The Amateur Auxiliary of the FCC
Q. What is the Amateur Auxiliary?
A. The Amateur Auxiliary is composed of approximately 700 ARRL volunteer-appointees, known as Official Observers (OO) and the Local Interference Committee (LIC) who monitor the bands and notify Amateur Radio Operators of technical and operating discrepancies.
OOs are helpers and advisors, not "band cops." In cases involving serious rule violations, such as malicious interference, they are trained and certified to gather and forward evidence that can be used by the FCC in enforcement actions. The program is based on a formal agreement between the FCC and the ARRL.
LICs, appointed by their ARRL Section Managers, address local interference issues.
Q. What are the Amateur Auxiliary's objectives?
1. Foster a wider knowledge of and better compliance with the FCC rules
2. Support the concepts of self-regulation in the Amateur Service
3. Enhance the opportunity for individual amateurs to contribute to the public welfare
4. Enable the Enforcement Bureau of FCC to effectively utilize its limited resources
Q. So, the OO is there to help me?
A. Yes! The role of the Amateur Auxiliary is to provide an unbiased forum for technical and operational advice and other assistance to amateurs. The task is not to find fault or blame! It is to identify cause and effect. They also identify solutions and promote good amateur operating and engineering practices.
Q. Are OOs allowed to enforce the rules?
A. No! Enforcement is a function reserved exclusively by the FCC. The OOs job is to provide information to the amateur. Because the boundary between observation and enforcement is not always obvious, good judgment is required of Amateur Auxiliary members. For the Amateur Auxiliary to be effective, OOs must be unbiased and avoid the appearance of having a vested interest in any specific type of amateur operation. OOs cannot advocate for specific activities, groups or causes. OOs are not to be involved in cases where they have a personal interest.
Q. Do OOs deal with RFI problems?
A. No. The Amateur Auxiliary is designed to deal ONLY with amateur-to-amateur interference and improper on-air operation by amateurs. Radio Frequencey Interference complaints should be referred to their ARRL Section Technical Coordinator.
Q. Do OOs deal with non-amateur intruders or "bootleggers"?
A. Yes. Reports of non-amateur HF intruders (a foreign broadcast station, for example) are sent to ARRL HQ for referral to the ARRL Monitoring System. Cases involving bootlegging call signs are within the scope of the Amateur Auxiliary program.
Q. How are repeater "jammers" handled?
A. A component of the Amateur Auxiliary program, Local Interference Committees (LIC) are appointed by the ARRL Section Manager with an OO as chairman to track down and resolve repeater jamming problems. If the problem persists, the LIC may develop information for the FCC.
Q. How are repeater-to-repeater interference and coordination disputes resolved?
A. They are resolved locally or regionally, by the parties to the dispute and the affected user community. The ARRL does not become involved in repeater coordinaton. When such matters come to the attention of the Amateur Auxiliary program, they are referred to local and regional coordinating groups.
Q. Isn't the OO doing work that should be more properly done by the FCC?
A. The ARRL and the FCC have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that defines the relationship between the two. By agreement, the ARRL Amateur Auxiliary does initial fact finding for the FCC, referring appropriate cases to the Enforcement Bureau for consideration. The FCC may also request the Amateur Auxiliary to gather information as needed.
Q. What can be done about interference on the HF bands?
A. Most interference on today's crowded bands is of the "no-fault" variety, it is better resolved by flexibility rather than confrontation. Malicious or harmful interference is actionable under Part 97 rules.
An example of malicious interference in the Amateur Radio service:
1) Two or more stations are in communication on the same frequency.
2) Another station begins transmitting on the same or an adjacent frequency.
3) The original stations, acknowledging on-the-air that they cannot copy one another through the interfering station's transmissions, and decide to move to another frequency.
4) When they move, the interfering station follows and commences interfering transmissions again.
Additionally, malicious interference must involve an ongoing campaign on a regular, repeated basis: No one can reasonably expect the FCC and/or the Amateur Auxiliary to act on a one-time, isolated event.
Q. What can be done about amateurs that make rude remarks, racial slurs, or transmit obscene or indecent words?
A. Much of what is heard may be inappropriate and violates standards of polite society, but it is not illegal. Only obscene or indecent transmissions are illegal. See the ARRL's FCC Rule Book for a discussion of how the FCC defines the standards for obscenity and indecency. Serious cases can be referred to the Amateur Auxiliary for handling.
We cannot expect the FCC to devote its resources to the correction of inappropriate, but not illegal, language or less serious violations. These must be addressed by the amateur community itself. We must not let the bad behavior drive out the good: Each of us who cares about Amateur Radio must maintain the highest possible standards when operating, even in the face of provocation. We must let other amateurs know, as politely as possible, that we expect them to observe the same standards.
Q. I got an OO card in the mail! What do I do now?
A. First, don't worry: This is not a citation! The OO postcard is simply a friendly note to alert you to possible equipment factors or operating practices. Remember, OOs are friendly helper-advisors, not the "radio police"!
Sample OO Advisory Notice:
Q. Do I have to reply to the notice?
A. No reply is necessary! You may want to take a few minutes to determine what caused the apparent problem and take steps to fix it. Like most amateurs, you are proud of your license and you have the same pride in the quality of your signal and operating practices. Your corrective actions might even head off an FCC "pink slip" down the road.
Q. The card seemed a little nit-picky to me. Do OOs send cards for discrepancies that lie in the gray area between black and white rules violations?
A. OOs are advised to avoid hair-splitting and to deal with black-and-white rule discrepancies only. They should avoid the "gray areas" of the rules. OOs should not be nit-pickers. For example, an OO should not send a notice to someone who forgot to identify his station for ten minutes and eight seconds!
If you feel that the OO sent you a notice that violates the spirit of the OO program, send a copy to your Section Manager or to Headquarters for evaluation and possible action. Quality control is critically important in a program as sensitive as this one!
Q. Is a record of the notice kept anywhere?
A. Yes. A record of the notice is kept at ARRL Headquarters for a period of one year, after which it is destroyed. Records are kept so that if a case evolves into a serious, hard-core compliance issue, it may be used by the FCC as evidence, showing that voluntary measures of achieving resolution were ineffective. The information is also used to guide OOs in special monitoring efforts. Otherwise, the information is kept strictly confidential and is never released outside of the Auxiliary.
Q. Hey, I received a Good Operator Report. What's that for?
A. Congratulations! To emphasize the positive nature of the program, "Good Operator Reports" are sent to operators whose radio signals and/or operating practices are consistent with the highest standards and are a model for others to follow. Every amateur should strive to pattern their operating and signals after your example!
Training and Certification
Q. Are OOs trained and/or certified to perform their functions?
A. Yes! All OOs must pass a comprehensive examination, based on a set of study materials, before they can be certified as members of the Amateur Auxiliary. These materials include an extensive training manual, The FCC Rule Book, and the ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications.
Q. How can I apply to be an OO?
A. It's not a job for everyone. An OO will observe some operating practices that will frustrate him or her. There's no room in the OO program for "band cops." OOs gain satisfaction when they're able to call an undesirable situation to the attention of someone who honestly wasn't aware of it and who is genuinely appreciative of the assistance.