“The bill is passed without objection.” With those words, Amateur Radio history was made on September 12, when the US House of Representatives approved the Amateur Radio Parity Act, H.R. 1301 on a voice vote under a suspension of the rules. The focus of the campaign to enact the legislation into law now shifts to the US Senate. The House victory culminated many years of effort on ARRL’s part to gain legislation that would enable radio amateurs living in deed-restricted communities to erect antennas that support Amateur Radio communication. The measure calls on the FCC to amend its Part 97 rules “to prohibit the application to amateur stations of certain private land-use restrictions, and for other purposes.” While similar bills in past years gained some traction on Capitol Hill, it was not until the overwhelming grassroots support from the Amateur Radio community for H.R. 1301 shepherded by ARRL that a bill made it this far. The legislation faces significant obstacles to passage in the US Senate, however.
“This is huge step in our effort to enact legislation that will allow radio amateurs who live in deed-restricted communities the ability to construct an effective outdoor antenna,” ARRL President Rick Roderick, K5UR, said. “Thanks to everyone for their help in this effort thus far. Now we must turn our full attention to getting the bill passed in the Senate.”
ARRL Hudson Division Director Mike Lisenco, N2YBB, who chairs the ARRL Board’s Legislative Advocacy Committee, has been heavily involved in efforts to move H.R. 1301 forward. “This has been a multiyear effort that is finally seeing some light,” he said. “The passage of the bill in the House is a major accomplishment, due to the hard work of so many — from the rank-and-file member to the officers and directors.”
Lisenco said it’s not a time to rest on our laurels. “We are only halfway there. The focus now shifts to our effort in the Senate,” he said. “We are beginning a massive e-mail campaign in which we need every member to write their two Senators using our simplified process. You will be hearing from President Roderick and from your Directors, asking you to go to our ‘Rally Congress’ page. Using your ZIP code, e-mails will be generated much like our recent letter campaign. You’ll fill in your name and address and press Enter. The e-mails will be sent directly to your Senators without you having to search through their websites.”
Lisenco said getting these e-mails to members’ Senators is a critical part of the process. “Those numbers matter! Please help us help you by participating in this effort,” he said.
As the amended bill provides, “Community associations should fairly administer private land-use regulations in the interest of their communities, while nevertheless permitting the installation and maintenance of effective outdoor Amateur Radio antennas. There exist antenna designs and installations that can be consistent with the aesthetics and physical characteristics of land and structures in community associations while accommodating communications in the Amateur Radio services.”
During this week’s limited debate, the House bill’s sponsor, Rep Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), thanked ARRL and the Community Associations Institute (CAI) for reaching an agreement to move the bill forward “in a bipartisan and very positive manner.” He pointed out to his colleagues that Amateur Radio antennas are prohibited outright in some areas.
“For some this is merely a nuisance,” Kinzinger said, “but for others — those that use their Amateur Radio license for life-saving emergency communications — a dangerous situation can be created by limiting their ability to establish effective communication for those in need.”
Kinzinger said that in emergencies, hams can provide “a vital and life-saving function” when conventional communication systems are down. He also praised the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS), a US Department of Defense-sponsored program, comprised largely of Amateur Radio volunteers, that also supports communication during emergencies and disasters.
Cosponsor US Rep Joe Courtney (D-CT) also urged the bill’s passage. “This is not just a feel-good bill,” Courtney said, recounting how Hurricane Sandy brought down the power grid, and “we saw all the advanced communications we take for granted…completely fall by the wayside.” Ham radio volunteers provided real-time communication in the storm’s wake, he said, saying the legislation was a way “to rebalance things” for radio amateurs who choose to live in deed-restricted neighborhoods by enabling them to install “non-intrusive antennas.”
Courtney noted that he spoke recently with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, and said that Wheeler “strongly supports this legislation.”
Leading up to the vote, Rep Paul Tonko (D-NY) also spoke in support of the legislation, calling it a commonsense approach that would build “fairness into the equation for Amateur Radio operators” in dealing with homeowners associations.
The earlier U.S. Senate version of the Amateur Radio Parity Act, S. 1685, no longer is in play, and the Senate is expected to vote by unanimous consent on the version of H.R. 1301 that was adopted by the House on September 12.