bandwidth proposals, which would leave in place restrictions on automatically controlled stations.

Revisions to RM-11306 the ARRL filed earlier this year to accommodate changes in Part 97 that occurred since November 2005 only seemed to generate additional controversy and lead to further confusion, Sumner concedes. Those revisions would have largely confined regulation by bandwidth to the VHF and UHF bands.

One misunderstanding resulting from an unintentional editorial error in the League’s revisions gave rise to concerns that the ARRL’s proposed 3 kHz bandwidth limitation for data emissions represented an expansion of the currently permitted maximum bandwidth. Quite the contrary, Sumner explains.

“In fact, 3 kHz bandwidth would have been a new limitation, because the present baud rate limit applies to individual carriers,” he said. “Therefore, for emissions such as OFDM [orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing], which use multiple carriers, there is no effective bandwidth limit in the HF bands now.” Sumner notes that under current rules, a single OFDM signal could conceivably — and legally — occupy an entire HF band.

Harrison assured that the League intends to offer a “far better explanation” of the consequences of regulation by bandwidth before filing a new petition proposing that regulatory concept, “so that the misunderstandings that occurred with respect to RM-11306 do not happen again.”

Yet More Guesses on the Next Sunspot Cycle

CNN reports that a government panel charged with forecasting the next sunspot cycle predict that

the current solar cycle will probably end next March, when Solar Cycle 24 will begin. That will mean Cycle 23 lasted 12 years, slightly longer than the usual 11-year cycle.

They are divided, however, on when the peak of the next cycle will occur. According to the report, “Half of the specialists predicted a moderately strong cycle of 140 sunspots expected to peak in October of 2011, while the rest called for a moderately weak cycle of 90 sunspots peaking in August of 2012.”

Read the complete story.

Ham Radio Just Saved Me $100

I know ham radio usually costs us money, but once in a while the skills and/or equipment we accumulate can actually save us some cash. In this case, I figure it saved me about a hundred bucks.

What am I talking about? Well, over the weekend, I noticed that my refrigerator wasn’t keeping things as cold as it had in the past. I cranked the cooling control up to no avail.

Monday morning, I called the appliance repair place that has fixed this particular refrigerator before—a fancy, bulit-in Sub-Zero that came with the place when I bought it six years ago. When they told me that the SubZero guy couldn’t get over to my house until the next Monday, I made the appointment, but decided to see if there was something I could do.

On this particular model, the compressors—one for the refrigerator and one for the freezer—are on top of the refrigerator, behind a panel and a ventilation grill. After removing the panel, the problem was obvious—the fan blowing on the radiator wasn’t turning, and when I touched it, it was very hot.

So, how does ham radio fit into all this? Well, I don’t know how many years ago, I bought a box fan for a buck or two at some hamfest. I’m not sure I ever really used it for anything, but there it was sitting on the shelf when I needed it. It even had an AC cord already attached with wire nuts. I put it on the shelf near the condensers and directed the airflow over the condensers and then on to the radiator. In a couple of hours, my refrigerator was as cool as ever.

Tuesday, I went and purchased a new fan. Of course, I bought the wrong one, so today I went back and got the right one. It took me about an hour and a half to get it installed and the kitchen cleaned up.

I figure the fan saved me at least $100. That is $100 for the service call and however much for food spoilage. Thank you, ham radio!

We’re Not Alone in Wondering About Radio Shaft

According to The Onion, “Even CEO Can’t Figure Out How RadioShack Still In Business.”

Funny stuff. Even funnier is the Google ad for the RadioShack Official Site – www.RadioShack.com.

MI QSO Party 2007

Last Saturday, the 2007 version of the Michigan QSO Party took place. My club, ARROW, once again made this a club event, with Tom Snoblen hosting this year. We had a pretty good turnout with about ten guys showing up at one point or another.

We had three stations going from just after noon to about 8 pm. Tim, KT8K, brought his Orion and an antenna for 20m, so he concentrated mainly on that band. The club’s IC-746PRO was connect to a B&W broadband, terminated folded dipole, and we operated that radio mostly on 40m.

Sam KC8QCZ brought his IC-746PRO and hooked it up to Tom’s 80m dipole. We operated this station mostly on 80m, and even during the afternoon, we were able to make plenty of contacts. I attribute this to Tom’s fine antenna–I certainly don’t have this much success at my QTH with my random wire antenna.

We had planned to use the N1MM logging software, but after abortive attempts by both Sam and Tim, we decided to go with the N3FJP MI QP program. Both Tim and I already had this on our computers, and it worked quite nicely. They wanted to try the N1MM software as we’re thinking about using it for Field Day, but seeing as how difficult it was to configure and get running, I hope they think twice about this. It may be good for experienced operators, but on Field Day you have many inexperienced ops, and it could be a real disaster.

Overall, we made about 270 contacts. I’m guessing that I made about 90 of them. That’s certainly not going to be winning us many prizes, but it’s better than we’ve done in the past. It’s progress, at any rate.

Operating Notes

Here are some random operating notes:

  • Since I still haven’t gotten my 40m dipole back up in the air, I’ve been operating a lot of 80m lately. Many of the stations I work complain about the noise, with many saying that the noise level is S9. I just don’t have that problem here.

    I’m guessing that it’s my crummy random-wire antenna. It certainly doesn’t seem to hear as well as it transmits. Then again, I hear a fair amount of S9 stations, so maybe it’s not that at all. Maybe I’m just lucky?

  • More stations seem to be using tube gear or homebrew gear on 80m than on the other bands. I’ve certainly not done a scientific study of this, but it certainly seems this way.
  • Lots of times at the end of a QSO, I’ll hear a third station give a “dit dit” as though they were copying the QSO and wanted to also say goodbye or at least acknowledge that they were copying. I wish more of them would do more than just dit-dit me. If you’re one of those operators, please feel free to call and have a QSO with me.
  • Tonight, I was the net control operator for our club’s 2m Monday Night Net. Including me, we had 25 stations on the net tonight! I don’t know if that’s a record, but it’s pretty close. It took us 45 minutes to get through the first go-around, so I just called it quits after giving everyone a transmission.

Vanity Calls to Get Cheaper

From the ARRL Letter, 4/20/07:

FCC POISED TO CUT VANITY CALL SIGN FEE BY MORE THAN 40 PERCENT

The FCC has proposed reducing the regulatory fee to obtain or retain an Amateur Radio vanity call sign by more than 40 percent starting later this year. In a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), “Assessment and Collection of Regulatory Fees for Fiscal Year 2007″ in MD Docket 07-81 released April 18, the Commission is proposing to cut the fee from its current $20.80 to $11.70. If ultimately adopted, that would mark the lowest fee in the history of the current vanity call sign program. The FCC proposed to collect nearly $290.3 million in FY 2007 regulatory fees.

“These fees are mandated by Congress and are collected to recover the regulatory costs associated with the Commission’s enforcement, policy and rulemaking, user information, and international activities,” the FCC said. “Consistent with our established practice, we intend to collect these regulatory fees in the August-September 2007 time frame in order to collect the required amount by the end of the fiscal year.” Comments on MD Docket 07-81 are due May 3. Reply comments are due May 11.

The vanity call sign fee has fluctuated over the 11 years of the current vanity call sign program — from a low of $12 to a high of $50. The FCC says it anticipates some 14,700 Amateur Radio vanity call sign “payment units” or applications during the next fiscal year.

The vanity call sign regulatory fee is payable not only when applying for a new vanity call sign but upon renewing a vanity call sign for a new term. The first vanity call sign licenses issued under the current Amateur Radio vanity call sign program that began in 1996 came up for renewal last year.

Those holding vanity call signs issued prior to 1996 are exempt from having to pay the vanity call sign regulatory fee at renewal, however. That’s because Congress did not authorize the FCC to collect regulatory fees until 1993. Such “heritage” vanity call sign holders do not appear as vanity licensees in the FCC Amateur Radio database.

Amateur Radio licensees may file for renewal only within 90 days of their license expiration date. The ARRL VEC will process license renewals for vanity call sign holders for a modest fee. The service is available to ARRL members and nonmembers, although League members pay less. Routine, non-vanity renewals continue to be free for ARRL members. Trustees of club stations with vanity call signs may renew either via the ULS or through a Club Station Call Sign Administrator, such as ARRL VEC.

League members should visit the “ARRL Member Instructions for License Renewals or Changes” page, while the “Instructions for License Renewals or Changes” page covers general renewal procedures for nonmembers. There’s additional information on the ARRL VEC’s “FCC License Renewals and ARRL License Expiration Notices” page.

License application and renewal information and links to the required forms are available on the ARRL Amateur Application Filing FAQ Web page. The FCC’s forms page also offers the required forms.

Splicing Antenna Wire

Three months ago, my 40m dipole came down in an ice storm when a big branch fell on top of one of the elements. The weight of the branch plus all the ice actually broke the FlexWeave wire.

Today, I finally decided to fix it. Being the cheapp guy that I am, I thought that I could just splice the wire, using a short piece of FlexWeave to connect the two. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I knew the wire was dirty, but I thought I could clean it sufficiently by sanding it down. That didn’t work at all. After twisting the wires together as specified by an app note written by Joe Carr that I found online, and heating it up with a soldering gun, the new wire gleefully absorbed the solder, but it just blobbed up on the old wire.

Rummaging around in my supplies, I came up with a can of Brasso. I tried cleaning the wire with Brasso, but while I got a lot of dirt off the wire with the Brasso, it didn’t solder any better.

Oh well. At this point, I probably should just give up and cut a new 33-ft. element. I’ve got more than an hour invested in this now, though, and I’m determined to see this through just on principle. Any suggestions would be gratefully accepted.

Tomorrow’s Electronics Hobbyists

A couple of months ago, Louis Frenzel, an editor with Electronic Design, wrote an article, “Whatever Happened to the Electronic Hobbyist?” In the article, he bemoaned the dearth of electronics magazines we had way back when, but concluded:

Electronics has evolved and so, as a result, has the hobbyist. So perhaps the whole electronic hobby thing didn’t really go away, it just changed. It is different now because the way we design, build, and make electronic equipment just does not make it practical to work at the component level. We don’t fix much of our electronic equipment anyway. We just throw it away and get new and better ones. Aren’t we all just looking for our cell phone to fail or get lost so we can get a cool new smart phone?

Well, this week, Electronic Design posted a followup, “Veteran Electronics Hobbyists Finding New Ways To Enthuse Today’s Youth,” on its website. The article summarizes some of the responses that Frenzel received to his first article. Many readers noted that hams make up the bulk of electronics hobbyists today.

Another reader, John Gray, pointed to four websites keeping the art of the electronics hobbyist alive. I’ve mentioned MakeZine before, but the other three were news to me:

  1. Spark Fun. A seller of lots of interesting stuff. Check out their GPS and Bluetooth ICs and microprocessor prototyping systems.
  2. Hack-A-Day. A blog that has a lot of electronics hacks.
  3. DIY:happy. A blog covering all kinds of do-it-yourself projects. Recent items include how to make your own cat food and how to make a bicycle-powered iPod charger.

More Wallpaper

Also arriving in yesterday’s mail was an attractive certificate from the Washington State Salmon Run, a contest sponsored by the Western Washington DX Club. It seems as though I finished second in Michigan in the low-power, CW category. I don’t recall making all that many contacts, so I was probably second out of two. :) I checked the contest website, but they haven’t yet posted the final results.

soccertificate.jpg

A week or so ago, I received my Second Class Operator’s Certificate (above), confirming my status as a member in good standing of the Second Class Operator’s Club (SOC). The motto of the club is, “Because so few are really First Class.” If you’re feeling bad about not making the cut for the First Class Operator’s Club, be aware that there will always be a place for you in the SOC.

UPDATE 4/16/07: In today’s mail, I got yet another certificate. This one for placing first in Michigan in the single-operator, low power category of the 2007 Virginia QSO Party. I did this one all on 80m CW. Thanks, guys!