Monday, November 2, 2009

Pecuniary Interest, Ham Radio & Public Safety Workers

The current hot button issue in ham radio involves pecuniary interest, public safety employees, and training drills. FCC regulations state that ham radio operators cannot operate if they have a pecuniary interest in doing so. That means hams can't get paid for transmitting.

From time to time, public safety agencies will hold drills where their employees who are hams will use ham radio as part of the drill. The FCC has determined that that is against the regulations, and they will start enforcing the regulations.

The conflict is that volunteers are not constrained by this regulation, and so hams are free to drill and train as much as they want or they can under the ARES banner. Other regulations restrict RACES training activities to one hour each week. If employees cannot train using ham radio frequencies, equipment and procedures, they will have difficulty integrating ham radio into a real emergency or disaster situation. Time and time again, for close to 90 years now, ham radio has gotten the message through in many situations when normal public safety communication channels would not work. It would be a shame to have a resource available, and not be able to use it because of some regulation.

For those interested in this issue, I would like to offer a couple of thoughts to consider.

The FCC has stated that in the regulations and in its positions on this issue, that ham radio is not primarily an emergency communications service. Amateur radio exists to to promote interest in the science and art of radio communications, and to provide a pool of trained and knowledgeable operators in case of a national need. Yet, when the telephones go out, the police repeaters get blown up or blown away, and power lines go down and deprive working radios and phones the juice they need to run, who shows up and gets people talking again? Hams.

Now consider this: A ham routinely takes a handheld transceiver with him to the office every day. He is the engineering chairman for a particular repeater, and he monitors that repeater so he will know if the repeater has developed a problem, or if someone is misusing it. One day, during his break, he hears someone come on the repeater and ask for directions. No one else answers, so the ham at the office responds. Unless he has clocked out for his lunch break, that ham is getting paid while operating. Is he in violation of the regs? No, for he is not being paid FOR operating.
Along that line, what about truck drivers who are hams, and they use ham radio to get directions while on the job? One could argue that the job description of a truck driver does not say anything about radio operations, so even if they use ham radio to get information to they need to complete their assignment, and they are paid WHILE operating, they are not paid TO operate the radio.