JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS
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 wasn't 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.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that it isn't 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.
Dan Romanchik, KB6NU
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)