W3BE'S BE Informed!
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BE Informed No. 7.3  

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Commercial Communications


Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) Operational Testing

John B. Johnston W3BE

Q. The salespersons employed in this real estate office would like to use two-way radios in our field sales work. A ham operator has brought to our attention that FCC rule Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) authorizes a station licensee or station control operator (to) participate on behalf of an employer in an emergency preparedness or disaster readiness test or drill, limited to the duration and scope of such test or drill, and operational testing immediately prior to such test or drill. Tests or drills that are not government-sponsored are limited to a total time of one hour per week; except that no more than twice in any calendar year, they may be conducted for a period not to exceed 72 hours. Does Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) mean that we can use those cute little Chinese radios to help us sell real estate on behalf of our employer?

A. Yes, as long as you confine almost all of their transmissions to operational testing immediately prior to your Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) test or drill. Periodically, you should actually announce and conduct emergency preparedness or disaster readiness tests or drills. Because your tests or drills would not be government-sponsored, they would be limited to a total time of one hour per week. So keep them short and return to your operational testing ASAP.  

Q. What is “Operational testing?

A. Obviously, it is transmissions by Section 97.105 amateur stations on behalf of employers during times when no emergency preparedness or disaster readiness test or drill is taking place. 

Q. What is required of a test or drill?

A. Using as a template the Emergency Alert System (EAS), a voice could say, “We interrupt this operational testing for a FCC Section 97.113(a)(3)((i) drill and test of emergency preparedness and disaster readiness. This is a test: (several short audible tone bursts). This test was sponsored by the following employers (names and contact information). This has been a FCC Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) drill and test of emergency preparedness and disaster readiness. We now return to our regular operational testing. A courtesy priority to this channel is requested.” 

Q. That shouldn’t be a hardship. But the ham - who seems to want everyone to get a ham call sign - claims that we must have call signs for which we each would have to pass a test prepared and administered by hams. He says the test has nothing to do with selling real estate. That sounds too ridiculous to be true. We are not amateurs; we are hard-working professional business people who pay our taxes.

A. The ham is correct. Some small but precious radio spectrum segments have been allocated to our amateur service for the purpose of 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. For some unexplained reason, a lot of amateurs seem to want to share our good fortune with commercial interests and with as many citizens as possible.

   Our regulator claims it intended to design the rules so as to – among four other equally important resolvesrecognize and enhance of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications. So, we must swallow that Section 97.113(a)(4) is apropos.

Q. Are there any standards or time limits to such operational testing?

A. Unlike a test or drill for which there is a time limit, not so for operational testing.

Q. I understand that we could hire a ham to install and maintain some sort of repeater that would extend the range of those little radios to cover our entire sales area.

A. Yes. At the present time the EmComm community is supposed to be engaged in developing new technologies to improve the reliability of their networks so as to better provide emergency communications as an alternative to the commercial communications infrastructure impacted by an emergency. Some are installing modern imported digital repeaters, some of which may not interact with your analog belt-clip radios.    

Q. OK. What’s the catch? Is the government licensing fee prohibitively costly?

A. Hardly. There is no fee for a FCC amateur service license. The downside is that you would have no privacy in your intercommunications.

Q. That seems very unfair. But our employer probably would appreciate the free advertising. Otherwise, we could stake out our own private channel so as not to bother the hams. If interlopers become an issue, we could come up with some sort of code to conceal our client’s names, selling prices, etc.

A. No can do. Section 97.113(a)(4) says: No amateur station shall transmit messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning, except as otherwise provided herein. Selling real estate is not among those exceptions.

   You should also be aware that 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.

Q. I have an amateur operator/primary station license grant. I am self-employed. As the employer, am I eligible to participate on my own behalf in operational testing involving commerce immediately prior to an emergency preparedness test as the station licensee and control station operator?

A. You are eligible only as employee-you on behalf of employer-you. 

Q. I reluctantly agree with everything that has been explained to those business folks so far. But Section 97.101(c) says that at all times and on all frequencies, each control operator must give priority to stations providing emergency communications, except to stations transmitting communications for training drills and tests in RACES. Their tests and drills are not a part of RACES. So they should be eligible for a Section 97.101(c) priority over those amateurs who are just fooling around with their self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations.

A. Not so fast! The Section 97.101(c) frequency priority privilege applies only to those EmComm situations codified in Subpart E Providing emergency communications. If our regulator had intended for the Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) testing and drilling to be a component of EmComm and for them to have Section 97.101(c) EmComm frequency priority over amateur service communications, it would be clearly be codified in Subpart E. But it isn’t. So, Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) testing and drilling is not an EmComm activity. Therefore, it is  Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) testing and drilling is ineligible for a Section 97.101(c) EmComm frequency priority over our amateur service transmissions.

   EmComm stations with professional communicators as the Section 97.105 control operators are not authorized to transmit messages on behalf of employers during real emergencies, only during Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) training drills and operational testing immediately prior to such test or drill.

   Stations with bona fide amateur Section 97.105 control operators never transmit messages having any kind of pecuniary interest. Otherwise, they would also lose their status as Section 97.3(a)(4) amateurs, i.e., duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest who are carrying out self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations.

Q. What priority would those real estate folks’ Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) operational testing have during an actual EmComm 403 or EmComm 405 emergency?

A. The amateur stations participating in the EmComm emergency would have Section 97.101(c) frequency priority over all Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) operational testing transmissions.

Q. Who can call up a Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) communications emergency training drill?

A. Government entities, employers, and anyone else for whom at least some in our amateur service community (“hams”) are willing to respond to their call up.

Q. Doesn't Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) also exempt those professional communicators during an EmComm 403 emergency?

A. No. Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) only authorizes a Section 97.103 station licensee or Section 97.105 station control operator to participate on behalf of an employer in an emergency preparedness or disaster readiness training drill. That authorization does not extend to actual Section 401, Section 403, Section 405, or Section 97.407 emergencies.

Q. I may just be one of those grumpy old hams, but Section 97.1(a) does say the rules in Part 97 are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the principles of 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. How in blue blazes did participating on behalf of an employer ever get in there?

A. Although you Gumpy old hams may longer be saddling the image of our amateur service, your past efforts shaped have shaped our hobby. Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) was the outcome of a rulemaking process for which there was public notice and comment. Although it may be impossible for some of us to comprehend the wisdom of our government’s decision, we have our regulator’s upfront codified promise that participation on behalf of employers will somehow or other enhance the value of our amateur service as a non-commercial radio communication service to the public.

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November 7, 2016

Supersedes all prior editions