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FCC to Consider Changes to Part 95 Rules

Changes would impact various short-range, low-power radio services — including CB radio service, GMRS and FRS

A discussion about updating the commission’s personal radio service rules will be part of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Meeting on Aug. 5.

The commission is considering granting three petitions of reconsideration to the Part 95 Personal Radio Services Rules, a set of guidelines last updated in May 2017 when the FCC reorganized and amended rules governing various short-range, low-power radio services — including the CB radio service, general mobile radio services (GMRS) and family radio service (FRS).

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The changes up for debate would allow FM to be used as an optional modulation scheme for all existing CB radio service channels and allow automatic or periodic location and data transmissions in the GMRS and FRS, which are channels often used during recreational activities and during emergencies and natural disasters.

The order would also correct typographical errors and rule changes to Part 95 that inadvertently changed the medical device radiocommunications service rules, also known as MedRadio.

The commission decided that the public interest would be served by making some additional rule changes as suggested by the three requests for reconsideration filed by Cobra Electronics, Motorola Solutions and Medtronic.

When the FCC last considered changes to Part 95 rules surrounding CB radio, the commission declined to permit use of FM frequency modulation, leaving AM amplitude modulation and SSB single side band as the only permitted voice emission types. At the time, the commission concluded that such a change might substantially change the character of the service, saying that the “alternative modulation techniques would be incompatible with the existing equipment base.”

Soon after, a petition for reconsideration was filed by Cobra requesting that the commission reconsider and permit FM operation as part of an optional dual-modulation scheme for CB radios, meaning that a CB radio could have both AM and FM capability. In its filing, Cobra stated that this “would allow users to enjoy the benefits of FM, if they so choose, while ensuring every new radio sold could communicate with all the existing radios in the field.” The company pointed out that a dual-modulation approach has been used successfully in other countries for many years and would benefit both professional and recreational CB users in terms of providing better quality and clarity.

The commission agreed and concluded that allowing manufacturers to add FM as an optional modulation scheme will not substantially change the fundamental nature of the CB radio service and would improve the user experience.

“Continuing to mandate AM capability while permitting dual modulation will provide benefits to CB radio users who will have an additional modulation option, while maintaining the basic character of the service,” the commission wrote in its order on reconsideration. “The addition of FM as a permitted mode will not result in additional interference because users who hear unintelligible audio on a particular channel can simply select another channel or switch modes.”

The commission said that parties planning to incorporate FM mode into CB radios will need to obtain a grant of certification under the commission’s equipment authorization rules.

The commission will also consider allowing automatic or periodic location and data transmission on all GMRS channels, even though in its previous report and order it concluded there was not enough formally recorded discussion in the FCC comment database to consider it. Based on the supplemental record received in this new proceeding, however, the commission concluded that the public interest will be furthered by allowing automatic or periodic location and data transmission on all GMRS channels. This is in contrast to the earlier changes, which only permitted manually initiated data transmissions.

The safety of radio users in remote, outdoor locations will be increased by having more frequent location information available without repeated manual requests, the commission said in its report. In addition, in an emergency situation involving individuals who are disoriented or otherwise unable to send manual transmissions, the automatic transmission of location information could enhance search and rescue operations.

The commission also agreed to fix typographical errors, clarify language within the Part 95 rules and correct unintended substantive changes made in earlier changes as part of this petition for reconsideration.