In comments filed in response to the FCC’s February 14 Report on Process Reform (GN Docket 14-25), the ARRL has called for a more visible, responsive Amateur Radio enforcement program. The League also said it was concerned that FCC policies for adjudicating certain complaints of interference to radio amateurs, especially those involving electric utilities, provide no incentive for the utilities to resolve them. The ARRL was further critical of the fact that FCC petitions for rule making and spectrum allocation proceedings often take years to resolve. But the League confined the bulk of its comments to perceived shortcomings in the Amateur Radio enforcement program.
“[T]he visibility of the Commission’s enforcement program for the Amateur Service is wholly inadequate, resulting in a widespread, albeit inaccurate, public perception that there is no active enforcement in our service,” the League’s comments said. The ARRL said “deterrence based on visibility is a critical component of a successful compliance campaign.”
The most successful — and visible — period of Amateur Radio enforcement in recent years was between 1997 and 2008, the ARRL asserted. Compliance during that period, the League said, was a result of “the visibility in the Amateur Radio community of a single member of the Commission’s Enforcement Bureau staff at Amateur Radio events” and of keeping the Amateur Radio media fully informed on what was being done to resolve a particular enforcement issue.
FCC-imposed constraints in more recent years have had “a devastating effect on the entire philosophy of the program and its success,” the League told the Commission. Among other factors, the ARRL pointed to the “extensive approvals” required before the release of enforcement correspondence. Enforcement actions that are taken, the League continued, are not released to the Amateur Radio media. “This deprives radio amateurs of the knowledge that the Commission is indeed investigating and responding to a given enforcement problem,” the ARRL said. “The result is the perception that nothing is being done in a given case, and frustration builds rapidly among the radio amateurs who have to endure the rule violator on an ongoing basis.”
“[L]imitations imposed on the visibility of enforcement actions in recent years have significantly reduced the effectiveness of the program,” the ARRL stressed, and “directly resulted in notable and unacceptable increases in rule violations, most especially malicious interference.” Further, the ARRL said, Enforcement Bureau personnel responsible for Amateur Radio enforcement should be empowered with greater autonomy in addressing problems as they arise.
The League faulted the FCC’s websites — old and new — for being “woefully out of date” and not well maintained or presented. “The fact that there are two separate listings of Amateur Radio enforcement actions on two separate FCC website is, frankly, ridiculous in any case,” the ARRL concluded.
The ARRL also urged the FCC to make better use of the Amateur Auxiliary — the ARRL Official Observer Program — in resolving enforcement complaints. “It is unclear why none of the evidence gathered by OOs is usable other than as a predictor for Commission District Office staff to use in investigating the matter themselves — if and when their time permits,” the League said. “The program is authorized by legislation. It would increase the Commission’s efficiency if the work of these volunteers were put to a better use.”
The ARRL pointed to cases where chronic rule violators who were the subject of hundreds of hours of OO surveillance and off-the-air recordings have “been allowed to continue those activities for periods of years without more than a warning letter.”
The League said the Report “makes good recommendations” in addressing years-long delays in resolving rule making petitions and open-docket proceedings. As an example it cited the League’s 2012 Petition for Rulemaking seeking a new Amateur Radio allocation at 472-479 kHz. “To date, a year and a half after it was filed, this Petition for Rule Making has not been afforded a file number, nor has public comment been solicited on it,” the ARRL said.
In a Public Notice the FCC said its Report “seeks to further the goal of having the agency operate in the most effective, efficient and transparent way possible.” The League said it was not being critical of any individual FCC staffers or managers. “Rather, the remarks are directed at the Commission’s policies and processes” and address issues that “result, in large part, from the unenviable necessity of allocating scarce (and in some cases inadequate) human resources available to the Commission.”