Know Your FCC Rulemaking Process
 
By Dan Romanchik, KB6NU
 
Around Christmastime, a furor arose over a petition to change the
rules regarding the use of digital modes. The petition number is
RM-11392. You can find it on the FCC website by going to
http://gullfoss2.fcc.gov/prod/ecfs/comsrch_v2.cgi and entering the
petition number in the Proceeding text box. The petition will be
the highest numbered document returned.
 
While the petition is interesting in and of itself, what's more
interesting is how some hams got all excited about this petition.
Many thought that rules changes were imminent, and they urged
everyone to rush right over to the FCC website and comment. While
it's a good thing for hams to be vigilant about proposed rule
changes, this petition was nowhere near being turned into a rule.
 
On the Web page, "FCC Rulemaking Process"
(http://www.fcc.gov/rules.html), the FCC describes the four steps
that occur before a petition is translated into rules changes:
1. Notice of Inquiry (NOI). During this phase, they gather comments
on the petition.
2. Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). If they determine that a
petition has merit, they move to this stage. These are the rules
changes that the FCC itself proposes to make, based on the petition
and the comments received.
3. Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM). Changes may be
made to the NPRM after receiving comments on the NPRM.
4. Report & Order (R&O). The R&O is the document containing the
rules changes or an explanation of why no rules changes are being
made at this time.
 
At the time when everyone was getting excited about this, there was
no NPRM in the list of documents relating to RM-11392. The petition
was filed on 3/27/07, released for comments on 8/28/07, and the first
comment wasnt entered until 11/20/07. Only two other comments were
entered until all the recent publicity. This particular petition is
still a long way from becoming a Part 97 rule, and if I had to guess,
I'd say that it will never even get to the NPRM stage.
 
Dont get me wrong. I am not saying that it isnt important to read
and comment on petitions. But before you get your knickers in a twist
over a particular petition or proposal, you need to know where it is
in the process. This process can be excruciatingly slow sometimes,
but slow is not always a bad thing. By not rushing petitions through
the rulemaking process, the FCC ensures that it gets comments from
all concerned and that all those who are interested in an issue can
take their time to draft a really cogent comment.
 
When he's not scanning the FCC website or eHam.net for the latest ham
radio controversy, KB6NU works CW and PSK on the HF bands and blogs
about ham radio at www.kb6nu.com. You can reach him by e-mail at
cwgeek@kb6nu.com.