The FCC continues to drive out any ambiguity on how it interprets Part 97.113. (See previous post EmComm Trouble From the FCC. ) On October 20th, the FCC released Public Notice DA-09-2259, which reiterates the principle of no amateur radio communication on behalf of an employer, even if the employer is a government agency such as a fire or police department. OK, I think they got that point across.
The FCC also described a process for requesting a waiver of this rule for a specific emergency preparedness drill. A governmental entity, not the amateur radio operators involved, must apply to the FCC for a waiver in advance of the drill. According to N5FDL, the FCC intends these waivers to be for very specific events and not a regularly scheduled activity such as a weekly net. This can help facilitate a major event but is still fairly limited. I wonder how many waiver requests the FCC be receiving? I suspect there will be many.
A group of radio amateurs, The Amateur Radio Policy Committee, consisting of N5GAR, WB6NOA and N5FDL have filed a Petition for Rule Making with the FCC to address this situation. Basically, they propose that an additional item be added to the section of rules (Part 97.111) that calls out Authorized Transmissions:
(6) Transmissions necessary for disaster relief or emergency response, including training exercises, planning, drills or tests, without regard to whether the amateur operator has related employment, where the transmissions are for the exclusive use of amateur radio operators for noncommercial purposes.
This seems like a reasonable and measured approach to changing the rules to support emergency communications training activities, without opening the door too wide. I am not sure why they proposed to modify Part 97.111 instead of 97.113 where other employment exceptions are handled (e.g., control operator of a club station that sends telegraphy practice, teacher in a classroom setting). The RAIN Report has an interview with N5FDL concerning this petition.
I still believe the FCC could have avoided this ruckus with a slightly more liberal interpretation of the rules. They didn’t do that, so now we will have to go through the rule making process to deal with the situation. I suppose that the FCC could decline to address the issue but this seems unlikely to me given the legitimate public interest in supporting emergency communications. (Anyone remember 9/11 ?) We’ll likely get to a reasonable outcome that protects the amateur radio service from undesirable encroachment while still enabling emergency communications training.
What do you think?
73, Bob K0NR