It Seems to Us: Support HR 2160!
Overcoming neighborhood and local objections to antennas has been a challenge for radio amateurs from the earliest experimenters right up to the present day -- and in many places it's getting worse. In 1985, years of persuasion by the ARRL led the FCC finally to issue a Memorandum Opinion and Order preempting overly restrictive local ordinances and state laws that would prevent us from having effective antennas. The Commission found that the federal interest in promoting amateur communications required that "…local regulations which involve placement, screening, or height of antennas based on health, safety, or aesthetic considerations must be crafted to accommodate reasonably amateur communications, and to represent the minimum practicable regulation to accomplish the local authority's legitimate purpose." This limited preemption policy, popularly known as PRB-1, subsequently was written into Part 97 of the FCC Rules.
A majority of the states have codified PRB-1 into their statutes, including several that have gone beyond PRB-1 to specify antenna heights below which local governments may not regulate. Even the statutes that simply restate the PRB-1 policy are very useful, because local land use officials are much more likely to refer to state law than to FCC policy when drafting and applying their local ordinances.
Thus, PRB-1 has been a boon to thousands of amateurs. As a result the amateur community is better equipped and better prepared to be of service in time of need.
One area that PRB-1 did not address is that of restrictive covenants in private contractual agreements. In 1985 the FCC concluded that such restrictions were voluntarily accepted by the buyer or tenant and therefore would not usually concern the Commission. Subsequent efforts by the ARRL and others have not changed the Commission's mind. Rather, we were told, the FCC would only address restrictive covenants if so instructed by Congress.
Interfering in private contracts is not something that most legislators like to do. However, in many parts of the country -- particularly those with the greatest population growth -- there is nothing voluntary about a buyer's acceptance of such covenants. As a practical matter there is little or no choice; the available stock of desirable residential property is all subject to covenants.
In May 2002 Rep. Steve Israel of New York introduced the Amateur Radio Communications Consistency Act to require reasonable accommodation of amateur communications in private land use regulations. His bill attracted 35 co-sponsors before it died at the end of the 107th Congress later that year. Rep. Israel reintroduced it the following year in the 108th Congress and 36 co-sponsors signed on, but again it died without action at the end of 2004. On his third attempt we were only able to find 10 co-sponsors and could not move the bill before it died at the end of the 109th Congress in 2006. Clearly, a different approach was needed.
During the 110th Congress the ARRL sought a sponsor for an extension of existing preemption policies that limit restrictions on antennas for television and broadband services. Toward the end of last year we finally found a sympathetic ear in the office of Rep Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas. Rep Jackson-Lee had been impressed with the work of amateurs during Hurricane Ike and was willing to work with the ARRL to develop legislation for introduction in the 111th.
On April 29 Rep Jackson-Lee introduced HR 2160, the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Enhancement Act of 2009, on behalf of herself and five original co-sponsors. The bill instructs the Secretary of Homeland Security to undertake a study on the uses and capabilities of Amateur Radio communications in emergencies and disaster relief, including the identification of unreasonable or unnecessary impediments such as the effects of private land use regulations on residential antenna installations, and to make recommendations regarding such impediments. The study would evaluate Section 207 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and would recommend whether it should be modified to prevent unreasonable private land use restrictions that impair the ability of amateurs to conduct, or prepare to conduct, emergency communications by means of effective outdoor antennas and support structures at reasonable heights and dimensions for the purpose, in residential areas.
Whether or not you are now affected by restrictive covenants, the ARRL needs all members to get behind this legislation. More information is in "Happenings" this month (page 66) and on the Government Relations page on the ARRL Web site. If you are logged into the Members Only section of the ARRL Web site, www.arrl.org/members-only/ shows the name and address of your member of Congress and provides a link to a sample letter of support for HR 2160. Please write your Representative (there is no bill on the Senate side yet) and ask that they sign on as a co-sponsor. If you are a constituent of the sponsor or one of the co-sponsors, please drop him or her a note of thanks for their early support.
Chwat & Company, the ARRL's legislative relations consultant, is collecting letters for hand delivery to Congressional offices. Send your letter to Chwat & Co or, if you prefer to send it directly to your Representative, please send them a copy. Any of the following three methods will work: as a signed email attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org , as a fax to 703-684-7594, or by regular mail to John Chwat, Chwat & Co, 625 Slaters Ln Suite 103, Alexandria, VA 22314.
HR 2160 will not solve our antenna problems overnight, but it is a meaningful and realistic step in the right direction. Let's pull together to make it happen!
David Sumner, K1ZZ
ARRL Chief Executive Officer