Sunday, February 27, 2011

H.R. 607, the Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011

The following is a letter I've just emailed to my Congressman regarding H.R. 607, the Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011. This has been a matter of some discussion by amateur radio licensees in the United States of late. Paper copy will go off in the mail tomorrow.

Please feel free to adapt for your own purposes.

February 27, 2011

The Honorable Mike Quigley
1124 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative Quigley:

I am writing you today, as a constituent and an amateur radio operator, in reference to H.R. 607, the Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011. This bill claims to seek to establish a supply of radio spectrum available for a public safety broadband network, a goal I have no objection with in principle. However, I wish to bring your attention to a problem with this bill. As introduced, the bill would, if adopted, compromise national security, potentially breach an international treaty to which the United States is a party, and significantly harm the interest of amateur radio operators, all for a purpose that does not clearly serve the stated purposes of the bill. Given that the bill's primary purpose can still be largely met without these negative affects by a relatively simple amendment, I urge you to oppose this bill until the necessary changes are made.

Specifically, I draw your attention to Section 207 in the bill's text. This section seeks to mandate that all current public safety service radio operations currently between 170 and 512 megahertz be moved to the 700 megahertz band. This is mandated not so much to improve public service communications or for any of the other stated purposes of the bill, but instead for two specific purposes: to free radio spectrum to be subsequently auctioned off to wireless communications providers for commercial broadband services, and to force public service entities to purchase new radio equipment. Neither of these purposes directly serves the broader purposes of the bill. Notwithstanding this objection, there is a fatal flaw in this section, relating to the references to the frequency range of 420-440 megahertz. As a brief glance at the Table of Frequency Allocations (47 CFR § 2.106) will reveal, the 420-440 megahertz frequency range is, quite simply, not presently allocated to the public safety service, and so there are no public safety service users to remove from this band.

The 420-440 megahertz band is currently allocated to two separate purposes in the United States. The primary user is the United States government, which uses it primarily for a variety of radiolocation purposes (that is, radar) intended for national defense and border control. The PAVE PAWS early warning radar system, which monitors our coastlines for submarine-launched ballistic missiles and other airborne threats, makes use these frequencies. In addition, the Border Patrol and other federal law enforcement agencies use radar systems on these frequencies to monitor for persons attempting illegal entry into the United States in border areas such as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Florida. The secondary user of this band are amateur radio operators, who use it for a variety of purposes with the clear understanding that the military has primacy in the band. Reassigning the band to commercial purposes would almost certainly result in interference with national security objectives.

In addition, within the 420-440 megahertz band there is a subband at 432-438 megahertz that is allocated to amateur radio as a result of treaty obligations that the United States has agreed to by virtue of being a member of the ITU. Part of this band is used by amateurs specifically to communicate with orbiting amateur radio satellites. Those satellites cannot (for fairly obvious reasons) be retuned to different frequencies. While the United States' obligations as a member of the ITU allow the United States to use, or allow the use of, these frequencies for other purposes, allocating them to broadband services (as this bill proposes) would be likely to create a breach of the convention, as those uses would likely cause harmful interference to amateur service operations in other countries as well as to operations in the Earth exploration satellite service (the other internationally-protected user of the band).

It is fairly obvious that the author of this bill labored under the misapprehension that 420-440 megahertz was a public service band, when the reality of the matter is that this band is a radiolocation and amateur service band. Given that the bill was drafted on a mistaken understanding of the current use of spectrum, the only proper thing to do is to correct the bill so as not to refer to this band. I would urge you to refuse to support this bill unless it is amended so as to either remove the references to the 420-440 megahertz band in section 207, or to remove entirely the spectrum reassignment mandated by Section 207.

I urge you to confer with representatives of the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Adminstration, with representatives of the divisions within the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security that make use of the spectrum at issue, and with the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) in deciding how to proceed with respect to this bill. I also suggest you speak with public safety officials in and outside of Illinois to find out how they feel about being mandated to once again purchase new radio equipment, but that is independent of the issue regarding the 420-440 megahertz band. I am confident that you will determine that reassigning the 420-440 megahertz band away from its current allocation as a military radiolocation and amateur band is not in the best interests of the United States.

If you have any questions regarding my objection to this legislation, please feel free to contact me.

Sincerely yours,

Kelly Martin
(address and telephone number redacted)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Technology is good for ham radio!

This post is a direct reply to G4ILO's neo-luddite post on his blog entitled "Is technology good for ham radio?" In it, he makes the startling comment, "The more high-tech ham radio becomes, the less magic there is."

Let me put it in short, simple words: there is no magic in ham radio. Ham radio is nothing but technology. Without technology, ham radio is nothing.

Yes, Julian makes a legitimate point regarding the possibility of amateur radio turning into poor copies of existing networks, and I agree with him on the lack of merit of D*STAR specifically. However, there is just as much "magic" in getting a network that combines computer and radio technologies up and running as there is in sending CW with a transmitter made out of parts salvaged from a compact fluorescent lightbulb.  Of course we need to keep the ability to do it "simple", because the complicated ways are, fundamentally, built on top of the simple ways. But that doesn't mean we have to stop at simple, and in fact if we do we shoot ourselves in the foot. (It should be noted that Julian states that he uses PSK31 and other digital modes, all of which are less than ten years old or so, so even he doesn't practice what he preaches.)

It never fails to amuse and amaze me how luddite some hams are. I just don't understand how someone who, thirty or forty or fifty years ago, was using a totally newfangled technology to do something can, now, today, be totally unwilling to even entertain the notion that there might be some merit to the newfangled way of doing things.