Monthly Archive for May, 2009

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Ask not what your RAC can do for you

Remember the John Kennedy quote when he said in his Jan. 20, 1961 Inaugural Address: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what can you do for your country.”

So what’s this got to do with Radio Amateurs of Canada?

Occasionally I get an e-mail from a concerned member that says something to the effect “What is RAC doing about XYZ issue?” And, my answer echoes Kennedy’s quote because RAC isn’t the small handful of volunteers who serve on the executive, it’s the membership at large. We are RAC. You, me and all the members of this organization.

So when someone asks me “what is RAC doing”, I ask back “what are you willing to do?”

Are you willing to form or join a committee? Are you willing to get involved? Are you willing to work with others for the common good of all?

Or do you think somebody else should do it for you?

When it comes to the RAC executive there are way too few volunteers to do all the work that we as hams need to do to make ham radio better for every ham in Canada. That’s the nature of volunteer-run organizations. It’s too bad but it is what it is. We can only do what we can do.

You know I learned a very valuable lesson from one of my bosses when I was a young man. He said never come to me with a problem. Always come to me with a solution. Sage words to live by.

U.S. Congress to vote on Ham Radio Bill

The Congress of the United States is considering a Bill which recognizes the value of amateur radio in American society. While it’s lengthy, it is worth reproducing here.

Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Enhancement Act of 2009 (Introduced in House)

To promote and encourage the valuable public service, disaster relief, and emergency communications provided on a volunteer basis by licensees of the Federal Communications Commission in the Amateur Radio Service, by undertaking a study of the uses of amateur radio for emergency and disaster relief communications, by identifying unnecessary or unreasonable impediments to the deployment of Amateur Radio emergency and disaster relief communications, and by making recommendations for relief of such unreasonable restrictions so as to expand the uses of amateur radio communications in Homeland Security planning and response.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

April 29, 2009

Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas (for herself, Ms. BORDALLO, Mr. LUETKEMEYER, Ms. KILROY, Ms. ZOE LOFGREN of California, and Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce


A BILL

To promote and encourage the valuable public service, disaster relief, and emergency communications provided on a volunteer basis by licensees of the Federal Communications Commission in the Amateur Radio Service, by undertaking a study of the uses of amateur radio for emergency and disaster relief communications, by identifying unnecessary or unreasonable impediments to the deployment of Amateur Radio emergency and disaster relief communications, and by making recommendations for relief of such unreasonable restrictions so as to expand the uses of amateur radio communications in Homeland Security planning and response.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Enhancement Act of 2009′.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

The Congress finds the following:

(1) Nearly 700,000 amateurs radio operators in the United States are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission in the Amateur Radio Service.

(2) Amateur Radio operators provide, on a volunteer basis, a valuable public service to their communities, their States, and to the Nation, especially in the area of national and international disaster communications.

(3) Emergency and disaster relief communications services by volunteer Amateur Radio operators have consistently and reliably been provided before, during, and after floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, earthquakes, blizzards, train accidents, chemical spills, and other disasters. These communications services include services in connection with significant examples, such as hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Hugo, and Andrew; the relief effort at the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon following the 2001 terrorist attacks; and the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995.

(4) Amateur Radio has formal agreements for the provision of volunteer emergency communications activities with the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service, the National Communications System, and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, as well as with disaster relief agencies, including the American National Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

(5) The Congress passed Public Law 103-408 which was signed by the President on October 22, 1994. This included in Section 1 the following finding of Congress: `Reasonable accommodation should be made for the effective operation of amateur radio from residences, private vehicles and public areas, and the regulation at all levels of government should facilitate and encourage amateur radio operation as a public benefit.’

(6) The Congress passed Public Law 109-295 which was signed by the President on October 4, 2006. This included a provision in the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2007 that directed the Department’s Regional Emergency Communications Coordinating Working Group to coordinate their activities with `ham and amateur radio operators’ among the eleven other emergency organizations such as ambulance services, law enforcement, and others.

(7) Amateur Radio, at no cost to taxpayers, provides a fertile ground for technical self-training in modern telecommunications, electronic technology, and emergency communications techniques and protocols.

(8) There is a strong Federal interest in the effective performance of Amateur Radio stations, and that performance must be given support at all levels of government and given protection against unreasonable regulation and impediments to the provision of these valuable communications.

SEC. 3. STUDY OF ENHANCED USES OF AMATEUR RADIO IN EMERGENCY AND DISASTER RELIEF COMMUNICATION, AND FOR RELIEF OF RESTRICTIONS.

(a) Authority- The Secretary of Homeland Security–

(1) shall undertake a study on the uses and capabilities of Amateur Radio communications in emergencies and disaster relief; and

(2) shall report its findings to Congress not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act.

(b) Scope of the Study- The study required by this section shall–

(1) include recommendations–

(A) for enhancements in the voluntary deployment of Amateur Radio licensees in disaster and emergency communications and disaster relief efforts; and

(B) for improved integration of Amateur Radio operators in planning and in furtherance of the Department of Homeland Security initiatives;

(2)(A) identify unreasonable or unnecessary impediments to enhanced Amateur Radio communications, such as the effects of private land use regulations on residential antenna installations; and

(B) make recommendations regarding such impediments; and

(3)(A) include an evaluation of section 207 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-104, 110 Stat. 56 (1996)); and

(B) make a recommendation whether that section should be modified to prevent unreasonable private land use restrictions that impair the ability of an amateur radio operator licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to conduct, or prepare to conduct, emergency communications by means of effective outdoor antennas and support structures at reasonable heights and dimensions for the purpose, in residential areas.

(c) Use of Expertise and Information- In conducting the study required by this section, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall–

(1) utilize the expertise of the American Radio Relay League, representing the National Amateur Radio community; and

(2) seek information from private and public sectors for the study.

The VE7 experience

In reply to an earlier post about malicious interference on Toronto-area repeaters, Neil, VA7DX offers this post about the situation in the Greater Vancouver area.

We’ve experienced similar malicious interference problems in the Greater Vancouver Area off and on over the last 5 years and have developed an approach that has had success in dealing with these problems.

As you already know, Industry Canada are fully occupied with their paying customers regarding commercial spectrum, licensing and enforcement issues. To exacerbate the situation, elimination of the annual licensing fee for the Amateur Radio Service, although greeted by many Amateurs as a good thing, merely eliminated a revenue stream that had in the past provided some leverage to support enforcement activities on major issues affecting the Amateur Radio community.

Having said that the simple truth is that we can do some things to identify and reduce, if not eliminate, malicious interference.

A few ideas that worked well for us were:

1) Combine forces – when faced with wide spread interference issues, we formed a group with representation from most of the clubs in the Greater Vancouver area. Not only did this prove useful in terms of gathering intelligence, it gave access to a larger pool of resources for tracking down the source of the interference.

2) Relationship with IC – no matter whether we feel IC is abrogating its responsibility or not, the truth is we have to work with them. Establish a positive working relationship with the local IC office. Keep your expectations of IC’s involvement reasonable.

3) Create a tracking team – In general IC expect Hams to do the initial legwork in tracking interference. This takes a lot of time and energy. My advice is to select a small group of people who are willing and able to relentlessly hunt and identify the locations of your malicious interference problems. I’d be happy to share information on our techniques and tools to those who are seriously interested in pursuing this.

4) Engage IC – once you’ve identified the source, that information should be passed to IC. It’s helpful to have some knowledge of what they require from an evidentiary standpoint and align your information with that. Be aware that they have to validate the information and typically undertake their own investigation before action can be taken. If you’ve identified the target and location it makes it easier to engage their resources.

5) When all else fails – if you still don’t get action, take parallel paths. Continue your consultation with IC but also engage your MP. A well written petition or letter to the MP responsible for the riding where the interference is occurring may get some action. Don’t take this step too quickly……it takes months to build relationships and an instant to destroy them… and more importantly always have a Plan B.

Following these steps has also netted success working with the FCC and the Amateur Radio community south of the border to resolve some significant interference problems caused by the now ex-K7VNI.

I can’t stress enough how important relationships and a competent, credible and professional approach to dealing with these interference issues are in contributing to success.

Neil

VA7DX

More on using satellite communications

VA3MW has forwarded  another update of the Coquitlam Club Satellite Communications trailer. The You Tube video produced by VA7DX will give you a pretty good idea about how much work goes into creating an emergency communications project of this complexity.

Mike sent us this email from Neil VA7DX:

For those of you interested in the progress of the Coquitlam Club’s Satellite Trailer Project, I put together another short YouTube video titled “CARESS SAT Trailer Update April 20, 2009” showing progress since the last video update.

Since installing the SAT gear and performing a quick smoke test on the 12th, considerable work has been completed installing equipment to provide a broad suite of HF/VHF/UHF voice and data services. In addition to mounting external antennas to provide VHF/UHF and Wi-Fi service, wiring for power, data and RF cabling has been installed. BIX blocks for telephone wiring were mounted. In addition to supporting Wi-Fi VOIP phone support, a number of standard telephones using twisted pair wiring will eventually be available from the vehicle.

The server for operation to support operation of a portable, backup Winlink PMBO was installed. In the event the VE7SCC EMCOMM PMBO is damaged or inoperable, this portable, backup PMBO will be able to take over sending and receiving WinLink/Airmail messages.

Once completed, this trailer will act as a low to moderate cost (less than $50K) point solution and communications hub, capable of connecting to Internet IP services via commercial satellite link and projecting a wireless bubble around an Incident Command site or an ESS Centre. From a high point it can direct Wi-Fi links over distances up to 80+km and will interface directly into the existing BCWARN medium-speed digital network. It will also be equipped with conventional VHF, UHF and SHF voice and data capabilities.

The video is about 4 minutes long. The link below will start the HD version of the video providing significantly better video and audio quality. If you have a slow Internet connection or experience problems with the HD version, a standard definition version is available and can be selected from the bottom right of the YouTube video window.

The link is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQgGUChaUxI&fmt=22 . Feel free to comment on the project and the video via YouTube.

I’ll be adding more video as the additional equipment is installed.

Thanks to Bob VE7JRP, Ian VE7HHS, Dave VA7DRS, Jeremy VA7NSA, Neil VA7NS and Russ Montgomery of DishPro Media Services for devoting many hours to the last work party.

Malicious interference

I’d like to see posted in the Blog, a statement by Industry Canada in response to this question from RAC. What official guidelines are place as to how Industry Canada responds to reports of ongoing malicious interference to an established Amateur Radio network activity ?
Currently in Toronto, the ARES Group has had to shut down several repeaters used in its daily city-wide network activity. Three or four individuals with Amateur Radio equipment have undertaken to seriously disrupt the group’s daily activity. Recording playbacks and interfering cross-band repeating are now daily occurrences.
Is Amateur Radio a service that Industry Canada is willing to safeguard or is Amateur Radio at the lowest priority level ? I’d like RAC to solicit an official answer from Industry Canada in Ottawa. I’d like to see that answer posted in this blog so that all Amateur Radio operators in Canada know what protection they have from misfits who will destroy Amateur Radio public service if they go on interfering unchallenged. Most Amateurs do not have the time, resources or the power to shut the scofflaws down. So what now ? Bring back the Licence fee ? Take up another hobby ?
Joe, VE3OV
ARES EC, Toronto North York