Thursday, 30 March 2017

LF and MF Now Very Close For U.S. Amateurs!

For U.S. amateurs anxiously awaiting implementation of the new 630m and 2200m bands, the wait seems to be almost over!

Good news came down late yesterday in the form of the FCC's "Report and Order" (ET Docket No. 15-99) which lays out the proposed rules and regulations that, barring any further changes, will likely become standard operating procedures once these two bands become finalized.

Highlights of the FCC's document are as follows:

1. Recognition that both Utilities (UTC) and amateurs can co-exist within these parts of the spectrum:

... co existence between PLC systems and amateur radio operations in these bands is possible, and the service rules we adopt in this Order will foster this co existence.

2. Amateurs operating within these bands must be no closer than 1 km from transmission lines that are actively carrying PLC (control) signals:

As proposed, we will permit amateur stations to operate in the 135.7-137.8 kHz and 472-479 kHz bands when separated by a specified distance from electric power transmission lines with PLC systems that use the same bands.   To support the operations of both the amateur service and PLC systems in these bands, we adopt a minimum horizontal separation distance of one kilometer between the transmission line and the amateur station when operating in these bands.

We find that a one kilometer separation distance reasonably ensures that PLC systems and amateur radio stations are unlikely to experience interference.  In addition, establishing a zone where amateur use is not authorized will simplify and streamline the process for determining whether an amateur station can transmit in these bands when in proximity to transmission lines upon which PLC systems operate.

3. Amateurs must "make notification" to local UTC authorities before commencing operation on either of these two bands:

We will require amateur operators to notify UTC of the location of their proposed station prior to commencing operations, to confirm that the station is not located within the one kilometer separation distance. 

The notification requirement will entail notifying UTC of the operator’s call sign and coordinates of the proposed station’s location for confirmation that the location is outside the one kilometer separation distance, or the relevant PLC system is not transmitting on the requested bands.  UTC, which maintains a database of PLC systems must respond to the notification within 30 days if it objects.  If UTC raises no objection, amateur radio operators may commence operations on the band identified in their notification.  The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau will issue a public notice providing the details for filing notifications with UTC.

A simple notification to UTC with a 30-day waiting period does not appear to be burdensome.  Amateur operations can commence as soon as that period expires.  ARRL claims that UTC should provide access to the PLC database to them or directly to amateurs to assist them in determining whether their notified operations are within the one-kilometer separation distance from transmission lines with PLC systems operating on these bands.  ARRL fails to make a persuasive case why it would be a better organization to make those determinations rather than UTC.  Further, since UTC has control of the PLC database which can be updated, we find no reason to mandate its release to another party especially considering the sensitive nature of information it contains.

4. Power limits will be expressed in EIRP as well as maximum PEP:

Amateur stations may operate in the 135.7-137.8 kHz band with a maximum radiated power of one watt EIRP ... that amateur stations operating in the 135.7-137.8 kHz band should be subject only to the general Part 97 limit of 1.5 kW peak envelope power (PEP).

We also adopt the power limits proposed in the WRC-12 NPRM for amateur stations operating in the 472-479 kHz band.   For such stations, the maximum radiated power will be five watts EIRP, except for stations located in the portion of Alaska that is within 800 kilometers of the Russian Federation, where the EIRP will be limited to one watt.  We also limit the transmitter power for amateur radio operations in the 472 479 kHz band to 500 watts PEP; provided, however, that the resulting radiated power does not exceed five watts EIRP.   In other words, it may be necessary to reduce transmitter power below 500 watts PEP to avoid exceeding the five watts EIRP limit.

5. Antenna height will be limited:

... we will require that the antennas used to transmit in these bands not exceed 60 meters in height above ground level (AGL), as ARRL proposed.

6. Regarding transmission modes, no bandwidths have been specified in order to encourage experimentation:

Consistent with our proposal in the WRC-12 NPRM,  and with the existing rules in Section 97.305 for the frequency bands below 30 MHz, we authorize amateur stations to transmit the following emission types throughout the new amateur bands: CW (international Morse code telegraphy), RTTY (narrow-band direct-printing telegraphy), data, phone, and image emissions.   These emission types provide amateur operators with maximum flexibility, and we find that additional restrictions would needlessly hinder experimentation.

7. Experimental stations appear to 'still be in business' but are encouraged to transition to the 'amateur' service:

Finally, we decline to permit previously licensed experimental stations – some of which have been authorized with significantly more radiated power than the adopted EIRP limits for these new amateur service bands – to communicate with amateur stations operating in these bands.  Amateur operations in these bands currently authorized under experimental licenses should transition their operations in accordance with the adopted rules and not circumvent such rules by use of experimental licenses.

My understanding of the R&O document is that participating parties may still file a 'Petition For Reconsideration' notification within 30 days of the R&O's publication in the Federal Register. Once these (if any) are dealt with, there are no other roadblocks preventing immediate implementation.

The document contains additional details not discussed here and makes fascinating reading for amateurs that might be looking forward to the new allocations.

This is the news that many U.S. amateurs have been waiting many years to hear! It is also good news for Canadian's operating on these bands to know that they may soon see a large increase in activity south of the border. Let's hope things continue to transpire favorably and that we will finally see the new bands become a reality.

Get those soldering irons out guys and gals!

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