W3BE'S BE Informed!
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BE Informed No. 5.3

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Who Must Throw That

Big Red Switch?

John B. Johnston W3BE

A Section 97.5 amateur station is authorized to transmit Section 97.115(b) third party messages. Read All About Third Party Communications BE Informed No. 1.9. Certain third parties may participate in stating their message where the designated Section 97.105 control operator is present at the Section 97.3(a)(14) control point and is continuously monitoring and supervising the Section 97.115 message-stating third party's participation. Here is a collection of questions/answers about transmitter activation during Section 97.115 third party communications.    

Q. Does the control operator have to cough in order to key the transmitter if VOX is used during a third party voice transmission? Does the control operator have to stand behind the third party and reach around him/her to activate the PTT? If a foot switch is used, does the third party have to sit in the lap of the control operator so that the control operator may activate the foot controlled PTT? If Morse code is used to express the words, does the control operator have to hold the hand of the third party on the J-38 key while stroking it?

A. Those might work compliantly albeit awkwardly. Your questions show how one set of how-to protocols cannot fit all situations without being so rigid as to become silly overkill in practice. As the designated Section 97.105 control operator, therefore, you must not allow your Section 97.115 message-stating participating third party to key the mike, tap the key, use VOX, etc., unless you are convinced absolutely that your third party will perform exactly as you intend. Read The VPOD Protocol BE Informed No. 5.1.

   The FCC granted the license to you because you qualified by passing our VEs’ examinations. You are, therefore, the person who is authorized privileges. You cannot delegate your accountability for performing your Section 97.105 control operator duties. When things go wrong, you cannot pass the buck to your Section 97.115(b)(2) third party.

Q. Most hams do not intend to violate the rules on Field Day. The problem lies in the meaning of the term control operator. Isn’t it time for you to request a definition in this context from the FCC?

A. Our regulator is ahead of us on that one. The definition of the term control operator is codified in Section 97.3(a)(13): An amateur operator designated by the licensee of a station to be responsible for the transmissions from that station to assure compliance with the FCC Rules.

   That definition applies to all contexts: Field Day, contests, special events, rag chewing, DXing, etc. The term is used throughout Part 97. For instance, Section 97.7 says:

   When transmitting, each amateur station must have a control operator. The control operator must be a person:

   (a) For whom an amateur operator/primary station license grant appears on the ULS consolidated licensee database, or

   (b) Who is authorized for alien reciprocal operation by Section 97.107 of this part.

   Moreover, Section 97.105 says:

   (a) The control operator must ensure the immediate proper operation of the station, regardless of the type of control.

   (b) A station may only be operated in the manner and to the extent permitted by the privileges authorized for the class of operator license held by the control operator.

   Furthermore, Section 97.103 says:

   (a) The station licensee is responsible for the proper operation of the station in accordance with the FCC Rules. When the control operator is a different amateur operator than the station licensee, both persons are equally responsible for proper operation of the station.

   (b) The station licensee must designate the station control operator. The FCC will presume that the station licensee is also the control operator, unless documentation to the contrary is in the station records.

   (c) The station licensee must make the station and the station records available for inspection upon request by an FCC representative.

   There is this additional information about the duties of the Section 97.105 control operator appear on the FCC web pages.

Q. I think it would be advantageous to give any Extra Class on site the right to serve as “control operator” in any situation where it is desired to exercise Extra Class privileges at that site. The FCC can already check the license status of any operator, using its computerized records. 

A. Designating the Section 97.105 control operator of a Section 97.5 amateur station is a duty assigned exclusively to the Section 97.103 station licensee: the station licensee is responsible for the proper operation of the station in accordance with the FCC rules. Whenever the Section 97.105 control operator is a different amateur operator than the Section 97.103 station licensee, both persons are equally responsible for proper operation of the station.

   You are crediting the ULS with far more capability than it has. From the call sign given in the Section 97.119 station identification announcements, it can provide only the name, Section 97.23 mailing address, and operator class of the Section 97.103 station licensee. It does not provide information on the designated Section 97.105 control operator at any particular time. That information would have to be obtained directly from the Section 97.103 station licensee. Be aware that the FCC will presume that the Section 97.103 station licensee is also the Section 97.105 control operator, unless documentation to the contrary is in the station records.    

Q.  We have assumed that since an Extra and General are on site and use their call, a Tech Plus can operate on 20/40/80 meters by answering CQ's. Must that person operate only in the area of his license?

A. Assume again, this time reading and heeding Section 97.301(e). It codifies the HF frequency bands available to an amateur station having a Section 97.105 control operator who has been granted an operator license of Novice or Technician Class. Note that no privileges are authorized for 20 meters and only small segments of the 80, 40, 15 and 10 meter bands are authorized.

Q. The main confusion comes when the word operate is misused. We all generally say as we sit in front of our rigs that we're operating. So when I let my next door neighbor talk over my rig, it is he who is sitting there doing what we all do: operating. Of course, in this context, the neighbor is NOT operating. 

A. Try to cut back on your overuse of that ambiguous “O-word.” Excessive immoderation of that O-word can impair your ability to read and heed our FCC rules. Some hams - who should know better – have been overheard asserting that it is the person that does the transmitting and it is the station that does the operating!

   International radio regulation RR Number 25.6, moreover, says that administrations shall verify the operational and technical qualifications of any person even wishing to operate an amateur station. Our Section 97.507 preparing VEs have determined what those qualifications are for the various classes of operator license in places where the FCC regulates our amateur service.    

Q. What are the duties of the control operator?

A. The Section 97.105 control operator must ensure the immediate proper operation of the station, regardless of the type of control.

Q. Does our GOTA station control operator have to be awake at all times during Field Day?

A. Your Section 97.105 control operator obviously would have to be present and alert at the Section 97.3(a)(14) control point in order to continuously monitor and supervise the third party participant. 

Q. I have never thought that was a legitimate reading of the regulations that where there is an Extra class operator in the general vicinity, even no-code technicians would be allowed to operate anywhere in the HF bands. This has come up during field day, special event operations, and contesting. It has always seemed to me that the person actually operating the radio (changing frequency and operating any push-to-talk switch) is effectively the control operator of that transmitter and is limited by the license privileges of his or her own license. Agree?

A. Almost. Those PTT, etc. conditions, however, are way too much how-to-ism. Use, instead: The Section 97.105 control operator causes or allows the station to transmit.

Q. How far from the station control point may the control operator be while continuously monitoring and supervising an unlicensed third party operator’s participation in stating the message?

A. Section 97.3(a)(14) says the control point is the location at which the Section 97.105 control operator function is performed. The word point usually means a narrowly localized place having a precisely indicated position. In this context, good amateur practice requires that the Section 97.105 control operator be situated such as to be able to exercise proper judgment while carrying out those duties that the Section 97.105 control operator should do to ensure the immediate proper operation of the station. For a listing of those duties, read W3BE Checklists For Domestic and Foreign Amateur Service Licensees In Places Where the U.S. FCC Is Our Regulator BE Informed No. 1.0

Q. Doesn’t the fact that I am sitting right next to this person mean I am the control operator?

A. Nope. The Section 97.105 control operator can only be the person so designated by the Section 97.103(b) station licensee.

Q. That is basically unenforceable. If my station is operated with the Extra Class bands and modes, who would know who is pushing the PTT?

A. You and the person pushing the PTT would know. You are, presumably, both trustworthy – a reputation hard-to-earn, easy-to-lose. The extensive privileges afforded to our amateur service are attributable to the reputation it has earned for self-enforcement in the past. It is difficult to imagine why anyone would want to damage that. Check with our maintenance monitors as to how they do it. 

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April 2, 2017

Supersedes all previous editions