FCC Drops Morse Code

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration (Order) that modifies the rules for the Amateur Radio Service by revising the examination requirements for obtaining a General Class or Amateur Extra Class amateur radio operator license and revising the operating privileges for Technician Class licensees. In addition, the Order resolves a petition filed by the American Radio Relay League, Inc. (ARRL) for partial reconsideration of an FCC Order on amateur service rules released on October 10, 2006.

The current amateur service operator license structure contains three classes of amateur radio operator licenses: Technician Class, General Class, and Amateur Extra Class. General Class and Amateur Extra Class licensees are permitted to operate in Amateur bands below 30 MHz, while the introductory Technician Class licensees are only permitted to operate in bands above 30 MHz. Prior to today’s action, the FCC, in accordance with international radio regulations, required applicants for General Class and Amateur Extra Class operator licenses to pass a five words-per-minute Morse code examination. Today’s Order eliminates that requirement for General and Amateur Extra licensees. This change reflects revisions to international radio regulations made at the International Telecommunication Union’s 2003 World Radio Conference (WRC-03), which authorized each country to determine whether to require that individuals demonstrate Morse code proficiency in order to qualify for an amateur radio license with transmitting privileges on frequencies below 30 MHz. This change eliminates an unnecessary regulatory burden that may discourage current amateur radio operators from advancing their skills and participating more fully in the benefits of amateur radio.

Today’s Order also revises the operating privileges for Technician Class licensees by eliminating a disparity in the operating privileges for the Technician Class and Technician Plus Class licensees. Technician Class licensees are authorized operating privileges on all amateur frequencies above 30 MHz. The Technician Plus Class license, which is an operator license class that existed prior the FCC’s simplification of the amateur license structure in 1999 and was grandfathered after that time, authorized operating privileges on all amateur frequencies above 30 MHz, as well as frequency segments in four HF bands (below 30 MHz) after the successful completion of a Morse code examination. With today’s elimination of the Morse code exam requirements, the FCC concluded that the disparity between the operating privileges of Technician Class licensees and Technician Plus Class licensees should not be retained.

OK, there you have it…the waiting is over….the FCC has ruled. Is this the end of ham radio? Will the ham bands be overrun with poor operating practices? Will CW operation fade into the night, never to be heard again?

I dunno. Get over it. Turn the radio on. Work somebody (on whatever mode you prefer) and have some ham radio fun.

It is not clear when this change takes effect, so look for more information to follow.

73, Bob K0NR

The FCC and the Jamming of Cellphones

CellAntenna, a manufacturer of cellular radio communications solutions, has filed suit in U.S. District Court to force the FCC to allow broader sale of RF jamming equipment (CNET News.com article here). At first look, the argument is compelling: terrorist bombs can be detonated by remote control using cell phones, so let’s jam the phones. Currently, the FBI has access to cellphone jammers that can be deployed but state and local law enforcement is prevented from using these devices. (CellAntenna markets these jammers, so they have a vested interest in expanding their market.) Shouldn’t all law enforcement organizations be able to turn on bomb-blocking jamming equipment?

But here is the context: The Communications Act of 1934 (amended as recently as 1996) provides federal oversight of the radio spectrum. Congress correctly concluded that the radio frequency spectrum needed regulation for the public good. That is, having people transmit on any old frequency any old time they wanted would result in general chaos in the RF world. CellAntenna is asking that the FCC’s authority to regulate the spectrum be overturned. This is a really, really bad idea.

Should the FCC allow local police to jam cellphones? Maybe. But there are plenty of other frequencies that terrorists could use to detonate bombs. Do the police get to jam all of those frequencies, too? Heck, a terrorist could set up an RF control link on one of the local police frequencies. Do they get to jam your WiFi network, your cordless phone, the frequencies of other police and fire departments, etc? This is a real slippery slope, which is why we have a government organization set up to regulate the spectrum and the use of radio transmitters.

But wait there’s more. Some folks would like to use jammers to enforce electronic gadget politeness in public places such as theaters or concert halls. Rude behavior associated with wireless communications devices is generally perceived to be a problem. Most of us have been annoyed by the person that decides to take a cellphone call during a movie or concert. CNET reports that France has authorized the use of jamming devices to enforce cellphone-free zones. Certainly, there are people in the U.S. that would like to see this happen here.

OK, I have to admit, maybe I am just jealous that I don’t get to have a cellphone jammer. This could be really handy for those times when people are practicing rude cellphone behavior, whether on the street or in a theater. Or maybe when I see someone driving down the highway with a phone stuck in their ear and not paying attention to traffic, I could just shut that call down. Hmmm, maybe I could get to like this idea.

73, Bob K0NR

Shuttle Discovery (STS-116) Scheduled to Launch Dec 7th

The space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch on December 7th with the radio amateurs on board: Sunita Williams, KD5PLB; Christer Fuglesang, KE5CGR/SA0AFS; Nicholas Patrick, KD5PKY. See the ARRL news article here. Detailed information from NASA is available on their space shuttle page.

You’ll be glad to know (?) that NASA is improving the quality of the food for the astronauts. The TV food show host, Rachael Ray, recently visited NASA’s prep kitchen. USA Today says “TV host upgrades astronaut meals.” Not only that, there is a special delivery of instant latte mix on the way to the ISS.

Let’s keep those astronauts well fed and maybe they’ll use the ARISS station to get on 145.80 MHz more often.

73, Bob K0NR