FCC Special Counsel Laura Smith Says Amateur Enforcement Will Be Aggressive

11/30/2016

FCC Special Counsel Laura Smith told a standing-room-only audience at the ARRL Pacific Division Convention (Pacificon) in October that, despite FCC cutbacks, Amateur Radio enforcement will not be compromised. Smith spoke for nearly an hour and a half on a variety of FCC issues related to Amateur Radio, and the entire presentation is available on YouTube, thanks to Bob Miller, WB6KWT, and his son Robert, KA7JKP, who recorded the forum. Smith said that with the FCC set to shut down 11 field offices across the country in January, the Enforcement Bureau has reorganized into three US regions, and she does not anticipate any significant issues for the Amateur Service as a result.

“The amateur community will go forward,” she said, noting that amateurs have “an incredible ability to self-police.” In light of the field office closings, she has been working with ARRL to revamp the Official Observer (OO) program.

“We are going to redo the entire program,” she told the Pacificon forum. Given that the field office cutbacks have left the FCC short staffed, the OO program will step into the gap, with OOs serving as the first line of defense in Amateur Radio enforcement, she explained. Working more closely with the OOs, Smith said, will get information on problems to the field staff more quickly, so they can follow up.

Smith praised the OOs for contributing their time and effort to monitor the bands and to alert licensees both to problematic and positive behavior on the air.

She also said the FCC is more aggressively policing the Amateur Radio bands, and she cited the case of an unlicensed individual in New York, who was arrested and assessed a fine for interfering with Amateur Radio repeaters as well as with public service communication systems.

“We’re aggressively going after people who are cutting into your frequencies,” Smith assured her audience. So far this year, she said, the FCC has proposed some $60,000 in fines to Amateur Radio licensees, for various alleged infractions. She said her office continues to receive complaints about intentional interference, and, she allowed, “Sometimes…okay, maybe all the time…we don’t get to [these] as quickly as you might like.”

Smith said there are “band neighborhoods” on the bands, and, typically, offenders tend to stick together, and “you can avoid that neighborhood,” she said. “If you know a frequency is a ‘problem frequency,’ don’t go there.” Those who do engage troublemakers on the air, however, become part of the problem. “Spin the dial,” she advised. “Walk away. Don’t allow that ugliness to seep in. Avoid it at all costs.”

“It bothers me that we have amateurs out there who are misbehaving,” she said, “when the bulk of you are incredible people.”

Smith returned as FCC special counsel to Amateur Radio enforcement in June after being detailed to another enforcement assignment for 2 years. Her position is now in the Spectrum Enforcement Division, which, she pointed out, gives her access to field engineers as well as to attorneys, engineers, and analysts in the Division.

She noted that it is now possible to file Amateur Radio-related complaints online and said doing so expedites handling.

HamRadioNow’s Gary Pearce, KN4AQ, used Smith’s talk as the centerpiece of his episode 281.