FCC Rejects Maryland Ham’s Plan for Amending Message Forwarding System Rules
On Monday, November 5, the FCC issued a letter dismissing a Petition for Rulemaking filed in February 2012 by Rolan Clark, W3FDK, of Adamstown, Maryland. In his Petition, Clark had asked the FCC to amend Section 97.219, specifying that control operators of the first forwarding station in a message forwarding system of stations should not be obligated to authenticate the identity of a station from which the message forwarding system accepts messages, and that the first forwarding station should not accept accountability for any violative content of the messages put into the system.
Clark held that the control operator of all forwarding stations in a message forwarding system should have the same obligation as the control operator of a voice repeater that retransmits a message that violates the FCC rules. Clark specifically asked that the phrase “except as noted in paragraph (d) of this section, for stations participating in a message forwarding system” be removed from Section 97.219(c), and that Section 97.219(d) be removed completely. Section 97.219(d) currently provides that for those amateur stations that participate in message forwarding systems, the control operator of the first forwarding station must either authenticate the identity of the station from which it accepts communications on behalf of the system, or accept accountability for any violation of the Part 97 rules contained in messages that it retransmits to the system.
“In your Petition, you state that you believe that the control operator of the first forwarding station in a message forwarding system ‘should have the same standing as [the control operator of a repeater that retransmits inadvertent communications that violate the rules] because the intent to accomplish communications consisting of text and/or voice communications is the same,’” the FCC stated in its denial. “You also state that Section 97.219(d) ‘is ambiguous as it gives no direction to the method and degree of processes and or procedures needed to define the degree of ‘authenticate,’ and implies that there would be a visually obtainable copy of the suspected violative transmission else it becomes hearsay.”
Clark, in his February 2012 Petition, proposed to address the differences between a message forwarding system and a repeater by conforming Section 97.219 to Section 97.205(g) “to require that the originator of a message that is entered into a message forwarding system be the only licensee responsible for the content of the message.”
The Commission reminded Clark that in April 1994, it had amended the Amateur Service rules to accommodate the operation of high speed message forwarding systems, while retaining safeguards to prevent misuse. “[The April 1994 Report & Order] noted that the development of digital technology had resulted in thousands of amateur operators voluntarily linking their individually licensed stations together to form easily accessible high volume, high speed ad hoc message forwarding systems,” the FCC stated in its denial. “It also noted that, under the then-current Section 97.103(a) of the rules, each station licensee and control operator was accountable for the proper operation of the station which required, in effect, the control operator of every forwarding station to review each message for improper content prior to its retransmission.”
According to the FCC, it amended the rules in 1994 to accommodate the Amateur Service community’s desire “to operate high speed message forwarding systems by adding Section 97.219, which provided that the control operators of intermediate forwarding stations, other than the first forwarding station, would not be held accountable when their stations retransmitted improper communications inadvertently. It noted that holding accountable the control operators of the first forwarding stations, but not control operators of intermediate forwarding stations, would facilitate high speed message forwarding yet retain a degree of protection against abuse. It also agreed with commenters that the accommodations for message forwarding systems should not apply to other operating activities such as repeaters and auxiliary stations, and it decided to leave questions regarding how to authenticate the identity of the originating station to the designers of the systems.”
When it considered amending the rules in 1994, the FCC stated that it considered comments arguing that “the obligation of the control operator of the first forwarding station should be only to establish the identity of the station originating the message and that it was not necessary to hold any control operator of a forwarding station accountable for improper communications.” Saying that because these systems can be an “easy target for misuse by uncooperative operators and non-licensees, and it can be difficult to establish after the fact that a particular station originated a fleeting high speed digital transmission,” the FCC maintained that there must be “ongoing oversight of the system.”
The FCC decided in 1994 that the control operators of the first forwarding stations are in the “best position to provide such oversight, because they are the stations that accept, on behalf of the system, messages from originating stations.” The FCC declined to hold the control operator of the first forwarding station accountable for retransmitting improper communications, but rather, required that the licensee of the first forwarding station either authenticate the identity of the station from which it accepts communications on behalf of the system or accepts accountability for the content of the message.
“Thus, the Commission considered and rejected requirements such as you propose in your Petition when it adopted the message forwarding system rules in 1994,” the FCC told Clark. “Your present Petition does not demonstrate or even suggest that any relevant circumstances have changed such as to merit reconsideration of this decision. Your current proposal does not demonstrate that revising this rule as requested would provide the ongoing oversight of message forwarding systems that must be present. To the contrary, your proposal asks for an accommodation for message forwarding systems that commenters said should not apply to these systems.”