Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Impact on Ham Radio of Federal Government Shutdown

As this is written in mid-January, the federal government is partially shut down due to a funding dispute between the President and Congress. The FCC is among the agencies affected.
We hope that, by the time you read this, an agreement has been reached to reopen all federal agencies. However, the impact on hams will likely extend beyond the shutdown. Here's a snapshot of how the shutdown affected government agencies and services typically used by hams, including any expected post-shutdown effects.

Federal Communications Commission

The FCC shut down all but essential functions (such as spectrum auctions) as of January 3. The Universal Licensing System (ULS) and Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) websites continued to be accessible; however, there was no staff support behind them. Amateur license processing was shut down, including new licenses, upgrades, vanity call requests, renewals and administrative changes (such as a change of address). There will be a backlog in all of these functions once the government reopens, so hams filing license-related applications can expect processing delays. If similar situations in the past are used for guidance, licenses due to expire during the shutdown period will remain valid as long as a renewal application has been filed in a timely manner. All other applications will be processed in the order received once the staff is back at work. Deadlines on comments or reply comments on open rulemaking proceedings will likely be extended bv the number of days during which the FCC was shut down (although we are not aware of any amateur-related proceedings currently in comment or reply-comment periods).

Notice posted on the FCC's Universal Licensing System (ULS) web page:
Lapse in Government Funding
Effective: January 3, 2019 2:00 pm
System: Universal Licensing System (ULS)
Due to a lapse in funding, the operations of the Federal Communications Commission will be limited with no system support. We regret any inconvenience.

NOAA/Space Weather Prediction Center

The Department of Commerce was also affected by the shutdown. Its many agencies include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the umbrella agency for the National Weather Service and the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). The National Weather Service and its Storm Prediction Center remained operational because they are essential to protection of life and property (even though workers were not being paid during the shutdown). The SWPC web page also said it was remaining open, but not all data was available.

National Institute of Standards and Technology / WWV

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is also part of the Commerce Department and was similarly affected by the shutdown. Radio stations WWV and WWVH remained on the air, but the WWV web page had no current information available. (Sidenote: To the best of our knowledge, the future status of WWV, WWVB and WWVH remains uncertain. The Commerce Department eliminated their funding in its latest budget request, but as far as we know, Congress has not taken final action on the department's budget.)

All NASA operations were shut down except for those necessary to maintain safety aboard the International Space Station. It is unclear at this point how amateur satellites scheduled for launch aboard NASA rockets will be affected. If a launch is part of an ISS resupply mission, it will presumably move ahead on schedule. Other launches may be delayed as a result of the shutdown. Check the status pages for individual satellites for updates.

FCC Back to Full Strength (But Closed at Press Time)

The Federal Communications Commission once again has five members, with the Senate confirmation
Brendan Carr was confirmed by
the Senate to a full term as an
FCC Commissioner, along with
Geoffrey Starks (FCC photo)
of Brendan Carr for a full five-year term (he'd been filling a vacated seat since 2017) and of Geoffrey Starks, who is replacing former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. They join Chairman Ajit Pai and fellow Commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel.

Starks moves up from a staff position as Assistant Chief of the Enforcement Bureau. The Senate also confirmed Kelvin Droegemeier as director of the White House office of Science and Technology Policy. (Tnx K3ZJ)

At press time in mid-January, the FCC remained essentially closed due to the partial shutdown of the federal government.

ARRL to FCC: Incorporate Parity Act Provisions into Part 97

The ARRL has filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC requesting the inclusion of provisions of the Amateur Radio Parity Act in its rules for the Amateur Radio Service. The bill is intended to protect the rights of amateurs to put up antennas and operate from homes that are covered by restrictive covenants or homeowner association rules, many of which prohibit outdoor antennas and/or any amateur radio operation. The Parity Act bill was passed by the House of Representatives but not by the Senate, and died at the end of the 2017-18 session of Congress. 
According to the ARRL Letter, the specific proposal is to add a new rule prohibiting the enactment or enforcement of any private land use restriction that fails to permit amateur radio operation, fails to permit installation of an effective outdoor antenna or does not meet the "minimum practicable restriction" standard that already applies to state and local laws and ordinances. The final language of the Parity Act bill - which the League wants incorporated into the FCC rules - was controversial because some antenna law experts felt it might cause more harm than good, requiring all amateurs living with private land use restrictions to request permission to put up any antenna, including those not currently required to do so.

The FCC had not taken any action on the petition prior to the federal government shutdown in early January.