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FCC Denies Petition Seeking to Designate Nationwide Emergency Calling Frequency

07/31/2012

Saying that it believes that the Amateur Service “allows flexibility to provide emergency communications in a way that takes into account channel availability and other local conditions,” the FCC denied a Petition for Rulemaking to create a nationwide emergency calling frequency. The Petition -- filed by Bryan Boyle, WB0YLE, of Morrisville, Pennsylvania, and Jim Dixon, WB6NIL, of Alhambra, California -- called upon the FCC to designate 146.550 MHz as a “non-exclusive nationwide Amateur Radio Service emergency communications channel using FM wideband modulation.”

Doyle and Dixon noted in their Petition that other services, such as the Citizens Band Radio Service, the Aviation Service and the Maritime Service have specific channels set aside for emergency communications. They claimed that use of these channels “to good effect by those in distress [and that this] is a testament to the need for individual services to have a readily accessible and publicized” emergency communications channel. In denying the Petition, the FCC said in part that Boyle and Dixon “had not shown an existing problem that would be addressed by a rule change designating a nationwide Amateur Service emergency calling frequency.”

The FCC told Boyle and Dixon that the rules of the Amateur Radio Service allow “an amateur station to transmit one-way messages necessary to providing emergency communications,” maintaining that these messages may “be transmitted on any frequency authorized [by] the control operator of the amateur stations transmitting the messages. Additionally, the rules require that, at all times and on all frequencies, each control operator must give priority to stations providing emergency communications. Administration of these rules is accomplished primarily through voluntary frequency planning by, and cooperation among, Amateur Radio operators.”

Pointing out that the its Wireless Telecommunications Bureau had previously considered establishing a nationwide common calling or distress channel “in a service where transmission of such communications is permitted but not required...and the channels are shared by all users,” the FCC said that it had concluded that “it was not necessary to designate a Family Service Radio (FRS) channel for establishing emergency communications because emergency communications have a priority on all FRS channels and the record did not demonstrate that FRS users were having any difficulty establishing communications.”

The FCC did note, however, that unlike channels in the Citizens Band Radio Service and the Maritime Service, channels in the FRS are not routinely monitored by emergency first-responders: “Like the FRS, the Amateur Service differs from the services in which our rules designate a nationwide emergency calling channel in that it is not routinely monitored by safety entities such as the police or the Coast Guard. Additionally, those services do not require an individual to have an operator license or otherwise demonstrate the ability to operate the station by performing such functions as selecting transmitting channels to avoid interference. Therefore, we believe the administration of these services primarily through operational rules that specify the use of a channel and transmitter technical standards is reasonable.”

The FCC observed that under the current rules of the Amateur Radio Service, operators can use “multiple channels on the same or different amateur band if needed for an event, or use multiple channels in the same band when multiple, but different events occur.” It also mentioned that the Boyle and Dixon’s proposal “that the channel be a ‘non-exclusive nationwide’ channel is, substantively, no different from current channel priorities because all Amateur Service channels are shared and may be used for providing emergency communications. If such a ‘non-exclusive nationwide’ channel is needed, nothing in our rules prevents the amateur community from voluntarily agreeing to designate a channel for this purpose. We conclude, therefore, that you have not shown an existing problem that would be addressed by a rule change designating a nationwide Amateur Service emergency calling frequency.”



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