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King Wants To Sell Out Ham Radio 309

An anonymous reader writes "Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has introduced HR 607, the 'Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011,' which has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee (which handles telecommunications legislation). The bill would create a nationwide Public Safety broadband network using the so-called 'D-Block' of spectrum in the 700 MHz range for Public Safety use. But to pay for it, he wants to sell off 420-440 MHz, currently heavily used by the military, satellites and Amateur Radio operators."
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King Wants To Sell Out Ham Radio

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  • by devleopard ( 317515 ) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @03:51PM (#35446372) Homepage

    We are so dependent on infrastructure, if we reached that level of disaster, I don't think it'd be a master of "asking" for help.

    Reminds me of a client, whose former programmer was a conspiracy theorist. He was stocking up seeds, because he was convinced the economy was going to fail and seeds would be the new currency. However, he was also a pus^H^H^H^H pacifist, and didn't believe in owning guns. If it all hit the fan, the people with the guns would take his seed, one way or another.

    tl;dr; Your doomsday heroes are ill-equipped for that reality

  • by Rinisari ( 521266 ) * on Thursday March 10, 2011 @03:53PM (#35446414) Homepage Journal

    If /. had upvotes, I would give you one.

    It's the HAMs -- the MacGuyvers of the radio world -- who all we computers geeks will turn to when the shit goes down. We could get packet radio up and running in days together, and have our own twitter.

  • We've seen time and time again that the public-safety services are not themselves able to provide sufficient communications operators to handle an emergency, and that they aren't able to improvise communications systems to meet the needs of an emergency that takes out infrastructure. That's what hams are for. One of the things they do with that spectrum is build and practice their own systems, so that in an emergency they are ready.

    And let's not forget all of the technical advances that come from Amateur Radio, and its unique uses in education - how else can individuals work with space communications, software-defined-radio, etc. All of the other options are company-controlled.

    In California, we already have a problem on those frequencies due to the PAVE-PAWS system at Beale Air Force Base out by Yuba City. Surprisingly, it can receive hams in the San Francisco Bay area - on a UHF band where I wouldn't expect that distance - and we have had to reduce power on most of the repeaters in that band to protect the military's space-warning services. If the band were to be sold, it would not be available for commercial users in much of California.

    But we have a right to be sick of all of the folks who look at our frequencies with dollar signs in their eyes.

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @03:56PM (#35446472) Homepage

    Erm, looks like I grabbed the wrong spectrum. 420-440, not 400-420. Let's see: I found a different page that lists "satellites, Pave Paws radar systems, radio beacons, military and Amateur Radio operators." I double checked PAVE PAWS (the radar system designed to detect and track ICBMs and satellites), and indeed, it's 435mhz. The radar installations are bloody huge [], so I hope that if this passes, they can be reconfigured.

  • Re:But will we? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by neorush ( 1103917 ) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @04:21PM (#35446786) Homepage
    I live in Northern New York where there isn't even cell phone coverage. In 1999 there was an Ice Storm that put most people in 3 counties without power and phone for SEVERAL WEEKS in the winter time. There was no way for emergency services to communicate from even town to town because of the terrain and the reliance on repeaters. I sat in a firehouse one town over for 2 weeks with my rig and relayed information from ambulance to ambulance and town to town. This included communications for departments like the state police. You would be amazed how well prepared we were, and how unprepared your average government agency is. In fact we are now routinely called to participate in disaster training exercises because of that storm. Hams are an integral part of emergency communications where I live. Losing 70cm would suck.
  • Re:Freakin' genius (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @04:26PM (#35446842) Journal

    I dunno. I kind of think the whole of the congress is on the dim side. Just a couple weeks ago, Harry Reid said the US doesn't have GPS like the rest of the world.

  • Re:But will we? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by flappinbooger ( 574405 ) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @04:41PM (#35447016) Homepage

    They were put on the radio because police and fire departments have been buying incompatible coms equipment for years.

    After the clusterfuck that was the 9/11 reponse, there has been a concerted push to get law enforcement, fire, EMS, military, and government all working on the same wavelength. That's pretty much the entire point of this bill.

    Obviously selling off part of the HAM spectrum is a stupid idea, but his goal of getting ALL responders onto one wavelength is long overdue. Of course, once you put all the responders onto an encrypted channels in the 700MHz range, amateur radio will no longer be able to help.

    You're right, a locality might have local police/sheriff/fire on the same band, but it will likely be only for that area, and the state police will or could be on another. Then, if that community is near the state border, the officials in the other state are quite likely using even different equipment.
    I was talking with an emergency management official who went to a "high level" meeting trying to figure out how to handle this very problem if there ever was a large scale disaster. The meeting went on for HOURS, and they never got ANYWHERE. Just a bunch of bureaucracy, red tape blabbering of career politicians with no real knowledge of anything in the real world. Basically it was going to be expensive because ultimately someone was going to have to scrap all their radios and no-one wanted to do it.
    As a (not active anymore but licensed) ham, who's dad IS an active ham, and who has spent a little time working with law enforcement and EM guys, ham radio IS vital to keep up. Many EM departments actively seek out local hams and support them and involve them.
    When the power goes out on a large scale, like a katrina situation, or in a 3rd world country with crap infrastructure - the low power long range capability of ham radio is vital.

  • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @06:21PM (#35448046)

    Everyone loves to mention value of amateur radio when disasters strike (and yes this non-govt, non-centralized infrastructure of wireless communications is difficult to take out). What I see is a much more serious blow and that is removing the wireless "playground" for techies and nerds to do their thing. OK so many of these guys don't spend much time with girls but it is the hands-on experience of applying theory to practice, trying some different kind of radio configuration, or simply seeing what works/what doesn't work.

    Besides Marconi or Armstrong, countless engineers and other technical professionals acquired useful skills through bold experimentation to either push the envelope to develop new technologies, knowing how to read schematics and work on systems to get a reasonable paying job instead minimal wage at a retail store, or from past personal experience will know better to not accidently take down entire comm system of their employer (although it sometimes still happens).

    If we trash RF spectrum for techies to play with, we stymied personal development in wireless technologies. Not that it would be the end of everything but it will become more difficult for someone to enter that field.

    Another scary aspect is this proposal has got to be the dumbest thing ever. Part 90 users are fuming as they are having to narrowband then whammo! They gotta dump all their 450MHz gear and infrastructure, then have to start from the ground up on 700MHz. I really wonder what kind of people we have making such decisions, like they have no competent advisors.

    Now that you got me ranting about stuff, I will add only reason to move all PS agencies to 700MHz is because it is easier to organize on MS Excel. What we have here is a failure of policy makers grasping the physics of the situation.

    For years we've been hammered with "govt is bad" and "regulation is bad" and FCC being a govt agency that does regulation they inherently have two strikes as the bad guy. Then as this whole jihad against govt spending little agencies like FCC are being further reduced (look at actual fed budget numbers, you will see FCC along with NASA, EPA, Dept of Education take a 16% slice of the pie, but the big slices is never discussed). So it is not surprising FCC lacks those with technical know-how to properly advise policy makers.

    Along with other FCC mischief is the approval of mobile broadband by Lightspeed adjacent to GPS freq (there is actually intense meetings at fed agencies in Wash DC about how to deal with this).

    So be careful before getting on the bandwagon about reducing govt spending and privatizing everything, look at the rest of budget pie instead of that 16% slice. You may not like the result and it will not do much in overall spending.

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