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ARRL Comments in FCC Review of CB Rules

09/09/2010

In June the FCC opened a proceeding -- WT Docket No. 10-119 -- “to simplify, streamline, and update the Part 95 rules to reflect technological advances and changes in the way the American public uses the various Personal Radio Services.” The Citizens Band (CB) Radio Service is one of several Personal Radio Services regulated by Part 95. Three of the CB-related issues raised in the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) are of interest to the Amateur Radio Service. On September 3, the ARRL filed comments limited to these issues.

Citizens Band vs Amateur Radio Equipment

In the NPRM, the FCC sought to consolidate the rules pertaining to the modification of certificated CB equipment. The Commission noted that CB equipment that has been modified by the CB operator -- or persons other than the manufacturer -- to operate on unauthorized frequencies or to operate with higher power than authorized often causes interference to other radio services. “Indeed, there are many recent instances of the operation of modified CB equipment (or equipment imported or manufactured domestically with the inherent capability of operating outside the HF CB channels) by unlicensed individuals in the Amateur Radio Service bands,” the ARRL agreed, saying that this interference most often occurs in the 28.000-28.500 MHz segment of the amateur 10 meter band.

While the ARRL certainly supports the Commission’s proposal to clarify the Part 95 rules relative to the prohibition on modification of certificated CB equipment, “much of the problem of misuse of CB equipment is due to the lack of enforcement of equipment authorization and marketing rules, rather than the language of the rules themselves,” the ARRL maintains. “CB shops and truck stops, for example, are often found to be actively marketing and selling modified or illegally imported equipment which is actually intended to operate not on CB channels, but on amateur or government frequencies between 27.415 MHz and 28.500 MHz. Often, this equipment is not marketed as CB equipment, but instead is marketed inaccurately as Amateur Radio equipment. It is typically neither used by nor useful to licensed radio amateurs, and it cannot be accurately described as Amateur Radio equipment.”

The rules should, and currently do, prohibit the marketing of unauthorized CB equipment (Section 95.603) and the modification of CB equipment to add additional transmit frequencies (Section 95.607): “However, those who seek to circumvent the rules often do so by referring to their equipment not as CB or Part 95 equipment at all, but as Amateur Radio equipment. The latter does not require, with a few exceptions, a grant of equipment authorization prior to marketing, sale or use.”

The ARRL suggests that the present rules regarding certification of CB equipment and the modification of legitimate CB equipment are “generally adequate. Enforcement of those rules is, however, complicated and resource-intensive. Additional equipment authorization rules are unnecessary. Nor is it desirable to implement equipment authorization requirements for the Amateur Radio Service. It is important to insure that Amateur Radio equipment is marketed solely to radio amateurs, however. Furthermore, the determination of what constitutes Amateur Radio equipment for enforcement purposes should include the criterion that the equipment is used and useful, and is intended for use solely (or at least principally) by licensed Amateur Radio operators.”

The ARRL pointed out that “it is vitally important in any case to minimize, and to maintain the utmost flexibility in, equipment authorization requirements for Amateur Radio equipment, because Amateur Radio is in essence an experimental radio service. It is important not to make amateur station equipment unavailable or expensive, nor to stifle experimentation by application of equipment authorization requirements to Amateur Radio equipment generally.” But at the same time, the ARRL noted that “it is not desirable to legitimize or encourage the actions of unscrupulous manufacturers who market products labeled as ‘Amateur Radio equipment’ which are neither useful to, nor intended for use by licensed radio Amateurs.”

According to the ARRL, these manufacturers “seek to subvert the Commission’s spectrum management policies by merely labeling their products ‘Amateur Radio equipment’ when it clearly is not such, but instead is intended for use by unlicensed persons without regard to the Commission’s rules.”

Combination Radios

The ARRL supports the Commission’s proposal to prohibit the certification of radios that are intended to transmit on both Personal Radio Service channels and on Part 97 frequency allocations. Noting that it is undesirable in general to combine transmit capability in radios intended for use in a licensed radio service with transmit capability in radios intended for use in a service licensed by rule -- such as the CB service -- the ARRL agreed with the Commission’s finding that this invites unauthorized operation on frequencies allocated to the licensed radio service by users in the unlicensed service.

“An example is the marketing of radios which include both FRS and GMRS channel transmit capability,” the ARRL explained in its comments. “This practice has resulted in numerous instances of operation by unlicensed individuals on GMRS frequencies. ARRL is very much concerned that instances of unlicensed operation on Amateur Radio frequencies, which create a difficult and time-consuming enforcement problem when they occur, would increase considerably if Part 95 equipment was permitted to include Amateur Radio frequencies as well.” The ARRL strongly recommends that the Commission “continue to prohibit, without exception, the certification of Part 95 radios which include as well the capability to transmit on Amateur Radio frequencies.”

Long Distance CB Communication

In the NPRM, the Commission discussed the current prohibition on CB communications between two stations located more than 250 kilometers apart. The rule, Section 95.413(a)(9), is intended to discourage CB skywave communications. This rule, the NPRM states, is necessary because of the need for frequency reuse (what the Commission refers to as a “commons” band regulatory structure). The ARRL supports the existing Part 95 rule against long-distance CB communication.

But, as the NPRM acknowledges, it is exceptionally difficult to enforce the rule, given the 27 MHz location in the radio spectrum where the CB band was placed many years ago, and the regular occurrence of long-distance propagation. “The Notice asks how to address this on a regulatory basis, and asks whether, for example, power reductions or prohibitions on the use of directional antennas should be implemented,” the ARRL said in its comments. “The presence of skywave propagation at 27 MHz has, as the Commission notes, enticed some to utilize unlawful linear amplifiers on CB transmitters, and to deliberately attempt to conduct long distance skywave communications despite the rule limiting path distance.”

In its comments, the ARRL suggests that there is not a good regulatory solution to the skywave communications issue in the HF CB service, “other than moving it to a more appropriate segment of the radio spectrum. A power reduction is not helpful because at 27 MHz, during periods of skywave propagation, even very low power transmissions are capable of exceptionally long distance communications. As to the use of directional antennas, it is quite clear that directional antennas in the CB service increase frequency reuse by creating nulls in the antenna pattern in azimuths other than on the desired communications path. Thus, the use of directional antennas in the CB service should be preserved as a means of encouraging frequency reuse.”

The ARRL put forward the idea that the best path to Section 95.413(a)(9) compliance is a non-regulatory solution: “The Amateur Radio Service provides a convenient, positive and appropriate option for those CB users who are interested in long distance radio communications. There is no longer a Morse telegraphy examination requirement in the Amateur Radio Service for licensing. The Amateur Radio Service is and always has been the proper radio service for those interested in HF communications using long distance skywave propagation and other techniques. It is suggested, therefore, that the Commission should encourage those who might be tempted to conduct long-distance CB communications to instead obtain an amateur license. Such migration would leave the HF CB band available for its intended short-distance communications purposes, and those who might otherwise be tempted to utilize the CB band for long-distance propagation would be directed to a more constructive and educational alternative.”



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