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Codec2 Project Asks FCC To Modernize Regulations 89

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the .../.-./-/.-/-../-.-./.-/.../-..-./.-./././.-../-. dept.
Bruce Perens writes "The Codec2 project has developed FreeDV, a program to encode digital voice on two-way radio in only 1.125 KHz of bandwidth. But FCC regulations aren't up-to-speed with the challenges of software-defined radio and Open Source. A 24 page FCC filing created by Bruce Perens proposes that FCC allow all digital modulations and published digital codes on ham radio and switch to bandwidth-based regulation."
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Codec2 Project Asks FCC To Modernize Regulations

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  • About Codec2 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thatkid_2002 (1529917) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @09:10AM (#42590351)
    For those interested in knowing what Codec2 is, there's a video from Linux Conference Australia 2012 which gives a pretty good (and gentle) overview.
    http://mirror.linux.org.au/linux.conf.au/2012/Codec_2_Open_Source_Speech_Coding_at_2400_bits_and_Below.ogv [linux.org.au]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @09:15AM (#42590377)

    The regulations to move from 25 khz to 12.5 khz just took effect this year which forced many cash strapped agencies and municipalities to buy new radio systems. I don't think there will be much support for further narrowing bandwidth any time soon.

    • by Dan Dankleton (1898312) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @09:27AM (#42590437)
      This will affect the amateur HF bands, not the agency bands. At the moment, US rules have separate sub-bands for voice, data and image transmissions. This does not really fit with how modern digital schemes transmit - there could be a lot of metadata carried with digital voice signals, for example. What this proposal does is do away with the rules which say where you can transmit voice and replace it with rules which say you can transmit any signal which takes less than X khz bandwidth in this segment.
      • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @09:54AM (#42590569)

        At the moment, US rules have separate sub-bands for voice, data and image transmissions.

        Note that the FCC currently regulates by information content, not modulation. I guess a /. analogy is its like classifying networking tech first by layer 2/3 at the bottom as the "fundamental layer", then layer 1, then the upper layers, sorta. Which is obviously wrong. So if I send you a string of ones and zeros in PSK-31 modulation or whatever, that represents speech, we have to go in one subband on HF. Then if I send you ones and zeros representing text data, like this post, we have to QSY to yet another subband. Then if I send you ones and zeros representing a goatse jpeg picture (which would run afoul of the fcc reg against obscenity, but I digress), we have to QSY to yet another frequency... even if its all the same modulation technology, the same "stuff on the airwaves" for the ones and zeros. Maybe another way to put it, is our "MIME-type" is our frequency subband, not something a little more modern or realistic.

        Legally/technically if I went on CW (aka morse code) and told you verbally how to draw an amplifier schematic that could be seen as illegal as its obviously image traffic, no worse than if I sent you postscript code or the ones and zeros of a .png file.

        There are two killer problems which may or may not be discussed here.

        First the proposal claims to promote "paperwork reduction" while installing a whole new crazy array of complicated regs ON TOP OF the existing overall rules for reasonable and prudent and good engineering practice and emergency traffic priority or WTF the exact phrases. In my opinion as a third generation ham with over three decades of experience, what works with the smart people on the VHF/UHF/microwave bands should work with the glorified CBers on the HF bands, which in summary is do whatever the heck you want as long as its good engineering practice and stays within ham band edges (note this is a simplification, but basically correct). Yes I know this is the peak of this solar cycle but when 10M is closed and dead I see no reason my buddy and I shoudn't be able to use 200 KHz of wideband FM on 10M across the city if we please, because it certainly can't hurt anyone. Or do something weird on 160M during the day time in summer, why not? So the most rational bandplan is not this proposal, but is: Do whatever the F you want between 3.5 MHz and 4 MHz as long as it stays in band edges and follows all the other numerous "content and performance based" regulations (like no intentional interference, good engineering standards, content rules wrt obscenity (which is certainly ignored on 80 and to some extent on 20 aka the high tech redneck CB bands, so why can't we accept that we'll ignore bandwidth limits too?), emergency traffic gets priority, blah blah blah)

        The other thing carefully not discussed, regardless if true or not, the widely held belief was Bonnie's plan from a decade ago, mentioned in this very proposal, was just the thin edge of the wedge to fill 20M from band edge to band edge with psuedo-commercial winlink traffic. There's two problems with this. The first is it doesn't seem to modify the unattended operation rules but then again its the thin edge, the next proposal will be expanding the unattended operation subbands to 3.5 to 4 MHz for example, etc. The second is, see #1 above, why should anyone care if the vast majority of hams wanted to use winlink, if so, then let them... its not the "SSB-preservation amateur radio service" or the "AM amateur radio service" or for that matter the "CW amateur radio service".

        Well, this mostly accurate history lesson outta stir the pot some.

        • by Nethead (1563)

          "... its not the "SSB-preservation amateur radio service" or the "AM amateur radio service" or for that matter the "CW amateur radio service".

          And as a D-Star repeater owner I'd like to also say that 2m/73cm is not the FM-preservation ARS. Listening to people bitch sometimes you'd think that the end of experimentation was when they down tuned the HT220 and stuck new xtals in it. No PL board, of course.

          • by Rob Riggs (6418)

            If the D-star repeater is on an amateur band, it is part of the problem. There's no experimentation with D-star. There's just paying for a hunk of proprietary equipment. But, hey, we need yet another repeater on 2m and 70cm. The ones already there are just so overloaded with traffic!

            No, what we need is more free space on these bands for experimentation with digital and analog modes, including some wide-band modes. But for that you need to get rid of some of the bandwidth dedicated to unused repeaters.

            • by Nethead (1563)

              In our area the desire for narrow band repeater slots got our coordinators [wwara.org] to clear out some paper repeaters and make 12.5kHz pairs. It's a start. We're also seeing more and more traffic on the D-Star repeaters. Sure it's just barely updated packet radio, but at least people are out there playing with it and getting on the radio. DRats is kinda fun too.

              73 de w7com

        • irst the proposal claims to promote "paperwork reduction" while installing a whole new crazy array of complicated regs ON TOP OF the existing overall rules for reasonable and prudent and good engineering practice and emergency traffic priority or WTF the exact phrases.

          You may have been confused by the stuff in the right-hand side of the big table. That's all existing FCC rules. I just moved them to where they'd be seen, instead of having them live in a list of footnotes as in the current Part 97.

          If we are

      • by Rob Riggs (6418)

        This will affect the amateur HF bands, not the agency bands.

        The proposal affects all amateur bands from my reading, not just HF. I really like this proposal. Someone needs to kick the ARRL in the pants.

        • The whole proposal covers all the amateur bands - but I think (the FCC are not my radio authority) that the mode issue is something which only affects the HF bands.

          I agree that it's a great thing though - I was amazed just the other day when I suggested sending data during silent portions of a voice conversation and was told that this would be against US rules.
          • by tlhIngan (30335)

            The whole proposal covers all the amateur bands - but I think (the FCC are not my radio authority) that the mode issue is something which only affects the HF bands.

            I agree that it's a great thing though - I was amazed just the other day when I suggested sending data during silent portions of a voice conversation and was told that this would be against US rules.

            For HF bands, mode is a significant issue, and no, the FCC can't actually do a damned thing about it because it's all dictated by the ITU.

            Remember, t

          • The 97.309(a) change I suggest effects all international communication. Not just HF but satellite. I hope they go for my standard of "publicly documented in sufficient detail that a knowledgeable programmer can implement a program to encode and decode".
    • His proposal is for *amateur* radio. Commercial radio would not be affected.

      In the amateur radio space, the aim of the only-use-approved-standards legislation is to allow the FCC to monitor amateur communications. If this passes, it would make it far more difficult for the FCC to enforce their regulations, and make it much easier for non-amateurs to illegally use these bands. Hopefully someone will petition the FCC to stop this by playing the "terrorists will use this" card.

      Digital communications experiment

  • Be careful... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @09:24AM (#42590423) Journal

    "Dear economically invisible 'ham radio' users;

      After an exhaustive modernization study underwritten in part by our good friends at Verizon, we have concluded that the future of digital voice should really cost ~$100/month and rely entirely on proprietary hardware and firmware. To this end, we will be lowballing every last scrap of spectrum we can to the nation's incumbent telcos as soon as possible.

    XOXOXO,

    The FCC"

    I applaud modernization efforts, there is no reason why 'ham radio' should be forced to stick to ancient technology for reasons of sheer regulatory inertia when it could be fertile ground for experimentation; but I worry that (given the, um, limited war chests of ham nerds vs. other spectrum users) that perfectly sensible re-examinations of legacy rules might well end up becoming an exercise in malignant entities with better lobbyists using the rexamination of legacy rules to appropriate spectrum that was protected at the cost of a certain amount of anachronism...

    • by vlm (69642)

      appropriate spectrum

      I suspect they'd really like 440/902/1296/2304/3456 but this proposal is for HF. Nobody wants to carry an antenna for 160M attached to their shiny new iphone. Or even 10M.

      • Exactly. The HF bands are almost commercially useless today. If you need reliable commercial communication in the most remote parts of central Africa or the western Amazon, you'd use a satellite phone. You might carry a ham radio with you for social communication, but you'd have to be insane & suicidal to head off into the African jungle or Amazon with nothing but a 20m radio. Even IF the US decided to unilaterally hijack the HF bands and sell them off to commercial users, interference from everyone els

    • by k6mfw (1182893)

      ... there is no reason why 'ham radio' should be forced to stick to ancient technology for reasons of sheer regulatory inertia when it could be fertile ground for experimentation...

      There are some hams that are experimenting with other modes besides AM, FM, SSB though amateur radio is an aging community (fewer young people than decades ago). But gotta be careful when promoting new modes such as digital. D-star is a digital mode that claims to be open source but it really is not (only Icom has D-star radios). Just like APCO-25 which they say is also open source. Both are except the vocoder, that's what you got to pay someone to use.

      • by ebunga (95613)

        Did you seriously say "fewer young people"? I'm seeing the exact opposite on every band except 40m. Even the VE sessions tend to be staffed with mostly under-30-year-olds these days. It's a very different hobby than when I was first licensed, mostly for the better.

        • by ai4px (1244212)
          I tried to get my 11 year old daughter to get her ticket before she got interested in boys (you know, that age).... alas she did not pass and happily texts on her cell phone all day long. I'll work on my boy as he comes of age, but so far no interest. It's really difficult to impress kids today with the idea that you can talk to someone around the world or send a packet radio message in this day of universal internet access. To them, ham radio is the hard way to do things.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            Ham radio always was the hard way to do things. It was always easier to send a telegram or a letter than a radiogram.

            Amateur radio's value isn't in convenience.

          • by Nate B. (2907)

            Please, don't "work" on your son. The last thing he needs is to think that he's obligated to participate in dad's hobby. If/when he shows an interest then guide but don't press him. Pressing can only leave a bad impression of amateur radio on him if he clearly is not interested. Enjoy your participation in the hobby and perhaps he'll find it interesting in its own right. If so, great, if not, don't let your ego get bruised.

            Also, amateur radio appeals to those interested in radio for radio's sake and ex

      • by Achra (846023)

        ... though amateur radio is an aging community (fewer young people than decades ago).

        I'm not sure that this is true any longer. With the advent of removing all morse code requirements from all amateur radio licenses, it really opened the doors to the casually interested technical engineer. I am a third generation ham and from what I have observed, amateur radio basically "skipped a generation" in general. There was a time when electronics MEANT radio. Period. If you were talking about electronics, you were talking about radio. However, that changed in my father's generation to electronics

      • We are getting a lot of new hams since we got rid of the Morse Code requirement (which I evangelized for years). There are more hams today in the US than there ever have been!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The FCC has a keen understanding of the fact that amateur radio operators provide services that economically-motivated corporations cannot. When a hurricane, earthquake, or tornado takes out every cellular network within 100 miles of a populated area full of casualties requiring urgent delivery of specific life-sustaining resources, the monthly economics of routine day-to-day life are irrelevant. Implying that the FCC would dismiss amateur radio as irrelevant reveals a lack of understanding of the active

    • by ai4px (1244212)
      Bravo... Many modulation modes can't be attempted because of FCC regulations. Heck, even AFSK1200 modems have a CW ID built into their firmware! The commercial interests have bypassed ham radio's wunderland of yesteryear. I hate to say it, but innovation is not where ham radio is now. Didn't I see on QRZ a year ago the FCC was considering allowing spread spectrum for the ham bands? wow. What trailblazers we are.
      • by ai4px (1244212)
        Also, I'll go on a little rant here... Many of the clubs look at their repeater as a "service" and not a base for experimentation or advancing the radio hobby. Case in point... for years I tried to get the club in my area to allow me to put equipment on the repeater that would mute Mic-Encoder packets from the output of the repeater to no avail. They looked at the repeater as a service that could not be interrupted for an instant or tinkered with. So after years of trying in two cities, I gave up. It ai
    • Re:Be careful... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Muad'Dave (255648) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @12:10PM (#42592033) Homepage

      ...it could be fertile ground for experimentation...

      It is a fertile ground for experimentation! You need look no farther than the recent influx of extremely spectrum-efficient modes developed by K1JT [princeton.edu]. He's developed modes tailored for most any propagation mode/band including meteor scatter, moonbounce, etc.

      The newest of the lot, the JT9 modes, are capable of decoding signals as far as 42dB into the noise! [princeton.edu]. The fastest JT9 mode takes 1 minute per transmission but can decode at a S/N of -27dB - that's noise with 500x the power of the signal.

      Take a look at the WSPR page [wsprnet.org] - on it you can access a database of WSPR transmissions [wsprnet.org], some of them at amazingly high km/Watt ratios.

    • A great many hams are lawyers. This has some interesting uses for our project, since codecs are one of the more litigious areas of technology. A pile-on defense is actually helpful, since the other side is generally trying to make you broke while you defend yourself. We can turn that around in the Free Software tradition.

      And of course it helps with spectrum defense. But there is also an ARRL Spectrum Defense fund to which you are encouraged to donate.

  • by Muad'Dave (255648) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @09:47AM (#42590535) Homepage

    The end goal of moving toward more spectrally-efficient digital modes for all forms of communication is laudable, but I think that there still needs to be some 'semi-official' protection for the traditional SSB phone modes while they're still in widespread use. Most robust digital modulation schemes are fairly immune to interference from adjacent SSB voice transmissions; unfortunately the converse is not true - my Mark I ears are not immune to nearby digital interference. As long as we still have band plans that encourage the separation of all digital modes from the analog modes, I fully support your proposal.

    A question, though: How does spread-spectrum fit into your bandwidth-based plan? Do you consider the bandwidth to be what's used by each individual chip or the SS signal over all its carriers?

    How do you feel about introducing a CDMA-esque automatic listen-before-transmit rule for computer-based digital modes, particularly with the growth of unattended stations?

    PS - There's a typo in item 79 in the 20m, 6kHz section of the proposed bandwidth table - you have the lower limit as 1.150 MHz instead of 14.150 MHz.

    73 de K4DET

    • by vlm (69642)

      As long as we still have band plans that encourage the separation of all digital modes from the analog modes, I fully support your proposal.

      Its important to note that there are a zillion levels of regulation, and the current obsolete rules are the wrong level for the regulation, not just the wrong rules at that level as Bruce's plan claims.

      For example, how many contests have you heard lately on the WARC bands? Thats a gentleman's agreement thats held for decades now.

      I don't see anything wrong with a gentlemans agreement to never operate USB with a digital station higher in freq than you and never operate digital with a USB station lower in fre

      • by Muad'Dave (255648)

        vlm,

        I agree completely. The current 'gentleman's agreements' (aka voluntary band plans) do work and can continue to do so as long as they're also amended to reflect the new bandwidth-based FCC rules and are still recognized by the FCC in instances of interference. A quote from Riley Hollingsworth [ussc.com]: "Band plans are voluntary in nature," Hollingsworth acknowledged in each of the similarly worded letters. He said the FCC depends upon voluntary compliance because it minimizes the necessity for the Commission to

    • Oops. Thanks for the typo.

      We have had other spread-spectrum rule-makings lately. If you want to experiment with it on HF you should apply for a Special Testing Authority. The problem is, as you obviously already know, getting the existing HF operators to live with it. I didn't specifically address SS, but the bands with wide bandwidth or "Not Specified" can obviously handle it. I thought the document was ambitious enough without talking about spread spectrum.

      CSMA doesn't work that well on HF. Sometimes you

      • by Muad'Dave (255648)

        Thanks for the reply, Bruce.

        You said, "CSMA doesn't work that well on HF. Sometimes you should be able to share a frequency with distant operators even though they fade in and out, etc. However, it makes sense if you are doing automatic link establishment."

        The reason I mentioned a listen-before-transmit was to try and mitigate the unintentional-yet-preventable interference that would undoubtedly occur if SSB and data modes where thrown together cheek by jowl. All it would take would be a DXpedition working

        • We can definitely see SSB on our waterfall. And it interferes with us somewhat. This isn't like the ultra-narrow slow digital modes like WSPR or PSK31 where you might not have to care about another station on the frequency. So, I think our operators would generally avoid it.

          • by Muad'Dave (255648)

            If it's strong enough you can see SSB. Given the bandwidth, the power is spread pretty thin (it's hard for me to imagine I said that - SSB is wide? Being narrowband was a selling point over AM and FM. How far we've come!).

            For the record, I'm also a digital kind of guy, and have made a fair number of JT9-1 contacts recently as well as being an FSK441 lurker.

            I think we're in fierce agreement. One of these days I hope to work you on the air. 73, Bruce!

  • by ebunga (95613) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @11:13AM (#42591175) Homepage

    Bruce is merely lending his support with a comment. Also, the FCC wants to go that way because it makes the rules simpler. Also, we're already mostly there. Then again, who has actually read all of Part 97?

    • I am indeed asking for a ton of stuff that ARRL did not. I support what ARRL asks for, but the don't ask for enough to explicitly authorize FreeDV.
  • What's it for? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cdrguru (88047) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @11:54AM (#42591799) Homepage

    The question today that needs to be answered is what is Amateur radio for, and what is it for 10 years from now?

    This isn't silly because a large portion of the "social" aspect of HAM radio has moved to the Internet. I don't see much of a movement to keep it alive, either. There is a very small community out there and it is shrinking.

    It is true that historically the FCC HAM regulations were designed to keep operators from stepping on each other and from stepping on commercial and government users of the spectrum. What I suspect is most feared by today's HAM operators is the CB-ification of Amateur radio - elimination of licensing in favor of commercially regulated gear. While a lot of today's users would be OK with that, it would change the entire definition and purpose - which brings us back to the original question.

    I don't see the FCC signing on to the Open Source Radio Support Act as proposed. Continuing to regulate by content type is silly and it may be silly to try to regulate by modulation type. It is a nice idea to say that transmissions have to universally decodable, but without a lot of standards and regulation to back them up this isn't going to be all that achievable - specifically reception of a bitstream without any definition is going to be pretty much inpenetratable. Just as today if I give you a binary file without any self-defining header and without identification like a file extension it could be pretty much anything and while it could be coded in a publically defined way without knowing which of thousands it could be renders it unreadable. This is similar to saying that an unknown compression scheme is the same as encryption.

    I think today's HAM operators need to have a more compelling case why they are going to continue to exist. The home-brew gear of yesteryear is nearly gone and the "experimentation" envisioned with digitial communications might be nice to authorize but unlikely to ever produce anything of value. I would certainly like to see an openness dedicated to satellite communications, but again who is it for and what would it be used for?

    • by GrendelT (252901)

      Just "ham" will do, it's no acronym. No need to capitalize anything in this hobby.

      FWIW, I'm a ham experimenter, I homebrew things quite often. Ham radio is, and has always been, about experimentation and learning/discovery- everything else is ancillary. True, the numbers have dropped significantly since the advent of the internet and web but I'd argue that many of those were the "appliance operators" who played with ham radio simply because there was no good, technical alternative.

      Today, ham radio operators

      • by Alioth (221270)

        Why should surface mount be such a barrier? Lots of non-radio electronics enthusiasts are comfortable with SMD out of necessity, because many interesting devices (for example FPGAs) are only available in fine pitch SMD. I frequently solder fine pitch SMD stuff by hand, once you know how it's done (and there are HUNDREDS of tutorials on YouTube) it's not actually any more difficult than through hole. I've also home made my own PCBs which take 0.4mm pin pitch devices - now that's a bit more time consuming (yo

      • by chihowa (366380)

        Part of the reason of the decline in the DIY movement in ham radio is the obsolescence of through-hole parts for RF circuitry.

        I don't really see where all of the hate for SMT comes from. Through-hole is great for your first little flashing LED kits and certain high power gear, but SMT isn't really much harder work with. Once you're comfortable with it, you are able to design much more complex circuits and lay them out much more easily. You also have access to an enormous stock of ICs for every purpose, simplifying circuit design even more.

        I think that SMT is a godsend to radio amateurs. Most of my experimentation is in smallish po

    • I'd say this is a troll, but I suspect you're serious. So I'll address your points individually:

      The question today that needs to be answered is what is Amateur radio for, and what is it for 10 years from now?

      Amateur radio isn't "for" anything. It's for experimentation, recreation, practice, etc. Those never go away.

      This isn't silly because a large portion of the "social" aspect of HAM radio has moved to the Internet.

      A lot of people looking to avoid paying phone bills to chat overseas have moved to the internet. The hobby is arguably better off without people who wanted to achieve some specific task, as opposed to experiment with radio more generally.

      I don't see much of a movement to keep it alive, either. There is a very small community out there and it is shrinking.

      Wrong. With the elimination of the code requirements, there's been a

    • by Hatta (162192)

      I would certainly like to see an openness dedicated to satellite communications, but again who is it for and what would it be used for?

      Openness is for everyone.

    • anything of value

      Your entire post is inflammatory. If you knew anything about radio you would know that there has been some amazing things coming out of amateur radio these past few years. Fundongle, softrock sdr kits, sdr in general and lots of homebrew on that. You clearly don't have a single clue what you're talking about.

  • "from the SRTADCAS/REELN dept"? WTF is that?

    C'mon Slashdot, if you're going to use Morse code in the dept line, at least look it up and make something witty. My how things have changed here.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Came here for this, not disappointed.

      Someone will curiously think parent is offtopic, but I really want to know what SRTADCAS/REELN is supposed to mean.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Right? I even tried to consider numerical shorthand, but at best that is 5.018 CAS/REEL 9, which is also nonsensical.

  • by ubergeek65536 (862868) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @12:09PM (#42592011)

    In Canada any codec can be used in ham radio as long as the signal fits in the allocated bandwidth for the frequency and no encryption is used. The restriction is that you must publish the method before going on the air.

  • Well, not sure if applicable but I just gotta post this (some years ago I copied this editorial from magazine, I typed up the content). So here you go with a blast from the past (and yet we hear this same argument since then).

    Pending Radio Legislation
    from the magazine Radio Age, July 1924

    CONGRESS has adjourned without acting either way on pending radio legislation, according to the news dispatches from Washington.

    Unless a special session is called, which does not seem likely at this time, radio will

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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