In a long Report and order (R&R) in a 7-year-old proceeding (WT Docket No. 10-119), the FCC announced rule changes affecting the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), Family Radio Service (FRS), Citizens Band Radio Service ( CBRS or “CB”), and other applications that fall under the FCC’s Personal Radio Services (PRS) Part 95 Rules and Regulations. Part 95 devices are generally low-power units that communicate over shared spectrum and, with few exceptions, do not require an individual user license from the FCC. As the R&R Explain, common examples of PRS devices include “walkie-talkies”; radio controlled cars, boats and airplanes; hearing aid devices; BP radios; medical implants; and personal location beacons.
” This project Report and order is completing a comprehensive review of the PRS rules to modernize them, remove obsolete requirements, and reorganize them to make it easier to find information,” the FCC said in a summary attached to the R&R. “Through this effort, the rules will become consistent, clear and concise.”
GMRS and FRS devices are used for personal communications over several kilometres; compact FRS handhelds, often sold in pairs, are widely available. While GMRS and FRS share spectrum, GMRS provides greater communication range and requires an FCC license; FRS does not.
“The rules will increase the number of communication channels for GMRS and FRS, extend digital capabilities to GMRS (currently permitted for FRS) and increase the power/range of certain FRS channels to meet consumer demands for communications at longer range (while maintaining power capabilities for licensed GMRS),” the FCC explained.
The changed rules will eventually eliminate most FRS/GMRS combo radios, but allow up to 2W of PEP output for FRS transceivers. “[M]no current users of combination GMRS/FRS radios are licensed to operate on the GMRS frequencies of these radios,” the FCC said. “Much of this problem likely arises as a result of the mass marketing of handset devices intended for sale to the public in large quantities to users who are unaware of or do not understand the licensing requirements attached to these radios and obligations associated with operating in GMRS.
The FCC said it will no longer certify FRS devices that incorporate GMRS capabilities or capabilities from other services. Existing GMRS/FRS combo radios that operate at power levels below 2W ERP will be reclassified as FRS devices; existing GMRS/FRS radios that operate above this power level will be reclassified as GMRS devices, requiring an individual license. Radios that can transmit on the GMRS repeater input channels will continue to be authorized individually and not by rule.
“We believe the 2W limit for FRS is appropriate, as many existing GMRS/FRS combo radios already operate below this level without any significant complaints of interference or other issues, and it provides a reasonable balance between desire for increased range over prior FRS power levels and battery life,” the FCC said.
The FCC said changes to decades-old Citizens Band (CB) rules will remove outdated requirements, including some labeling requirements. DXing on Citizens Band will also become legal. Once the new rules go into effect, CBers will be allowed to contact stations outside the FCC’s — but largely ignored — 155.3-mile distance limit. The revised CB rules further clarify how hands-free devices can be used with CB radios and will allow the use of wireless microphones with CB radios. “We find the case compelling in terms of consumer demand for this feature, and it will promote highway safety by reducing driver distraction for those using CB [radios]“, said the FCC. The FCC left in place the current power limits for CB radio service.
The rule changes will phase out the use of voice scrambling or “obscuring” features in all Part 95 devices, and ultimately prohibit the manufacture, import or sale of any device incorporating such features , “irrespective of the fact that the Commission has already certified this radio.
Overall, the FCC said, its action “achieves a thorough review of the Part 95 rules and creates a new rule structure where common business rules are grouped together to reduce duplication, and individual subparts are structured with a common numbering scheme. The FCC said the changes remove “obsolete and unnecessary rules, while clarifying others.”
Most new Part 95 rules will take effect 30 days after they are posted in The Federal Register.