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BE Informed No. 1.17

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What Is the Purpose of

Our Amateur Service Now?

John B. Johnston W3BE

Q. Our amateur radio service is undergoing a remarkable makeover. What is its purpose now?

A. The purpose of our amateur service is still supposed to be - as declared in Section 97.3(a)(4) - for self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateursthat is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest. Supporting definitions are codified 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)

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.

Q. There is a rumor that the FCC has told Congress of its expectations for our United States amateur service community to utilize our allocated spectrum as an alternative to the commercial communications infrastructure impacted by an emergency. Shouldn't that be the purpose of our amateur service now?

A. That obviously unrealistic expectation was indeed reported to Congress. But Congress has not yet been moved to amend SEC. 3. [47 USC 153](2) of the Communications Act. Our regulator, however, has gone ahead and codified Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) to authorize communications on behalf of employers during emergency preparedness or disaster tests and drills and operational testing immediately prior thereto.

Q. Isn't Section 97.1 an international obligation?

A. No. Section 97.1 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. How did Section 97.1 come about?

A. Section 97.1 resulted from a contentious mid-twentieth century rulemaking. In Docket 9295 the FCC stated 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 time-warped text was not adopted.

   Thirdly, the phrase particularly with respect to providing emergency communications was added later 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 very much opposed by our amateur service community organizers.

Q. What were their objections?

A. The opponents addressed 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 statement of basis and purpose 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.

Q. But Section 97.1 is our regulators' statement of its design intent for the rules in Part 97, not the definitive statement of the scope of the rationale for our service. 

A. Correct. The purpose of our amateur service is still supposed to be - as declared in Section 97.3(a)(4) - for self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateursthat is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest. 

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

A. Ever since our regulator was persuaded to retain it, Section 97.1, it 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.

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November 11, 2017

Supersedes all prior editions