Comments Requested on Suggested Amateur Radio Rule Changes
Friday, April 05, 2019 | Comments

The FCC is asking for comments on a petition for rulemaking from an amateur radio operator with backing from wireless expert Theodore Rappaport, continuing the amateur radio debate about whether to exclude encrypted communications.

The debate began with the FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) 16-239, which attempts to remove a limit on the baud rate of high-frequency (HF) shortwave transmissions.

Ron Kolarik, a radio amateur from Nebraska, in October filed a petition for rulemaking asking the FCC to modify its amateur radio service rules to reduce levels of amateur-to-amateur interference from stations operating under Part 97.221 and ensure all transmissions remain open for over-the-air (OTA) eavesdropping of station identification, message content and being capable of being fully decoded with publicly available methods.

Kolarik noted that many stations are improperly using effectively encrypted transmissions, essentially turning the public airwaves of ham radio into a private point-to-point email system, in violation of many FCC rules.

The FCC requested statements opposing or supporting Kolarik’s petition for rulemaking March 28.

Rappaport, who is director of NYU WIRELESS, a leading 5G technology research center, said late last year the FCC should address ongoing rule violations to proper usage of the amateur radio service — specifically, the use of obscured, private messaging, which is forbidden in Part 97 rules and creates national security concerns, as well as other violations.

In a March 27 ex parte filing, the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) requested a pause in the 16-239 proceeding to facilitate discussion among commenters of differences expressed in the record of this proceeding.

“We intend our effort to reach a common understanding of issues and to agree on proposals insofar as possible,” ARRL said. “We will inform the commission of the status of our discussions no later than 90 days from this date.”

Rappaport has been critical of the ARRL in FCC filings, saying ARRL’s past lack of attention to gross FCC rule violations and numerous spurious petitions led to a stagnation in ham radio.

“I am proud to be a life member of the ARRL, but the ARRL represents only 20% of the 750,000 hams in the United States and is coming out of a dark period,” Rappaport said in a statement. “The current ARRL board realizes that changes for the hobby are needed, and RM-11831 acknowledges past problems and sets the hobby on an exciting new path for growth, bringing ham radio back to its fundamental purpose of openness and building a reservoir of technical experts for our country.”

He applauded the FCC for addressing the issue. “The FCC has recently recognized a major problem that has existed for decades in ham radio, and in the past few days took steps to institute vital new rules that will grow the hobby by reiterating the fundamental requirement that all radio communications are open, so that the public may listen in,” Rappaport said.

“This new rulemaking will ensure that young computer enthusiasts will be able to use open source software and readily available decoding methods to listen in by tinkering and engaging with an exciting hobby that encourages international goodwill and develops the soft skills and electronics know-how needed to succeed in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),” he said.

Rappaport’s critics say the FCC can decode any mode presently used on ham radio, including Pactor 1, 2, 3, 4.

The FCC is accepting comments on RM-11831 until April 29. The comments filed so far are here.

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On 4/10/19, James Brown said:
It is not encryption or encryption like. Anyone who has an amateur radio license can purchase these radios and listen in on any group. In fact, volunteer use of these radios, which are note encrypted, is usually done in the use of search and rescue, public-safety events and many other uses of community-related services. Check the guy out that proposed this rule and know it only benefits him by trying to do this. Email to email by radio is open to many stations that can receive it and is used primarily when there is no other way to email someone and again for disaster response. Don't take the tools away that help save lives and provide logistical support for Red Cross, Government Salvation Army and other organizations that use this for the benefit of the community.


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