FCC Proposes Additions, Changes to Amateur 5 MHz Allocation
Acting on a 2006 Petition for Rulemaking filed by the ARRL, the FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), ET Docket No 10-98 to modify the rules that govern amateurs’ secondary use of five channels in the 5 MHz frequency range known as 60 meters. The proposed changes would substitute a new channel for one that is seldom available because of occupancy by the fixed service, which is primary in this range. Also proposed is an increase in power from 50 to 100 W effective radiated power (ERP) and the addition of CW, PSK31 and PACTOR-III modes with provisions to ensure that such operations would be compatible with the primary service. The proposed changes can be found beginning on page 8 of the NPRM.
“The ARRL is pleased that the Commission has opened this proceeding to increase the usefulness of the limited 5 MHz Amateur Service allocation,” said ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ. “We are gratified that the Commission and the NTIA agree that the responsible manner in which amateurs have been using the five USB channels warrants some expansion of privileges so that the Amateur Service can be even better prepared for service to the public.”
The 60 meter band is part of the larger 5060-5450 kHz band that is allocated to the fixed service on a primary basis for Federal and non-Federal use, and to the mobile (except aeronautical mobile service) on a secondary basis for Federal and non-Federal use. Per footnote US381 to the Allocation Table, this makes five frequencies in this band -- 5332 kHz, 5348 kHz, 5368 kHz, 5373 kHz and 5405 kHz -- available to the Amateur Service on a secondary basis. In addition, footnote US340 authorizes Federal and non-Federal maritime and aeronautical mobile stations to use the 2-30 MHz band (which includes the 60 meter band) for measuring the quality of reception on radio channels on a non-interference basis; however, actual communication by these stations is limited to frequencies specifically allocated to these services.
In 2003, the FCC added the Amateur Service secondary allocation to this band after determining that such frequencies could be useful to the Amateur Radio Service for completing disaster communications links at times when existing frequencies in the 80, 75 and40 meter bands are not available due to ionospheric conditions. The FCC concluded “that such an allocation represented the best compromise available to give the Amateur Radio Service access to new spectrum for a wide range of radio communications, while assuring that incumbent operations are protected.”
At the request of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the FCC restricted the use of these five channels to single sideband suppressed carrier voice using only the upper sideband transmission, and a maximum effective radiated power (ERP) of 50 W peak envelope power (PEP). The Commission adopted these operating restrictions to decrease the interference potential between amateur stations and federal stations.
On October 20, 2006, ARRL filed a Petition for Rulemaking, seeking certain modifications to the rules governing Amateur Radio use of the 60 meter band. Seven weeks later, the FCC issued a Public Notice to seek comments on the ARRL’s Petition, but none were received. In its Petition, the ARRL requested that the FCC make three modifications to the existing rules governing Amateur Radio use of the 60 meter band, specifically Section 2.106, footnote US381 of the Rule and Section 97.303 of the Rules, in order to increase the flexibility in the use of the band and to facilitate emergency communications provided by the Amateur Radio Service:
- One of the available channels, 5368 kHz, be replaced with 5358.5 kHz.
- Three additional emission designators -- 150HA1A, 60H0J2B and 2K80J2D -- be authorized in the 60 meter band, provided that the operators using these modes utilize great care to limit the length of transmissions so as to avoid interference with Federal operations.
- The maximum ERP on channels in the 60 meter band be increased from 50 to 100 W PEP, provided that amateurs utilize Voice-Operated Transmit (VOX) while in the single sideband emission mode, so as to permit the amateur operator to bear an attempt by another station, which may be a Federal user, to utilize the channel.
The ARRL Petition argued that a successful history of sharing with Federal users -- together with its amateurs’ strong desire to improve Amateur Service use of the band -- merited a grant of greater flexibility in the use of these frequencies: “Because of strong admonitions provided by ARRL to Amateur Radio operators relative to their obligations vis-à-vis Federal agency primary use of and access to these few channels, the access provided for the Amateur Service with the assistance of NTIA in the past three years has been successful without qualification. Neither ARRL, nor, apparently NTIA, is aware of a single reported instance of interference to a Federal user by a radio amateur operating at 5 MHz to date.” The proposals contained in the ARRL Petition were based on these discussions and a May 12, 2006 letter from the NTIA, indicating that it would “look favorably” on the above-described modifications should ARRL choose to pursue rule changes with the Commission.
On March 11, 2010, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rule Making and Order that made certain amendments to correct the Amateur Service rules and to conform the rules to prior Commission decisions. The FCC’s proposals are based on the current rules, as modified by that action.
The existing Amateur Service use of the 60 meter band represents what the FCC calls “a balancing of important interests -- the desire to provide amateur operators with frequencies that could be used to complete disaster communications links when other bands are not available, and the need to protect important primary Federal operations in the 60 meter band.” The ARRL’s Petition seeking to modify “the existing spectrum sharing scenario in a manner that appears to be consistent with the interests of both Federal and amateur users in the band, and we tentatively conclude that the changes to footnote US381 and Section 97.303 of our Rules that are proposed by ARRL should be adopted.”
One of the available channels, 5368 kHz, be replaced with 5358.5 kHz
The ARRL, in its Petition, pointed out that its request to replace the 5368 kHz channel with 5358.5 kHz is based on reports from amateur operators of frequent interference from a digital signal on the existing authorized channel. “Based on this information, we tentatively agree that the proposed modification would eliminate interference and enhance Amateur Radio operations and that it should be implemented.” The FCC noted that most non-Federal licensees in the 60 meter band are licensed across the larger band 5005-5450 kHz and that many are also licensed across other bands, as well: “Therefore, we believe that our proposal to exchange one amateur channel for another in the 60 meter band will have a de minimis impact on these licensees, while benefiting Amateur Radio users who have a limited number of channels in the band on which they may operate and reducing the potential for interference from amateur operations to the primary Federal stations operating in the 5330.6-5406.4 kHz band.”
Three additional emission designators -- 150HA1A, 60H0J2B and 2K80J2D -- be authorized in the 60 meter band, provided that the operators using these modes utilize great care to limit the length of transmissions so as to avoid interference with Federal operations.
In its Petition, the ARRL explained that it had conducted a survey of Amateur Radio operators who use the 60 meter band. The League found that there is significant demand for modulation techniques that would allow telegraphy and data transmissions in addition to the one that is currently permitted for voice transmissions (single sideband suppressed carrier upper sideband, emission type 2K80J3E). Specifically, ARRL maintained that Morse code telegraphy by means of on-off keying (emission designator 150HA1A) continues to be used by amateur stations, due to its reliability in difficult propagation conditions. The ARRL also stated that the other requested emission designators -- 60H0J2B (generally known as PSK31) and 2K80J2D (generally known as PACTOR-III) -- are popular narrowband data modes.
In its NPRM, the FCC proposed to add these three emission designators that would allow four permissible emission types to be used in the 60 meter band. It also proposed to permit “any additional modulation techniques that we adopt to be used on all assigned frequencies within the 60 meter band, including the assigned frequency 5368 kHz in the event that we do not adopt our proposal to replace the assigned frequency 5368 kHz with 5358.5 kHz.”
The ARRL pointed out that FCC could require amateur operators to limit the length of transmissions in the two data emission modes “in order to better position amateur operators to avoid causing harmful interference to primary operations and suggests adopting a rule that incorporates a general requirement to limit the duration of data transmissions.”
As such, the FCC is seeking comments as to whether a rule addressing transmission limits “would help ensure that in the currently infrequent instances in which Federal agencies exercise their primary use of the 60 meter band frequencies, those amateur licensees who have been operating on a secondary basis will be better positioned to avoid causing harmful interference, which is prohibited.” If commenters support a specific time limit, the FCC wants to know whether a transmission length of three minutes would be sufficient; if not, what limits should the Commission adopt?
In addition, the FCC is also seeking comment on whether “amateur stations should be permitted to transmit emission types in addition to the four discussed above in the 60 meter band without increasing the likelihood of interference to primary users.” To the extent that commenters identify such emission designators, the FCC would like them to discuss their “use and benefits and, in particular, how the use of those emission designators can be balanced with our continuing interest in protecting primary stations in the 60 meter band.”
The maximum ERP on channels in the 60 meter band be increased from 50 to 100 W PEP, provided that amateurs utilize Voice-Operated Transmit (VOX) while in the single sideband emission mode, so as to permit the amateur operator to bear an attempt by another station, which may be a Federal user, to utilize the channel
The ARRL asserted in its Petition that the typical transmitter output power in modern Amateur Radio transceivers is 100 W PEP, and that the present 50 W PEP transmitter output power limit compromises communication reliability in the 60 meter band. At certain times of the year, and more often in the southern latitudes, there are high static levels in this frequency range. It is the ARRL’s position that a slightly higher transmitter power output would bolster reliability, especially in connection with emergency communications.
The ARRL also suggested that amateur operators be required to use Voice-Operated Transmit (VOX) in the phone emission mode, saying that by adopting this requirement in conjunction with an increased transmitter output power limit would permit a Federal user to interrupt an amateur station’s transmission quickly and easily without waiting for an unpredictable end of the transmission. The FCC is seeking comments on these proposals, specifically comments on “whether a VOX mode of operation might increase the potential for interference because of its susceptibility to keying a radio to transmit under high surrounding noise environments such as might be found in an emergency operations center.”
In its proposed rules to implement the changes as discussed above, the FCC has, in some cases, incorporated editorial revisions intended to make the rules easier to read and to ensure that control operators have the necessary information to easily determine their proper operating requirements on the 60 meter band frequencies. Also, at the request of NTIA, the FCC is soliciting comments on whether amateur operators who provide emergency communications using the 60 meter band should be encouraged to add a sound card-generated Automatic Link Establishment (ALE) capability to their stations.
The commenting period for this NPRM will begin once it is published in the Federal Register and end 30 days later. The period for reply comments begins once the NPRM is published in the Federal Register and ends 45 days later.