A bill that was recently brought before the U.S. House of Representatives is seeking to limit the amount of control community associations have over amateur radio operators. However, a compromise was reached between a prominent lobbying group and a membership organization representing community associations that has amended the proposed bill granting both the operators and the associations concessions.
What is Amateur Radio?
Amateur radio, often called Ham radio, is a radio frequency spectrum that serves the purpose of non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communication. There are currently more than 730,000 operators of amateur radio in the United States that have been licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the purpose of amateur radio services. For other pieces of communications equipment, the FCC limits any land use restrictions that are imposed by either government or homeowners’ associations, but that is not the case for HAM radios.
On March 4, 2015, Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) introduced House Resolution (H.R.) 1301, the Amateur Radio Parity Act. Reported to the U.S. House of Representatives by voice vote on July 13, 2016 and referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the bill addresses the amount of restrictions that community associations can put on Ham radio operators.
The bill directs the FCC to amend its current regulations as it pertains to Ham operators forcing the commission to change its restrictions on the land use of Ham operators. The goal of H.R. 1301 is to prevent associations from making unnecessary restrictions that would prohibit amateur radio communications. The legislation will also direct the FCC to adopt regulations for the use of Ham radio equipment which will ensure that any community restrictions are minimal and are created for a legitimate purpose.
As H.R. 1301 steadily makes its way through Congress, the Ham Radio lobby, a lobbying group for amateur radio, came to a compromise with the Community Associations Institute (CAI), a membership organization that represents community associations. The agreement between the two sides, coming in late May 2016, gives each side of the argument a conclusion they feel is acceptable.
Under the compromise, community associations are not allowed to prohibit the installation of amateur radio exterior antennas outright but they do have the authority to enforce reasonable written rules concerning the installation, placement, and aesthetic impact of this equipment. Those looking to use the equipment will be allowed to do so as long as they give prior notification and receive approval for the installation of antennas from the community association, but they are prohibited from installing the antennas on common property. Additionally, the FCC’s will be required to create a new preemption policy that applies to state and local governments.
Where the Bill Sits in Congress
Overwhelming support for H.R. 1301 has come from the U.S. House of Representatives, gaining 126 co-sponsors. The argument used as to why the bill needs to pass, and the reason why it has gained such widespread support in Congress, is that the use of amateur radio is critical during local disasters.
What Does This Bill and Compromise Mean?
While community associations currently have the ability to fully restrict the usage of amateur radios within their communities, this bill heavily restricts the power of the community associations. The compromise gives to an extent on both sides of the disagreement based on what each party is passionately fighting to achieve. The community associations will no longer be able to flat out reject any usage of amateur radios but will be allowed to place certain restrictions on them, such as placement of the antenna.
Future of H.R. 1301
H.R. 1301 passed through the U.S. House of Representatives on September 12, 2016 without objection. The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate who will review it and decide whether it needs revisions or to pass it through. If it passes, the bill would go to the president who would sign it into law.
We will have more on this story as it develops.