FCC “Paperless” Amateur Radio License Policy Goes into Effect on February 17
[UPDATED 2015-01-29 1939 UTC] Starting February 17, the FCC no longer will routinely issue paper license documents to Amateur Radio applicants and licensees. The Commission has maintained for some time now that the official Amateur Radio license authorization is the electronic record that exists in its Universal Licensing System (ULS), although the FCC has continued to print and mail hard copy licenses. In mid-December the FCC adopted final procedures to provide access to official electronic authorizations, as proposed in WT Docket 14-161 as part of its “process reform” initiatives.
Under the new procedures, licensees will access their current official authorization (“Active” status only) via the ULS License Manager. The FCC will continue to provide paper license documents to all licensees who notify the Commission that they prefer to receive one. Licensees also will be able to print out an official authorization — as well as an unofficial “reference copy” — from the ULS License Manager.
“We find this electronic process will improve efficiency by simplifying access to official authorizations in ULS, shortening the time period between grant of an application and access to the official authorization, and reducing regulatory costs,” the FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) said. According to the WTB, the new procedures will save at least $304,000 a year, including the cost of staff resources.
In comments filed November 5, the ARRL had strongly recommended that the FCC “give serious consideration to continuing a default provision for sending an initial paper license document to new licensees in the Amateur Radio Service, along with detailed, simple instructions for how to make the elections set forth in the notice relative to future modified or renewed licenses.”
Under the new procedures, a new license applicant who already has an FCC Registration Number (FRN) and provides a valid e-mail address under “Applicant Information” in the ULS will receive an official ULS-generated electronic authorization via e-mail. New license applicants lacking an FRN will receive in the mail an FRN and a temporary password to access the Commission Registration System (CORES).
New applicants will no longer automatically receive a license document and must request one by changing their "Paper Authorization Preference" in the ULS License Manager.
The ARRL and other Amateur Radio commenters also worried that unless a license document is printed on distinctive paper stock, its authenticity could be questioned in such situations as obtaining vanity call sign license plates. To address this, the FCC said the watermark “Official Copy” will be printed on each page of an official authorization that a licensee prints out from the ULS. The WTB recently stopped using distinctive paper stock to produce hard copy licenses and has been printing these on “standard, white recycled paper.” The Bureau noted that the distinctive paper stock it had used was six times more expensive than the plain recycled paper it now uses.
The ULS License Manager now includes settings that allow licensees to notify the WTB that they prefer to receive official authorizations on paper. Once the final procedures go into effect designating electronic access as the default, licensees can change the ULS License Manager setting so that the Bureau will print and mail a license document. Licensees also may contact FCC Support via the web, telephone or mail to request paper licenses.
The FCC rejected as “outside the scope of this proceeding” an ARRL argument that Section 97.23 of the Amateur Service rules be amended to replace “licensee mailing address” with other alternatives, including e-mail, for use in Commission correspondence. The rule, which requires that any licensee mailing address be in an area where the licensee has US Postal Service access, has precluded FCC issuance of location-specific call signs in such areas as Navassa Island (KP1) and some Pacific islands.