When I heard that the FCC was proposing changes to the GMRS, I was cautiously optimistic. After taking the time to read the proposal, I am excited about the changes and hope they are approved quickly. The proposal is in a seeking-comments phase and will likely change before it is adopted, but If the proposal were to be adopted as-is it would be a vast improvement over the system that we have today.
Below I am going to detail my thoughts on the FCC's proposal.
GMRS Licensing. I have been in the radio business for around 8 years now, and the biggest problem that I have had with GMRS is the licensing issue. GMRS licensing has been nothing but a headache for us. The law says that a GMRS license is required to use the radios, yet all indications are that this law is not enforced, and probably less than 1 in about 1000 users are licensed. With so few GMRS users actually completing the licensing process this requirement only punishes those who follow the rules.
As a business that encouraged our customers to follow the law and become licensed, we lost sales to customers who were scared off by the process or the cost. Most of our competitors choose not to make mention of licensing, so this often put us in an awkward situation. Radio users that choose to purchase a license are treated unfairly as well when unlicensed users have the same benefits as them and no enforced penalty for breaking the law.
Some enthusiasts will disagree with me but eliminating the license requirement is the right thing to do, it is the only option available at this point, and it should have been done years ago. When the FCC approved mass market GMRS radios without forcing manufacturers to stress the licensing requirement and chose to ignore enforcement, the possibility of licensing ever working was eliminated.
A license serves little purpose anyway. Just about anyone over the age of 18 is eligible and receiving a license qualifies you to transmit on any GMRS frequency from any location. A license makes much more sense with business radios where a frequency is assigned based on your location to prevent interference. It seems the GMRS license has become nothing more than an optional tax and I will be delighted to see it go.
Business use of GMRS radios. If businesses are allowed to use low cost GMRS radios, it could cost us business radio sales but it is the right thing to do. Businesses shouldn't have to buy $150 radios for light duty non-frequent applications, which is where I see GMRS radios being used. Businesses that need radios for daily use or critical applications will still choose products capable of using exclusive frequencies to eliminate interference, and they will need radios that are more durable than typical consumer grade GMRS products. Businesses are already commonly using GMRS radios today, unlicensed, and we know from experience that the FCC isn't interested in dedicating too many resources to enforcing GMRS rules. If new rules prohibited businesses from using radios, we would just end up with a situation like we have today.
GPS coordinates and text messages. If the ability to transmit GPS information and text messages over GMRS frequencies is adopted, I believe that we may see some more advanced radios in the next few years. Perhaps some other manufacturer will release something similar to a Garmin Rino and in turn help bring market prices down. Text messaging is a feature that customers request from time to time and would be a very popular feature.
Elimination of combination service radios. This is my biggest concern. I understand why the FCC does not want combination Marine/GMRS radios, and I support their disallowing this combination. I think, however, that they may be taking it too far by including Part 90 in the list of prohibited combinations. The proposal would prevent a radio that is certified for Parts 80 (Marine), 87 (Aviation), 90 (Commercial LMR), and 97 (Amateur) from also being certified for Part 95 (GMRS).
GMRS business radios usage. There is a demand for high quality business grade GMRS radios, but this demand is very small in comparison to the demand for consumer grade product. Business radio manufacturers say that this demand is too low for them to justify producing a GMRS specific radio. A typical Part 90 certified UHF radio is no different from a hardware perspective from a high quality GMRS radio, so it would be a beneficial option for a manufacturer to be able to produce a radio for businesses but also have it certified for GMRS use. Without this option, those looking for high quality, commercial grade GMRS products may have very few choices.
Two watt power limit. I would prefer to see the power limit set at 5 watts, but I can accept the two watt limit proposed by the FCC. Practically all of the existing consumer grade products already fall within this limit already.
Regarding the elimination of repeaters or the reduction of base station power. While I do not believe that the FCC would prohibit repeaters or high powered base stations with these changes, I do not like that the question is even being posed. I do understand their perspective, very few of the overall users are taking advantage of this type of equipment and they want to encourage frequency reuse. However, I simply do not hear complaints from average consumer grade GMRS radio users that they are getting interference from base stations or repeaters. I am much more likely to hear complaints from someone who has invested in a repeater and think they are being harassed by those they feel are trespassing on their network. I believe there is room for all types of GMRS users and we all have to understand that this system is here for everyone to use even if it means tolerating some perceived misuse or encroachment.
Tomorrow I will follow this up with a post on the comments I am going to make to the FCC. Once again, feel free to discuss this here on our blog, or over on our two way radio forum.
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