After kicking off on January 1, the new Volunteer Monitor Program has ramped up to operational status. A “soft rollout” of the program began on February1, designed to familiarize Volunteer Monitors (VMs) with issues on the bands and to put into practice what to report — and what to ignore, based on their training. The VMs not only will be looking for operating discrepancies, but for examples of good operating. The VM program has, at least for the moment, put Riley Hollingsworth, K4ZDH, back in the center of amateur radio enforcement as the Volunteer Monitor Coordinator (VMC). He was brought aboard to get the program up and running, and ARRL will eventually take over the VMC function.
Hollingsworth is using a system called VMTRAC — developed by a VM — to measure the work of VMs and determine instances that qualify for good operator or discrepancy notices, referral to the FCC, or follow-up with FCC requests to the VM program. Hollingsworth reported that during March, the 165 active VMs logged upward of 2,300 hours of monitoring on HF, and nearly 2,000 hours on VHF-UHF and other frequencies.
“I am extremely pleased with the number of hours devoted to monitoring this early in the program,” Hollingsworth said. No stone is being left unturned. Two VMs constantly monitor FT8 watering holes and have developed programs that alert them if a licensee is operating outside of privileges accorded to that license class or if a license has expired. “That has occurred in a half dozen cases so far,” he said.
“We have 30 open cases, five of which are good operator cases,” Hollingsworth said. “Regarding open cases relating to rule violations, none have yet had to be referred to the FCC.” He said he’s experimented with letters, telephone calls, or emails to the subjects of discrepancy reports where they could be identified. While he’s still waiting for replies to his written correspondence, he has received responses to his calls and emails, and the violations have either stopped or were explained. “They were violations such as expired licenses, Technicians operating on General frequencies, unauthorized use of a call sign, and deliberate interference,” he said.
One case “being groomed for FCC referral,” he said, involves long-standing interference to a repeater in the Philadelphia area by someone using an unauthorized call sign. Hollingsworth said he worked with net control operators of nets on 75 and 40 meters that had been suffering serious interference, and so far the solutions are working.
“It is becoming apparent that if informal contact can be made by the VMC with a known offender, the problem can sometimes be stopped,” Hollingsworth said. “If this continues to work, it will minimize FCC referral and make those we do refer more worthy of FCC resources and more severe action. We do not want to call upon the FCC unless absolutely necessary, but when we do, the subjects should understand that FCC action will be expedited. I think our own enforcement outreach may resolve all but our very worst cases. At the present time, we have only one in which we do not have a suspicion as to who is causing the problem.”
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