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60 metres dreaming - how long do we have to wait?

Author : The WIA Spectrum Strategy Committee

So, there was a new band allocated to the Amateur Service at the last International Telecommunications Union (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC); when will we get access to 5351.5-5366.5 kHz? A simple question with a complicated answer. This short article will look at some of the factors that affect band access.

Given that radio waves can travel long distances and that radio frequency interference can severely limit the utility of radio communications, our fore-fathers recognised the need to cooperate globally on managing the Radio Frequency spectrum. The ITU(1), a specialist agency of the United Nations, has the task of managing the use of the RF spectrum between 8.3 kHz and 275 GHz. Every three or four years the ITU convenes a WRC to revise the Radio Regulations to account for changes in the use of the RF spectrum.

The ITU Radio Regulations are an International Treaty and the WRC-12 revisions to the Radio Regulations were ratified by Australia on 1 March 2013(2). TheWRC-15 revisions to the Radio Regulations are currently being considered by the Australian Parliament (3).

It's about the law
In Australia the Radiocommunications Act 1992(4) is the overarching law that governs the way the RF spectrum is used and this law is a result of parliamentary debate by our elected members of parliament. Two sections of the Act cover other legislative instruments which may require updating, one such instrument is the Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan (ARSP)(5). Extracts from Sections 30 and 33 of the (current) Radiocommunications Act 1992 show:

30 Spectrum plans
(1) The ACMA may, by legislative instrument, prepare a spectrum plan.
Note: For variation and revocation, see subsection 33(3) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901.
(2) A spectrum plan must:
(a) divide into such number of frequency bands as the ACMA thinks appropriate so much of the spectrum as the ACMA thinks necessary for the purpose of regulating radiocommunications under this Act; and
(b) designate one or more bands to be used primarily for the general purposes of defence; and
(c) specify the general purpose or purposes for which each other band may be used.

33 Publication etc. of plans
(1) Before preparing a spectrum plan or a frequency band plan, the ACMA must, by notice published on the ACMA's website:
(a) state that a draft of the plan is available for public comment; and
(b) set out the draft plan; and
(c) invite interested parties to make representations about the draft plan on or before the day specified in the notice.
(2) The day specified under paragraph (1)(c) must be at least one month later than the day on which the notice is published.
(3) A person may, not later than the day specified under paragraph (1)(c), make representations to the ACMA about the draft plan.
(4) The ACMA:
(a) must give due consideration to any representations so made; and
(b) may, having considered the representations, alter the draft plan.

Following the WRC outcome, any proposed changes to Australian use of the RF spectrum will affect the ARSP and the Act sets out a process by which the ARSP is changed. It is apparent from the above process that there can be a substantial period of time for the process to be completed. One of the benefits of living in a liberal western democracy(6) is that everyone can have a say and that applies to the WRC preparatory process(7) through to the implementation of laws that enable our amateur activities. The 'flip-side of the coin' is that such a process may take significant time.

The process described in section 33 of the Act means that the incumbent services i.e. those services already in the band to be shared with the amateur service, must be consulted and their technical and operational needs must be considered. This means that consultation between the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the incumbent services, the Amateur Service and potentially other interested parties, must occur before usage of the band by amateurs can be authorised.

The final document of significance is the Radiocommunications Licence Conditions (Amateur Licence) Determination 2015(8) (LCD). The LCD is different to the Act in that it was drafted by the ACMA, which was delegated by Federal Parliament to develop the specific technical and legal text which governs the operation of our amateur service. A key factor here is that legislative instruments, such as licence conditions determinations, should be(9):

(a) subject to consultation before making; and
(b) drafted to a certain standard; and
(c) made public and accessible; and
(d) tabled in the Parliament; and
(e) subject to disallowance and sunsetting.

Following changes to the ARSP, any changes to band allocations must be reflected in the LCD, which has to be updated and pass through the process outlined above. Again, there is a requirement for more consultation and elapsed time though, generally, some of the processes run in parallel.

As amateurs, we all know that high frequency radio waves don't stop at Australia's borders, so it is also customary for Australia to consult with neighbouring countries regarding HF band usage to minimise cross-border or regional interference issues. This all adds up to a possibly lengthy period of time before amateurs can access a new frequency band.

But no one's using it!

You might think that, after monitoring a band for a period of time that it isn't being used and, therefore, amateurs could or should be given access. However, we all know that that there are many reasons why signals aren't heard: time of day, propagation conditions, use of directional antennas, local noise levels, transmitter power etc. All these factors affect what a remote listener does, or does not, hear so simple monitoring is rarely sufficient to establish band usage.

Also, some services are allocated access to multiple bands to ensure communications under all circumstances and this is especially true for services such as police, the military, healthcare services etc, who already have access to parts of the 60 m band. So amateurs need to be very careful when they say that a band isn't being used. The same argument could be used against amateurs in many of our bands

About primary and secondary services

Lastly, we all need to understand the differences between primary and secondary radio services. Primary services have priority and secondary services must not cause harmful interference to primary services and secondary services must accept ' without complaint ' any harmful interference caused by primary services to the activities of secondary services.
In many of our bands, the amateur service has secondary status and consequentially has no protection against primary services operations in those bands. This will certainly be true for the new amateur allocation in the 60 m band and we will need to coexist amiably with the primary services.

The last word

In conclusion, the process by which bands are allocated is complex and lengthy as there are many factors to be considered. Amateurs, as responsible users of the RF spectrum, need to respect the laws that govern our hobby, to be patient when waiting for new allocations and to be an active part of the process that governs our activity.
In the meantime, a new Radiocommunications Act is being drawn up for consideration by the Federal Parliament some time soon, we have been assured. We are hopeful the new Act will prepare the way for a more streamlined process in future.

References
(1) The ITU website is: https://www.itu.int/en/Pages/default.aspx
(2) Details of ratification of WRC-12 treaty can be found at: http://www.info.dfat.gov.au/Info/Treaties/treaties.nsf/AllDocIDs/E1F41CA8E6054F91CA257A78007FCFF1
(3) See Report 166, Parliamentary Paper 419/2016 at:
http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Treaties/Completed_inquiries
(4) The Radiocommunications Act 1992 can be found at: https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2016C01058
(5) The updated Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum plan can be found at: www.acma.gov.au/sitecore/content/Home/theACMA/proposed-update-to-the-australian-radiofrequency-spectrum-plan
(6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_democracy
(7) Information on the Australian WRC preparatory process can be found at: http://www.acma.gov.au/Industry/Spectrum/Spectrum-planning/International-planning-ITU-and-other-international-planning-bodies
(8) Operating within terms of the licence conditions determination ensures our compliance with the Radiocommunications Act. The Amateur licence conditions determination (LCD) can be found at: https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2016C00286
(9) From Legislative Instruments Handbook 2.1: http://www.opc.gov.au/about/docs/LI_Handbook.pdf?



Amateur Qualification Levels

The WIA and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) are aware of some discussion about the current US Technician amateur qualification, the equivalent Australian qualification and their application to amateur licensing in Australia. The WIA has requested the WIA Training Organisation to conduct an assessment of the US Technician qualification and the appropriate level of the comparable Australian qualification.
The assessment concluded that the US technical class licence is not at a standard or depth required at the Australian advanced amateur licence level and that it is at a level approximately equivalent to the Australian qualification required for a foundation licence.
Want to know more ? Link


UPDATE: 26 January 2016
The Australian Communications and Media Authority wants to renew its sun-setting legislative instrument that allows those radio amateurs qualified through an overseas administration, to obtain an equivalent licence in Australia. The ACMA has consulted on its Radiocommunications (Qualified Operators) Determination 2016, to replace its 2005 predecessor on April 1, 2016. The ACMA in a discussion paper considers that the system has operated effectively and efficiently, and is worth renewal. The ACMA says individuals may have existing qualifications obtained overseas, and these will continue to be addressed, but by eliminating any consistency that may have developed. The WIA in its submission supported renewal of the system. It stressed that the qualification held, and not licence conditions, must always be the basis of any determination of equivalency of qualifications.
Want to know more ? Link

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UPDATE: 9 October 2016

US Technician re-set at entry grade for reciprocal licensing.

Following an extensive review, including input from the Wireless Institute of Australia, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has found that the qualification needed for the US Technician Licence equates to that for the Foundation licence.

Before the ACMA review, US Technician licensees applying for reciprocal licences in Australia were given the Advanced licence under the reciprocal and visiting class licence procedures.

While the changed grading now applies to all new reciprocal licence applications, the ACMA has grandfathered existing reciprocal licences issued under pre-existing arrangements. The new grading only applies from September 2016, following the ACMA's decision.
Want to know more ? Link




WIA submission for allocation at 70 MHz

The WIA has lodged a submission with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) concerning interest in an amateur allocation in the 70 MHz band.

On 22 June 2016, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) opened consultation on proposed updates to frequency plans for the 70.0-87.5 MHz and 148-174 MHz VHF bands, with a closing date of 1 August 2016.

The WIA is pitching for use of an amateur allocation between 70 and 70.5 MHz that aligns with allocations across Region 1, which covers Europe, Russia, the Mediterranean, Middle East and Africa. These Region 1 allocations are widely known as the four metre band.
Want to know more? Link




Remake of the Amateur Service LCD

The Amateur Licence Conditions Determination (the LCD) specifies Australian amateur licence conditions such as the licence grades, frequency bands, modes and maximum permitted powers. Like all Federal legislation, the Amateur LCD is due to "sunset" (expire) in October next year, and needs to be "remade" in order for the amateur service to continue to operate in Australia. The WIA views this as a once-in-a-decade opportunity to address not only general amateur licensing issues but also a multitude of specific issues for all current licence grades, to reduce the regulatory burden for both licensees and the ACMA, and to accommodate future developments in communications technologies and applications. The WIA Board decided that all LCD related items raised by members should be put on the table for discussion at this time, and subsequently wrote to the ACMA in July this year. In early August the ACMA wrote back to the WIA advising that they will be forming a position on the various issues following their engineering and regulatory evaluation.
Want to know more ? Link


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UPDATE: 5 January 2015
Exactly how the re-make of the LCD will proceed is not known at this stage. Given the limited time available, the WIA anticipates that that the ACMA will renew the current LCD with minor amendments and no significant change, and then later have an extended review and public consultation process.
Want to know more? Link


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UPDATE: 3 May 2015
The WIA has submitted comments on the proposed remake of the Amateur licence conditions (LCD), focusing on issues involving the 600 m band, the 6 m band and the 9 cm band. The remade LCD is to replace the current one, which sunsets on 1 October 2015.
Want to know more? Link

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UPDATE 19 July 2015
The Amateur Licence Conditions Determination (LCD) was re-made at the end of June 2015 and published on the Australian Government ComLaw website in the second week of July. The previous LCD ("No.1 of 1997") ceased on 7 July 2015, as reported on the ComLaw website.
Want to know more? Link


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UPDATE: 27 December 2015
The WIA is responding to a request by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to update the initial submission on the amateur licence conditions put to it last year. As reported earlier, the ACMA took a stop-gap approach to the old 2012 Licence Conditions, with minor administrative amendments to re-make the LCD for 2015 before it expired on 1st October.
Kindly, the ACMA advised the WIA that that's what they were doing because there was no time for them to go through their statutory processes to re-make the Licence Conditions along the lines the WIA had suggested.
In addressing the re-make of the Amateur Licence Conditions, the WIA is seeking changes and development across the board for all licence grades.
Want to know more? Link

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UPDATE: 9 October 2016
This is under active discussion with the ACMA, based on the WIA submission of April 2016.



Review of the Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has opened consultation on its proposed update of the Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan. The ACMA announced it on its website on 22 September 2016; see Link http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/proposed-update-to-the-australian-radiofrequency-spectrum-plan

The Authority has issued a discussion paper and related documents, referring directly to possible changes, and invites submissions before 24 October 2016.

More details via this Link

The WIA is responding, including advocating the 'log of claims' for new and expanded bands, outlined in our April 2016 submission. Chiefly, this includes: early access to the new 60m band at 5351.5 - 5366.5 kHz, new allocations at 70 MHz and 900 MHz, restoration of primary status on 50-52 MHz, and more 'living room' on 160m and 80m.

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UPDATE 28 October 2016

On 24 October, the WIA submitted its response to the proposed Spectrum Plan update seeking access to new bands at 70 MHz and 920 MHz, in addition to the new global amateur band at 5.3 MHz �âïÿýïÿý 60 metres �âïÿýïÿý agreed at the World Radiocommunication Conference, WRC-15, last November. In addition, the WIA is seeking primary status for 50-52 MHz and extensions to the 160 metre band and the 80 metre DX Window.

The submission can be downloaded here: Link





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