The ARRL Letter
Volume 19, Number 1
January 7, 2000
IN THIS EDITION:
- +Questions, comments, confusion follow in FCC's wake
- +Enhanced enforcement enters a new year
- +Kentucky twister rallies hams
- +Mississippi telephone RFI case tabled
- FCC seeks club, military rec call sign administrators
- Solar update
In Brief: This weekend on the radio; HQ job opportunity; West Central Florida special event; Burrowing owl update; Hollingsworth to get frosted; Long-distance rescue via Morse code; RAC establishes HF Band Planning Committee; Special Canadian Y2K prefixes
+Available on ARRL Audio News
Questions, comments, and some confusion have been the order of the day since the FCC finally dropped the other shoe on Amateur Radio restructuring on December 30. The FCC's momentous action--reducing the number of license classes to three and establishing 5 WPM as the sole Morse code examination element--has, at least for now, polarized the Amateur Radio community. It also promises to change the complexion of Amateur Radio as it enters the new millennium.
More than half of those responding to an informal poll on the ARRL Web site indicate they plan to upgrade during 2000. Demand for study materials in the past week suggests many amateurs will be hitting the books in the coming weeks.
After April 15, 2000, the FCC will only issue Technician, General, and Amateur Extra class licenses. Novice and Advanced licensees will retain current operating privileges and may renew indefinitely. The FCC's new licensing scheme simplifies and shortens the upgrade path from the ground floor through Amateur Extra. Applicants will only have to pass one Morse code test, and there are fewer written examinations and total questions.
"This is the best news I have heard since bread and butter!" exclaimed Jimmy Stewart, WD9FHY, who said he's been trying unsuccessfully for years to boost his code proficiency. On the other side were some who asserted that the revised requirements would contribute to a further decline of Amateur Radio and open the doors to "riff-raff."
The ARRL Board of Directors is expected to review the FCC Report and Order and discuss its implications when it meets January 21-22 in Memphis.
In a significant step, the FCC has left it in the hands of the National Conference of VECs Question Pool Committee to determine the specific mix and makeup of written examination questions. Current Amateur Radio study materials remain valid at least until the new rules become effective in April.
The nation's Volunteer Examiner Coordinators, including the ARRL-VEC, now are under the gun to meet the plan's April 15 implementation date. "The Question Pool Committee has been meeting by telephone and e-mail to get the updating process under way," said ARRL-VEC Manager Bart Jahnke, W9JJ. "It's anticipated that the QPC will put out a news release soon that indicates when the updated question pools will be available to the public." Jahnke said the revised question pools will be out "well in advance" of April 15.
No one loses any privileges under the FCC's new plan, and, with one limited exception, no licensee is in a position to automatically gain any privileges when April 15 rolls around. The FCC's action establishes the Technician license--with or without Morse code credit--as the entry-level ticket to Amateur Radio. Technician applicants passing the 5 WPM Morse code exam will gain current Tech Plus HF privileges. The current "no-code" Tech license will continue to be available. Technician applicants opting to not take the code test will gain current Technician VHF/UHF privileges. After April 15, 2000, the FCC will lump Technician and Technician Plus licensees into a single "Technician" database. Despite the name change, current Tech Plus licensees won't lose any privileges.
Similarly, current General and Amateur Extra class holders will continue to enjoy their current privileges. The FCC took no action to reallocate any amateur bands.
The new licensing regime has four examination elements: Element 1, the 5 WPM Morse code test; Element 2, a 35-question Technician test; Element 3, a 35-question General test, and Element 4, a 50-question Amateur Extra test. The new Amateur Extra test is expected to combine the important elements of the current Advanced and Amateur Extra examinations. Only minor changes are anticipated in the new General class examination. The new Technician exam likely will include some questions on HF operating from the current Novice test.
The new licensing plan created a lone and limited upgrade for those who held a Technician license or a Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE) before March 21, 1987. Those individuals may claim credit for a new General class license. This is because there was a single Technician-General written test under the old system; only the code tests differed. The upgrade is not automatic, however. Affected individuals will have to apply through a Volunteer Examiner test session, complete Form 605, attach documentary proof of having completed the requirements for a Technician license prior to March 21, 1987, and pay an application fee, if any, to the VEC.
Judging from the questions coming into ARRL HQ, many hams want to know whether to upgrade now or wait for the new system. If you're either a Tech Plus or an Advanced licensee, there might be an advantage to taking an exam now. The FCC has told the League that current Tech Plus licensees holding a valid CSCE for Element 3B may apply for a General class upgrade when the new rules become effective. Likewise, current Advanced licensees holding a valid CSCE for Element 4B may apply for an Amateur Extra class upgrade under the new system. To be valid on April 15, 2000, any such CSCE will have to be dated on or after April 17, 1999. A CSCE is only good for 365 days. CSCE holders must attend a Volunteer Examiner session, complete Form 605, attach a valid CSCE, and pay any required application fee ($6.65 for the ARRL-VEC).
The reduced Morse code requirement hit a nerve with some hams who felt it "devalued" their upper-class licenses. Others, however, felt it minimized an unnecessary obstacle. The FCC said it believes a demonstration of Morse proficiency does not necessarily indicate an individual's "ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art," as the FCC put it. The Commission also said it was not convinced that Morse proficiency had any particular value to emergency preparedness.
The reduction in the Morse code requirement was not entirely unexpected. Several other countries already have lowered their Morse code examination requirements, and some observers believe the Morse requirement will disappear altogether once it's eliminated in the international Radio Regulations. The FCC said it opted for the "least burdensome requirement" as its sole Morse standard. While the 13 and 20 WPM code tests soon will be history, the FCC said that "provisions must remain in place for accommodating individuals with severe disabilities."
The Morse code issue is expected to be on the agenda of a future World Radiocommunication Conference. The FCC said it would not automatically "sunset" the Morse code requirement even if Morse code is eliminated from the international radio regulations.
Frequently Asked Questions on restructuring are available at http://www.arrl.org/news/restructuring/faq.html/. A copy of the entire Report and Order (FCC 99-412) is available at http://www.arrl.org/announce/regulatory/wt98-143ro.pdf or at http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/1999/db991230/fcc99412.txt.
As the new year gets under way, FCC Special Counsel for Amateur Radio Enforcement Riley Hollingsworth hinted he might have to break bad on hard-core offenders this year. He explained that poor or lax FCC enforcement in the past led him to be more forgiving of rulebreakers during his first full calendar year in the enforcement chair. Now, those who persist in operating outside of the stated basis and purpose of Amateur Radio "are beginning to try our patience," he said. "I can't say we're going to be as compassionate this year."
Hollingsworth said he expected to continue his focus on incursions into the 10-meter band by unlicensed operators, especially as propagation gets better, and on equipment certification issues. "We're very concerned about the illegal equipment we see for sale at hamfests," he explained.
Overall, however, malicious interference remains "the basic problem," as he put it. "We're going to use the High-Frequency Direction Finding Center at Laurel [Maryland] more this year" to track down rulebreakers, he said. In addition, Hollingsworth now has enhanced monitoring tools at his Gettysburg office, allowing him access to the HFDF Center's 14 antenna fields plus VHF-UHF "pods" that can be moved around as necessary. "We have dial-in capabilities to all of our antenna fields and to the pods, so we can cover HF, UHF, and VHF anywhere in the country, right here from the Gettysburg office," he explained.
"It's a force multiplier, so to speak," Hollingsworth said of the new capabilities.
Hollingsworth also says he's upbeat about the future of ham radio and the FCC's Amateur Radio restructuring plan announced December 30. "I'm really optimistic about it," he said this week. "I think that it's a good idea to simplify things a little bit as far as the number of license classes," he added, referring to the new three-tiered system.
Hollingsworth said he believes Amateur Radio needs more young blood to keep it going in the future, and he thinks the new licensing system that becomes effective April 15 might help in that regard. He declined, however, to comment further on the specific policies and rules the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau laid down in its Report and Order, saying it would not be appropriate.
Hams in the Owensboro, Kentucky, area activated the afternoon of January 3 when an F3-level tornado visited town. ARRL Official Relay Station and former Kentucky Section Manager Steve Morgan, W4NHO, says the storm--with winds of approximately 180 MPH--struck Owensboro from the southwest, making a wide swath and hopping its way through the southwest portion of the city. Owensboro is home to past ARRL President George Wilson III, W4OYI. The tornado touched down about three miles from Wilson's house, and he was involved in assisting in the response.
"Owensboro is a mess!" reports Bill Hilyerd, K4LRX, in Henderson in a message to Kentucky SEC Ron Dodson, KA4MAP. "We boys in Western Kentucky are quite busy."
Morgan reports that Amateur Radio operators opened an ARES net on the Owensboro Amateur Radio Club's 2-meter repeater and provided storm tracking information for the next hour or so. Operators were dispatched to the local emergency management office, the Red Cross office, the Kentucky Third District EMS office, the local hospital, and a shelter at a local sports center.
In addition to assisting with EMA/EOC communications, hams also have been involved in post-storm damage assessment. Dodson says additional hams still are needed during daylight hours to assist damage assessment teams. (Area hams may contact Steve Morgan, W4NHO, 270-926-4451 or Bob Spears, AA4RL, 270-926-1693.)
Morgan reports that telephone service--including cellular--was disrupted because of heavy use within the community. "Amateur radio provided valuable links when other services were disrupted," Morgan said.
Amateurs also got in touch with TV stations in Evansville, Indiana, as well as the Evansville Red Cross chapter through hams in that city. Morgan says early notification of the storm's approach via local TV stations and the emergency sirens prevented loss of life during the storm. Although 15 people were injured, only one injury was considered serious, he said.
Morgan says that by week's end, some 8000 residents of the Owensboro area were still without power. Property damage was estimated to be in the millions of dollars. At least 130 homes were destroyed, and 500 to 600 homes suffered major damage. "The community has really pulled together, and repairs are rapidly progressing," he said. "It's impossible to give a blow-by-blow description of all the hams who played a valuable part during this storm."
While the OARC 147.21 MHz repeater managed to stay on the air, Dodson cited reports indicating the repeater was operating at reduced power after apparently suffering some lightning damage. The machine was run off battery power for a while, but Jack Wilson, K4SAC, in Owensboro told Dodson the repeater now is back on commercial power. "We have had a net in session officially or unofficially since Monday afternoon," he said. Two other 2-meter machines were said to have been lost in the tornado.
Overall, more than 40 Owensboro amateurs participated in the tornado response effort, Morgan said.--Steve Morgan, W4NHO; Ron Dodson, KA4MAP
A Mississippi ham arrested for interfering with his neighbors' telephones is breathing a bit more easily today. ARRL member Bennie Stewart, KJ6TY, of Meridian, was arrested and charged September 10 after a neighbor filed a complaint with the Lauderdale County Justice Court. At the request of Lauderdale County Attorney Robert Compton, the court has ordered the case to be placed in its "inactive files."
Stewart's attorney, Felicia Perkins of Jackson, says the action essentially ends the case against her client. "For all practical purposes, it's in a box somewhere, and it's going to sit there unless Congress changes the laws," she said.
If he'd been convicted, the 61-year-old Stewart--who's confined to a wheelchair and says he has limited physical abilities--faced a fine of up to $500, six months in jail, or both.
Perkins had requested, on Stewart's behalf, that the Justice Court throw out the complaint on the grounds that only the FCC had jurisdiction. The court had been considering the motion since last fall. The December 28, 1999, Order sending the criminal action to the inactive files maintained that the Justice Court "does have jurisdiction over the subject criminal matters, but that the state court's jurisdiction has been preempted by federal law". Perkins said the order means the Justice Court cannot exercise any jurisdiction it may have had. "There are no other proceedings against my client," she said.
A ham for 12 years, Stewart had appeared in court October 26 to respond to the complaint, brought under a Mississippi law that makes it illegal to "intentionally obstruct, injure, break or destroy, or in any manner interrupt any telegraph or telephone line or communication thereon between any two points."
Perkins said the Mississippi Justice Court provides a legal forum for resolving disputes, something like small claims court. Justice Court judges do not have to be attorneys, she explained. An appeal to a higher court could have been "very, very expensive" for Stewart, she said. "Sometimes it's best to put things to an end--especially when the law is so clear--at the Justice Court level."
The case attracted the attention of the Amateur Radio community and has been the subject of Internet news group discussions. Stewart said that before his arrest in the telephone interference case he never was in any kind of legal trouble. A retired photographer, Stewart says he's suffered from muscular dystrophy since he was a teenager. The Mississippi native had moved to California after his retirement, but moved back to Mississippi in 1993.
Starting March 1, 2000, the FCC will accept requests from organizations interested in processing applications for Amateur Radio club and military recreation station call signs. Requests received before this date will not be considered, the FCC said. "We will accept the services of any organization meeting the requirements of Section 4(g)(3)(B) of the Communications Act," the FCC Public Notice explained. "Organizations interested in processing applications for amateur service club and military recreation station call signs should familiarize themselves with the Report and Order and the requirements of the statute."
The FCC adopted an R&O October 21, 1998, that re-established the use of volunteer organizations to process applications for Amateur Radio club and military rec station call signs.
The FCC says an organization requesting designation as a "Club Station Call Sign Administrator" must be able to show that (1) it is an Amateur Radio organization; (2) that it has tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986; (3) that it will provide voluntary, uncompensated and unreimbursed services for processing applications for club and military rec station call signs; (4) that it will submit the information to the FCC in an electronic batch file; and (5) that it will retain the application information for at least 15 months and make it available to the FCC upon request.
"The Club Station Call Sign Administrator may collect all necessary information in any manner of its choosing, including creating its own forms," the FCC Public Notice said.
Requests must be signed by a responsible official of the organization and include the telephone number of a person familiar with the request. Interested organizations must file their request with the FCC, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Public Safety and Private Wireless Division, 445 Twelfth St SW, Room 4-C330, Washington, DC 20554, ATTENTION: CLUB STATION CALL SIGN ADMINISTRATOR. Failure to follow these filing procedures will result in the request being returned without consideration.
Qualified organizations that successfully complete a pilot autogrant batch filing project will be authorized as Club Station Call Sign Administrators to process applications and submit the information to the FCC in an electronic batch file. The FCC will announce names and addresses of Club Station Call Sign Administrators once they have been selected.
For more information, contact William T. Cross, 202-418-0680.--FCC Public Notice
Heliophile Tad Cook, K7VVV, Seattle, Washington, reports: For the first propagation bulletin of the new year, we will review some of the solar numbers for 1999. Currently we are moving toward the peak of solar cycle 23. Activity is not as high as we had hoped, and current projections place the broad peak of the cycle some time later this year.
We can see a broad progression of the current cycle by reviewing annual solar flux averages. The average daily solar flux in 1996, 1997 and 1998 was 70.8, 80.9 and 117.9, and for 1999 it was 153.7.
The average daily solar flux for the four quarters of the year were 136.7, 145, 157.6 and 175.2 for the quarter just ended. This indicates a steady upward trend. Monthly averages of daily flux values for September through December were 135.7, 164.8, 191.5 and 169.8.
Projected solar flux for Friday through Sunday is 150, 155 and 160, and the projected planetary A index is 10, 8 and 12. Beyond the weekend it looks like quiet geomagnetic conditions for January 10-19, moderately unsettled around January 20 and 21, then quiet again until January 26 through the end of the month. The most active days should be around January 27 and 28 due to recurring coronal holes. Solar flux should rise until January 16 and 17, peaking around 205, the drop below 150 by January 25.
Sunspot numbers for December 23 through 29 were 112, 149, 141, 125, 109, 77 and 123 with a mean of 119.4. The 10.7 cm flux was 198.4, 182.4, 178.4, 177, 161.7, 150.4 and 143.7, with a mean of 170.3. The estimated planetary A indices were 5, 10, 10, 2, 6, 7 and 7, with a mean of 6.7.
Sunspot numbers for December 30 through January 5 were 88, 91, 69, 69, 77, 102 and 100 with a mean of 85.1. The 10.7 cm flux was 135.6, 130.1, 129.9, 132.9, 133.1, 134.7 and 136.5, with a mean of 133.3, and estimated planetary A indices were 8, 27, 27, 14, 13, 12 and 15, with a mean of 16.6.
- This weekend on the radio: The ARRL RTTY Roundup, the Japan International DX Contest (CW), Meet the Novices and Technicians Day, and the North American QSO Party (CW) are the weekend of January 7-9. Just ahead: The North American QSO Party (SSB), the 2000 CW QRP Contest, and the Hunting Lions in the Air Contest are the weekend of January 14-16. See January QST, page 100, for more information.
- HQ job opportunity: ARRL Field & Educational Services has an immediate opening for a Field & Educational Programs Assistant. Areas of responsibility include aspects of the Official Observer program, the Volunteer Monitoring System (watches for non-ham intruders on our bands), handling questions on regulatory information and affiliated clubs, the AMTS program for 219-220 MHz, suggesting ways to streamline departmental processes via electronic means, and contributing to production of The Repeater Directory. Salary is dependent on experience and qualifications. Candidates must hold a valid Amateur Radio license. Requirements include excellent oral and writing skills, good computer skills, and ability to handle multiple tasks with attention to detail. Forward a letter of application, resume, and salary requirements to Rosalie White, WA1STO, firstname.lastname@example.org; fax 860-594-0259, or c/o ARRL, 225 Main St, Newington, CT 06111. The ARRL is an equal opportunity employer.
- West Central Florida special event: To celebrate the inauguration of the latest ARRL section, West Central Florida, the new section will sponsor "WCF-First Contact" starting Saturday, January 15--the day the new section becomes official--and continuing daily 8 AM until midnight Eastern until January 23 from each of the nine WCF counties. Frequencies include 7.271, 14.271 and 28.371 MHz. A complete schedule is posted at http://www.wcfarrl.org. All hams participating in the special event will be eligible to receive a WCF-First Contact certificate, with endorsements for each county worked and for sending an NTS message to new WCF Section Manager Dave Armbrust, AE4MR, at 1641 Baywinds Ln, Sarasota, FL 34231.--Paul Toth, K2SEC
- Burrowing owl update: ARRL Amateur Radio Direction Finding Coordinator Joe Moell, K0OV, says additional volunteers in southern states are needed for the Burrowing Owl Project. Forty-eight burrowing owls, wearing miniature radio transmitters operating between 172 and 173 MHz, left Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada, last fall. By now, they are most likely in southern states somewhere between California's Imperial Valley and the east coast of Texas and possibly in northern Mexico. If you have a sensitive receiver, scanner, a wide-range H-T that tunes through VHF "high band," or radio direction-finding gear for that frequency range, you can help. Perhaps you'll be the first to sight a living banded Canadian burrowing owl in the US. For more information, visit the burrowing owl page at http://www.homingin.com. If you have trouble connecting, try http://members.aol.com/homingin/ --Joe Moell, K0OV
- Hollingsworth to get frosted: FCC Special Counsel for Amateur Radio Enforcement Riley Hollingsworth, K4ZDH, will speak January 16, 1 PM, at FrostFest 2000 at the Showplace, Richmond, Virginia. Hollingsworth has told the ARRL that he will address amateur enforcement issues but will not discuss FCC policy relating to the recent FCC Report and Order on amateur license restructuring. Visit http://frostfest.rats.net for more details. Other speakers include ARRL Roanoke Division Director John Kanode, N4MM, and Vice Director Dennis Bodson, W4PWF, who will follow Hollingsworth at the podium at 2 PM.--Patrick Wilson K4OW
- Long-distance rescue via Morse code: Gene Nailon, K5DLE, reports a ham in the Rockies has a fellow amateur in Oklahoma and the Morse code to thank for helping after he fell ill during a QSO December 17. Larry Watson, W5EIU, in Oklahoma City answered a CQ on 3710 kHz from the Wyoming ham. They had been talking for about 15 minutes when the Wyoming op told Watson: "I think I'm having a heart attack, and I can't get to the phone." After that, his transmission broke off, and Watson was unable to raise him further. About the same time, Jim Caldwell, WJ0C, of Waterloo, Iowa, broke in. WJ0C was able to look up the full name and location of the Wyoming ham and relay the information to Watson, who called the police in the Wyoming town to alert them to a potential medical emergency. It turned out they were right. The Wyoming ham--whose name and location were unavailable--was hospitalized, and the prognosis was said to be good. Watson, first licensed at age 13 in 1954, says this was a first for him. (By the way, both Watson and Nailon belong to Central Oklahoma Chapter 63 QCWA.)--Gene Nailon, K5DLE
- RAC establishes HF Band Planning Committee: The Radio Amateurs of Canada Board of Directors has appointed a new committee to advise on revisions and improvements to RAC band plans covering the HF spectrum from 1.8. to 29 MHz. The new committee will be chaired by Bob Nash, VE3KZ. The committee will consider the implications of the FCC's recent Report and Order on Part 97 and offer advice and recommendations for changes to the Canadian plans, if appropriate. The committee will also review the changes to the 40-meter band proposed by the IARU, and recommend a Canadian position on the changes. The panel also has been asked to consider possible new HF amateur bands. Canadian amateurs may send comments and suggestions to Bob Nash at email@example.com.--RAC
- Special Canadian Y2K prefixes: Industry Canada informs Canadian amateurs that the following national special event prefixes are authorized through February 16, 2000. VE1 = CG1; VA1 = CF1; VE2 = CG2; VA2 = CF2; VE3 = CG3; VA3 = CF3; VE4 = CG4; VA4 = CF4; VE5 = CG5; VA5 = CF5; VE6 = CG6; VA6 = CF6; VE7 = CG7; VA7 = CF7; VE8 = CG8; VE9 = CG9; VO1 = CH1; VO2 = CH2; VY0 = CI0; VY1 = CI1; and VY2 = CI2.--RAC
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