In the ARRL Letter, Vol 28, No 21 (Friday, May 29, 2009), there was a segment on the FCC Forum at the 2009 Dayton Hamvention.
“Bill Cross, W3TN, a staff member in the FCC’s Mobility Division <http://wireless.fcc.gov/index.htm?job=md>, and Laura Smith, FCC Special Counsel for Amateur Enforcement, spoke at the FCC Forum on Saturday, May 16 at the 2009 Dayton Hamvention.”
This brought up some questions within some employers that I know, so here is my response:
It seems at first glance that Mr. Cross is talking about a larger commercial interest in Amateur Radio. He mentions specifically that he has plagiarized much of the talk from ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner’s, K1ZZ, editorial on April 1, 2009. If you read that article, then you realize Mr. Sumner is talking about “growing numbers of employers and non-amateur organizations are recognizing the value of Amateur Radio as an emergency communications resource and are encouraging their employees and members to obtain amateur licenses.” So Mr. Cross is talking about these emergency communications groups that various employers are setting up. So, then the question is why these groups are being set up, and what can these groups actually do?
When reviewing the four part test, the first three parts are relatively straightforward:
1. Is it expressly prohibited in the rules (music, obscenity, etc)? No.
2. Is it transmitted for compensation? Not really, we are just doing it to help out.
3. Does the control operator have a pecuniary interest, that is, could he or she benefit financially? Not in this case – we still have a job, but this transmission has no pecuniary interest for us.
4. Does the control operator’s employer have a pecuniary interest?
Well, this is the question we have to deal with. I see two things that stand out in my mind.
First, these communications are not regular. In fact, I have never had to pass communications of this type. In my 20 years of employment, and 14 years of RACES involvement, I have never been called out for a real emergency. There was a case where a water tank blew out in my city, and that, if there ever was, was the perfect time to call out some members for help. But it did not happen, and I left RACES soon after. Obviously, they were never going to be called out.
Secondly, and the real meat of the matter, is what type of communications are being passed. If we are passing operational business data to keep the organization moving and making money, then that would be a problem. However, I am not sure that could be sustainable. Maybe if two high executives were passing some information – where the bandwidth could support the information flow. But this does not make much sense. It does not seem like you would want to publish this data to the world. In a sense, the bandwidth just does not support the information flow.
The real reason to have these emergency communications groups is to provide health and safety information across sites in the event of an emergency. These communications are allowed. Part 97.111(a) documents the authority for amateur stations to make (2) transmissions necessary to meet essential communications needs and to facilitate relief actions and (3) necessary to exchange messages with a station in another FCC-regulated service while providing emergency communications.
That last part is more than what we are looking for, but it does show that amateur radio is there to provide emergency communications. Heck, right at the beginning in 97.1(a) one of the fundamental purposes is the recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
So as long as we are providing emergency communications, and not operational communications, I believe that we are fine. Injury counts and plans on how to help with relief efforts are OK. I would guess that requesting and receiving authorization to spend some money for relief efforts is OK. The problem comes when the communication gets more mundane and starts to turn to getting the business back on its feet. That’s the time to move off the amateur bands and back to the normal communications channels.