In a recent ARRL bulletin concerning the possibility of new administrative US Forest Service fees, HQ made the following request:

ARRL encourages Amateur Radio licensees to file comments opposing the imposition of the proposed administrative fee on Amateur Radio users.

The rest of the message was fairly cryptic, at least to me, because I was unaware that public lands were being used for specific amateur radio purposes. I couldn’t imagine this including SOTA or POTA or other such operations in Forest Service controlled lands, but the bulletin wasn’t clear on what services might be impacted.

I posed that question to my own ARRL Director who quickly provided some clarification. Apparently there are regions where amateur repeaters have been installed on public lands. The Forest Service says there are 1,367 communication sites in the National Forest System though my Director wasn’t certain how many of these were ham radio repeater sites.

The proposal is for the entity owning the repeater to pay a significant fee (the ARRL FCC counsel cited $1400) to support the infrastructure - the building and its maintenance, electricity, etc.

I appreciate my ARRL Director clearing this up though now I’m uncertain if I should be upset with the proposed fees or that hams have been getting a free ride in the maintenance and utilities for these tax subsidized public lands for decades?

My guess is that these communication systems were probably installed during a time when the government was more friendly to the radio amateur and considered what we do a public service that can provide emergency type communications for local communities when needed. However, now that the government has made clear that it doesn’t consider amateur radio to be an emergency service, it seems likely these type of administrative fees would be considered fair recompense to protect the taxpayers wallet.

“As we have noted previously, while the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communications service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications, is one of the underlying principles of the amateur service, the amateur service is not an emergency radio service.“

Is it fair for hams to expect the federal government (taxpayers) to maintain the facilities where they have installed repeaters and other communication equipment on public lands?

I have yet to form an opinion on this matter, but it should be considered when electing politicians who run on a promise to slash the budget and make everything as revenue neutral as possible that it might one day come back to bite you hard on the ass if others see the exercise of your hobby as wasted tax dollars.

Your comments may be submitted online at the Federal Rulemaking Portal at, https://www.regulations.gov/ or via USPS mail to:
Director, Lands & Realty Management Staff, 201 14th Street SW, Washington, DC 20250-1124, and must include the identifier “RIN 0596-AD44.” Comments must be received in writing by no later than February 22, 2022.