Friday, January 22, 2021

Rosenworcel Named Acting FCC Chair

President Biden has named FCC Commis- sioner Jessica Rosenworcel as the agency's acting chairwoman. Rosenworcel was first named to the Commission by President Obama, then appointed to another term by President Trump in 2017 after the Senate failed to act on her renomination in 2016. She is a communications lawyer who previously served as Senior Communications Counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. 

(FCC photo)
There has been no indication from the White House as to whether Rosenworcel's appointment is temporary or whether she will be nominated to a full term as chairwoman. The chairmanship became vacant when former chairman Ajit Pai left the Commission on January 20.

Monday, January 18, 2021

FCC/ARRL Issue Unusual Warnings About Potential Misuse of Amateur Radio

In an unusual Sunday "Enforcement Advisory," the FCC on January 17 reminded amateurs - as well as users of other personal radio services - of the line between free speech and the prohibited uses of personal radio services to commit or facilitate criminal acts. The Enforcement Bureau notice read in part,

"The Bureau has become aware of discussions on social media platforms suggesting that certain radio services regulated by the Commission may be an alternative to social media platforms for groups to communicate and coordinate future activities. The Bureau recognizes that these services can be used for a wide range of permitted purposes, including speech that is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Amateur and Personal Radio Services, however, may not be used to commit or facilitate crimes.

"Specifically," the notice continued, "the Bureau reminds amateur licensees that they are prohibited from transmitting 'communications intended to facilitate a criminal act' or 'messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning.' Likewise, individuals operating radios in the Personal Radio Services, a category that includes Citizens Band radios, Family Radio Service walkie-talkies, and General Mobile Radio Service, are prohibited from using those radios 'in connection with any activity which is against Federal, State or local law.' Individuals using radios in the Amateur or Personal Radio Services in this manner may be subject to severe penalties, including significant fines, seizure of the offending equipment, and, in some cases, criminal prosecution."

The ARRL followed up with an email to all members "on the purpose of Amateur Radio," reminding hams that amateur radio "is about development of communications and responsible public service. Its misuse is inconsistent with its history of service and statutory charter." 

The League's email did not reference the FCC Public Notice. As a result, it was unclear to many who received only the ARRL email what had prompted the unusual reminder.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Major Hamfests – Including Dayton – Fall Victim to COVID


As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, hopes for returning to a "normal" schedule of in-person hamfests have been pushed further into the future. The Dayton Hamvention® Executive Committee announced in mid-January that it had reluctantly decided to cancel this year's event, blaming the slower-than-planned rate of vaccinations and the emergence of a new, more communicable, strain of the virus. (See more in post below.)

Dayton's announcement followed the previously-announced decision by Ham-Com (Dallas) to close permanently after 41 years, and decisions by the Orlando Hamcation® and SEA-PAC to move to all-virtual events this year.

In between Hamcation's and SEA-PAC's virtual hamfests will be the second running of the QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo in March. This event, the brainchild of QSO Today podcast host Eric Guth, 4Z1UG, was first held last summer and was quite successful. That one was free for attendees; there will be a fee to attend the March 13-14 event. More information is available at <>.

Inauguration Special Event Cancelled


Civil unrest in Washington, DC in early January, along with fears of additional violence surround- ing Inauguration Day ceremonies, prompted the District of Columbia Amateur Radio Society to cancel a planned 10-day special event operation between January 15 and 25. The group had planned to have W3B on the air on all HF ham bands as well as amateur satellites during the five days before and after President Biden's inauguration.

FCC Scales Back Proposed Application Fee for Hams


The FCC has dialed back its proposed $50 fee for most amateur radio license appli- cations to $35, in response to objections by the ARRL and others that the proposed fee was out of line with the cost of processing amateur applications. According to the ARRL, the final Report and Order imposes a $35-per-application fee for new and upgraded licenses, license renewals and vanity call sign applications, as well as the less-commonly filed requests for special temporary authority or rule waivers. There will be no fee for purely administrative updates, such as changes to mailing or e-mail addresses. The effective date of the application fees had not been set as of press time.

However, a June 29 effective date has been set for the FCC's previously-announced requirement that all applications must include an e-mail address or risk being dismissed as "defective." The ARRL says those unwilling or unable to provide an email address must request a rule waiver from the FCC (subject to the new $35 fee) but notes that the Commission is not required to grant the request. Hams may log into the FCC's Universal Licensing System (ULS) License Manager System using their FRN and password to enter or update their email address.

FCC: Do We Need More VECs?

The FCC issued a public notice January 5, asking for public input on whether the current 14 Volunteer Examiner Coordinators, or VECs, are meeting the need of the amateur radio community or if it should consider authorizing up to five additional VECs. 

The proceeding number is WT Docket 21-2 and comments are being accepted via the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) through February 5, with reply comments due by February 19. There was no indication in the notice as to the reason this input was being sought at this time. 

73 to ARES Connect

Emergency Communications Editor Stan Broadway, N8BHL, reports that the ARRL’s new Director of Emergency Management, Paul Gilbert, KE5ZW, announced via email that the League’s “ARES Connect” activity database was being discontinued as of June, 2021.

The use of the volunteer management database was adopted in 2018 by the League, but its introduction was ambivalent. Some states adopted the program, others panned it. The League would not commit to mandating its use, which led many states to ignore it.

In the email, Gilbert indicated that “recent discussions between ARRL and the ARES Connect software vendor have made it clear that the League’s evolving needs for an EmComm / Public Service reporting package are not aligned with the vendor’s future plans for the product.”

ARRL sections that have been using Connect should plan to transition to the ARES Form 4 (a paper-based monthly report) until a replacement system is identified. There is no indication the League has any prospects currently underway for such a system.

Togetherness Theme Adopted for World Amateur Radio Day

2020 World Amateur Radio Day
poster. This year's theme is
"Amateur Radio: Home but
Never Alone." (IARU image)

"Amateur Radio: Home but Never Alone" has been chosen as the theme for this year's World Amateur Radio Day on April 18. According to the South African Radio League, the Administrative Council of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) selected the theme in recognition of the role played by amateur radio over the past year in fighting social isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

It was noted that hams had "reached out spontaneously to one another via the airwaves at the local, national and global levels," including local "wellness nets," "stay safe" special event stations and record-breaking participation in major contests. The IARU concluded that the theme "offers the opportunity for our Member Societies to tailor meaningful messages to the general public about the values of the global amateur radio community."

Expanding Beacon Networks to Aid Propagation Research

The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) is in the process of adding 15 new nodes in areas where amateur radio populations are sparse. The expansion is being funded by grants from the Yasme Foundation and Amateur Radio Digital Communications. According to the ARRL, an RBN node was installed in Tunisia last fall, with another in far northern Europe coming online on December 22. Additional nodes are planned for such regions as the Caribbean, South Pacific, Central Asia, South America and the Middle East. The League says selections were guided by the research community at HamSCI, where researchers are interested in the broad geographic reach of the RBN project. RBN nodes worldwide monitor the HF ham bands to identify band openings in real time.

Reverse Beacon Network spot map

A VHF/UHF reverse beacon network is being started in South Africa, under the guidance of the South African Radio League (SARL) and AMSAT-SA. The so-called "next-generation beacons" will use the PI4 digital mode to transmit machine-generated messages that can be decoded even when signal strengths are very weak. SARL says three beacons are planned for initial installation and notes that, while it is providing funding for the first one, crowd-funding will be needed to cover the costs of building additional nodes.

IARU Joins in Preparations for WRC-23

The International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) is actively participating in working groups that are laying the groundwork for the next International Telecommunication Union World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) currently planned for 2023. 

According to the South African Radio League, items already on the 2023 agenda have the potential for affecting amateur radio frequency allocations at 50 MHz, 1240 MHz, 3300 MHz (already in the process of being removed from the amateur service in the U.S.), 10 GHz and 241 GHz.

Milestones: Former RAC President VE7RD SK

Former Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) President John "Hoppy" Hopwood, VE7RD, became a Silent Key in December at age 91. 

According to the ARRL, Hopwood was instrumental in the merger of the Canadian Radio Relay League and Canadian Amateur Radio Federation to create the RAC in the early 1990s. He was elected as RAC's first vice president, and then served six terms as president before retiring in 1998. Hopwood was inducted into the Canadian Amateur Radio Hall of Fame in 2015.

Vandalism to Towers in North Texas

The Montague County Amateur Radio Club reports that a 500-foot communication tower in Wichita Falls, Texas, collapsed in mid-December after its guy wires were cut. The tower hosted antennas for an amateur radio repeater as well as the National Weather Service and various commercial operations, including a secondary transmitter for KERA-TV in Dallas.

 The club also reported that one set of guys on a second TV tower in the area were attacked, but that the vandals failed to bring down that tower. KERA reported that both the Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI were investigating the attacks.

FCC Goes After Landlords of Pirate Broadcasters

In a new tactic in its ongoing battle against pirate broadcasters, the FCC has started citing owners and managers of properties on which suspected unlicensed transmitters are located. According to a report in Radio World, the authority to go after landowners was included in the recently passed PIRATE Act, which gave the FCC additional tools to chase down unlicensed broadcasters.

In announcing the issuance of "Notices of Illegal Pirate Radio Broadcasting" to owners of three properties in New York City, the FCC said parties that "knowingly facilitate illegal broadcasting on their property are liable for fines up to $2 million."

Monday, January 11, 2021

2021 Dayton Hamvention Cancelled

The Dayton Hamvention Executive Committee has announced that "several setbacks in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic make necessary the difficult decision to cancel Hamvention 2021."

"Vaccine distribution both in the United States and around the world is lagging behind what was planned," said today's committee announcement. "In addition, the emergence of a more communicable form of the COVID-19 virus increases the potential for further public health problems in the next few months. We make this difficult decision for the safety of our guests and vendors. Those who had their tickets deferred last year will be deferred again."

The announcement concluded, "Stay tuned for information about a QSO party for the Hamvention weekend. We'll be back next year!!!"