W3BE'S BE Informed!
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BE Informed No. 8.4

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Automatic Control


Part 97  

John B. Johnston, W3BE

Q.  There are some very divergent ideas going around about automatic control. For one, just exactly what is automatic control?

A. Section 97.3(a)(6) says automatic control is the use of devices and procedures for controlling an amateur station when it is transmitting such that compliance with the FCC rules is achieved without the control operator being present at the control point.

Q. One major disagreement here is whether automatic control is authorized for every type of station operation; yes or no?

A. No. Only certain special operation stations sanctioned in Part 97 may utilize Section 97.109(d) automatic control. Even then, the authorization is conditioned. The station is supposed to cease transmitting upon failure to achieve full rule compliance or upon notification by a FCC District Director that it is transmitting improperly or causing harmful interference to other stations.

Q. Where automatic control is disallowed, what other methods for station control are authorized?

A. There is Section 97.109(b) local control and there is Section 97.109(c) remote control. Any station may utilize local control or remote control.

Q. A directory claims that unattended operation was authorized for repeaters by the FCC in the 1970s. True or false?

A. The book may say that, but neither the rules or simple logic bear it out. Section 97.205(d) says A repeater may be automatically controlled. Whatever unattended operation is, it is obviously unsuitable for amateur stations in places where the FCC regulates our amateur service. Unattended usually means the opposite of attended, i.e., no one is paying any attention. That would be inconsistent with our fundamental hear-and-be-heard-now amateur service spectrum management protocol.

   Repeaters captured the attention of our amateur service community in the 1970s. Pioneering hams assembled stations, developed band-plans for channelization, named frequency coordinators, petitioned for rule amendments, and did just about everything possible to adapt structured networks to our heretofore unstructured VHF and UHF bands. They were so successful that they made automatic control practical for most repeaters. But never was unattended operation of amateur repeater stations authorized on our amateur service frequencies.

Q. What are the types of operation where an amateur station may be automatically controlled?

A. There are five types of special operations authorized for automatic control:

   1. A Section 97.201 auxiliary station may be automatically controlled.

   2. A Section 97.203 beacon station may be automatically controlled while it is transmitting on the 28.20-28.30 MHz, 50.06-50-08 MHz, 144.275-144.300 MHz, 222.05-222.06 MHz or 432.300-432.400 MHz segments, or on the 33 cm and shorter wavelength bands.

  3. A Section 97.205 repeater station may be automatically controlled.

  4. An amateur station may be automatically controlled while transmitting a RTTY or data emission on the 6 meters or shorter wavelength bands, and on the 28.120-28.189 MHz; 24.925-24.930 MHz, 21.090-21.100 MHz, 18.105-18.110 MHz, 14.0950-14.0095 MHz, 10.140-10.150 MHz, 7.100-7.105 MHz, or 3.620-3.635 MHz segments. Read Section 97.221(b).

    5. An amateur station may be automatically controlled while transmitting a RTTY or data emission on any other frequency authorized for such emission types provided the station is responding to interrogation by a station under local or remote control and no transmission from the automatically controlled station occupies a bandwidth of more than 500 Hz. Read Section 97.221(c). 

   Note that Section 97.109(e) says that no station, except a station transmitting a RTTY or data emission, may be automatically controlled while transmitting third party communications. Even then, every message that is retransmitted must originate at a station that is utilizing local or remote control.

   Also note that auxiliary stations as well as repeater stations enjoy Section 97.3(a)(22) frequency coordination recognition.

Q. Hams around here don’t take the notion very seriously of there always being a control operator.

A. That is most unfortunate. Our amateur service community is supposed to rely upon a VE-certified control operator being on duty for each and every amateur station whenever it is transmitting. The proper decisions and timely actions by our on-duty control operators are the very foundation of our amateur radio service. Section 97.101(b) says Each station licensee and each control operator must cooperate in selecting transmitting channels and in making the most effective use of the amateur service frequencies. No frequency will be assigned for the exclusive use of any station. In most of our amateur service intercommunications, that cooperation is accomplished by the direct and timely decisions and actions of the VE-certified control operators of the participating stations.

Q. Where can I obtain a listing of VE-certified control operators?

A. Each VE-certified control operator is shown on the ULS as holding a Section 97.17(a) amateur operator/station license grant. The FCC will presume that the Section 97.103 station licensee is also the VE-certified control operator unless documentation to the contrary is in the station records. It is the station licensee who is supposed to designate the control operator. The person so designated is supposed to be a VE-certified control operator or be authorized for Section 97.107 alien reciprocal operation.

Q. What are the specifics of what the control operator is supposed to do?

A. For the duties of an amateur service licensee as delineated in our volunteer examiners’ Section 97.503 standards of proof of operation and technical qualifications, read the current Element 2 question pool.

   For any unique duties established by designating station licensee, consult with that person.   

Q. I’ve heard our repeater retransmitting some extremely crude and offensive conversations while under automatic control. Is the repeater station control operator who is accountable for that?

A. Yes. Section 97.205(g), however,  provides the control operator with a short-term reprieve where it says that the control operator of a repeater that retransmits inadvertently communications that violate the rules in Part 97 is not accountable for the violative communications. The key word there is inadvertently. It gets the control operator and station licensee off the hook for an occasional Section 97.113 prohibited transmission that slips through before he or she can react in time to prevent its retransmission. Whenever there is an extended pattern of violative communications being retransmitted by the repeater, however, the violation issues must be resolved satisfactorily in order for the repeater to stay on the air under automatic control. 

Q. We had difficulty in tracking down the licensee of a rogue station under automatic control that was disrupting our repeater system. Some form of ID posted the station would have helped us resolve the interference issue more expeditiously and amicably. Isn’t there a rule requiring one?

A. Not specifically. Section 97.213(d), however, says that an amateur station on or within 50 km of the Earth's surface may be under tele-command where a photocopy of the station license and a label with the name, address, and telephone number of the station licensee and at least one designated control operator is posted in a conspicuous place at the station location. That requirement, unfortunately, only provides you with the wherewithal for those automatically controlled stations that are also sometimes under tele-command. Similar posting should be a good amateur practice at all stations under automatic control.

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August 8, 2016

Supersedes all prior editions