Chapter Three: NTS Policies
3.1 Sequence of Net Meetings
The order that the various nets meet is essential to the proper operation of the system. The effectiveness of the National Traffic System depends on a delicate balance of voluntary cooperation and adherence to established procedures. In 1979, the NTS Area Staffs jointly recommended a symmetrical, four-cycle NTS net sequence which is now the formal system definition for voice and CW modes.
Cycles Two and Four are, at this time, implemented in all three areas. In addition, Cycle One is implemented in the Pacific Area, and Cycle Three is implemented in the Eastern Area to facilitate intra-area and west-to-east traffic flow. Cycles One and Three were initially desig ned for high-volume situations to improve and enhance the response of NTS to emergency and overload situations. However, the entire four-cycle sequence can, if need be, activated in three-hour shifts when needed.
NTS Net Schedule
10:00 AM Section
10:45 AM Region
11:30 AM Region
12:30 PM Region
1:00 PM Section
1:45 PM Region
2:30 PM Area
3:30 PM Region
4:00 PM Section
4:45 PM Region
5:30 PM Area
6:30 PM Region
7:00 PM Section
7:45 PM Region
8:30 PM Area
9:30 PM Region
10:00 PM Section
A few features of NTS structure may need some elaborating. The primary function of the Transcontinental Corps (TCC) is to link the activated cycles. The schedule plan calls for each area net -- Pacific Area Net (PAN), Central Area Net (CAN), Eastern Area Net (EAN) -- to hold a session per day at 11:30 AM, 2:30 PM, 5:30 PM, and 8:30 PM local time, and a maximum of 60 minutes allotted to them, to clear inter- and intra-area traffic. The system is symmetrical, regular and repeatable. This means, first, that the structure of the net sequencing is consistent from area to area; second, that a net session occurring at a given local time in the Eastern area should subsequently occur at the corresponding local times in the Central and Pacific areas.
Expansion of the four-cycle system schedule for emergencies and emergency-preparedness exercises, such as SET, augment the basic cycles. More importantly, normal daily sessions of nets at all levels of the system (ideally) remain intact during emergency operations. Expansion of the system during overloads is simple, involving a duplicate of the existing schedule, slid over an adjacent three hour period. Potential new area net sessions can be held, along with their associated region, section and local nets. Minimum implementation currently consists of Cycles Two and Four.
Traffic from EAN to CAN is handled by direct check-in to CAN by the TCC operator. Many of the other TCC functions are out-of-net schedules, allowing optimum choice of band and mode to fit varying propagation conditions and operator preference. The time between the end of the Cycle Two PAN session and the start of the Cycle Four EAN session allows for an out-of-net TCC sked, followed by direct section net check-in on the East Coast, to speed up the same-day delivery service.
TCC skeds are from one cycle to the same cycle for westbound traffic, or from one cycle to the next cycle for eastbound traffic. That is to say, TCC functions which bring traffic from the West Coast to the East Coast, for example, connect the daytime PAN session with evening nets in the east, or the evening PAN session with the first next day EAN sequence. The significance of this concept is that it combines the discipline and training of a predetermined schedule, with the spontaneous determination of the level of activity required for any specific emergency exercise.
The original goals of the four-cycle plan are as follows:
- Make daytime and evening NTS part of a single, unified system.
- Resolve net time conflicts between areas.
- Enhance daytime/evening participation. TCC functions provide daytime/evening crossovers, so that traffic is delivered in the next available cycle of NTS, regardless of time of day or mode.
- The system will be consistent from area to area, from cycle to cycle.
- Evening participants will understand (and support) the daytime cycle and vice versa, with no additional training.
- No traffic will be compromised for any other traffic by irregular net sequencing.
NTS is a volunteer traffic system, and it is not always practical to find traffic stations able to participate in nets at various levels at particular times. While in principle NTS nets find the personnel who can participate at the time designated, rather than change the time to suit the personnel, there is occasionally a necessity for a certain amount of non-uniformity in net meeting time, and options may be used at the discretion of the net manager. However, any such options are to be considered temporary and a return to normal NTS-recommended operating times should be made as soon as possible.
Whenever changes from normal routings and sequences are made, the appropriate Area Staff Chairs and Headquarters should be notified so that accurate net information will be available at a centralized point. In NTS, the right hand should always know what the left hand is doing. No NTS net should consider itself independent of or unconcerned with the functioning of other parts of the system.
3.3 Deviation from Normal Routing
Failure to use the normal routings described above, if carried to the extreme, will result in "strangulation" of one or more NTS nets at region or area level. That is, if section nets send representatives to other section nets to clear traffic direct instead of through the region net, the region net will "starve" for traffic.
Similarly, if region nets maintain liaison with each other direct instead of through the common medium of the area net, the latter will have little traffic and will not prosper. It is in the interest of efficiency, organization, system, training and conservation of skilled personnel to use the NTS structure as it is intended to be used. [Let's not be ridiculous, however. Those who would follow the system to the letter are occasionally guilty only of unnecessarily delaying delivery.]
Any station in NTS, regardless of the function the operator performs, who receives a message destined to a point in his local calling area, should deliver that message rather than filter it further through the system. There are many metropolitan areas which straddle NTS net coverage boundaries but have common toll-free telephone coverage.
3.4 Adherence to Schedules
NTS depends on chronology of net meetings for its efficiency, so adherence to NTS schedules is of the greatest importance. In particular, TCC and liaison stations should not be held on any NTS net beyond the time they are scheduled to meet another net, even if all their traffic has not yet been cleared. Leftover traffic should be held, put on alternate routes including the NTS Digital Relay Station network or handled by special schedule later.
NTS nets should not operate beyond the time allotted to them. The time sequence in Table 2 shows the normal length on nets at various levels.
3.5 Alternate Routings
Deviations are made from normal routings only when normal channels are for some reason not available. A return to the use of normal NTS channels should be made as soon as possible. The net manager shall be the judge as to whether normal facilities are available, satisfactory or adequate in making any deviations. Alternate routings, if and when necessary, can include regular or specially arranged schedules, direct liaison to the NTS destination net, or use of the facilities of independent and NTS Digital Relay Station networks.
3.6 Check-In Policy
National Traffic System nets at local and section level are open to all amateurs in the coverage area of the net. At region and area level, participation is normally restricted to representatives of sections, and designated liaison stations. However, stations from outside the coverage area of the net concerned, or other not-regularly designated participants who report in with traffic will be cleared provided they can maintain the pace of the net as to procedure, speed and general net "savvy." Such stations reporting in without traffic will immediately be excused by the NCS unless they can supply outlets unavailable through normal NTS channels. Visitors to NTS nets should bear in mind that NTS nets operate on a time schedule and that no offense is intended in observance of the above check-in policy.
NTS net coverage areas are strictly defined and strictly observed in daily operation of the system, at section level, by ARRL section boundaries, at region level in accordance with the grouping of the sections into NTS regions based originally on call areas. Some of the regions are on call area basis (First, Second, Third, and Eighth), but others cover parts of two or more call areas. At area level the original basis was standard time zones, and the boundaries still roughly follow these lines without dividing any sections. The NTS routing guide gives details of boundaries of the various NTS echelons of operation.
Sections can be changed from one region to another at the request of the section leadership provided no disruption of the system's operation is involved. Normally, such requests will be considered only for sections located on boundary lines between regions. The time zone in which a section or region is located or mostly located exerts a strong influence in its assignment to a region and area.
The NTS HF Digital Station network is organized loosely along Area lines, with an Area Digital Coordinator in charge of the NTS Digital Stations in his/her Area.
NTS nets at region and area level officially carry the name of the region or area they cover (Sixth Region Net, Pacific Area Net, etc.). Net "designations" at these levels vary somewhat (First Region Net is 1RN, Fifth Region Net is RN5, Twelfth Region Net is TWN and Eleventh Region Net, the only Canadian region net, calls itself Eastern Canada Net and uses the designation ECN). Section nets customarily carry the name of the section or sections they cover, but the actual name used is optional with the net. Some examples are Pine Tree Net (Maine), Buckeye Net (Ohio) and Northern California Net (five California Sections).
3.9 Combined Section Nets
Some ARRL sections which have little or no traffic interest have not organized section nets, while in some cases two or more sections have combined their facilities into a single net operating at section level. This latter practice is considered a desirable one where circumstances make it necessary and feasible. Such a combined-section net can participate in NTS in the same way as any other section net, with each representative representing both (or all) sections covered.
It is recommended that traffic handlers in sections which do not at present boast a section traffic net or packet node take steps to organize one for NTS representation. Lacking this, it might be possible to participate, temporarily at least, in the NTS net of an adjoining section, and be considered members of that section's net until such time as it is feasible to establish one. Such an arrangement, of course, requires the approval of the SM, STM and net manager of the section net concerned.
3.10 Limited Load Capability
Because the system operates on a time schedule with a definite flow pattern, NTS has difficulties under heavy load just as do all communications systems. Thus, in normal times, the system observes the "limited load" policy. It is the general policy of NTS to strive for handling the greatest quantity of traffic through efficiency rather than through long hours of operation. NTS nets must begin and terminate within certain time limits in order that liaisons can be maintained without delay. If traffic is not all cleared within the time limit, it is considered "overflow" traffic and must use alternative routings including the NTS digital station network or be held over.
Load capacity can be increased by providing additional stations to carry on liaison functions and TCC operations; by providing separate receive and transmit stations; and by pre-net sorting of traffic by region (outside the area of origination) and area, and concentrating the traffic in the hands of separate operators. This allows more expeditious operation in the area net. Use of liaison operators to the HF Digital Station network is also encouraged.
3.11 Observation of Time
In order to avoid confusion and effect standardization, NTS nets should endeavor to meet at the times officially designated for them in this booklet. Where temporary departures are necessary, care should be taken that this will not adversely affect the traffic flow or cause interference to other NTS nets because of time differences.
There is no specific NTS frequency plan. Each NTS net selects its own operating frequency in consideration of its requirements. Because in an emergency it may be necessary to operate many NTS nets simultaneously which ordinarily operate at different times, it is desirable for nets within normal interference range of each other to use different center frequencies if possible. Within this consideration, it is also desirable to concentrate NTS operation on as few spot frequencies as possible to conserve frequency space, and to make full use of those spot frequencies used in order to help establish occupancy. ARRL's on-line Net Directory records net frequencies and times and is useful to study in planning new nets.
3.13 Manager Appointments
NTS net (packet node) managers at the local and section level are appointed or designated by the STM. All other NTS managers, including Area Digital Coordinators, are elected by NTS Area Staff members. Net Managers and Area Digital Coordinators are appointed for no specific term of office.
The Area Digital Coordinators are responsible for appointing the NTS Digital Relay Stations at HF.
NTS certificates are available at local, section, region, and area levels as well as for fulfilling TCC assignments. A participating station is eligible for an NTS net certificate when it has completed three months of performance (at least once per week), on an assigned basis, of one or more of three essential duties:
- Regular participation as a net station. In the case of region and area nets, this means official representation of a section or region within its respective region or area. No credit is given in region or area nets for random participation.
- Liaison with other nets of the National Traffic System. This applies only to regular liaison in accordance with the NTS flow pattern as assigned by the appropriate net manager. In the case of section nets, liaison with their proper region nets; in the case of region nets, liaison with their proper area nets; in the case of area nets, liaison with other area nets through regularly-assigned functions in the Transcontinental Corps.
- Net Control Station (Net Control Station). The NCS is the operator that presides over the net session.
Certification in the Transcontinental Corps is available through the TCC area director on completion of at least three months of regular performance of an assigned function.
Net Managers (or TCC directors) may use their discretion in "excusing" any station working for a certificate if that station is unable to perform its regular duty in any specific instance. Net managers (or TCC directors) shall be the sole judges as to whether a duty, even though performed regularly, is performed adequately to merit certification.
Area Digital Coordinators issue certificates to NTS HF Digital Relay Stations.
3.15 Special Liaison Methods
Often managers at region and area levels will find that while one section or region can send few or no liaison stations, others have sufficient personnel to send several. In such cases, it is possible and perfectly permissible for the higher-level manager to propose to the lower-level manager to arrange that any excess personnel be used to effect liaison not being properly performed through lack of available stations.
Example: The manager of the Umpth Region Net finds that many stations are available to represent Section A in his region, but Section B is seldom represented. He contacts the manager of the Section B Net and proposes that a Section A station be sent to the early meeting of Section B to take its "thru" (out-of-section) traffic. This station then brings such traffic to the Umpth Region Net to be distributed among net stations as required. In addition, a Section A station in URN may be designated to receive all Section B traffic; this station then reports into the Section B Net to clear this traffic. Both receiving and sending functions must be completed for full representation.
The above technique is an alternative method of getting the traffic through and is under no circumstances to be used in preference to having a station from the section itself report to the region net. Normally, liaison of a lower-echelon net to a higher-echelon net is the responsibility of the manager of the lower-echelon net.
3.16 Volume Routine Traffic
Originating routine traffic in volume has the potential to lower delivery percentages thereby diminishing the viability of the system as a back-up for emergency use, simply because “operating enjoyment” becomes “work” and amateur radio operators with limited time are generally willing and able to cope with only finite quantities of routine messages. While in emergencies these amateur operators would be willing to move volumes of traffic at a sacrifice of time in the interest of public service, the origination and transmission through NTS of large volumes of routine messages over an infinite period of time, especially those with common texts to addressees unknown to the originator and absent of time value, can be counter-productive to the system’s purpose and structure.
While such routine messages are welcome and indeed necessary for the continued training and practice of operators and for maintenance of the system, it may be necessary for NTS Area Staff Chairs, in consultation with their respective staffs, to establish guidelines for volume traffic in order to maintain the over-all health of the system.