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NEWINGTON, CT, Dec 19, 2006 -- The FCC has issued the complete Report and Order (R&O) in the "Morse code" proceeding, WT Docket 05-235. The R&O follows fast on the heels of the Commission's December 15 public notice announcing the elimination of the Morse code exam requirement for all Amateur Radio license classes. The R&O also addresses the ARRL's request to eliminate the disparity between "Tech Plus" licensees (Technicians with Element 1 Morse credit) and Technician licensees -- present and future -- who have not passed a Morse code test.

"In summary, we believe that the public interest will be served by revising the Amateur Service rules to eliminate the telegraphy testing requirement," the FCC concluded in the R&O, released today. "We also believe that these rule changes will allow Amateur Service licensees to better fulfill the purpose of the Amateur Service and will enhance the usefulness of the Amateur Service to the public and licensees."

The FCC took the opportunity in the R&O to act on the League's Petition for Partial Reconsideration in the "omnibus" proceeding, WT Docket 04-140, to retain the 3620-3635 kHz segment for automatically controlled digital stations. "We conclude that the expansion of the 75 meter band should not be so limited," the FCC said. "We agree with the ARRL, however, that the Commission did not intend to reduce the amount of spectrum available for automatically controlled digital stations."

To rectify the "unintended consequence" of the rules adopted in the omnibus proceeding, the Commission amended §97.221(b) to authorize 3585 to 3600 kHz for automatically controlled digital stations.

Finally, the Commission said it would conform the Amateur Service rules to reflect that the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) has reduced from two to one the number of Amateur Radio license classes.

The Commission is amending §97.301 "to authorize Amateur Extra class privileges to all individuals who have been issued a CEPT radio-amateur license by their country of citizenship, and who satisfy other requirements in the Commission's rules."

No Effective Date Yet

Today's R&O spells out the specific Part 97 changes going into place once the new rules go on the books and indicates that the effective date will be 30 days after the document appears in the Federal Register. Publication likely will occur in January, with the new rules going into effect in February.

Reprising the History the Morse Decision

Delegates at World Radiocommunication Conference 2003 (WRC-03) effectively eliminated the international requirement to demonstrate Morse proficiency to gain access to HF bands, the FCC recounted in discussing how it reached its decision in the Morse issue. A dozen and a half petitions for rule making -- most calling on the Commission to simply eliminate the Morse requirement -- in the wake of WRC-03 gave rise to the "Morse code" proceeding. A flurry of comments followed.

"The record reflects a division of views in the Amateur Radio community regarding this proposal," the FCC's R&O said. "Many of the comments from individual Amateur Radio operators support eliminating the telegraphy proficiency requirement." Others suggested dropping the requirement for General applicants while keeping it for Amateur Extra applicants, the FCC noted.

"Others argue that the present telegraphy examination requirements should be maintained because any reduction in these requirements will be detrimental to the Amateur Service while providing no long-term benefits," the Commission continued.

The FCC proposed in 2005 to drop the Morse examination requirement altogether, although the ARRL was among those who felt the Commission should retain it for Amateur Extra class applicants. The FCC remained unconvinced.

"We nevertheless believe that the public interest is not served by requiring facility in Morse code when the trend in amateur communications is to use voice and digital technologies for exchanging messages," the FCC said. "Rather, we believe that because the international requirement for telegraphy proficiency has been eliminated, we should treat Morse code telegraphy no differently from other Amateur Service communications techniques."

The Commission said its reasoning "applies equally" to both the General and the Amateur Extra class licenses. "We are not persuaded that the Amateur Extra Class being the highest license class is a sufficient reason alone to retain a requirement that we conclude is otherwise inappropriate and unnecessary." At the same time, the FCC said, its action doesn't preclude Amateur Radio licensees of any class "from pursuing and/or continuing to pursue Morse code proficiency should they so desire."

The FCC said its rules don't require applicants to pass practical examinations to demonstrate proficiency in non-telegraphy communications techniques, and it feels the current regime of written examinations is "sufficient to determine whether a person is qualified to be issued an Amateur Radio operator license."

No Special Advantage to Retaining the Morse Requirement

In today's R&O, the FCC cast aside arguments that Morse ability is advantageous in emergency communication situations. "The Commission previously addressed the essence of this argument and concluded that most emergency communication today is performed using voice, data, or video techniques," the FCC said. The Commission also turned away assertions that retaining a Morse code requirement would help in keeping out the bad apples.

"The record is devoid of a demonstrated nexus between Morse code proficiency and on-the-air conduct," the FCC observed. "As a result, we concur with the observation that 'maintaining the code requirement does not purge Amateur Radio of bad operators. Education and self-policing does.'"

The Commission further reiterated its belief that the ability to demonstrate increased Morse code proficiency doesn't necessarily indicate an applicant's ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art. "A number of commenters agree that the Morse code requirement 'keeps individuals that would enhance the hobby from getting a license,' and that there is 'no relationship between an individual's knowledge of Morse code and that individual's knowledge of radio regulations and practices and skills necessary to operate an amateur station.'"

Eliminating the Technician Disparity

The FCC also reviewed how it changed its mind regarding requests to eliminate the distinction between Technician and so-called "Tech Plus" (Technician with Element 1 Morse credit) licensees. In its Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in the proceeding, the FCC said it wanted to maintain the status quo. The League was among those asking the Commission to reconsider.

"Based on our review of our rules, we agree," the FCC explained in its R&O. "Consistent with our decision herein to eliminate the Morse code requirement, we are eliminating this disparity by amending Section 97.301(e) to afford Technician and Technician Plus licensees identical operating privileges."

The rule revision will mean Technician and so-called "Tech Plus" (Technician with Element 1 Morse credit) licensees will get voice and telegraphy privileges in four HF bands that are identical to those of Novice class licensees. "In eliminating this disparity between Technician and Technician Plus licenses, we are simplifying the Amateur Service licensing structure and promoting regulatory parity," the FCC said.

No Additional Changes

The FCC again denied requests -- including one from the ARRL -- to create a new entry-level Amateur Radio license along the lines of the old Novice ticket. Pointing out that the rules it's adopted grant Technician licensees additional operating privileges in four HF bands, the Commission said it didn't see any need for additional changes. The FCC also declined the League's request to grant Novice and Technician licensees voice and image privileges in certain segments 80, 40, 15 and 10 meters.

"Our action today giving Technician class licensees the same privileges as Technician Plus class licensees does effectively provide some of the relief ARRL seeks because Technician class licensees now have voice and digital privileges in the 10 meter HF band," the FCC said.

The Commission expressed concern that giving Novice and Technician holders voice privileges on other HF bands "would be a disincentive for these licensees to improve their knowledge and skills and attain a higher class license."

The Full FCC document can be found here:
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