ARRL

Bill Becomes a Law

"RFI Bill" Becomes Law; Amateur Radio Benefits!


RFI Regulatory Information   By W. Dale Clift, WA3NLO
Deputy Manager, Membership Services, ARRL From November 1982, QST pp. 11-13

 

Intended primarily as an RFI problem-solver, P.L. 97-259 is much, much more. A decade of effort by hams and their supporters means a brighter future for Amateur Radio.

If you're an Amateur Radio operator, odds are that you'll get more out of your hobby because of a new law called P.L. 97-259. For example, you may be concerned about unqualified people becoming licensed. This law will help keep standards high. If you've wondered why the FCC doesn't issue licenses for more than five-year terms to cut down on its paperwork, stop wondering. This law will permit licenses to run for 10 years. If you've ever had an RFI problem, you'll be relieved to know that the FCC now has authority to require that home electronics equipment will have to meet RFI susceptibility standards. If you're upset about the damage done to our good name by the tiny but disruptive minority within Amateur Radio, the FCC will now be able to seek out and punish offenders more swiftly. If you've been forced to wait patiently for some sort of action from an understaffed FCC office, a change is in the wind: FCC will at last be able to use the services of volunteers. If you've signed up to take an amateur exam, only to find that you'll have to drive 150 miles to get to it, you'll be glad to hear that there will be many more exam opportunities - in every state, Puerto Rico, overseas territories and even in some foreign countries.

All of this won't come to pass overnight, of course, but neither did the law that makes these improvements possible. Getting P.L. 97-259 on the books took perseverance and a concerted effort by many people. It took resolve in the face of setbacks - and there were plenty! The making of a law is a story of people, places and politics.

 

How It Came to Pass

Amending the Communications Act of 1934 is no easy task. Many powerful individuals and groups have tried and failed to overcome the inertia of nearly 50 years, the length of time this law has governed wire and radio communications in the United States. Ten years ago, Amateur Radio leaders resolved to bring it up to date. The growing problem of radiofrequency interference (RFI) continued to seriously threaten the well-being of the Amateur Radio Service. Incidences of RFI to home electronic equipment were on the upswing, as were incidences of radio amateurs being blamed for causing the interference.

The 1960s and 1970s had brought an RFI problem of huge proportions. The fact that consumers were buying more electronic devices for their homes, plus the boom in the sales of Citizens Band (CB) transceivers, increased the probability that a home electronic device would be located near a transmitter. Nonetheless, amateur operators got the undeserved blame for many instances of RFI. The League tried to explain to disgruntled consumers that in typical RFI situations involving radio amateurs, RFI results from design deficiencies in the affected device. But consumers found it difficult to accept the concept that an apparently "passive" device, such as a TV or stereo, could be a "source" of interference. After all, when the ham was not transmitting, there was no problem!

The 1970s also brought a new concept in local and state government regulation. A few local governments began adopting ordinances that made it "illegal" to interfere with television or radio reception. These laws usually were based on a "causing a public nuisance" concept, and no one wanted to hear an Amateur Radio operator ti-y to explain that an RFI problem was the fault of the affected device. If a ham living in one of these communities were operating his or her station and a neighbor experienced interference, the ham was breaking the law. It was an open and shut case, as far as these local governments were concerned.

Amateur Radio needed a solution to the problem of its being blamed for the inability of electronic devices to reject unwanted radio signals. ARRL leaders monitoring the political and technological trends knew that, with time, the RFI situation would only get worse. Amateur Radio operators would bear more and more of the undeserved blame for a growing RFI problem, and local and state governments would bow to local political pressure and enact laws that would hamstring amateur operation. The FCC, however, did not have the authority to set minimum RFI-rejection standards for home electronic devices. Amateur Radio needed a law that would amend the Communications Act to give the Commission this authority. Amateur Radio also needed a law that would make it clear, once and for all, that matters involving RFI are preempted by the Federal Government and are not subject to regulation by state or local governments. The first RFI bill was introduced in 1972, during the 92nd Congress, by Representative Charles M. Teague (R-California). H. R. 16916 became known as the Teague "filter bill," because it would have required that "apparatus designed to receive broadcasts" shall meet FCC standards to be adopted so that "all interference from any amateur station operating on its assigned frequency [will] be filtered out." The 92nd Congress adjourned without taking any action on H.R. 16916, so in January of 1973 Rep. Teague reintroduced his filter bill into the 93rd Congress. The new bill was designated H.R. 3516, and QST published it, urging all League members to write to their congressmen in support of the measure.

Despite efforts from League members, Hq. staff and other amateur operators, the Teague filter bill remained bottled up in committee. The 93rd Congress adjourned, and the second RFI bill died. In a sad twist of fate, Rep. Teague also died. Amateur Radio had lost a stalwart friend who understood the problems facing radio amateurs. The fallen baton was picked up in the 94th Congress by Representative Charles A. Vanik (D-Ohio). On May 15, 1975, Rep. Vanik, with the assistance and urging of Ted Cohen, W4UMF (now N4XX), of the ARRL RFI Task Group, introduced H.R. 7052. An improved version of the Teague filter bill, the Vanik Bill caught the attention of another congressman, Representative Gilbert Gude (R-Maryland). Rep. Gude asked to be listed as a cosponsor.

 

Storm Clouds Brewing 

The new bill also drew the attention of some other people - people who did not share ARRL's enthusiasm for giving FCC the authority to establish rf susceptibility standards for consumer electronic equipment. The first hint of an organized effort to defeat the foundling Amateur Radio legislation was reported to League members in the August 1975 issue of QST. On page 37 of that issue, Ted Cohen wrote:

There are indications that manufacturers of home-entertainment equipment have begun to fight the legislation embodied in H.R. 7052. Their arguments are that RFI cases are too infrequent to call for such legislation, and further that the cost s for reducing the susceptibility of their equipment (which they will, of course, pass on to the consumer) are too high and may jeopardize the marketability of some products. Both arguments are fallacious! Further, with respect to the costs involved in susceptibility reduction, we estimate that even the inclusion of a high-quality, high-pass filter in a television receiver will cost the consumer no more than $5, if the filter is installed at the time of manufacture.

Thus began the League's fight with the Electronic Industries Association (EIA) over RFI legislation. The July, August, September and October 1975 issues of QST covered ARRL's efforts to get H.R. 7052 out of committee and on its way to becoming law. Members were urged to contact their congressmen and enlist their support of the Vanik Bill. The organized opposition from the well-financed EIA was disheartening, however. Then, in February of 1976, Amateur Radio advocates of the Vanik Bill got a boost from Senator Barry Goldwater, K7UGA (R-Arizona), the only licensed radio amateur in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Goldwater introduced S. 3033 to be the companion legislation for the Vanik Bill. Now the 94th Congress had two RFI bills. Sen. Goldwater described the RFI situation eloquently when he introduced his bill on the floor of Senate:

Mr. President, I am pleased to introduce today a companion bill to legislation proposed by Congressman Charles Vanik of Ohio to drastically reduce the amateur and CB radio bugaboos of television interference, hi-fi interference, and other radio frequency interference to home electronic equipment. Most consumers do not understand that when they may encounter interference with their home television or radio set after an amateur or citizens band radio operator moves next door, the source is not a defect in the equipment of their neighbor but with their own radio or television . . . (Congressional Record, February 25, 1976)

Still, support for the proposed RFI bills was not enough to overcome the organized lobbying efforts of the EIA. When the 94th Congress adjourned, the Vanik and Goldwater bills died.

Undaunted, Sen. Goldwater introduced an RFI bill in the 95th Congress: S. 684. May 1977 QST carried the complete text of the bill, and ARRL members were alerted that the RFI bill had been resurrected. Shortly after Sen. Goldwater introduced S. 684, Representative Adam Benjamin, Jr., (D-Indiana), introduced H.R. 8079. The Benjamin bill served as the House counterpart to S.684; the two bills were identical. EIA opposition continued, but another influential organization, the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE), threw its support behind the League. Explaining its support, SBE noted:

The quality of the broadcast signal is worthless if it is interfered with. This is particularly true of television, where SBE technicians strive for the state of the art in transmission of both picture and sound, only to have their work bollixed up by receivers which were not properly designed to begin with and which cannot discriminate between the desired and undesired.

Rep. Vanik, who was by this time no stranger to radio amateurs, introduced a new, improved bill into the 95th Congress, H.R. 8496. QST continued to urge League members to write to their congressmen. The Vanik bill, the Benjamin bill and the Goldwater bill - it was becoming confusing! And still another RFI bill was introduced! Representative Joseph L. Fisher (D-Virginia) introduced H.R. 11812. According to his legislative assistant, Adele Faber, the congressman introduced the bill as a direct result of the number of letters that his office had received regarding the problem of RFI. Radio amateurs' voices were being heard, but they were not being focused.

 

Finally: A First Congressional Hearing 

For the first time there was a congressional hearing on RFI. The Senate Subcommittee on Communications, obviously taking note of the lobbying activity over RFI, decided that it wanted to hear about the RFI problem. On June 14, 1978, an ARRL delegation led by President Harry Dannals, W2HD, testified in support of S.684. Sen. Goldwater chaired the session held before a standing-room-only crowd. FCC Chairman Charles D. Ferris was the first to testify, and it soon became apparent that the FCC commissioners, themselves, were sharply divided on the issue of RFI-rejection standards for consumer devices. President Dannals made the League's position clear: Hams wanted RFI-rejection standards for consumer equipment because they were tired of being scapegoats for radio-frequency interference problems. Diametrically opposed to the League's position was the EIA spokesman, J. Edward Day, a former postmaster general of the United States. Mr. Day disputed the League's characterization of the RFI problem. Figures of RFI cases presented by the League were too high, RFI legislation simply was not needed, and imposition of such legislation might wreak havoc in the electronics industry, according to Mr. Day. The 95th Congress adjourned, and the RFI bills died.

 

Picking Up the Pieces 

Sen. Goldwater called for representatives of the three main groups - industry, hams and FCC - to meet to help him pick up the pieces from the 95th Congress and decide what should be done in the 96th. There were no compromises. ARRL still wanted legislation. The EIA was dead set against it. The FCC, however, reported that it would be issuing a Notice of Inquiry on RFI. "Not enough," commented Hal Steinman, KIFHN, of the ARRL staff. "We know what the problem is; it's just a matter of doing something about it." The struggle for RFI legislation continued. Representative Lionel Van Deerlin (D-California) introduced a bill, H.R. 3333, designed to rewrite the Communications Act completely. His bill proposed to give the "Communications Regulatory Commission" the authority to regulate the RFI susceptibility of home electronic equipment, but the rest of the bill was a hotbed of political controversy. Senators Goldwater and Ernest F. Hollings (D-South Carolina) also introduced S. 622 and S. 611, respectively. In the short space of one year, an ARRL delegation testified before Congressional committees three times in support of provisions for Amateur Radio. The League took every opportunity to get RFI legislation added to other measures, and even tried to get RFI provisions added to another Van Deerlin bill, H.R. 13015.

In the meantime, the ugly specter of local RFI legislation continued to rear its head. Texas State Representative Sam Hudson introduced Texas House Bill 75, which would have allowed civil actions to be brought against anyone "interrupting the transmission or reception of radio or television [signals]." An overwhelming response by Texas radio amateurs writing to Rep. Hudson resulted in the withdrawal of the bill, but the experience showed that a clear statement of federal preemption of RFI matters was needed more than ever. There were also smaller "brush fires" of local governments adopting restrictive antenna ordinances for the stated purpose of legislating RFI problems out of existence. Other amateurs were facing private lawsuits filed by neighbors, under a nuisance theory, because the amateurs allegedly caused RFI.

 

Going For Broke 

ARRL efforts to amend the Communications Act were further complicated by the fact that amateurs needed legislation to cope with other problems. By 1980, Amateur Radio was facing the serious problem of FCC staff cutbacks amid a growing need for FCC services in administering and preparing amateur examinations and in monitoring the airwaves for rules violators. Representative William E. Dannerneyer (R-California) introduced H.R. 8445, designed to permit the FCC to use volunteers for the purpose of monitoring rules violators, but the bill died in committee when the 96th Congress adjourned. Not discouraged, he introduced H.R. 2203 into the 97th Congress. However, it, too, was limited to providing statutory authority for the FCC to use volunteers in the preparation and administration of amateur exams, and in monitoring the amateur airwaves for rules violators.

It soon became apparent to ARRL leaders that Amateur Radio needed one unified effort encompassing all the needed amendments to the Communications Act: FCC authority to adopt RFI-rejection standards, to use volunteers in the administration and preparation of amateur exams, and to enlist volunteers for monitoring the airwaves for rules violators. Amateur Radio also needed legislation to exempt amateur transmissions from Section 605 of the Communications Act, the "secrecy provisions," to prevent a legal technicality from getting in the way of reporting rules violations efficiently. Also, getting the FCC the statutory authority to grant licenses for 10-year terms instead of the five-year maximum would free FCC resources for these other, higher-priority activities. Perry Williams, WIUED, ARRL Washington Area Coordinator, and Robert M. Booth, W3PS, ARRL General Counsel, asked Sen. Goldwater if he would be willing to sponsor yet another bill. Yes, the Senator was willing, and he suggested that the League's staff work with the staff on the Senate Subcommittee on Communications to prepare the bill. ARRL's "wish list" made its appearance early in 1981 as Senate Bill 929. The only thing S. 929 did not contain when it passed the Senate in September was ARRL's hope for giving the FCC the authority to require a license at the point of sale for transmitters, to deal with the growing problem of "bootleggers" on the airwaves. That, the Senate staff decided, had best be left for another time; it was so controversial, it could have sunk the whole bill, ARRL was told.

Soon after the Senate adopted S. 929, Representative Timothy Wirth (D-Colorado) introduced H.R. 5008, a companion bill that contained essentially the same provisions as S. 929, along with FCC's "Track I " (non-controversial) legislative requests. League staff identified weak areas in House support of the bills and made urgent, direct appeals to League members in certain congressional districts. ARRL members let their con-gressmen know that they wanted them to support S. 929 and H.R. 5008. League field officials, such as assistant directors and public information assistants, conducted their own grass roots campaigns among League members. Other League members went into action across the country.

 

Victory in the Final Round 

In the fall of 1981, QST reported that S. 929 had passed the full Senate unanimously. On June 2, 1982, its counterpart in the House, H.R. 5008, sailed through the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. This Committee action was seen as the last major political hurdle; now, League and Congressional staffers had to watch for technical delays and the danger that the Congressional session might end before there was final action on the legislation.

Finally, on August 19, 1982, the U.S. Congress gave its approval to the Amateur Radio legislation. S. 929 and H.R. 5008 were passed as part of an authorization bill, H.R. 3239.The final hurdle would be the President, himself. On September 13, 1982, President Reagan signed H.R. 3239 into law. Amateur Radio and the League had won the final round.

The many years of effort and disappointment have given way to one large feeling of accomplishment and hope. It is not possible to list all those who helped in meeting this goal - it would be far too long. If you were one of those who helped, however, even if it was only to write a letter to your congressman, you can be proud. Thank you for the service you have given. It's not an exaggeration to say that the enactment of P.L. 97-259 begins a new age for the Amateur Radio Service in the U.S.