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It Seems to Us: Our Next Spectrum Challenges

11/25/2008

Our spectrum defense and enhancement efforts have enjoyed many successes over the years. Despite exponential growth in the variety and number of radio frequency devices in the hands of consumers and businesses, we have managed to protect our bands and to add several new ones. Even our most disappointing defeat -- the loss of the bottom 40% of the 220-MHz band some two decades ago -- gave us upgraded status, from shared to exclusive, in the remaining 60% of the band.

Next March 29 we will celebrate the full implemen-tation of one of our greatest victories: the removal of high-powered international broadcasting stations from the heart of the 40-meter band. We are working with the broadcasters to make sure the change takes place as agreed at the 2003 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC). While it's probably too much to expect 100% instant compliance, we know that the responsible broadcasters are preparing to move out of the 7100-7200 kHz segment -- doubling the size of the worldwide 40-meter band and making this popular band more useful than it's been in 70 years!

Just as we were planning this celebration came word of a new threat to the 40-meter band in the form of an experimental license grant by the FCC. Under the WE2XRH license issued to Digital Aurora Radio Technologies (DART), transmitters in Alaska radiating up to 660 kilowatts of digital emission, with 20-kHz bandwidth, would be permitted to operate in the 7.1-7.3 MHz band! Of course the ARRL has filed a strong protest. The only possible explanation is that the license grant was made in error; the only reasonable step for the FCC to take is to correct its error immediately, either by cancelling the license or by amending the frequency ranges to delete 7.1-7.3 MHz. Error or not, this should serve to remind us that we can take nothing for granted and must be constantly vigilant to protect our spectrum access.

At the WRC in 2007 the Amateur Radio Service earned its first low-frequency (LF) allocation, 135.7-137.8 kHz. However, here in the United States we will not gain access to this new band automatically when the Final Acts of the conference take effect on January 1,2009. We must petition the FCC to implement the allocation, and we know the petition will not be granted without an argument -- because we've been down this road before. Twice in the past, the ARRL has sought an LF allocation. Both times our request was opposed by the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) -- the same organization that has opposed our efforts to protect radio services from Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) interference.

Speaking of BPL interference, our battle to give this problem the attention it deserves has been going on for six years. Last year, in the wake of Federal Communications Commission decisions that did not adequately protect licensed radiocommunication services from interference from BPL systems, the ARRL even went to court to challenge the FCC. As you may have heard, we won! On April 25 the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit confirmed what the ARRL has been saying for years about how the FCC was handling the BPL interference issue: FCC prejudice tainted the rulemaking process.

On July 9 the Court went one step further, ordering the FCC to pay the ARRL more than $6,000 toward our costs in pursuing the appeal (the check arrived in September). While this is a tiny fraction of our total investment, the award affirmed that -- contrary to the "spin" the FCC had been trying to give to the Court's decision -- the ARRL substantially prevailed in its appeal.

The Court's decision was a tremendous victory for radio amateurs and other licensed users of the radio spectrum -- indeed, for anyone who cares about the federal administrative process. Yet, the remand does not guarantee that the FCC will correct its errors. We face another round of technical arguments. No doubt the FCC's technical staff, many of whom want to do the right thing, will remain under heavy pressure to ignore the laws of physics and give preference to wishful thinking once again. When the FCC reopens the BPL proceeding as the Court has ordered, we must leave no room for these technical issues to be settled on anything other than technical grounds. There's more work to do!

Another challenge lies ahead in 2011, when another WRC is scheduled. Preparations are already underway. The key WRC-11 issues for Amateur Radio are:

  •  A possible allocation near 500 kHz. This would provide our first access to the lower part of the medium frequency (MF) band. A "600 meter" band offers exciting possibilities for reliable groundwave communication through the application of digital signal processing techniques to a portion of the spectrum that is as old as radio itself!

  •  Defense against a push to allocate spectrum between 3 and 50 MHz for oceanographic radar applications.

  •  Support of an initiative to provide better protection for radio services against interference from short-range radio devices.

  •  Consideration of regulatory measures for software-defined radio and cognitive radio systems, which offer both opportunities and threats to existing radio services.

  •  Selection of agenda items for the WRC to follow, tentatively planned for 2015.

ARRL staff and volunteers are hard at work on your behalf, teaming up with International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) volunteers from around the globe to build the strongest possible case for Amateur Radio at WRC-11.

Your financial support of the Spectrum Defense Fund is vital to our continued success. If you have not done so already, please consider making a generous contribution. Visit www.arrl.org/defense for more details, or call our Development Office at 860-594-0397.

David Sumner, K1ZZ
ARRL Chief Executive Officer



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