Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I would like to use the autopatch of our local repeater to call taxis. Does this violate the ‘no commercial use’ rule for Amateur Radio?...

Q Tim, KC4BBI, asks, “I am blind. As you might guess, I take a lot of taxis. I often call them from restaurants, malls, and other places where pay phones are hard to find. I do not have a cell phone. I would like to use the autopatch of our local repeater to call taxis. Does this violate the ‘no commercial use’ rule for Amateur Radio?”

A When the FCC liberalized the business rules they stated that amateurs may use Amateur Radio to conduct their personal communications, including ordering food over the air or making appointments.

Between 1972 and 1993, the FCC laid down stringent “no business” rules. Talk-ins to conventions and hamfests weren’t legal, among many other things! Effective September 13, 1993, the “no business communications” language was replaced with a prohibition on communications for compensation on behalf of one’s employer, or in which the amateur has a pecuniary interest [97.113(a)(2), (3)]. The current language is almost, but not quite, as relaxed as the pre-1972 rules. Now, instead of a flat prohibition on providing an alternative to other radio services, there is a less restrictive one against doing so on a regular basis [97.113(a)(5)].

These rules permit wider use of Amateur Radio to satisfy personal communications needs. To cite a classic example, as far as the FCC is concerned you may now use an autopatch to order a pizza. You may call your dentist’s office to let them know you’ll be late, or even to make an appointment. On your way home you may ask your spouse if you should pick up a loaf of bread on the autopatch without worrying about whether this will “facilitate the business affairs” of the grocery store. Repeater owners or trustees may set tighter standards if they want, but it’s no longer an FCC issue.

The Commission doesn’t want to hear questions about whether such-and-such is permitted. The FCC Report and Order, which carries the weight of a regulation, said:

“We [the FCC] have decided to amend the amateur service rules substantially…to allow amateur operators more flexibility to provide communications for public service projects as well as to enhance the value of the amateur service in satisfying personal communications needs. Amendment of the rules as proposed by the League will allow licensee so use amateur service frequencies, for example, to facilitate such events as races and parades, to support educational activities, to provide personal communications such as making appointments and ordering food, to collect data for the National Weather Service, and to provide assistance voluntarily even where there are other authorized services available. We believe that this action will expand the benefits derived from the amateur service by the general public as well as amateur service licensees.”

The Report and Order also said, in part, that “. . .any amateurto- amateur communication is permitted unless specifically prohibited, or unless transmitted for compensation, or unless done for the pecuniary benefit of the station control operator or his or her employer” [PR Docket 92-136, Report and Order].

How can you tell if a particular communication is legal? A simple checklist may help you determine if a communication is permissible under 97.113:

1. Is it expressly prohibited in the rules (music, obscenity, etc) [97.113(a)(1)]?
2. Is it transmitted for compensation [97.113(a)(2)]?
3. Does the control operator have a pecuniary interest? That is,
could he or she benefit financially [97.113(a)(3)]?
4. Does the control operator’s employer have a pecuniary
interest [97.113(a)(3)]?

If you can answer “no” to all of these questions, the communication is okay as far as the FCC is concerned. In that regard, it is perfectly legal for you to use the autopatch to order a taxi.

Having said all that, you could face resistance from repeater owners. Some may not understand the new regulations, or they may simply not allow that type of use of their systems. Remember that repeaters are private property, although the frequencies on which they may operate are public. Some repeater owners may not permit the type of communications you are proposing, even though it isn’t a rule violation. Since the repeater is their private property, you must comply.

From QST April 2000