Amateur Radio Service is defined by the FCC as “A radio communication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication, and technical investigations carried out by amateurs; that is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.”
Amateur radio stations are licensed by the FCC and may engage in domestic and international communications— both two-way and one-way. Applications for new licenses or for a change in operator class are filed through a volunteer examiner-coordinator (VEC). Operators can use their station equipment as soon as they see that information about their amateur operator/primary station license grant appears on the amateur service database. New operators do not need to have the license document in their possession to commence operation of an amateur radio station.
Since amateur stations must share the air waves, each station licensee and each control operator must cooperate in selecting transmitting channels and in making the most effective use of the amateur service frequencies. Aspecific transmitting channel is not assigned for the exclusive use of any amateur station.
With regard to two-way communications, amateur stations are authorized to exchange messages with other stations in the amateur service, except those in any country whose administration has given notice that it objects to such communications. 2 In addition, transmissions to a different country must be made in plain language. Communication is limited to messages of a technical nature relating to tests and to remarks of a personal nature for which, by reason of their unimportance, use of public telecommunications services is not justified.
Amateur radio stations also may engage in one-way communications. For example, they are authorized to transmit auxiliary, beacon, and distress signals. Specifically, an amateur station may transmit the following types of one-way communications:
- Brief transmissions necessary to make adjustments to the station.
- Brief transmissions necessary for establishing two-way communications with other stations.
- Transmissions necessary to provide emergency communications.
- Transmissions necessary for learning or improving proficiency in the use of international Morse code.
- Transmissions necessary to disseminate an information bulletin of interest to other amateur radio operators.
Although the FCC does not provide a list of communications that are suitable or unsuitable for the amateur radio service, there are several types of amateur-operator communications that are specifically prohibited, including:
- Transmissions performed for compensation.
- Transmissions done for the commercial benefit of the station control operators.
- Transmissions done for the commercial benefit of the station control operator’s employer.
- Transmissions intended to facilitate a criminal act.
- Transmissions that include codes or ciphers intended to obscure the meaning of the message.
- Transmissions that include obscene or indecent words or language.
- Transmissions that contain false or deceptive messages, signals, or identification.
- Transmissions on a regular basis that could reasonably be furnished alternatively through other radio services
Broadcasting information intended for the general public is also prohibited. Amateur stations may not engage in any form of broadcasting or in any activity related to program production or newsgathering for broadcasting purposes. The one exception is when communications directly related to the immediate safety of human life or the protection of property may be provided by amateur stations to broadcasters for dissemination to the public where no other means of communication is reasonably available before or at the time of the event.
Amateur stations are not afforded privacy protection. This means that the content of the communications by amateur stations may be intercepted by other parties and divulged, published, or used for another purpose.
In August 1999, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) began the transition to the Universal Licensing System (ULS) for all application and licensing activity in the Amateur Radio Services. As of February 2000, amateur licensees were required to file using ULS forms, which means that applications using Forms 610 and 610V are no longer accepted by the WTB.
The ULS is an interactive licensing database developed by the WTB to consolidate and replace 11 existing licensing systems used to process applications and grant licenses in wireless services. ULS provides numerous benefits, including fast and easy electronic filing, improved data accuracy through automated checking of applications, and enhanced electronic access to licensing information.