anybody really know what time it is?" the rock group Chicago famously
asked back in the '70s, adding, "Does anybody really care … about time?"
The answer to both questions is yes, especially today, when so much of
what we do, where we go and how we get there are dependent on (our
devices, at least) knowing the accurate time. It is perhaps appropriate
that I'm writing this while on a (delayed) train, since it was the rise
of rail travel that was responsible for standard time zones and the need
for accurate timekeeping.
question arises because the nation's timekeeper, the National Institute
of Standards and Technology, has proposed eliminating its time and
frequency standard radio stations, WWV, WWVB and WWVH, in an effort to
reduce its budget for the 2019 federal fiscal year. Obviously, this
would have significant impact on us hams, but we would be only a
fraction of those affected, unless the funding is restored by Congress. And it looks to us like that is exactly what the folks at NIST are hoping will happen.
The NISTbudget request document1
is confusing and self-contradictory, at one point saying the services
it provides are unique and then saying some are duplicated by others.
And the services it is proposing to cut go beyond WWV and its sisters to
include technology for safety of first responders, protocols for the
electric grid and more.
the illogical logic of the proposal as it relates to WWV and related
services, quoted directly from the NIST budget request:
clear example of the fundamental and infrastructural nature of NIST's
mission work is NIST's work in the dissemination of the time and
frequency standards. The dissemination of the time standard, traceable
to NIST's atomic clock in Boulder, CO, underpins a tremendous amount of
activity in our modern commercial system. For example, NIST official
time is used to time-stamp hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S.
financial transactions each working day. NIST time is also disseminated
to industry and the public through the Internet Time Service which
receives about 40 billion automated requests per day to synchronize
clocks in computers and network devices. Additionally, other
technological breakthroughs that we now take for granted are dependent
upon the accuracy and precision of NIST's atomic clocks. This includes
cellular telephones, Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite
receivers, and the electric power grid.
Furthermore … for every tax dollar invested in NIST, almost $50 of value is created in the economy year over year.
is no other private sector, or government entity having the capability,
capacity of mission to provide the types of services as those provided
There you have it…
NIST's time and frequency standards and their dissemination are
essential to the efficient functioning of our financial system, computer
networks, cellphones, GPS location devices and the electric power grid.
There is no other private or private or governmental entity that can
provide similar services, and every tax dollar invested in NIST pays a
50-fold return to the economy.
cut the budget for all of these essential and non-duplicatable services
by one fifth. That's exactly what NIST proposes just ten pages later in
the same document:
The FY 2019 request will reduce NIST's spending in areas of core metrology and measurement dissemination (by) 20.5 percent…
… NIST will discontinue the dissemination of U.S. time and frequency
via the NIST radio stations in Hawaii and Ft. Collins, CO. These radio
stations transmit signals that are used to synchronize consumer
electronic products like wall clocks, clock radios and wristwatches, and
may be used in other applications like appliances, cameras and
Oh, and in case eliminating time synchronization for consumer electronics, appliances and irrigation controllers isn't enough…
will (also) reduce funding focusing on assessment of technologies for
indoor location tracking of first responders, support for smart grid
communications protocols, as well as the development of standards for
the smart grid and other cyber physical systems, including the
elimination of work on the development of standards and guidelines for
wireless communications and process control for the manufacturing
these services, says the NIST budget request, will permit it to
"consolidate and focus work on NIST efforts in quantum science," which
is certainly important. On the other hand, the budget also calls for a
reduction of $4.1 million "in R&D targeting application of NIST
quantum breakthroughs to applied measurement needs, including
temperature and atmospheric gas metrology."
proposed budget also calls for reducing or eliminating funding for a
program to accelerate technology transfer from federal laboratories to
industry, and for several environmental research programs.
Impact on Ham Radio and Beyond
loss of time signals from WWV would affect hams and other HF spectrum
users in many ways, well beyond setting our station clocks. Several
newer digital modes, including FT8 and other "JT" modes, are highly
dependent on the computer clocks at each end of a contact being accurate
and in sync. The accuracy of internet time is dependent on the speed of
your internet connection, which is subject to change, and which assumes
that you have an internet connection.
addition, frequency calibration of receivers and transmitters is
dependent on a known accurate signal source on a known frequency. You
can't calibrate your receiver to 10 MHz over the internet. Plus, WWV's
propagation data is very important to atmospheric and space scientists
in addition to hams looking for DX.
Loughney, AJ4XM, adds another dimension to the impact of a possible
loss of WWV signals, that on the visually-impaired community. (Tom's
note was written before it became clear that NIST planned to shut down
WWVB as well as WWV and WWVH.)
most of the "atomic clocks" use WWVB, there are a lot of blind and low
vision people in the US (millions) who use "talking watches" to tell
them the time. I fix many of these watches when they fail. They are
cheap, less than $75, so this is just a free public service for those on
very limited incomes. I do not charge for my assistance. About 2/3 can
be repaired and 1/3 are not fixable due to lack of parts and info. Most
use WWVB but a lot use WWV and WWVH. Circuit components are pennies less
for those. All come from China or Asia. Getting rid of the 2 big
stations will have a significant impact on the blind community.
the impact of the NIST's proposed changes is broad and wide-ranging,
from self-setting clocks and watches to tracking systems for first
responders inside hazardous structures, and of course, the on-air time
and frequency services provided by WWV and WWVH. Overall, the proposal
calls for a nearly 28% cut in NIST's "Fundamental Measurement, Quantum
Science and Measurement Dissemination" activities, which are its core
logic behind the proposed cuts is mystifying, as is the structure of
the report, which on one hand explains how these services are essential
to the country and cannot be duplicated by anyone else, and on the other
hand proposes significant cuts to these very programs.
we can speculate by reading these tea leaves is that the Commerce
Department – NIST's parent agency – demanded across-the-board budget
cuts for the coming fiscal year. Management responded by proposing
draconian cuts to its primary missions in the hopes that public outrage
would prompt Congress to restore the cuts in the final federal budget.
It is the only possibility that makes any sense.
of Congress – and particularly of those committees responsible for
NIST's budget – need to know how their constituents and the nation at
large would be affected by these proposals and need to be urged to
restore funding for these essential programs. According to the amateur
radio club at Case Western Reserve University, these committees are the
Committee on Science, Space and Technology in the House; and the
Senate's Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related
Agencies. The Case ARC lists the members of each of these committees,
along with their office phone numbers, on its website at <https://w8edu.wordpress.com/save-wwv/>,
which also includes a sample script to read when calling to register
your views. You should customize it to your personal uses, and be
prepared to answer questions from Congressional staff members about how
you use these services and how you would be impacted by their
elimination. We urge you to contact your Congressional representatives
whether or not they sit on the above committees.
Two petitions have been started on the White House's "We the People" petition site calling for restoration of funding for these two essential radio stations. Each needs at least 100,000 electronic signatures by mid-Septemberto generate a response from the White House.