Ham radio operators concerned about losing band

USA TODAY
by Didi Tang and Malia Rulon
March 29, 2011

Ham radio operators concerned about losing band

Ham radio enthusiasts nationwide are concerned about a bill in Congress that they say would limit their ability to help in disasters and emergencies.

Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, introduced legislation last month aimed at enhancing emergency communications for first responders by reallocating certain frequencies exclusively for public safety.

To offset lost revenue from that change, the bill includes a provision that would allow the 420-440 MHz frequencies currently provided free to amateur radio to be auctioned off.

Those frequencies are used not just by hobbyists but also by hundreds of thousands of Amateur Radio Emergency Service volunteers and severe-weather spotters working with National Weather Service.

“They are a critical component of the National Weather Service’s job to protect life and property,” said Steve Runnels, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missouri.

“It’s a bad idea. It’s not good for public safety,” said Harlin McEwen, chairman of a technology committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police and a spokesman for the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council.

The frequencies set aside for first responders in the bill became available after the digital transition from analog television broadcasting. The Federal Communications Commission was going to auction off those frequencies. The White House calculates the cost of reallocating them for first responders at $3.2 billion.

King stressed the importance of following a 9/11 Commission recommendation to develop a national wireless network for first responders.

“America’s first responders, including law enforcement officers and firefighters, these front-line heroes still do not have a national interoperable public safety wireless broadband network,” King said.

He added that efforts are underway to address concerns of ham radio operators and others.

Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., a co-sponsor of the bill, said he will work “to ensure that we are not cutting any vital emergency services and not adversely affecting ham radio operations.”