In comments filed on March 23 on its Petition for Rule Making (RM 11759) seeking changes to 80 and 75 meters, the ARRL has told the FCC that its primary objective is to “rebalance” the bands by correcting a 10-year old FCC error.
“ARRL’s proposal is not fairly viewed as a proposal to take anything away from anyone,” the League’s comments assured. “It is more properly viewed as the effectuation of a fair, equitable, and efficient ‘band plan’ looking forward for the foreseeable future that balances everyone’s needs, and which remedies a plainly unfair plan, imprudently created in the 2006 Report and Order in WT Docket 04-140.”
Prompting the League’s assurances were comments filed on the ARRL’s Petition by a number of Amateur Extra class licensees, who felt that refarming 3600 to 3650 kHz for data modes could prove to be a disincentive to General licensees to upgrade. Others commenters saw it as an unfair spectrum grab. The ARRL noted that prior to 2006, the band was evenly divided between RTTY/data and phone/image subbands, with the RTTY/data subband extending from 3500 to 3750 kHz, and the phone/image subband extending from 3750 to 4000 kHz.
The 2006 FCC Report and Order “substantially altered” what the League called “this even division of emission types.” In outlining the history of the proceeding, the ARRL pointed out that the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in Docket 01-140 would have shifted the line between the 80 meter RTTY/data subband and the 75 meter phone/image subband from 3750 kHz to 3725 kHz, pursuant to a 2002 ARRL Petition for Rule Making, RM-10413. This would change the ratio of spectrum between phone/image and RTTY/data segments on 75/80 meters from 50/50 to 55/45, and it is what the FCC proposed in its NPRM.
In its Report and Order in Docket 04-140, however, the FCC made “a very substantial and unjustifiable departure” from what it had proposed in its NPRM, the ARRL recounted. The Commission expanded the phone/image subband at 75 meters to 3600-4000 kHz, and it reduced the 80 meter RTTY/data subband to 3500-3600 kHz, eliminating RTTY operation above 3600 kHz and changing “the entire dynamic of this band,” the League said.
The FCC had said in its proposal that no licensees would lose operating privileges. Nonetheless, the FCC’s phone band expansion reduced by 100 kHz the spectrum between 3500 and 4000 kHz that was previously available to General class licensees, while Advanced licensees lost 75 kHz. In an apparent FCC oversight, the Report and Order completely eliminated access by automatically controlled digital stations (ACDS) to 3620 to 3635 kHz. A subsequent FCC Report and order and Order on Reconsideration only made the situation worse by replacing the deleted ACDS segment with 3585-3600 kHz.
“It resulted in a sudden and severe dislocation of traffic-handling nets using telegraphy, without advance planning or notice,” the ARRL said. “It disaccommodated net participants with General and Advanced class licenses; and it worsened the effect of the overexpansion of the 75 meter phone/image subband.”
The result, the ARRL noted, has been “a shortfall in available RTTY/data spectrum on 80 meters” that has created a significant obstacle to narrowband digital data communications and experimentation. The League said its current Petition “simply restores that which was disruputed in 2006 in error.”
In its comments, the League conceded that compromises are inevitable in managing a heavily used band like 75/80 meters, no matter the band planning approach. “Looking forward, it is necessary, in order to encourage experimentation with and expand the use of digital communication techniques, to rebalance the 75 and 80 meter subbands,” the ARRL concluded.