Formulating a Coherent Response to ARRL RM 11708 / FCC Docket 16-239 NPRM

Formulating a Coherent Response to ARRL RM 11708 / FCC Docket 16-239 NPRM

Background on ARRL Petition RM 11708 / FCC Docket 16-239 NPRM

In November, 2013, the ARRL filed a Symbol Rate Petition with the FCC, requesting that a maximum bandwidth of 2.8 kHz be established for all data emissions below 29.7 MHz.  The FCC assigned RM (Rulemaking) number 11708 to this petition and subsequently requested comments from the public.  From March 2014 to present (Sep 2016), 80% of the amateur radio operators who have sent comments to the FCC on this RM have expressed opposition to RM 11708.  You can view comments that have been posted to the FCC regarding the ARRL’s petition RM 11708 here.  

The FCC issued Docket 16-239 NPRM (July, 2016) in response to ARRL’s RM 11708.  NPRM stands for Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.  The FCC is currently requesting comments on its soon-to-be-enacted Docket 16-239 NPRM , but anyone interested in filing a comment on RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM must do so prior to the Oct 11, 2016 filing deadline.  Of the approximately 100 comments that have been filed with the FCC to date, 89% of those responding  have expressed opposition to Docket 16-239 NPRM.  The majority of amateur radio operators who responded to this NPRM cited the need for a bandwidth limit in the RTTY/data subbands in order to protect the narrow band modes from unlimited bandwidth  transmissions.   You can view comments that have been posted to the FCC regarding Docket  16-239 NPRM here.


The Issues

In RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM, the FCC is requesting comments on two issues relating to data communications:

  1. Should the 300 baud limit be eliminated, thereby removing all limitations on baud rate?
  2. Should there be any bandwidth limit for RTTY and data emissions in the MF and HF bands?


Concerns Raised by ARRL Petition RM 11708 / FCC Docket 16-239 NPRM

  • The FCC’s statements that a baud rate restriction has become unnecessary due to advances in modulation techniques, and no longer serves a useful purpose, and that  a specific bandwidth limitation for RTTY and data emissions in the MF/HF bands is not necessaryraise concerns as to how narrow band CW/RTTY/PSK31/JT65/JT9 stations can compete in the same RTTY/data subband with wide band data stations using unlimited bandwidths.
  • The boating lobby is working hard to ensure that RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM is enacted into law, so boaters worldwide can utilize the RTTY/data subband via Winlink.  On average every day, over 150 Pactor 3 and over 150 Pactor 4 transmissions are transmitted via Winlink.
  • Many narrow band operators (CW/RTTY/JT65, etc) are concerned that evolving wideband digital modes may eventually (and completely!) appropriate the diminutive RTTY/data subbands.
  • How will documented problems with out-of-band Automatically Controlled Digital Stations be handled?
  • What about stations desiring to use the amateur bands to conduct business related emailing in lieu of available commercial internet service?
  • Today’s digital Winlink operators, while running Pactor 2, Pactor 3, and Pactor 4 modes, use essentially encrypted modes while operating ARQ (Automatic Repeat Request), which are not decipherable by other hams.  Neither Official Observers, nor the FCC, can monitor these transmissions.
  • How can amateur radio be self-policing if transmissions can no longer be monitored?


Generally Accepted Standards regarding narrow band emissions

All three IARU Regions have longstanding generally accepted standards which were instituted in order to ensure protection for narrow band signals at the lower end of every MF/HF amateur band.

                     IARU Region 1 Band Plan

                     IARU Region 2 Band Plan

                     IARU Region 3 Band Plan

Japan, which has the highest population of amateur radio operators in the world, also recognizes the need to protect narrow band CW/RTTY signals through its government regulated band plan.


What Can We do?

It is imperative that we file well reasoned comments with the FCC before the Oct 6, 2016 FCC deadline.

Please also write your ARRL directors and all ARRL officials, as we urgently need their help and support to lobby the FCC for a solution that gets them their data goals while also protecting CW/RTTY operations before the October 6, 2016 filing deadline.

Those who care about national security and the future of our hobby should start their comments with a sentence that recommends rejection of RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM and rejection of dropping the 300 baud limit, unless the FCC includes two specific statements in RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM

  1. Narrow band protections will be assured, by regulation, to protect narrow band amateur operations using CW/RTTY/PSK31/JT65/JT9, etc. (e.g. less than 200 Hz and 500 Hz bandwidth transmissions) in the lowest 100 kHz or so of every pre-WARC HF/MF band
  2. That true eavesdropping and human-readable (CW) ID be mandated by the FCC for all digital data transmissions (except for amateur stations in space, as specially provided in part 97.211 that has been inserted as a loophole), so as to assure that any amateur operator or Official Observer (OO) may easily decode any transmission payload of any data signal.

As has been mentioned above, Pactor 2, Pactor 3, and Pactor 4 modes do not use published or decipherable protocols.  Those who support the concept of published protocols which can be monitored by Official Observers, the FCC, and the general amateur radio community, are encouraged to consider including the following proposals in their comments to FCC:

  1. Require all WinLink SysOps to provide a public website that shows all messages of every type that are carried, in real time, on the web, and also require that all messages are stored in a web-accessible archive on the web. The FCC should also require  WinLink and any other data systems using ACDS or peer-to-peer that use proprietary compression or are not readily copied by typical amateur operators to to host all of the SysOp traffic on their website, as well.
  2. Require automated CW or CW-like transmissions from any WinLink Station or other data station, to ensure that human readable CW identification can be received every 5 minutes.
  3. Require all ACDS gateway stations to use listen-before-transmit technology that assures they check the frequencies are busy before transmitting
  4. Require all ACDS or gateway stations to have software that alerts the FCC, ARRL, and WinLink or other network providers whenever there is a violation of FCC rules for transmission frequency or bandwidth.

Map of Pactor HF Gateway Stations



Ted Rappaport, N9NB, has kindly provided permission to share some well reasoned ideas in his form letter below for those of us who wish to formulate a thoughtful, coherent response to FCC and ARRL regarding RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM.

In case you are wondering who N9NB is, Ted’s multifaceted career in communications and education  speaks for itself, as is noted in the following article:

Please iterate or modify the following letter, shorten please if you can, and grab just the key concepts……hope it helps.

… and please alert all others in hamdom who care about operating RTTY or CW in the future.

Thanks for your good efforts, and 73! Ted n9nb

Dear FCC (or ARRL Director Name):

I would like to tell you why I do not support RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM.  In my opinion, the FCC’s longstanding tradition of keeping non compatible emission types separate from one another has enabled adherents of both narrow band (CW/RTTY/PSK31/JT65/JT9, etc) and wide band (SSB, eSSB, FM, wideband Digital, etc) emissions the opportunity to operate within their respective subbands without causing undue interference to one another.

The vast number of RTTY amateurs and JT65 experimenters use published codes that result in maximum data rate within an emitted bandwidth of less than 500 Hz, and the fastest of CW and PSK 31 and other narrow band emissions result in an emission bandwidth of less than 200 Hz. Without a regulated narrow band emission bandwidth, in the absence of a regulated baud rate, it will be a purely subjective decision as to how much bandwidth is the minimum amount needed to communicate.  Chaos would ensue and enforcement would be impossible, as its one person’s view of “minimum bandwidth” against another’s.  The existing baud rate assures a practical bandwidth limit today.

If the FCC wishes to eliminate the limitation on baud rate and provide a home for new wideband data with unlimited bandwidth, the Commission must at the same time provide an emission bandwidth limit of less than 500 Hz for the lowest 100 kHz of each band where today’s RTTY and JT65 and other narrow band emissions operate, and should further institute an emission limit of less than 200 Hz in the lowest 50 kHz of each HF/MF sub band where US and global CW / morse code, and PSK 31 activity may occur. This emission regulation is less than the 2.8 kHz asked for by the ARRL, and is needed because of the vast number of US and global amateurs currently operating and experimenting in the lowest 100 kHz using very narrowband emissions. A regulation by bandwidth in the lowest 100 kHz is required in the absence of a 300 baud limit because of the real threat of interference and lack of self policing that would occur without such narrow band emission limits.

Today, there are gray areas associated with what is an allowable code or what is a published code in Pactor, and there are loopholes in the FCC rules, which are unenforceable by the voluntary official observers , when other documented codes that are not widely detected by existing hams are used.

It is important to note that many digital modes are encrypted, which means they cannot be monitored, and they may therefore constitute a valid threat to national security. The FCC rules do not clearly state how a human may identify such encrypted transmissions, meaning that the self policing nature of the hobby will be severely compromised if RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM is passed.

There are also gray areas about when a control operator exists or not for automated data transmitters, and future technology could further cloud the compliance issues as the data emissions are widened and adopted by more amateurs. Many commenters have given proof to the Commission about the inability to decode certain existing Pactor 3 transmissions, and confusion and interference would  be propagated terribly with new data entrants without emission bandwidth limits that assure protection of the narrowest of bandwidth emissions.

All three ITU regions and Japan already institute narrow band regulations (200 Hz and 500 Hz) or recommendations in the lowest 100 kHz of each HF band because of the major disruption and chaos that results when wideband data is mixed with narrowband data. This stems from the technical realities that narrowband signals are not useable in the face of wider band data transmissions. For these reasons, in response to the Commissions request in Paragraphs 9-12, I urge the Commission to rule for eliminating the baud rate, and at the same time establish a maximum emission bandwidth limit of 200 Hz in the lowest 50 kHz of every MF/HF Band, and a 500 Hz maximum emission bandwidth limit from 50 to 100 kHz above the lowest part of every MF/HF band edge. The new, inharmonious, unlimited wide band data proposed by the FCC and ARRL could operate (and keep all of its emissions) above 100 kHz above the lowest band edge in each MF / HF band edge, thereby supporting the new types of modes requested by the ARRL, while also preserving existing and future narrow band data transmissions and the massive investments already made by the amateur community for these narrow band transmissions. This solution will satisfy the US and global amateur population, will comply with ITU recommendations, while  providing new wide band data capabilities, and while honoring and supporting narrow band CW, RTTY, and other narrow band modes that are critical for emergency and long distance human communication.

The HF spectrum for the amateur service is severely limited. The FCC has never allowed 2.8 kHz SSB signals into the data/RTTY HF/MF sub bands. The FCC must view unlimited bandwidth data signals as an inharmonious emission for today’s narrowband emissions, just like SSB is, and must protect the narrow band transmissions at the lowest end of HF/MF.  Otherwise, the removal of baud rate will immediately allow wider band data that will be unregulated, subjectively determined,  undetectable without a CW identification, and will overrun the existing CW, RTTY, and narrow  band experimentation over time.

Do we really want to see amateur radio become the equivalent of a glorified digital citizens band network?




Here is how to write ARRL leaders to seek their immediate support and protection of CW/RTTY operations in the face of RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM: 

Names and Email for ARRL Leaders

Instructions on how to file a Comment to the FCC on RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM

Additional information on RM 11708 / Docket 16-239 NPRM can be found at the following sites: