W3BE'S BE Informed!
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BE Informed No. 1.17  

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Face it Hams:

It’s All About $pectrum

John B. Johnston W3BE

Q. Some highly valuable radio spectrum has been allocated to our amateur radio service. It has undergone a remarkable makeover recently. What is our purpose now?

A. The purpose of our amateur service is supposed to be - as declared in Section 97.3(a)(4) - for self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest. Similar definitions are also in SEC. 3. [47 USC 153](2) of the Communications Act as well as international Radio Regulations (RR) No. 1.56 and United States Code of Federal Regulations Title 47 Section 2.1(c).

   Our regulator, however, expects our United States amateur service community to utilize our allocated spectrum as an alternative to the commercial communications infrastructure impacted by an emergency. It has notified Congress that our amateur radio community and the emergency response and disaster communications communities all agree that amateur radio can be of great value in emergency response situations. Congress has not as yet updated the Communications Act nor has the United Nations International Telecommunications Union changed direction.

Q. While memorizing answers for my Tech exam, our instructor taught us that the basic purpose of amateur radio is to provide a voluntary noncommercial communications service to the public in times of emergency. He said he didn’t agree, but it was the one given in the manual with Section 97.1 being cited as its authority. Please clarify. 

A. That defective answer obviously came from a myopic misreading of what Section 97.1 really says:

§ 97.1 Basis and purpose.

   The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:

   (a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

   (b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.

   (c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.

   (d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.

   (e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

  Section 97.1 clearly is a declaratory statement of the basis and purpose for our regulator’s design intent for FCC rule Part 97 – not the purpose for our amateur service. Section 97.1 is not an international obligation. It is relevant only in places where the FCC is our regulator. Other countries’ regulators likely have their own basis and purposes for the design intent of the rules that they promulgate. Reportedly, oftentimes the purpose is simply recreation.

Q. Why do we have a basis and purpose for our Part 97 rules?

A. Our amateur service community lost a very contentious post-WWII era argument with the FCC. That was when federal government administrative regulators had to begin announcing in their ordering documents the basis and purpose for its rule-makings. In this instance - over the strong objection of our amateur service community organizers – our regulator also codified the basis and purpose for its rule-makings directly into its rules. Eventually that became Section 97.1.

   Section 97.1 is our regulator’s promise to our amateur service community: As long as we comply with its Part 97 rules, its expectations for our amateur service should be achieved to its satisfaction. The basis and purpose of our rules set forth in Section 97.1 are pledges for our regulator to fulfill rather than for us - the regulated - to implement. They make the rules, not us. We can only petition for rulemaking – only rarely accepted - and file comments during very few and very limited periods.  

   Since 1951, moreover, Section 97.1 has taken on a life of its own. It has been the topic of countless after-dinner speeches as the handy-dandy easily-remembered reference espoused by pontificators who need to downplay their unfamiliarity with the main body of our rules.

   Moreover, the add-on phrase particularly with respect to providing emergency communications is often cited by advocates to justify the on-going makeover of our amateur service into a backup emulation of the Part 90 Private Land Mobile Radio Services. Those rules establish a Public Safety Radio Pool and provide for the licensing of non-federal governmental entities - including law enforcement and fire protection - as well as medical services, rescue organizations, veterinarians, persons with disabilities, disaster relief organizations, school buses, beach patrols, establishments in isolated places, communications standby facilities, and emergency repair of public communications facilities. 

   In recent years, the other principles expressed within Section 97.1 - technology, expertise, practical knowhow, international goodwill - seem to be regressing to the back burners with indifference by our governmental overseer and, to a certain extent, by our amateur service community. The trend seems to be toward becoming another social media.    

Q. How did Section 97.1 come about?

A. It resulted from a contentious mid-20th Century rulemaking proposal. In Docket 9295 the FCC stated therein that our post-WWII amateur service would very much benefit from, and needed a new overall plan or blueprint to provide scope and direction for the immediate and long range development of the service. The wording initially proposed differed from the adopted statement in three ways.

   First, the principle of enhancing international goodwill did not appear. It was subsequently incorporated before adoption. 

   Secondly, the principle of increasing the reservoir of trained operators, technicians and electronics experts was conditioned as being needed for the growing radio industry in peacetime and the vastly increased demands of both the radio industry and the military services in times of national emergency. This 20th Century time-warp text was not adopted.

   Thirdly, the phrase particularly with respect to providing emergency communications was added later in Section 97.1 as if the phrase value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service somehow excluded such activity.

   As strangely as it may sound today, the statement of purpose was not well received by our amateur service community organizers.

Q. How so? What were their objections?

A. Our amateur service community organizers claimed six points during a formal oral argument held at the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC, on June 2, 1950:

   The FCC’s rule design intent for our amateur service rules was not in consonance with the regulatory procedures of other government administrative agencies;

   Amateur radio cannot be blueprinted by the government;

   Amateur radio’s progress in the past would have been hindered under such a regulatory theory;

   Amateur radio needs only minimum regulation to ensure compliance with treaties and to keep amateurs within our bands;

   Although it might be a means of strengthening amateur radio in some respects, the statement was potentially dangerous to amateur interests at international conferences;     

   It went beyond the FCC’s field of regulation and got into actual management of amateur affairs.

   Nevertheless, the basis and purpose statement was adopted on January 29, 1951. In 1980, when our regulators proposed in Docket 80-729 to expunge it from the rules, our amateur service community organizers did a surprising about face and argued for its retention so as not to reduce the traditional scope of the rationale for our service. So, there it is for us to contemplate and ponder.    

Q. What are my obligations under Section 97.1?

A. You can read the rules and heed the rules with some inkling as to their designers’ intent is supposed to be. Because much of what we do requires some technical background to even comprehend, let alone appreciate, we are sometimes disadvantaged when trying to prove how well we are fulfilling each of the five principles. We are unable, for example, to produce charts annually illustrating how we enhanced international goodwill by X-percent. Rather, we have become adept at celebrating feel-good annual growth analysis numbers based upon the ULS

Q. Aren’t our rule compliance records proof in itself that our amateur service is fulfilling its purpose?

A. Yes, that is a basic argument. Scofflaws and malefactors, on the other hand, can undermine even our very best efforts.

Q. So what?  

A. Careful! Whenever one party is authorized to use such a highly valuable public resource, sooner or later other parties are going to claim they can do a better job of using that very resource in the public interest. Face it hams: It’s all about $pectrum.  

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March 3, 2017

Supersedes all prior editions