RASA interim position on ACMA proposed changes

(updated 08 March requesting definition of the term “maximum power spectral density” and methodology for measurement in relation to bandwidth in the proposed Class Licence)

(updated 05 march 2021 with expanded section comparing the proposed class licence to the current LCD, and also the requirement for an on-line callsign database and a licencing doc for amateurs travelling overseas)

(updated 02 March 2021 to include specific proposals on QRM – see Protection from Interference below)

Introduction

The purpose of this document is to present an interim position on the ACMA proposed changes to amateur licencing arrangements, as detailed in their consultation paper of February 2021. 

The ACMA paper may be downloaded from:

https://www.acma.gov.au/consultations/2021-01/review-non-assigned-amateur-and-outpost-regulatory-arrangements-consultation-012021

We welcome your constructive feedback, which may be emailed to  info@vkradioamateurs.org

This interim position will be refined as required.

A final position will be published and submitted to ACMA in late March 2021.

We have put together a FAQ on the changes – it will be updated as we receive questions.

https://vkradioamateurs.org/acma-proposed-changes-faq/

Preferred option (refined 15 Feb 21 as a result of member and non-member feedback)

We recognise that ACMA’s preferred option is C (a class licence), and that this is driven by Australian Government policy on outsourcing and reduction of regulation. 

Option C has one significant shortcoming – it proposes removing protection from interference. 

So, RASA is proposing a modified C – Option D, if you will.

Option C could only be accepted with safeguards regarding protection from interference and the other issues discussed later in this document.

Option B is not worth considering, as it provides effectively no advantages for either amateurs or the ACMA.

It is clear that ACMA intend to implement Option C.  The consultation is simply a process to enable Option C to go forward.  Whilst sector polls and letters to the Minister are, of course, democratic, our view is that they are not the most effective solution in this case.

The pragmatic response is to negotiate with ACMA on a mutually acceptable outcome.  ACMA want to simplify work practices, remove any need for technical engagement and cut costs; all of which are driven by Government policy.  Amateurs need reassurance that our protection from interference will remain.

Option C streamlines administration, and of course there are no licence fees, but it does introduce a class licence.

Is a class licence appropriate for amateur radio?  This is discussed in the FAQ: https://vkradioamateurs.org/acma-proposed-changes-faq/

Comparison table

Options A and C are compared in the following table.

Option AOption C
Licence issueLicences issued by ACMALicence not required, only a qualification.  No requirement to apply for a licence, per se.   This does raise issues for amateurs travelling overseas – presumably ACMA will issue a licence in this case.
Callsign issueAMC recommends, ACMA issuesAMC issues
FeesCurrent feeNo licence fee
Interference investigationACMA ultimately responsibleACMA propose “no protection” basis
LCDComplexSimplified, with operational issues moved to a separate document
ExaminationsCurrent systemNo change
QualificationsCurrent systemNo change
Licence grades and privilegesCurrent systemNo change
Repeaters/ beaconsCurrent systemRemain as assigned apparatus licences, with potentially more efficient assignment regime.

Protection from interference

The principal issue of contention with Option C is the proposal that, under a class licence, amateurs would operate on a “no interference, no protection” basis.

This is simply not acceptable.

ACMA, as managers of the RF spectrum, have a responsibility to ensure that spectrum users can properly coexist, regardless of what licence fees they do or do not pay or what class of licence they operate under.

We do not consider that elimination of licence fees is an appropriate trade-off for a complete abandonment of ACMA’s traditional spectrum management role.

We acknowledge that ACMA field staff resources have been severely rationalised and therefore that it will not be possible for an ACMA Radio Inspector to physically attend most amateur radio related interference complaints. 

It is also reasonable to require amateur radio operators, as technical practitioners, to investigate and, as far as possible, resolve interference problems.

However, our view is that ACMA must retain final responsibility for oversight of amateur radio interference problems – be they wideband noise from the next-door neighbour’s LED lights, interference to a neighbour’s television system or spurious emissions from the commercial radio site on a nearby hill.

We propose that, as with the current system, amateurs deal with interference issues initially themselves, by following a logical, documented process, such as that detailed at   https://qrm.guru/category/an-overview-of-the-qrm-guru-process/

Amateurs have a responsibility to ensure that their transmitters are operated in accordance with the LCD, in terms of frequency, power output and spurious emissions.  If an amateur transmitter is being operated in compliance with the LCD, then the amateur station can not be forced to shut down. 

Naturally, common sense dictates that the best way to resolve an interference issue is to liaise with the other party, particularly if they are a neighbour. This may involve the amateur initially restricting transmitting until the problem can be rectified.

If the amateur has taken all reasonable steps to resolve the interference to/from their station, and the problem persists, ACMA should be called upon to provide an impartial resolution of the issue.  We suggest that this would involve email communication with the amateur and the other party in most cases – i.e. no physical attendance by ACMA staff.

Deliberate amateur-amateur interference and illegal operation is another area where ACMA must retain a regulatory role.  Most interference of this type will cease with the application of common sense (i.e. don’t feed the troll…), but there are some rare examples where the interference is harmful and ongoing, and the only path to resolution involves regulatory action. 

We note that ACMA intends to maintain this role under Option C, quote (p14):

If someone operates an amateur station without holding a recognised qualification or operates the amateur station in a way that is not consistent with the class licence conditions applicable to people holding that level of qualification, they will not be operating in accordance with the class licence and the ACMA may investigate and take appropriate compliance and enforcement action under the Act.  

This is effectively a continuation of the current arrangements.

In summary, provided the safeguards suggested previously are implemented by ACMA, RASA supports option C. 

The Class Licence (replaces the LCD)

ACMA are proposing to replace the current LCD with a simplified class licence. Although it has been simplified considerably, it is still rather legalistic.  We acknowledge that this may be required by AMCA’s legal processes.

The proposed class licence has been reduced from the current LCD’s 39 pages to 28 pages, with the following sections from the current LCD removed:

  • AX callsigns for special days (Australia day, ANZAC Day, etc).
  • Repeater linking provisions.
  • Restrictions on portable operation.
  • Restrictions on connections to/from the public telecommunications network.
  • General beacon and repeater provisions (we assume that this will be transferred to a separate document).

A new section has been added on high power permits for Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) operation.

The proposed new class licence is relatively simple and much less restrictive than the current LCD.  The removal of the outdated repeater link restrictions will facilitate experimentation with new technologies.

The privileges per licence class (bands, power, etc.) and the general technical conditions have not been changed.

We assume that the AX provisions will be transferred to a separate operating procedures document.

The proposed new class licence also allows you to operate portable for as long as you like – the previous 4-month restriction has been removed.

As ACMA foreshadowed in their consultation document, if Option C is implemented, the current system for licencing of repeaters and beacons will continue, albeit with some streamlining.

We suggest that, with the aim of simplification, Schedule 3 – Emission modes could be deleted, or else reference made to Vol 2 Appendix 1 of the Radio Regulations, which defines emission modes in detail.

Similarly, Section 2 on exclusion areas could be referenced to another document; it impacts relatively few amateurs and takes up a large amount of space in the document.

Schedule 1, tables A, B and C (p10) use the term “maximum power spectral density” in relation to bandwidth. The term is not referenced in the Definitions (p2) and the method of measurement is not specified.

Ongoing sector liaison with ACMA

There needs to be an agreed mechanism for sector representatives to meet with ACMA on a regular basis (perhaps biennially) to discuss sector issues – the current ad-hoc system is not efficient or effective. 

To this end, it is proposed that a sector liaison committee be constituted, and that it include AMC, as the ACMA’s outsourced provider.

Publicly available callsign database

If Option C is implemented, ACMA must maintain the current on-line public callsign database.

Licencing document for amateurs travelling overseas

ACMA (or AMC under delegation) must produce some form of amateur licence document for amateurs travelling overseas – stating equivalence with CEPT T/R 61-01.

Output power for advanced licensees

One issue that is not discussed in Option C is an increase in transmitter power for Advanced licensees.  RASA presented a paper from the RASA Vice President, Dr. Andrew Smith (an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon) to ACMA on this issue in May 2019.

The ACMA indicated to RASA that this issue would be included within the 2021 LCD review – hence its inclusion here.  

The paper is summarised as follows:

Health risks with increased power

  • A review of world literature has identified that radio amateurs have no higher incidence of medical conditions or causes of death from RFE than the general public. (Radio-Frequency and ELF Electromagnetic Energies A Handbook for Health Professionals, Hitchcock RT and Robertson RM. Revised 1994, John Wiley and Sons.)
  • A review of the literature failed to ascertain any reports of damage to humans and/or animals from any amateur transmissions at power levels up to 2kW PEP.  Data is scarce on issues related to microwave frequencies but yet again there are no reports of illnesses or diseases. (Ibid.)
  • There is no empirical evidence that supports the ACMA position that an increase of PEP from 400W to 1kW would have any deleterious effect on radio amateurs, members of the public or animals, as long as the emissions comply with ARPNSA standards.   There is no validity in terms of health, well-being and OHS that supports the ACMA argument for a 400W PEP limit in the Amateur HF and VHF/UHF bands.

Interference risks with increased power

  • It is a sine qua non that with increased power, the higher and closer the source then the risk of Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) may increase
  • There are multiple sources of RFI apart from Amateur Radio Transmissions.
  • The change from analogue to Digital TV transmissions has reduced the risk of amateurs interfering with TV broadcasting and a literature review suggests that the number of complaints over this have dropped worldwide although other factors including a lack of follow up on reports of interference through personnel shortages may have had an effect
  • There is no evidence that there has been any increase in RFI complaints in countries (NZ and Canada) (Sources FCC, NZART and Radio Commission of Canada) that have increased their permitted PEP over the last decade or so.
  • Australia has a unique situation but in view of the evidence it would seem logical that a trial be undertaken allowing amateurs to use 1kW PEP on HF and VHF/UHF amateur bands with a well-structured reporting system for RFI complaints and investigations of these performed by the ACMA in association with Amateurs.

Conclusion

  • There is no health or occupational health reason preventing power limits for Radio Amateurs in the HF/VHF/UHF bands to be increased.
  • There is little or no evidence that suggests that an increase in power will increase complaints of RFI.
  • The ACMA should increase the maximum PEP from 400W to 1kW for the amateur HF/VHF/UHF bands

Anecdotal evidence from the amateur radio sector is that many stations currently operate well in excess of 400W PEP output power on HF – there have not been any reports of RFI/EMR/EMC issues with these stations.  

Access to 50-52 MHz for Standard Class amateurs

Standard class amateurs are allocated only the top 2 MHz (52-54 MHz) of the 6 metre band.  This anomaly serves no real purpose.  Granting standard calls all of 6m (50-54 MHz) would not impact the incentive to upgrade, as the privilege gap to advanced is still considerable.

In December 2019, we conducted a survey on this issue – 71% of respondents were in favour. We discussed this with ACMA who noted that the issue would be considered as part of the LCD Review.

We therefore request that Standard Class licencees be granted access to the full 50-54 MHz band.

We understand that the WIA also support this proposal, as detailed in previous submissions to LCD reviews.

The Radio Amateur Society of Australia

08 March 2021