FCC Okays Changes to Amateur Radio Exam Credit, Test Administration, Emission Type Rules
In a wide-ranging Report and Order (R&O) released June 9 that takes various proceedings into consideration, the FCC has revised the Amateur Service Part 97 rules to grant credit for written examination elements 3 (General) and 4 (Amateur Extra) to holders of “expired licenses that required passage of those elements.” The FCC will require former licensees — those falling outside the 2-year grace period — to pass Element 2 (Technician) in order to be relicensed, however. The Commission declined to give examination credit to the holder of an expired Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE) or to extend its validity to the holder’s lifetime.
“Our decision to grant credit for written examination Elements 3 and 4 for expired licenses that required passage [of those elements] will provide some relief for former General, Advanced, and Amateur Extra class licensees,” the FCC said, “and is consistent with how we treat expired pre-1987 Technician class licensees who want to reenter the Amateur Service.” Pre-1987 Techs can get Element 3 credit, since the Technician and General class written examinations in that era were identical. The Commission said current rules and procedures that apply to expired pre-1987 Technician licenses “are sufficient to verify that an individual is a former licensee under our new rules.”
The Commission said that requiring applicants holding expired licenses to pass Element 2 in order to relicense “will address commenters’ concerns about lost proficiency and knowledge, because a former licensee will have to demonstrate that he or she has retained knowledge of technical and regulatory matters.” The FCC said the Element 2 requirement also would deter any attempts by someone with the same name as a former licensee to obtain a ham ticket without examination.
In 1997 the FCC, in the face of opposition, dropped a proposal that would have generally allowed examination element credit for expired amateur operator licenses. In the past, the FCC has maintained that its procedures “provide ample notification and opportunity for license renewal” and that retesting did not impose an unreasonable burden. The issue arose again in 2011, with a request from the Anchorage Volunteer Examiner Coordinator.
The FCC pulled back from its own proposal to reduce from three to two the minimum number of volunteer examiners required to proctor an Amateur Radio examination session. The ARRL, the W5YI-VEC and “a clear majority of commenters” opposed the change, the FCC said. The FCC said it found commenters’ arguments persuasive that that the use of three VEs “results in higher accuracy and lower fraud that would be the case with two VEs.” In a related matter, though, the Commission embraced the use of remote testing methods.
“Allowing VEs and VECs the option of administering examinations at locations remote from the VEs is warranted,” the FCC said. The National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC) in 2002 endorsed experimental use of videoconferencing technology to conduct Amateur Radio testing in remote areas of Alaska. The Anchorage VEC has long pushed for the change, citing the expense to provide Amateur Radio test sessions to Alaska residents living in remote areas.
The FCC declined to address “the mechanics” of remote testing, which, it said, “will vary from location to location and session to session.” The Commission said specific rules spelling out how to administer exam sessions remotely “could limit the flexibility of VEs and VECs.” The FCC stressed the obligation on the part of VECs and VEs “to administer examinations responsibly” applies “in full” to remote testing.
The FCC amended the rules to provide that VEs administering examinations remotely be required to grade such examinations “at the earliest practical opportunity,” rather than “immediately,” as the rule for conventional exam sessions requires.
Finally, the FCC has adopted an ARRL proposal to authorize certain Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) emissions in the Amateur Service. The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau in 2013 granted an ARRL request for a temporary blanket waiver to permit radio amateurs to transmit emissions with designators FXD, FXE, and F7E, pending resolution of the rulemaking petition.
“Commenters strongly support amendment of the rules to permit these additional emission types,” the FCC noted. “The commenters assert that the proposed rule change ‘is consistent with the basis and purpose of the Amateur Service,’” and will allow repurposing surplus mobile relay equipment from other radio services in the Amateur Service, the Commission added.
The FCC said it also will make “certain minor, non-substantive amendments to the Amateur Service rules.” It is amending Part 97 “to reflect that the Commission amended its rules to eliminate the requirement that certain Amateur Radio Service licensees pass a Morse code examination,” the FCC said in the R&O. It also said it was correcting “certain typographical or other errors” in Part 97.
The new rules become effective 30 days after their publication in The Federal Register, which is expected to happen this week.