Sunday, May 04, 2008

Bike racers and amateur radio

Last week the FCC denied a STA (Special Temporary Authorization) requested by Miller Motorsports in Tooele, Utah that would, had it been granted, allowed Miller to, inter alia, temporarily use a part of the 70 centimeter band allocated (on a secondary basis) to the amateur radio service for coordination of various services related to the scheduled holding of the HANNspree Superbike World Championship at the end of May, 2008. The FCC's denial seems to have been predicated on the idea that the proposed use of the amateur radio frequencies would unduly burden amateur radio operators, even though many other races have been granted STAs under similar circumstances in the past.

In this case, though, I think the denial is based not so much on the particulars of this request (which, from what I've been able to piece together, aren't that unusual for a racing event), but rather on whose behalf the request is made. Bikers, and especially offroad, rough-terrain bikers, apparently routinely use radios certificated only for use in the amateur radio service for personal communications without bothering with obtaining amateur radio operator licenses. See, for example, this thread on a biker's board, in which the lead poster raves about the merits of the Yaesu FTM-10R for use on his motorbike. This radio is a Part 97 certificated radio and requires an amateur radio license to use. Using it without a license is simply illegal. However, when someone came along and mentioned this, another poster basically announced contempt for the existing regulations and the original poster told the poster pointing out the illegality that they weren't interested in hearing about it.

In fact, I suspect the reason Miller wanted to use the ham frequencies is because most of the racers and crews in the planned race already have ham radios and so this precludes them having to go out and buy another radio. Ham radios are the only commercially-available radios in the United States that are "frequency-agile" (all other services are channelized), and most have trivial mods to allow out-of-band transmit, making them especially appealing to people who don't plan to follow the FCC's rules.

I find it unlikely that the attitudes expressed by those two posters are extraordinary in the motorbiking community. While I haven't read the FCC's decision (I haven't found a source for it yet), I wouldn't be surprised if their decision to deny Miller Motorsports' request for a biking event wasn't at least somewhat motivated by an awareness of a widespread streak of contempt for the FCC's jurisdiction and authority over wireless communications. If there's one thing that's bound to get the FCC to really go hard on your ass, it's demonstrating a lack of respect for the FCC's authority.

I'd really like to see what the full FCC decision is. I haven't found it anywhere on the FCC's site, but there's lots of nooks and crannies there and I could easily have missed it.

Update: I found Miller Motorsports filing for the STA in ULS, as well as their current license for a 450 MHz business pool service with 2 bases and 100 mobiles, and their other current license for 450 MHz business pool service with 5 bases and 70 mobiles, both in the same location. Unfortunately, ULS does not have the "offline" STA decision letter or the ARRL's informal objection.