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A Summary of the FCC's Proposed Changes to GMRS and Other Services

On June 7, 2010 the FCC released an extensive document proposing a large number of changes to its set of rules governing Personal Radio Services or "Part 95". The Part 95 rules establish and regulate many different services including FRS, GMRS, Citizens Band (CB), MURS, Radio Control (RC), and even personal locator beacons and medical related services. If this FCC proposal is adopted, it will result in essentially a complete rewrite of the Part 95 rules. This will include some fairly large changes to the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) which is used by most of the consumer grade radios that we sell.

Before we get into specific changes, it is important to note that this document is only a proposal. At this stage, the FCC has released the proposal and is requesting feedback or comments from individuals who would be impacted by these changes. The proposal may very well change based upon the comments received. Also, if you disagree with any of the proposed changes you still have time to do something about it. We encourage everyone to submit your comments to the FCC.

As I mentioned above, the proposal would result in a rewrite of the Part 95 rules. The FCC thought this would be appropriate since the current set of rules was created over 30 years ago and was in need of some serious condensing. In the years since Part 95 was initially created several new services - including GMRS - have been added and the rules contain a lot of redundant information. By removing repetitive information, the new set or proposed rules is easier to understand and implement. This should result in reducing the confusion that currently exist in regards to allowed and disallowed services.

Even though the FCC has simplified the rules, most are not going to delve very far into this 44 page section of the Code of Federal Regulations. That's why we are here. Below I am going to detail the changes that this document proposes to the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) and some changes to a couple of other services.

Proposed GMRS Changes

Elimination of the GMRS license requirement. This is certainly the biggest news from the proposal! The GMRS license requirement would be eliminated and current GMRS licenses would become void. Currently users of GMRS radios are required by the FCC to become licensed before using radios. A license is good for 5 years and costs $85. In reality very few users of GMRS radios even realize that there is a license requirement, and far fewer actually complete the licensing process. In the proposal, the FCC acknowledges being aware of "reports" that confirm this all too common breach of the law.

They also point out that a license makes little sense when it allows a user to communicate on any frequency in any location.

Portable GMRS radios limited to 2 watts power. It seems that the FCC never specifically set a power limit for portable GMRS radios, meaning that they are currently technically subject only to the 50 watts ERP category limit. This has resulted in available GMRS portable radios that transmit at up to 5 watts. Creating a limit of 2 watts should not create any major issues because the vast majority of existing consumer grade radios are within this limit. This also brings the United States in line with Canada, which has a system similar to GMRS that uses the same frequencies with a 2 watt limit.

Changes to GMRS repeaters. There seems to be signs of panic within the GMRS enthusiasts community concerning this FCC proposal and repeaters. The concern seems to have arisen from a request from the FCC for comments regarding whether repeaters and base station operations are still needed in GMRS. Even though the FCC is asking for feedback on the necessity of GMRS repeaters, it appears that they do not have any intention of prohibiting them, at least for now. In the proposed Part 95 text (Appendix B of the proposal document) repeaters are still allowed and there has been no change to the power limits (50 watts ERP).

Businesses allowed to use GMRS. As the proposed Part 95 rules are now written, businesses would be allowed to use the GMRS. The document points out that businesses have been successfully using FRS, a lower power service that shares 7 channels with GMRS. Currently, businesses are prohibited from receiving a GMRS license, but licensed individuals can use radios for business use.

GPS coordinates and text messages. The proposal would allow radios to encode user generated text messages and GPS coordinates and transmit this information over GMRS frequencies. This is already allowed on FRS frequencies, 7 of which are shared with GMRS.

Voice scrambling explicitly prohibited. A few years ago, at least two consumer grade GMRS radio manufacturers released products equipped with a voice scrambling feature that was marketed as a way to counter others eavesdropping on conversations. Even though the radios with this feature were approved by the FCC, at least one of these manufacturers were fined after the radios came to market.

The existing Part 95 rules contains some poorly worded language requiring that messages be "in plain language without codes or hidden meanings" and there was confusion as exactly what this referred to. The FCC is proposing to clarify this rule and explicitly prohibit voice scrambling functionality. While consumers loved this feature, the FCC believes that "these voice-obscuring techniques could thwart the channel sharing protocols in these services and the ability to communicate during an emergency."

Elimination of combination service radios. The FCC is concerned that some manufacturers are now producing radios that will allow a user to transmit on both GMRS and VHF marine frequencies. Certain marine frequencies are monitored by the Coast Guard and are important for safety, and if the ability to transmit on these frequencies were to be added as a common feature in consumer GMRS radios it could lead to problems such as hoax mayday calls. The FCC is proposing to prohibit certifying a radio for both Part 95 and any of several other Parts including 80, 87, 90, and 97. These other Parts provide rules governing the use of frequencies for other purposes, including commercial radios and marine radios.

Narrowbanding. Around half of the GMRS frequencies are currently spaced 25 kHz apart, or "wide band". If the proposal is adopted, equipment produced after a set date would need to have the channel spacing for all frequencies set to 12.5 kHz, or "narrow band". Having radios use narrow band allows for twice as many possible channels to be allocated by the FCC and brings GMRS more in line with commercial radios, which also have a narrowbanding mandate approaching.

Designate frequencies by channel number. Previously the FCC simply stated the frequencies that were approved for use by GMRS. Now they propose to list frequencies in a table along with an assigned channel number. The point of this change is "to reflect current technologies and the way people use the services". It is interesting to note that the FCC's designated channel numbers for GMRS are different from the channel numbers being used by radio manufacturers.

Frequency tolerance and unwanted emissions. Changes are proposed to the language in Part 95 concerning frequency tolerance and unwanted emissions. These changes seem to simply bring the document in line with current manufacturing standards and do not seem as if they would have an impact on product performance or manufacturing cost.

Other Proposed Changes

Personal locator beacons must use appropriate frequencies. In 2002 the FCC authorized the use of 406 MHz for personal locator beacons (PLB), which transmit a distress signal that can be tracked by search and rescue responders. The PLB system is a well thought out international system that uses satellites to route distress signals to proper authorities. Apparently, lower cost devices using other frequencies have been marketing themselves as PLBs. The FCC is concerned that consumers may buy one of these devices assuming it is a "real" PLB and not be able to summon help when it is needed. This proposal would require that anything market as a Personal Locator Beacon or PLB operate using the 406 MHz international system.

CB radios can now be used hands-free. The proposed rules would explicitly state that hands-free microphones for CB radios are not prohibited. Existing language that prohibited "remote controls" for CB radios was unclear and could have been interpreted as applying to hands-free devices. The updated rules would require that the hands-free microphone only operate within a short distance from the CB unit, similar to a wired microphone.

In the next post, I am going to further discuss the proposed changes as they relate to the industry.

Please feel free to discuss the FCC changes here on this blog post and on our two way radio forum.

Danny Feemster
President, Buy Two Way Radios

19 thoughts on “A Summary of the FCC's Proposed Changes to GMRS and Other Services”

  • I can't believe that in over 9 years, nobody has caught the ERP error in this 2010 article. For clarification, the maximum power limit for GMRS on the main 462 channels is 50W transmitter output, not ERP. The limit on the 462 interstitial GMRS/FRS channels is 5W ERP. This is difficult to follow though, as the only way to guarantee an ERP on a handheld is to use a no-gain ducky. If you stick on an aftermarket gain antenna and go on the interstitial channels and your transmitter puts out 5W, you will be exceeding the legal ERP on those channels (better run low power just in case, or just avoid those kiddie channels). This is remarkably harder to achieve if you toss up a base antenna or even a well-designed portable roll-up antenna. These power limits and details have not changed with the recent PRS Part 95 rule changes (Sept. 2018). I hope this helps clarify for some GMRS operators. Cheers and Be Safe!

  • A. Drummond

    I'm a license user and I believe that the FCC should just leave the licensing information alone and people should read the owners manuals and understand that an FCC license is required for channels 1-7 and 15-22. I do agree that there should be a FRS radios with ONLY channels 8-14 in them and GMRS radios with ONLY channels 1-7 and 15-22 and other GMRS frequencies like the repeater frequencies. As for the repeaters they are needed especially in emergencies or when phones are down. I have a repeater and get good range with it. My family and I have to get after others that are on the GMRS with out a license and inform them about the current rules and regulations. I agree with some of the post above and I disagree with some as well, but that's my opinion.

  • Rick

    It is an interesting idea, but not possible, simply because it isn't that kind of license. A software license for your computer allows you to use a copy of an operating system or software provided by the manufacturer or owner of the software and pre-installed on the computer without violating their copyright. The license for a radio isn't a license for the device itself or any copyrighted software in the device. It is a license to use the airwaves accessed by the radio, and is issued to citizens by the FCC.
    It is the same concept as a license to drive a vehicle. You obtain a license from the DMV to legally operate a vehicle on public roadways. The manufacturer of the vehicle has no authority to issue a driver license to anyone who buys their vehicle, nor can a dealer obtain a license on behalf of a customer.
    Radio dealers and manufacturers cannot provide a license or a call sign to someone who buys a radio any more than Ford or Toyota could provide a driver license to someone who buys a car.

  • A Simpson

    I bought a pair of radios for my wife and I to use when I'm fishing, hunting, or we go kayaking. Paid $100 for 2 radios, now I have to pay another $85 to get the full advertised range so I can talk to my wife? Saying the bands will become CBs is bull. It's not like people are building their own sets, or are just sitting around with their walkie talkies. WoooHooo what a night out.!!!! People spend money for the radios because they have a use for them. Why not just let the manufacturers include the license for free with with the units.
    Computers come with w 25 digit activation key for their OS, why can't radios come with a preassigned call sign?

  • Adam

    As a person who holds both an Amateur and a GMRS, dropping the would be good. However, dropping licenses would be a disaster. Not everyone understand my view, but having a license should always be a requirement. You drive anytype motor vehicle with a license or practice certain profression, why not two way communication devices.

  • Rick

    Dan, the post does not condone or even suggest that a license is no longer needed to operate on the GMRS. It merely outlines the FCC's proposal made in 2010. Since the proposal is still pending nearly four years later, the post is just as relevant now as it was then. It serves as an historical record of the proposal and the fact that it is still pending. All this really does is make the FCC look like they completely dropped the ball.

  • Rick

    Hi Randy, the proposal is still pending, and the FCC may or may not incorporate all of the changes listed in the proposal. We won't know until the FCC rules on the proposal.

  • Rick

    Hi Zach, According to the FCC, the proposal is still pending.

  • This is a post from 2010 and as far as I know the FCC has not made the changes outlined above. Perhaps this post should be removed and GMRS users should be reminded that a license is still required for legal operation at this time.

  • Randy H. Bouatick/WQNX507
    Randy H. Bouatick/WQNX507 April 8, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Do I have to change Motorola radio programming for GMRS to change back 12.5kHz? Or do I still keep 25kHz to remain using my GMRS repeater?
    I am tired to bring all my 6 Motorola MTS2000 and GR300 repeater to send reprogramming to change back 12.5 or just leave it 25kHz remaining??
    Thank you
    Callsign- WQNX507

  • Viki Calzascia
    Viki Calzascia March 25, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    I live in South Nevada, Pahrump. Where in many areas there is no
    cell service and the repeaters in this valley are a must.
    I'm for keeping the GMRS and the lic to keep it turning in a CB he**.

  • wqnd988

    I think frs and gmrs should be completely separate. I believe frs radios sold in dept stores should not have channels above 14. I believe gmrs radios should require proof of license to purchase and should still be able to output up to 50. watts. I believe dropping the license requirement will be a short road to cb and it won't be long there will be yahoos transmitting hundreds of watts splattering over half the bandwidth with profanity, this is y I moved away from cb to gmrs to protect my children from hearing this. I also believe if I am going to pay for a license I should be able to have a radio capable of getting around the hills and mountains in my area hence the power need.

  • Zach

    I actually do like some of the changes suggested here, especially the doing away of GMRS licensing. Since most consumer radios are able to use GMRS and FRS, and since most people don't even realize that there are licensing requirements for some of the channels available on their radios, rampant unlicensed usage is already common. It would be completely ineffective to try and enforce the licensing requirements as it is completely based upon the general public's knowledge, which is limited. Doing away with the requirement is the only option that really makes sense.
    Now that I've put my thoughts in, does anyone actually know if these changes have been instituted, done away with, or are still being considered?

  • Pointless

    DAX, some of us live in rural areas or on ranches with diverse, signal eating terrain, and NEED mid/high-powered mobile radios and repeaters to cover WHERE WE LIVE.
    Also, I am curious WHY scrambling should be prohibited on GMRS, unless your sole joy in life is to eavesdrop on everyone else's conversation. I personally would rather not have all of my communications openly monitored by stalkers and child molesters, who would love to know the status of my kid's activity. And the stupid argument of inversion scrambling being "annoying" or sounding like Donald Duck" is equally frivolous. Most people use CTCSS tones to silence all that. (Well, most except for the radio police/stalking perverts mentioned previously.) This business of not being able to understand the radio in an emergency is ridiculous. You can turn it off if you want the world to hear you on your GMRS radio for your emergency. I've always found 911 to be more effective....
    I'm also in favor of allowing digital voice emission modes on GMRS. I already hear digital radios being used illegally on the frequencies here, and it's no more annoying than listening to all the illegal aliens blather on in Spanish on American radio frequencies.
    Oh, and I have a license and I will have one as long as they require it.

  • Russ

    I don't think gmrs should be narrow banded, All of the radios that can't be narrow banded in the 450-470 range could still be used on gmrs. This would provide cheap radio for gmrs, that would not go to a land fill/ dump.

  • DAX MALONE.... May 1, 2011 at 7:00 am


  • Allen

    Having just played by the rules and purchased a GMRS license, I would hope that the FCC has the decency to refund my money if the licensing fee is eliminated any time soon.

  • Dax Malone

    I think that if your gonna use GMRS radios and the frequencies you ought to abide by what the law states.. Look it up GMRS states that you have to pay $85 for a five year license FOR YOU AND YOUR IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBERS ONLY TO USE TO COMMUNICATE WITHIN A SHORT RANGE MAINLY IN THE AREA YOU LIVE IN.. As for repeaters I believe they should not ban them. I feel if you have a repeater if should be for you and your family only.. To many people are taking this GMRS out of proportion and using it like Amateur Radio bands IT'S NOT AMATEUR RADIO!!.. It's for families to communicate within their family only.. I could see a state or government agency using it for a emergency in their state .. They should have their own subaudible tones so they can communicate with their emergency personal only.. GMRS is not just a bunch of channels for everyone to have a free for all on them.. This is my opinion also when one station is transmitting you have to yield to that traffic or go to another channel not try to out power one another or interefere with that radio traffic... Thank You.................................................................. DAX MALONE

  • Orlando Ide

    I Agree with Danny
    The licensing part of GMRS needs enforcement or elimination. I favour the FCC elimination of licensing, which scares people away from using the radio, or forces them to bootleg anyway. My only concern is over repeater use. I hope the FCC does not eliminate the use of Part 95 repeaters. I see them as valuable, especially when they are "open."
    Mr. Feemster's comments are spot-on!


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