60m band rule changes coming

The FCC has released a new Report & Order (R&O) that will change rules for the 60m band. An article on the ARRL website summarizes the changes:

  • The frequency 5368.0 kHz (carrier frequency 5366.5 kHz) is withdrawn and a new frequency of 5358.5 kHz (carrier frequency 5357.0 kHz) is authorized.
  • The effective radiated power limit in the 60 meter band is raised by 3 dB, from 50 W PEP to 100 W PEP, relative to a half-wave dipole. If another type of antenna is used, the station licensee must maintain a record of either the antenna manufacturer’s data on the antenna gain or calculations of the antenna gain.
  • Three additional emission types are authorized. Data (emission designator 2K80J2D, for example, PACTOR-III), RTTY (emission designator 60H0J2B, for example, PSK31) and CW (150HA1A, i.e. Morse telegraphy by means of on-off keying). For CW, the carrier frequency must be set to the center frequency. For data and RTTY the requirement to transmit “only on the five center frequencies specified” may be met by using the same practice as on USB, i.e. by setting the suppressed carrier frequency of the USB transmitter used to generate the J2D or J2B emission to the carrier frequency that is 1.5 kHz below the center frequency.

The rules will take effect 30 days after they are published in the Federal Register.

American Morse Illegal on the Ham Bands?

As I’ve mentioned here, I’m half-heartedly trying to learn American Morse Code. Why? Well, while ham radio is keeping International Morse Code alive, there is not as big an outlet for American Morse. The Morse Telegraph Club (MTC) is perhaps the only organization keeping American Morse alive, but there are far fewer members of MTC as there are amateur radio operators who use Morse Code.

Now, I had heard of some amateurs using Americian Morse on the air, but not only are they few and far between, the American Morse that you would hear on the air is not the same as clicks and clacks of a telegraph sounder. And, now, on top of that, it is apparently illegal for amateur radio operators to use American Morse Code on the air.

This was recently brought to my attention on MTC mailing list, slowspeedwire. Chip, N3IW, noted:

Also, for US amateur radio operators we cannot legally use American Morse on the air. That’s because the FCC has defined the CW mode as using International Code only. There is no legal mode that can use American Morse on the air because of that definition.

Being curious about this, I tried to find out where this was so defined, but was unable to and asked for a clarification. In response, Jim, WB8SIW, MTC president, said:

The issue of the legality of American Morse on the ham bands is a fairly recent development. As I understand it, the issue arose when someone at the NCVEC conference asked a representative of the FCC if the use of American Morse Code on Amateur Service frequencies was legal. The FCC representatives present considered the question and stated that, in their opinions, the use of American Morse was illegal because Part 97 defines telegraphy as the standard International Morse Code.

This statement was reiterated and supported by Gary Johnston, W3BE, who writes a FCC rules column for the QCWA and perhaps other publications. Mr. Johnston has gone on record as being unequivicolly opposed to the use of the Amercan Morse Code on the ham bands. While he is retired from the FCC and his opinion has no official weight, the fact that he has pronounced it illegal influenes many radio amateurs.

I had some correspondence with Mr. Johnston in which I outlined the history of the use of American Morse on the ham bands and argued a contrary opinion. The result was essentially a terse note in response, which, in my opinion, I can only describe as being intended to “put me in my place.”

A couple of points are probably in order, however:

First, no one has ever tested the opinion that American Morse is illegal through a test case under the Administrative Law process. However, I suspect few of us have the time or money to do so if we received a Notice of Apparent Violation.

Second, the old rule of government regulation stands. When one asks a government agency to rule on a hypothetical issue, one will nearly always obtain the most restrictive opinion. Someone made the mistake of asking if it was legal, and, as a result, we have now been told that it likely is.

Still, I was not satisified, and because some of Johnston’s proclamations on the rules irk me so much that I can’t bear to read his column anymore, I searched again through the rules. This time, I found references to International Morse Code in 97.307(f)(9) and 97.307(f)(10), and those parts referred to the use of International Morse Code by Novices and Technicians. I also found part 97.305(a), which says, “An amateur station may transmit a CW emission on any frequency authorized to the control operator.” It does not, however, specify that the CW emission be in International Morse Code.

After posting this, to the mailing list, N3IW did point me at the correct parts. He wrote:

The definition of CW and MCW are found in Part 97.3(c)(1) and 97.3(c)(4):

Part 97.3(c) The following terms are used in this part to indicate emission types. Refer to Sec. 2.201 of the FCC Rules, Emission, modulation and transmission characteristics, for information on emission type designators.
(1) CW. International Morse code telegraphy emissions having designators with A, C, H, J or R as the first symbol; 1 as the second symbol; A or B as the third symbol; and emissions J2A and J2B.
(4) MCW. Tone-modulated international Morse code telegraphy emissions having designators with A, C, D, F, G, H or R as the first symbol; 2 as the second symbol; A or B as the third symbol.

So, there you have it. These two parts conclusively define CW and MCW as being International Morse Code. It seems kind of silly to me that American Morse is not allowed, given that it’s such a well-defined code and that the rules allow the transmission of far more exotic codes using the digital modes. Anyone want to draft a petition to change the rules?

Are You in Control?

With Field Day just two days away, I thought it might be a good idea to review the concept of the control operator. It seems to me that there’s some misconceptions out there about this topic, and a lot of amateur radio clubs get a little loosey-goosey with the concept of the control operator on Field Day.

So, the question is what constitutes a control point? How close does a control operator need to be?

I liked the reply of Tim, N9PUZ. He wrote:

I can provide one opinion.

I am the trustee for W9SPI, the call sign for our local ARES group. One of our board members is a volunteer ARRL legal counsel, and his opinion is that since ultimately I am responsible for operations carried out under that call sign, I and I alone have the final decision on how to interpret what constitutes a “control operator.”

It is my position that a control operator needs to be able to monitor/observe first hand how the particular station is being operated and be close enough that he/she can immediately take it off the air if there is a problem with either equipment or the person physically operating. As for “how close?”, I like to see the CO close enough that they can reach across the table, walk across the room or tent, reach down and disconnect the power, etc. If they need to go to the porta-potties, head out to their car, go to the food tent, etc. then someone else with the appropriate level of license needs to become the CO for a while.

I think it’s perfectly okay for there to be a lot of control operators and just note who is in charge if it changes a lot.

I’ve seen some pretty loose interpretations of “control operator” at some Field Day events. I have heard some clubs say that as long as there is one Extra class operator within the circle (1,000 ft?) that everyone on site can operate with Extra class privileges. Not on my watch.

Another ham expressed a more practical viewpoint:

Many control operators trust the operators that are operating stations under their supervision. If I’m trustee, and I know that I’ve got a bunch of people that I trust either operating or watching over other operators, I feel that I’ve fulfilled the requirements of the regulations. Do I feel that I can adequately stop transmissions if I’m a half mile away in an adequate time? Sure.

There’s not that much difference in the control of an HF station and the control of a repeater station. As long as everyone is operating within the designated parameters, the FCC stays happy.

This has been discussed and fought over thousands of times for many years, and I’ve yet to hear a control operator or trustee chastised by the FCC for any reason, except for flagrant and repeated violation of the rules.

He’s quite right to say that no one’s been cited for a rules violation, at least I can’t think of anyone who’s been cited, but I’m not sure that make it “right.”

The relevant rules are 97.103(a) and (b). They read:

Station licensee responsibilities. -
(a) The station licensee [In the case of a club callsign, the licensee is the trustee...Dan] is responsible for the proper operation of the station in accordance with the FCC Rules. When the control operator is a different amateur operator than the station licensee, both persons are equally responsible for proper operation of the station.
(b) The station licensee must designate the station control operator. The FCC will presume that the station licensee is also the control operator, unless documentation to the contrary is in the station records.

So, in the end, from a practical point of view, if you are the trustee of a club call sign being used during Field Day, I think it’s a matter of how much you trust the operators that will be using the call sign. In none of the Field Day operations that I’ve been part of has the trustee designated specific control operators, nor have the control operators been recorded anywhere.

That being the case, the full responsibility falls on the trustee. Should something bad happen, he or she would be completely responsible. That’s something to consider if, like me, you’re the trustee of a call sign being used on Field Day.

FCC Fines Ham $4k

In an article on pirate radio broadcasters being fine, Radio World threw in this report about a Philadelphia amateur radio operator also being penalized:

Another fine is in a ham radio case. The commission affirmed a proposed fine of $4,000 against Jose Torres for operating his amateur station on an unauthorized frequency, 26.71 MHz. Torres is the licensee of Amateur Extra Class station N3TX in Philadelphia. The agency says he’d been warned about not operating on that frequency and fined $4,000 in 2009. He asked that the fine be reduced or cancelled, telling agents he wasn’t home during the alleged unauthorized operations in 2008 and submitted cellphone records to support his claim; Torres also submitted three years of federal tax returns to bolster his argument of an inability to pay. The FCC didn’t buy his arguments; field agents say they heard his voice on the unauthorized transmissions and that the cellphone records don’t prove he wasn’t at home, only that he wasn’t using his landline at the time.

I wonder why he was operating on 26.71 MHz. That’s not even in the Citizen’s Band.

Should Amateur Radio Licenses Be Good for Life?

The ARRL reports that

The Anchorage VEC — one of 14 Volunteer Examiner Coordinators in the US — asked the Commission to give permanent credit to radio amateurs for examination elements they have successfully passed. This would, in effect, create a license exam credit that would be valid throughout an amateurs’ lifetime, never expiring.

I’m not exactly sure of the reasoning behind this, but it seems to me that instead of granting a lifetime credit, we should be going the other direction and asking for re-examination.

Now, I know that the logistics of doing this might be too cumbersome, so I’m not seriously proposing this, but the lifetime credit just doesn’t make sense to me. Just because someone passed a test at some point doesn’t mean that he or she could pass it again. That’s especially true for those who have been out of the hobby for some time (which they would have to be if they’d let their license expire and then not even renew during the two-year grace period).

I’m not sure when they changed the rule, or if they ever enforced the rule, but back in the old days, to renew your license you had to provide proof that you were active by producing your station log if asked. Showing that you’re active doesn’t necessarily prove that you could still pass a test, but it does show continuing involvement. I kind of like having that as a requirement for license renewal.

Perhaps that’s another responsibility that could be given to VECs. In addition to administering the tests, they could be tasked with ensuring that an amateur has been active before allowing a license renewal. And those that don’t qualify for a renewal based on activity would be required to take an examination.

I know this is still a partly-baked idea, but what do you think?

FCC News: Man Fined $7,000, Spread Spectrum Rules Revised

The ARRL Letter, a weekly e-mail newsletter from the ARRL, reported this week on two actions by the FCC. In one case, a CB radio operator is fined $7,000 by the FCC for refusing to allow them to inspect his station. The second item is a rule change that allows amateurs to use higher power from spread-spectrum communications.

CBer Fined $7,000
One of the questions on the Tech test reads, “When must the station licensee make the station and its records available for FCC inspection?” The answer: “Any time upon request by an FCC representative.” When I discuss this question, I always joke that I’ve never heard of the FCC requesting an inspection. That’s no longer the case.

The FCC not only requested an inspection of a Merced, CA man’s CB station, but fined him $7,000 when he twice refused to let them do it. Not too smart, unless he was trying to hide other stuff that would have gotten him into even more trouble.

FCC Changes Spread-Spectrum Rules
In a Report and Order released March 4, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission has eliminated the requirement that amateur stations transmitting Spread Spectrum use Automatic Power Control (APC) to reduce transmitter power. At the same time, the Commission has reduced the maximum power of a Spread Spectrum emission from 100 W PEP to 10 W PEP.

This should make it easier for hams to experiment with spread-spectrum techniques. I’ll look forward to seeing a QST or QEX article on this topic sometime soon.

FCC Allows GPS to be Jammed?

Under the Bush administration, the FCC seemed fascinated with BPL—even to the point of irrationality. Now, we may be seeing that same kind of behavior by the Obama adminstration’s FCC, although this time they seem to be fascinated with wireless connectivity. So much so that they may allow a company, Lightsquared, to interfere with GPS receivers. Lightsquared is in the process of setting up a satellite-based, 4G-LTE broadband network.

A recent article in GPS World reports, “On January 26, the FCC waived its own rules and granted permission for the potential interferer to broadcast in the L Band 1 (1525 MHz—1559 MHz) from powerful land-based transmitters. This band lies adjacent to the GPS band (1559—1610 MHz) where GPS and other satellite-based radio navigation systems operate.” According to the article, Lightsquared plans to install up to 40,000 high-power transmitters across the United States.

The article also reports on some simulation testing done by Garmin and Trimble, two manufacturers of GPS receivers, that really raises some concerns. The test report shows that a consumer devices, such as a GPS receiver in an automobile, began to experience jamming at a power level representing a distance of 3.6 miles (5.8 kilometers) from the simulated LightSquared transmitter. The consumer device lost a fix at 0.66 miles (1.1 kilometers) from the transmitter.

They also simulated an aviation receiver. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certified aviation receiver began to be jammed at a distance of 13.8 miles (22.1 kilometers) and experienced total loss of fix at 5.6 miles (9.0 kilometers) from the transmitter.

Interesting stuff, no?  I wonder how much Lightsquared payed its lobbyists to get this by the FCC?

New Rules Governing Vanity, Club Station Call Signs Coming February 14

ARLB030 New Rules Governing Vanity, Club Station Call Signs to Take Effect February 14

ARRL Bulletin 30 ARLB030
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT December 16, 2010
To all radio amateurs

ARLB030 New Rules Governing Vanity, Club Station Call Signs to Take Effect February 14

On Wednesday, December 15, new rules affecting vanity and club station call signs within the Amateur Radio Service were published in the Federal Register. They can be found on the Web in PDF format. These new rules will go into effect on February 14, 2011.

Thirteen months ago, the FCC announced its intention of modifying Part 97 as it applies to the vanity call sign system and club station call signs, aligning the rules to prior Commission decisions. Last month, the Commission released a Report and Order (R&O), outlining its decision. Along with the changes to the call
sign rules, the FCC made “certain minor, non-substantive amendments” to portions of Part 97.

FCC’s Spectrum Dashboard

Many hams feel that they “own” the ham bands. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. In the UHF and microwave regions, we share those bands with other services.

Don’t believe me? Try out the FCC Spectrum Dashboard. According to this website,

The Spectrum Dashboard allows new ways for citizens to search spectrum in the United States. Use the dashboard to find out how spectrum is being used, who owns spectrum licenses around the country, and what spectrum is available in your county.

It covers the frequency range 225 MHz – 3.7 GHz, which are the frequencies generally deemed the best for wireless broadband service, and therefore, the frequencies most sought after right now.

You can do all kinds of searches, including:

  • search by frequency band,
  • search by service,
  • search by location, and
  • browse through the spectrum.

I just did a search for frequencies used by the amateur radio service and discovered that we share the 420 – 450 MHz band with the following services:

  • Industrial/Business Radio Service
  • Public Safety Radio Service
  • Radiolocation Service

This is a great tool for any ham interested in spectrum issues.

SkyWarn Recognition Day, 12/4/10

This is an edited version of a press release from the ARRL……Dan

Newington, CT Nov 17, 2010 — The National Weather Service’s annual SKYWARN Recognition event will take place Saturday, December 4. Cosponsored by the National Weather Service (NWS) and ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio, SKYWARN Recognition Day is the National Weather Service’s way of expressing its appreciation to Amateur Radio operators for their commitment to keep communities safe.

While the 2010 hurricane season has been fairly quiet in the US, amateur radio operators are also deeply involved with the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN). The HWN, which organized in 1965, began as an informal group of amateurs that has developed into a formal relationship with the National Hurricane Center in Miami via its Amateur Radio station WX4NHC. Ham radio operators and volunteers at Miami work together when hurricanes threaten, providing real-time weather data and damage reports to the Hurricane Center’s forecasters.

Over 100 National Weather Service regional offices will be participating in this year’s event to recognize the community service of ham radio people.

For full information see the NOAA website.

Frequently Asked Questions about SKYWARN Recognition Day

What is SKYWARN Recognition Day?
SKYWARN Recognition Day (SRD) was developed in 1999 by the National Weather Service and the American Radio Relay League. It celebrates the contributions that volunteer SKYWARN radio operators make to the National Weather Service. During the day SKYWARN operators visit NWS offices and contact other radio operators across the world. Information regarding SRD is updated at http://hamradio.noaa.gov.

Why are the National Weather Service and the American Radio Relay League cosponsoring the event?
The NWS and the ARRL both recognize the importance that amateur radio provides during severe weather. Many NWS offices acquire real time weather information from amateur radio operators in the field. These operators, for example, may report the position of a tornado, the height of flood waters, or damaging wind speeds during hurricanes. All of this information is critical to the mission of the NWS which is to preserve life and property. The special event celebrates this special contribution by amateur radio operators.

When is SKYWARN Recognition Day?
This year SKYWARN Recognition Day begins at 0000 UTC on December 4, 2010. It will last 24 hours.
How many NWS stations are participating in the event?
It is estimated that around 100 NWS stations will participate this year.

Is this a contest or what?
No, this is not a contest, so no scoring will be computed. This is simply a group of stations transmitting from NWS offices during the same time. Similar event occurs every year on the amateur radio calendar. For example, hams operate from lighthouses across the world during one weekend and from naval ships/submarines during another.

QST magazine usually lists Special Event stations in a compiled list every month. Will our station be listed there?
If you want your individual station to be listed in the Special Event section of QST magazine, you must submit your information following the ARRL submission policies. You can go to www.arrl.org/contests/spev.html for complete information on how to do this. Remember, though, the deadline to get this information to QST is fast approaching.

We would like to publicize the event in the media. Can we do it?
You bet.

Is there a national point of contact?
Yes, there are three points-of-contact. Contact either:
Matt Mehle (Matthew.Mehle@noaa.gov) Dave Floyd (David.L.Floyd@noaa.gov) Scott Mentzer (Scott.Mentzer@noaa.gov)

Is this an annual event?
Yes. This is the 12th consecutive year that the event has been held.