Amateur Radio is poised to gain access to two new bands! The FCC has allocated a new LF band, 135.7 to 137.8 kHz, to the Amateur Service on a secondary basis. Allocation of the 2.1 kHz segment, known as 2200 meters, was in accordance with the Final Acts of the 2007 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-07). The Commission also has proposed a new secondary 630 meter MF allocation at 472 to 479 kHz to Amateur Radio, implementing decisions made at WRC-12. No Amateur Radio operation will be permitted in either band until the FCC determines, on the basis of comments, the specific Part 97 rules it must frame to permit operation in the new bands. Amateur Radio would share both allocations with unlicensed Part 15 power line carrier (PLC) systems operated by utilities to control the power grid, as well as with other users. In addition, the FCC has raised the secondary Amateur Service allocation at 1900 to 2000 kHz to primary, while providing for continued use by currently unlicensed commercial fishing vessels of radio buoys on the “open sea.”
The allocation changes, associated proposed rules, and suggested topics for comment are contained in a 257-page FCC Report and Order, Order, and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing three dockets — ET-12-338, ET-15-99, and IB-06-123 — which affect various radio services in addition to the Amateur Service. The FCC released the document on April 27.
With respect to the new LF sliver band at 135-7-137.8 kHz, the FCC concluded that Amateur Radio and PLC systems can coexist there. “Since the Commission last considered this issue, amateurs have successfully operated in the band under experimental licenses without reported PLC interference,” the FCC said. “We are also encouraged by the fact that numerous fixed radionavigation beacons, which operate at much higher powers, share spectrum with PLC systems without reported interference.”
In 2003 the FCC turned down an ARRL proposal to create a 135.7-137.8 kHz Amateur Radio allocation, after utilities raised fears of a clash between Amateur Radio and PLC systems operating below the AM broadcast band. This time, the FCC said, “It is clear that we will have to establish appropriate requirements for amateur use of the band, if we are to ensure compatibility with PLC systems.” WRC-07 set a maximum effective isotropic radiated power (EIRP) limit of 1 W, which is what the FCC is proposing.
The FCC said it “explicitly” rejects the suggestion that it choose one use of the spectrum over the other. “Our objective is to allocate spectrum on a secondary basis to amateur stations in a manner…compatible with existing PLC systems,” the FCC said. “However, we also expect to permit amateur operators to make use of the allocation in a manner that is less burdensome and more productive than they are currently afforded under the experimental authorization process.”
The Commission said that if it concludes, after considering the record, that Amateur Radio and PLC systems cannot coexist, it would “defer the adoption of service rules, and amateur users will have to continue to use the experimental licensing process to operate in the band.”
With respect to the proposed 630 meter allocation, the FCC has proposed limiting amateur stations in the US to a maximum 5 W EIRP. In the US, 435-495 kHz is allocated to the Maritime Mobile Service on a primary basis for federal and non-federal use, and to the aeronautical radionavigation service on a secondary basis for federal use.
The ARRL submitted a Petition for Rule Making in 2012 asking the FCC to allocate 472-479 kHz to the Amateur Service on a secondary basis and to amend the Part 97 rules to provide for its use. Several countries, including Canada, already have access to the band. The ARRL has pointed out that during its extensive course of experimentation in the spectrum around 500 kHz, no interference reports have been received.
The FCC said that the “cornerstone” of the technical rules it’s proposing for both bands is “physical separation between amateur stations and the transmission lines” carrying PLC signals. “Such a separation, in conjunction with limits on the amateur stations’ transmitted EIRP and antenna heights, will enable PLC systems and amateur stations to coexist in these bands,” the FCC asserted. “In addition, we propose to limit amateur stations to operations at fixed locations only, to ensure that this separation distance can be maintained reliably.”
The FCC said it wants to hear from both PLC system users and radio amateurs regarding technical requirements it would have to put into place to permit both users to operate comfortably and without compromising the PLC systems. The Commission suggested that other requirements might include limits on antenna heights, transmitter power limits, and operating privilege limits based on license class or mode. The ARRL will file comments in the proceeding.
The FCC will accept comments for 60 days following publication of the Report and Order, Order, and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register. Reply comments would be due 30 days after the comment deadline.