Feds to begin monitoring spectrum usage

According to the Monitoring Time Fed File blog, The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will begin monitoring real-world usage of the radio-frequency spectrum in 10 cities and evaluate possible plans to more efficiently utilize both federal and non-federal spectrum.

A document summarizing the plan is available online. At this point, it’s only a pilot program, but the NTIA will use the program to “evaluate whether a more comprehensive monitoring program would create additional opportunities for more efficient spectrum access through, for example, increased and more dynamic sharing.”

The public is invited to comment on this program. More details are available in the document.

This should probably encourage us all to use our bands more, and in the words of a fellow club member, “everything 2m and above is underused.” I tend to agree with this assessment. Do you? Got any good ideas on how to use the UHF/microwave bands?

Notes from the ARRL Board Meeting, July 19-20, 2013

ARRLI haven’t gotten the full minutes yet from the recent ARRL board meeting, but there’s a news story about the meeting on the ARRL website. Some interesting things were discussed:

  • ARRL to spend big bucks on Logbook of the World. The board voted to spend $75,000 on outside professional services to improve LoTW’s database. The Board also okayed the hiring of a full-time Headquarters staff member with “strong IT development and architectural skills” to address LoTW improvements. That seems like an awful lot of money to me.
  • ARRL will petition FCC to get rid of symbol rate references. Instead of specifying symbol rates in Part 97. 307(f) , the petition would ask the FCC “to apply to all amateur data emissions below 29.7 MHz the existing bandwidth limit, per §97.303(h), of 2.8 kHz.” I like this idea a lot. It will give hams the incentive to experiment with new digital modes.
  • New training materials.  The article notes that the Board “directed Headquarters staff to investigate the feasibility, benefits and costs of preparing license training materials designed for shorter course sessions.” Uhhhh, I’ve had those materials for many years now. Not only that, the PDF version is FREE! 

I’m jumping on the anti-encryption bandwagon (maybe)

A recent Petition for Rule Making (RM-11699) seeks to permit the encryption of certain amateur communications during emergency operations or related training exercises. This change, should it be approved, would amend §97.113, which currently prohibits “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning.”

On the face of it, it seems like a reasonable proposal. The petition asks that the rule be changed to allow encryption of certain information when passing messages that may contain sensitive information. Indeed, the petition says that such encryption may be required under the provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The ARRL is against this petition. They say that the petition’s reasons for allowing encryption is completely unfounded. They say that radio amateurs, “are not ‘covered entities’ under HIPAA, which applies only to health care providers, health plans and health care clearinghouses.”

KE9V and others say that allowing encryption is a bad idea because it will hinder our ability to self-police amateur radio. KE9V also notes that allowing encryption would allow some to claim that amateur radio could be used for terrorist and other nefarious activities, and that could lead to a shutdown of amateur radio.

I think he’s got a point there. Why give those who would shut down amateur radio the ammo to do so?

KE9V goes on to say that it’s time for a wholesale reevaluation of our role in emergency communications. Amen, brother. It seems to me that as time goes on, what the “served agencies” need and want are becoming more and more different from what amateur radio is prepared to provide.

From the ARRL Letter 6/27/13: Intruder Watch, 13 Colonies special event

Here are two items from today’s ARRL Letter. I include the first one because you’ll notice that there is no report for Region 2. The ARRL is responsible for the Intruder Watch in Region 2 and seems to be behind our brothers in Regions 1 and 3 when it comes to reporting on intruders. I’ve included the item on the 13 Colonies Special Event because I like working this event and would encourage all of you to do so as well…..Dan

IARU(1)International: Intruder Watch Documents Odd Bursts, Beeps and Buzzes on the Bands
The International Amateur Radio Union Monitoring System (IARUMS) continues to observe and log suspect and apparently unauthorized operations that intrude on Amateur Radio allocations. For example, the

TheMay 2013 IARUMS Region 1 (Europe) Newsletterreports an over-the-horizon (OTH) radar operating in Iran daily on 10 meters (26 to 30 MHz), transmitting bursts with 307 and 870 sweeps per second, 60 kHz wide and often jumping, covering 700 kHz and more. IARUMS Region 3 (Oceania) volunteers also have reported hearing the OTH interference from Iran. Regulatory agencies in Switzerland and Germany have filed complaints without effect.

IARUMS volunteers in Region 1 also report BPSK daily military traffic from Ukraine on 15 meters. German authorities have formally complained. DGØJBJ reports having observed 11 OTH radars on 20 meters, 65 OTH radars on 15 meters and 30 OTH radars on 10 meters — not including the OTH radars from Iran.

IARUMS Region 3 volunteers further report ongoing “illegal use of 10 meters for local short-range communications in a number of Asian countries.” Radio Amateurs in IARU Region 2 (the Americas) may report suspected intruders on exclusive Amateur Radio allocations to the ARRL.

On the Air: 13 Colonies Special Event Set
The annual 13 Colonies Special Event will take place during the first week of July, with participating 13 colonies’ stations on the air from 1300 UTC July 1 until 0400 UTC July 6. Event sponsors say at least two special event stations will operate from each colony state. The theme for 2014 is “Banners of the Revolution,” and the certificate — available to all participants regardless of the number of stations worked — will reflect that theme.

Those working all 13 colonies qualify for a “Clean Sweep” certificate designation, and a special endorsement will be attached for stations working WM3PEN in Philadelphia. The suggested exchange is call sign, name, signal report and state/province/country. The event’s sponsors report that more than 62,000 contacts were logged in last year’s 13 Colonies Special Event.

From the trade magazines: spectrum sharing, active filters, real capacitors

Passive components aren’t really so passive (Part 1): Capacitors. Transistors and ICs are considered active components because they change signals using energy from the power supply. Capacitors, resistors, inductors, connectors, and even the printed-circuit board (PCB) are called passive because they don’t seem to consume power. But these apparently passive components can, and do, change the signal in unexpected ways because they all contain parasitic portions. So, many supposedly passive components, like the capacitor shown below, aren’t so passive.

The model above shows that a capacitor adds more than just capacitance when you use it in a circuit.

Peaceful coexistence on the radio spectrum. How two engineers (shown at right) tried to get the military to share some spectrum with their small company.

Signal-chain basics #43: Active filters. While low-frequency filters can be designed with inductors and capacitors, they often require physically large and often expensive inductors. This is where active filters, which combine an operational amplifier (op amp) with some resistors and capacitors, become attractive. Active filters can provide an LCR-like performance at low frequencies

From my inbox: CQ Burger King, BPL, solderless PL-259

Amateur radio plays a big part in this new Burger King ad.


FCC Denies ARRL BPL Petition. As this commentary from TV Technology notes, the FCC denied the ARRL’s that BPL systems include full time notching of amateur radio frequencies and an increase in the required notch depth from 25 dB to 35 dB. They also say, “While the Second MO&O isn’t good news for amateur radio operators, utilities seem to have lost their interest in using BPL to provide residential Internet access…and smart meters so it may have little real impact.” Let’s hope it stays that way.

Solderless PL-259. On the AMRAD mailing list, one ham writes:

Shakespeare has been in the marine antenna business since shortly before the discovery of oceans and they have a couple of bits of kit which you might consider for your ARES or Field Day bug-out box. They make a PL259 and a coax cable spice which go together with nothing but a knife sharp enough to cut the plastics and a pair of pliers. I wouldn’t try running the legal limit through these (the coax they fit wouldn’t like it either) but i have used the PL259 for up to 100-watt service and they have performed admirably.

They are kind of expensive at around $15 a pop, but they do look like quality parts and that they’d work pretty good in a pinch.

ARLB008 FCC Seeks to Reassess RF Exposure Limits

fcc-sealI find the topic of RF exposure very interesting. It seems to me that back in the 1960s and 1970s, when I was just getting into radio, we never even thought about exposure. Now, people go crazy over it. Here in Ann Arbor, for example, the power company is installing “smart” power meters that send data via a cellular system back to a system that monitors power consumption. These devices are  low power at a low duty cycle, yet consumers are getting all bent out of shape about it…Dan

ARLB008 FCC Seeks to Reassess RF Exposure Limits

ARRL Bulletin 8 ARLB008
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT April 4, 2013
To all radio amateurs

ARLB008 FCC Seeks to Reassess RF Exposure Limits

On March 27, the FCC released a First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and a Notice of Inquiry (ET Docket Nos. 13-84 and 03-137). The documents seek to reassess the FCC’s RF exposure limits and policies, as well as to propose changes to the FCC’s rules regarding human exposure to RF electromagnetic fields. These proposed changes would affect the Amateur Radio Service (Part 97) rules. The First Report and Order can be found on the web in PDF format.

In the 201-page document, the FCC noted that “[p]eriodic review of the government’s rules and regulations to ensure they have kept pace with current knowledge and changing needs is an important characteristic of good government, and we here will advance the process of providing a comprehensive review and modification, where appropriate, of this Commission’s various rules pertaining to the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements for environmental reviews, specifically those reviews related to health and safety of radiofrequency (RF) emissions from radio transmitters. Our actions herein are intended to ensure that our measures are compliant with our environmental responsibilities and requirements and that the public is appropriately protected from any potential adverse effects from RF exposure as provided by our rules, while avoiding any unnecessary burden in complying with these rules.”

The document is divided into three parts: a First Report and Order (First R&O) and a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) in ET Docket No. 03-137, and a Notice of Inquiry (Inquiry) in a new docket, ET Docket No. 13-84. In the R&O, the FCC looks at several technical and semantic issues — initiated in 2003 — to be revised and updated; in the FNPRM, the FCC proposes to further update and revise its procedures and treat all services equally.

In the Inquiry, the FCC seeks comments to determine whether its RF exposure limits and policies need to be reassessed. “Since consideration of the limits themselves is explicitly outside of the scope of ET Docket 03-137, we propose with the Inquiry to open a new docket to consider those limits in light of more recent developments,” the FCC said. “The Inquiry is intended to open discussion on both the currency of our RF exposure limits and possible policy approaches regarding RF exposure. We look forward to developing a complete record to determine whether the current rules and policies should remain unchanged, or should be relaxed or tightened.”

According to the FCC, mitigation matters are “post-evaluation procedures to ensure exposure limits are not exceeded, such as labels, signs, barriers, enforcement and occupational issues.” In its Notice of Inquiry, the FCC included clarifications related to the application of occupational exposure limits for devices and at fixed transmitter sites. The FCC noted that it “should be helpful to licensees to codify our earlier adopted policy with regard the use of occupational/controlled limits at Amateur Radio stations.”

This policy was first established in the RF Report and Order of 1996, but it was not incorporated in the rules at that time. It allows amateur stations to be evaluated “with respect to occupational/controlled exposure limits, as long as appropriate training and information has been provided to the amateur licensee and members of his or her immediate household. Other nearby persons who are not members of the amateur licensee’s household must be evaluated with respect to the general population/uncontrolled exposure limits.” The FCC will codify this policy by adding a paragraph as a new sub-section in Section 1.1310 — radiofrequency radiation exposure limits — to its rules.

The FCC pointed out that one goal of the general exemptions from routine RF exposure evaluation proposed “is to avoid specific exemptions for particular services and ensure a consistent set of rules without exceptions.” With this in mind, the FCC is proposing to delete the special exemptions from evaluation in the Amateur Radio Service in Section 97.13(c) of its rules.

“We appreciate that Amateur Radio operators are knowledgeable about the appropriate use of their equipment, such that separation distances are likely to be maintained to ensure compliance with our exposure limits,” the FCC said. “However, since the existing amateur exemptions are based only on transmitter power and do not consider separation distance or antenna gain, exempt transmitting antennas that are unusually close to people could potentially lead to non-compliant exposure levels.” The FCC said that a separation distance of at least 24 feet would meet its proposed exemption criteria, “considering a currently exempt 50 W transmitter at VHF in accord with Section 97.13(c) and assuming an antenna gain of 6 dBd.”

The FCC noted that existing classification of amateur exposure as occupational “is consistent with use of our proposed general exemption criteria based on general population exposure limits because awareness of exposure greater than the general population limits is required in all occupational settings, including amateur households. Application of the general exemptions proposed here to Amateur Radio installations would preclude the possibility of overexposure and require further evaluation only when necessary, giving guidance for both fixed and mobile transmitting antennas.”

The FCC invited comments on how this would affect the amateur community: “Parties that support maintaining the current exemption based on power alone are requested to explain how it provides adequate assurance that the public is protected against exposure to RF energy in excess of our limits and the extent of the burden imposed by this proposal. We encourage interested parties to comment on the relative costs and benefits of the proposed changes in this section, as well as those of alternative approaches.”

“The ARRL has an RF Safety Committee, consisting of experts in the field,” explained ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ; “The committee members, as well as Board members and staff are reviewing the lengthy document and will formulate a response.”

Comments will be accepted until 90 days after the R&O, FNPRM and Notice of Inquiry are published in the Federal Register (this can take up to six weeks after its release by the FCC). Reply comments will be accepted until 150 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Sometimes the ARRL just doesn’t get it

ARRLWhen I renewed my ARRL membership, I must have submitted the order twice because there were two charges for $76 on my credit card bill. At first, I was going to ask for a refund from the ARRL, but then thought, what the heck, I’ll just let it go and have four years of membership, not just two.

I wanted to make sure, though, that I had actually gotten four more years of membership. So, I went to arrl.org, logged in, and went searching for my membership expiration date. I must have wasted about 15 minutes looking for it. Finally, it occurred to me that it might be printed on the electronic membership card that you can print out. Sure enough, it was there, and I was able to confirm that I was good for another four years.

I emailed the ARRL about this, noting that this should be shown on the member’s profile somewhere. I shortly received a reply from a member services representative, “Thank you for your inquiry. The IT Dept are working on adding the expiration date to the web site. If you log in, then click on edit profile, then edit groups, the number of days left on your membership is listed there.”

I replied to that e-mail, noting that having to go to the groups page for this information is definitely not the most intuitive thing to do. Not only that, it doesn’t really say explicitly when my membership expires. All it really tells me is that I am a member of the “full members” group for another 1,500 days or so.

Now that I was on the groups page, I noticed some other things. This page tells me that I am a member of the following groups:

  • Volunteer Examiners
  • Michigan
  • Assistant Section Managers
  • Teachers
  • Instructors
  • Great Lakes
  • Michigan
  • Full Regular
  • Members

This raised a number of questions:

  1. Why am I in the Michigan group twice?
  2. What’s the difference between instructors and teachers?
  3. Why do most of these groups have no information on the page I get taken to when I click the “Go Now!” link.
  4. Why can’t I “unjoin” these groups if I want to?

I hate to sound harsh, but it seems to me that this page is pretty close to being useless. It certainly is useless to me. When I e-mailed the ARRL this list of questions–noting that these were rhetorical questions–I got an e-mail back offering to “help with your questions.”

<SIGH> Sometimes the ARRL just doesn’t get it.

ARRL Executive Committee to meet March 9


The ARRL Executive Committee will meet Saturday, March 9 in Irving, Texas. ARRL President Kay Craigie, N3KN, serves as Chairman of the Executive Committee. Five Division Directors who are elected by the ARRL Board of Directors are also on the committee: Northwestern Division Director Jim Fenstermaker, K9JF; Central Division Director Dick Isely, W9GIG; Rocky Mountain Division Director Brian Mileshosky, N5ZGT; Pacific Division Director Bob Vallio, W6RGG, and West Gulf Division Director David Woolweaver, K5RAV. ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ, and ARRL First Vice President Rick Roderick, K5UR, are non-voting members of the Executive Committee.

There are lots of interesting items on the agenda this time including:

  • 4.1.3. Consideration of changes to FCC Part 97 rules which inhibit or preclude encryption of transmissions and other regulatory impediments to emergency communications.
  • 4.1.8. ET Docket No. 10-236; Promoting Expanded Opportunities for Radio Experimentation and Market Trials under Part 5 of the Commission’s Rules and Streamlining Other Related Rules.

Download it, read it, and let the directors know what you think.

IARU Region 2 Seeks Input on HF Band Plan

Note that the deadline for comments is March 1. So, you have less than one month to tell the IARU what you think……Dan

Special Bulletin 1 ARLX001
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT February 7, 2013
To all radio amateurs

ARLX001 IARU Region 2 Seeks Input on HF Band Plan

The International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) Region 2 conference will be held later this year in Mexico. The Region 2 conference – held every three years — is attended by delegations from the national Amateur Radio societies in the western hemisphere that are members of the IARU. The ARRL is the IARU Member Society for the US.

One of the topics on the conference agenda will be the Region 2 HF band plan. This band plan is “harmonized” with — spectrum  management-speak for “very similar to” — the IARU Region 1 and Region 3 band plans. Many hams in the US may not know there is such a thing as a Region 2 band plan. Other American hams have heard of it but may not know how — if at all — this band plan affects them.

Here are important facts for American hams to keep in mind:

  • IARU band plans are voluntary guidelines. They do not have the force of FCC regulations. For radio amateurs in the US, IARU band plans are informational, not regulations.
  • It would be inappropriate to incorporate Region 2 band plans into the FCC rules, and the ARRL has no plan to petition the FCC to do so.
  • Most other countries do not have the detailed sub-band regulations that are in Part 97 of the FCC rules. For radio amateurs in those countries, IARU band plans may offer the only guidance on frequency usage.
  • The appearance of a calling frequency or band segment for a particular purpose or mode in the IARU band plan does not convey any special rights or exclusivity of use.
  • The absence of a calling frequency or band segment associated with a particular purpose or mode should not be interpreted as disparaging or discouraging that purpose or activity.

The Secretary of IARU Region 2 has asked Member Societies to offer any suggestions they may have about possible changes to the Region 2 band plan. The ARRL is cooperating with this procedure by inviting your input to be sent to the ARRL Board’s HF Band Planning Committee. The committee will review the existing Region 2 band plan, consider input from the amateur community and make recommendations to the ARRL Board of Directors for submission to IARU Region 2.

Radio amateurs in the US who would like to submit input should take the following steps:

  1. Study the existing IARU Region 2 band plan posted on the Region 2 website at, http://www.iaru-r2.org/band-plan/. The Region 1 and Region 3 band plans are also posted there, so be sure you are looking at the band plan for Region 2.
  2. Formulate a clear statement of any change you propose. Include a brief explanation of why you think the change would be beneficial. Please include your name and call sign in your message.
  3. Send your input via e-mail no later than March 1, 2013. Messages will be automatically acknowledged.

If you live in another country in Region 2, please contact your national Amateur Radio society for information on how to submit input for the band plan process. The contact information for Region 2 Member Societies can be found on the web at http://www.iaru-r2.org/directory/.