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FCC Special Counsel Laura Smith Visits ARRL

03/11/2009

FCC Special Counsel Laura Smith visited ARRL Headquarters on March 5 and 6, her first official visit as Special Counsel. Smith was named to the position earlier this year, filling the vacancy created when Riley Hollingsworth, K4ZDH, retired in 2008; Hollingsworth served in that position for more than 10 years as the Commission's enforcement watchdog over the Amateur Radio Service.

While at Headquarters, Smith visited with various departments, such as the Lab, the Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC), the Regulatory Information Branch and Membership and Volunteer Programs (MVP).

Spending all Thursday afternoon with ARRL Lab staff, Smith discussed power line noise and how it can affect Amateur Radio. "Since Riley had retired last year, very little had been done at the FCC with regard to the power line noise enforcement," said ARRL Laboratory Engineer and power line noise expert Mike Gruber, W1MG. "The Lab staff discussed the status of the ARRL-FCC Cooperative Agreement on power line noise with Laura and how best to proceed forward. While the ARRL is not in the enforcement business, the Cooperative Agreement was an attempt to help the FCC focus its limited resources in the area where they are most needed -- enforcement. The ARRL's goal is to help resolve as many of these cases as possible with technical and other help before they ever get to the FCC."

Gruber also briefed Smith on some power line noise basics, including a demonstration of some professional grade locating equipment. Using a Model T spark coil as a noise source, Gruber was able to show Smith how a utility can locate power line noise - in many cases, without too much difficulty.

According to ARRL Regulatory Information Branch Manager Dan Henderson, N1ND, the FCC committed to Smith visiting the ARRL once she accepted the position. "I think this visit has been a very productive two days. We are getting to know Laura, and she is getting to know our organization and what we, as the ARRL, can do to help her make her job easier to help the amateur community as a whole," Henderson said. "I just kind of played tour guide and facilitated the visit, introducing her to all the departments here at Headquarters."

Smith, a lawyer, is no stranger to the FCC or Amateur Radio. She began her legal career with the Commission, working in the Mass Media Bureau and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB), working with Senior System Analyst Bill Cross, W3TN; she also served as Deputy Division Chief of the Public Safety and Private Wireless Division. Smith also knew Hollingsworth through her father-in-law Richard M. Smith, former Chief of the Field Operations Bureau, at the time responsible for all FCC field engineering and enforcement activities. Richard Smith led many investigations of illegal uses of the radio spectrum, including the successful apprehension of "Captain Midnight" who overrode a satellite television broadcast signal. Smith also served as Chief of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology (OET).

"Riley worked for my father-in-law for years," Smith said. "My father-in-law was the Chief of the Field Operations Bureau at the FCC for 25 years. So enforcement is actually something that is a long-standing family tradition. A member of my family -- the Smith family -- has worked at the FCC continuously since 1964: Myself, my husband and my father-in-law."

Calling Hollingsworth "irreplaceable," Smith said what he did for the Commission and for the amateur community was "amazing. He volunteered for that job. He stood up and said, 'I'm an amateur. I love this community and I want to give back to it.' This position needs to be filled by somebody who is interested in doing it long-term. This [job] is not a stepping stone; it's not a short term process. This wouldn't work if I were trying to be Riley. I'm not going to be Riley. We're very different people. But we both have the same goal: To make the amateur community better."

Smith emphasized that an Amateur Radio license is "a privilege, not a right. When you come to the FCC and you sign up for a license and you get that license, you have agreed to abide by those Rules. That is inherent in the application process. As an applicant and a licensee, you have said, 'I will hereby comply with the Rules that have been enacted by the FCC.' So you have said, 'I will adhere to that.' And if you choose not to, then you are subject to losing that privilege."

Smith is not yet a licensed amateur. She said that she will get her license "someday," but that she did not want to get her license just because her job involves Amateur Radio: "I didn't want to come into this job and become a ham, saying, 'I'm getting this job so I'm going to be a ham -- not because I'm interested in being a ham, but because it looks better on paper.' So ultimately I will become a ham." Smith said that her father-in-law, when stationed in the FCC"s Field Office in Los Angeles, used to administer the Morse code test to prospective licensees: "So he has challenged me that before I can become an amateur on any level, I must learn Morse code and I must past the test with him administering the Morse code. So I have a challenge. I am going to begin learning Morse code this summer. He is going to start teaching me, so once I have sufficient proficiency, then he will let me take the [Technician] test."



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