Credit: ARRL News
ARRL Seeks Exemption from Proposed US Forest Service Communication Facility Fees; Comment Period to be Re-Opened Through March 31
ARRL has filed comments with the US Forest Service (USFS) seeking an exemption for amateur radio facilities to a proposed new $1,400 annual administrative fee. The USFS proposal resulted from requirements in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (aka “the Farm Bill”), which directs the Forest Service to collect fees for issuing communications use authorizations based on the cost to the agency for processing the applications, maintenance, and other related activities. These fees would be in addition to annual rental and cost-recovery fees already being collected.
On February 24, the Forest Service filed a Notice with the Federal Register that the comment filing window will be re-opened on March 1 and additional comments will be accepted through March 31. Any radio amateurs missing the first comment period or wishing to add to their earlier comments are encouraged to do so during this additional period.
“Although the discussion put forward by the Forest Service in its proposal focuses on commercial uses, the proposal would sweep within its requirements amateur radio uses that are solely noncommercial,” ARRL said in comments filed on February 22. “Radio amateurs establish and maintain facilities at certain locations for public service purposes with no remuneration or reimbursement. Unlike broadcasters and commercial wireless and fiber providers, radio amateurs are uniquely barred by the terms of their federal licenses from receiving compensation of any sort.”
“Non-commercial and uncompensated communication uses by radio amateurs within Forest Service areas long have served the public interest in many ways, among them by providing the means for otherwise unobtainable emergency communication capabilities in times of need,” ARRL noted. “Amateurs perform this valuable public service without cost to taxpayers. The importance of these capabilities [has]been demonstrated repeatedly. The skills of amateur operators have served our country well with their carefully located equipment when enabling exchanges of possibly life-saving messages in difficult terrain during forest fires, extending communications assistance help during hurricanes, and providing communications capabilities during search-and-rescue missions in remote areas.”
ARRL stressed that equipment, maintenance, and other costs associated with amateur radio facilities on USFS lands “are borne solely by the volunteer radio amateurs themselves.”
ARRL continued, “Commercial applicants usually request more extensive use of the lands administered by the Forest Service, and these requests necessarily result in more complex issues having to be considered and resolved.”
“It is foreseeable that many radio amateurs providing these services would have to opt to withdraw and cease their work,” if not exempted from the proposed fees, ARRL said. “In many cases the most useful locations for needed coverage from their stations is uniquely on Forest Service lands. In short, the proposal to include volunteer uncompensated amateur service applicants with the commercial wireless service and broadcast applicants is grossly inequitable. There is a disparity in the amount of resources necessary to consider applications from radio amateurs as compared to that required by commercial applicants.”
“[O]ur best estimate is that there are fewer than 100 covered amateur locations, but those likely are unique and essential to covering forested areas in times of need, such as forest fires or lost hikers,” ARRL said. “These dissimilarities in complexity and scope should be recognized in this fees proposal and amateur radio applications exempted.”