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Amateur Radio Info & Exams - Extra Regulations 3 - Volunteer Examiners & Miscellaneous Rules

Volunteer Examiners

One of the highest callings within Amateur Radio is to be a Volunteer Examiner (VE). These VEs administer Amateur Radio exams in the US, and around the world, for the US system.

VEs are accredited by one or more VECs, which are Volunteer Examiner Coordinator organisations. VECs have entered into an agreement with the FCC some years ago, to provide examination services. These range for smaller state-specific bodies, to national ones, such as ARRL-VEC, W5YI-VEC, Laurel VEC, and GLAARG. At the time of writing, the FCC is currently not accepting new VECs.

For quite some years the Anchorage ARC VEC has provided remote testing in Alaska; and ARRL-VEC has provided this for a remote location in Hawaiʻi, and in Antarctica. On-site supervision (proctoring) must be by a local official of some sort, or a single VE; and there must be video and audio supervision by 3 VEs, with an audio link to the site, typically via high-speed Internet, although corporate or government networks could be used. These have used paper-based exams.

COVID-19 has progressed remote testing procedures across many VECs, including ARRL. This means remote testing will become available around the world, be it a European region without a VE team, to a remote corner of Australia. No on-site official is required in this case, and exams are on a PC screen, with video supervision by 3 VEs. Hamstudy has been involved, so I expect the examinee screen will look a lot like one of their practice exams.

A VE must be 18 years of age. There are no citizenship requirements, and no need to be a member of the ARRL to be an ARRL-VEC VE. Sessions are usually listed on the VEC's website, and is some cases non-ARRL sessions are also on the ARRL site. The contact person need not be a VE. Within a team, the session manager or team leader, and similar roles are regular VEs, although should be experienced, if possible. This leader, or another VE, registers the session with the ARRL/VEC (or other VEC), arranges venues, and publicises the event.

In the ARRL VEC sessions, session manager tasks include completing the Candidate Roster and Test Session Report, and while these can be locally printed, the ARRL VEC carbonless duplicate forms are most convenient. The multi-part CSCEs must be ARRL VEC originals in their system. Being session manager, and the earlier liaison tasks can be handy for including in job applications.

Our groups in Oz are pretty free-flowing, to the extent that the person who leads the session is the person who decides to fill out the paperwork on the day, although we are still sure to ensure regulations and procedures are complied with. I am sure for larger sessions it is far more structured.

When candidates are successful, they are issued with a Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE), and their application for a new licence or upgrade is forwarded to the VEC, according to the VEC's instructions. Normally this is via the postal service, or FedEx, however, for long term Laurel VEC VEs with a history of returning correct paperwork, there is the option of electronically filing this, resulting in very fast issue of licences and upgrades. Where a candidate fails, their application form is returned to them. Licences are applied for using NCVEC Form 605, via a VEC.

Note that FCC Form 605 is an extensive form for use by a range of services, and should only be submitting to the FCC. Also, don't send the NCVEC 605 to the FCC.

A new system, "Examtools" is moving the processing of paper exams onto PCs, including scanning and automated marking, followed by uploading of the exams forms and results, rather than mailing. I expect this greatly assists in processing of exams by VEC staff working at home due to COVID-19.

The Laurel VEC site include some useful information on the processes, including the "felony question" on the new version of the form.

Off the exam, the "basic qualification", or felony question on the licence application requires candidates with more serious criminal convictions within the US to indicate this. If this is ticked, the FCC will contact the applicant requiring further information, and decide whether or not to issue a licence. A misdemeanour is a lower level charge, and in many cases, an offence can be graded at the discretion of law enforcement, meaning a white person gets a bond or low penalty; a black one a long prison sentence, and a lifetime ban on voting. In any case, it is mainly offences against children which results in a licence not being issued.

Licence Fees

As of April 2022, a US$35 fee is invoiced to successful candidates on their application for a licence is filed. This is paid to the FCC, with no involvement from the VE or VEC. This provides a 10 year licence. Upgrades are fee-free "administrative updates" as are address or name changes. Vanity callsigns attract a second fee.

Question Pools

There are currently three questions pools, being for the three levels of licence, but the numbering is Element 2, 3, and 4, with Element 1 being the discontinued Morse test. A pass in each paper up to the desired level is required to obtain that licence.

The pass mark is 26 out of 35 on the lower two papers, and 37 out of 50 on the Extra. This is just over 74%, and exactly 74%, respectively.

An amateur with a General licence in the ULS can apply to be a VE, but can only administer Element 2, the Technician test. An old Advanced licence holder can administer Elements 2 and 3, the Technician and General papers; and an Extra can administer all three papers.

The questions are published by the NCVEC, the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators, which write the questions, based partly on public input. In the question this is described as a "pool maintained by all the VECs". However, while most VECs are actively involved in this group, not all are.

Visit: ncvec.org

Miscellaneous Regulations

Spread Spectrum

Not just a military speciality, if you had a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) mobile 'phone, this used a signal spread over several or multiple MHz, following a pseudo-random sequence. Some 3G and higher systems, such as HSPDA (NextG) use this system.

Essentially, packets of digitised voice or other information are transmitted at what appears to be random frequencies across the band in use. This makes the transmission resistant to interference and jamming. "Frequency hopping" is another term for this.

Amateur use of spread-spectrum is permitted on frequencies above 222 MHz. The power limit 10 watts.

"Three letter agencies" no-doubt use spread spectrum too.

Amplifiers on HF

Due to unlawful operation using high-power amplifiers on the 27 MHz CB band, especially in the past, sales of amplifiers covering the upper portion of the HF band is restricted in the US. This includes having no gain between 26 and 28 MHz. Further, gain is limited to 15 dB, meaning that 47 watts is needed to get to 1500 watts, and that CB level input only leads to an output of 158 watts AM or 379 watts PEP.

These restrictions do not apply to home-brew amps. If these home-made or modified amplifiers are bought or sold by a dealer, they can only be bought from, and sold to, licensed Amateurs.

As modes such as SSB, and AM require linear amplification, provided by Class A or Class AB amplifiers, they are termed Linear Amplifiers, or just Linears. This term is often erroneously applied to Class C amplifiers, used in CW and FM, and some data modes.

The following are general comments, off this part of the exam:

While valves / tubes are popular in such amplifiers, various solid-state devices are coming into use, typically MOSFETs of some kind. The retail price of solid state amplifiers can be significantly higher than tube, and thermal management in solid state amplifiers is more challenging. Rather than around 2000 volts at around 1 ampere used for valves, MOSFETs may require around 70 amps at 50 to 70 volts.

Solid state has the benefit of no need to "tune up" the amplifier. The downside, for these devices is "one flash, and they're ash", in that they can be electrically fragile. Valves can be tougher, but contact the HV supply, and "one flash, and YOU'RE ash" applies.

Generally valve amplifiers use heavy transformers to generate the high voltage. Selection of mains voltage selection usually involves hard-wiring the primary windings of the transformer. While such linear supplies may be used in solid-state amplifiers, some use switchmode supplies, which just need an appropriate 120 volt or 240 volt plug to be fitted, and perhaps an appropriate value fuse fitted. Suitable plugs in the US include NEMA 5-20P, NEMA 6-15P, and NEMA 14-15P.

Where possible, selecting 240 volts over 120 volts is best, as it reduces current draw.

Line A

The operation of radio services in proximity to international borders requires co-ordination between countries on each side. For VHF and UHF services a range of 100 or so kilometres should be assumed. This avoids, for example Amateurs on a more generous UHF allocation on one side interfering with emergency services using TETRA or other radio services on the other (not to mention ham repeaters being triggered by non-ham traffic).

Line A is a line running south of, and roughly parallel to, the Canadian border. Fans of k.d. lang will know a significant portion of the border runs at 49 degrees north. Line A is thus at 48 degrees in this area, 1 degree, or 60 nautical miles south of it; in metric 111.12 km. Around the Great Lakes, for example, the line becomes more complex in shape.

The specific restriction for Amateurs in the US is a prohibition on the use of 420 to 430 MHz north of Line A.

Off the exam, Line B is within the lower bank of Canadian provinces, while Line C is in Alaska, and Line D in the west of Canada. Within the space between the Canadian border, and Lines B and D, Canada has obligations to avoid interference with services in the US.

Relevant Questions

These are the actual questions from the Extra licence exam pool, as published by you know who!

E1E01 [97.527]
For which types of out-of-pocket expenses do the Part 97 rules state that VEs and VECs may be reimbursed?
A. Preparing, processing, administering, and coordinating an examination for an amateur radio operator license
B. Teaching an amateur operator license examination preparation course
C. No expenses are authorized for reimbursement
D. Providing amateur operator license examination preparation training materials

Expenses, such as printing exam papers and forms, if these are not obtained from the VEC, travel, publicity, and postage can be claimed, answer A.

The other training activities, and publications, can be charged for, or donations received (including below), but these are outside the scope of the rules above.

E1E02 [97.523]
Who does Part 97 task with maintaining the pools of questions for all U.S. amateur license examinations?
A. The VEs
B. The FCC
C. The VECs

The pools are maintained on a cooperative basis by the VECs (formalised as the NCVEC), answer C.

E1E03 [97.521]
What is a Volunteer Examiner Coordinator?
A. A person who has volunteered to administer amateur operator license examinations
B. A person who has volunteered to prepare amateur operator license examinations
C. An organization that has entered into an agreement with the FCC to coordinate, prepare, and administer amateur operator license examinations
D. The person who has entered into an agreement with the FCC to be the VE session manager

A VEC is an organisation which has entered into an agreement with the FCC to coordinate amateur exams, as described in answer C.

E1E04 [97.509, 97.525]
Which of the following best describes the Volunteer Examiner accreditation process?
A. Each General, Advanced and Amateur Extra Class operator is automatically accredited as a VE when the license is granted
B. The amateur operator applying must pass a VE examination administered by the FCC Enforcement Bureau
C. The prospective VE obtains accreditation from the FCC
D. The procedure by which a VEC confirms that the VE applicant meets FCC requirements to serve as an examiner

This is the process where a VEC confirms the applicant meets the FCC requirements to administer an exam, answer D.

E1E05 [97.503]
What is the minimum passing score on amateur operator license examinations?
A. Minimum passing score of 70%
B. Minimum passing score of 74%
C. Minimum passing score of 80%
D. Minimum passing score of 77%

This is 74%, answer B.

E1E06 [97.509]
Who is responsible for the proper conduct and necessary supervision during an amateur operator license examination session?
A. The VEC coordinating the session
B. The FCC
C. Each administering VE
D. The VE session manager

Each VE present is responsible for the proper administration of the exam session, answer C.

E1E07 [97.509]
What should a VE do if a candidate fails to comply with the examiner’s instructions during an amateur operator license examination?
A. Warn the candidate that continued failure to comply will result in termination of the examination
B. Immediately terminate the candidate’s examination
C. Allow the candidate to complete the examination, but invalidate the results
D. Immediately terminate everyone’s examination and close the session

This is to immediately terminate the candidate's exam, answer B.

E1E08 [97.509]
To which of the following examinees may a VE not administer an examination?
A. Employees of the VE
B. Friends of the VE
C. Relatives of the VE as listed in the FCC rules
D. All of these choices are correct

These are the relatives listed in the FCC rules, answer C.

E1E09 [97.509]
What may be the penalty for a VE who fraudulently administers or certifies an examination?
A. Revocation of the VE's amateur station license grant and the suspension of the VE's amateur operator license grant
B. A fine of up to $1000 per occurrence
C. A sentence of up to one year in prison
D. All of these choices are correct

They can lose their amateur licence, answer A.

E1E10 [97.509(h)]
What must the administering VEs do after the administration of a successful examination for an amateur operator license?
A. They must collect and send the documents to the NCVEC for grading
B. They must collect and submit the documents to the coordinating VEC for grading
C. They must submit the application document to the coordinating VEC according to the coordinating VEC instructions
D. They must collect and send the documents to the FCC according to instructions

Applications must be sent to your VEC, according to their instructions, answer C.

E1E11 [97.509(m)] What must the VE team do if an examinee scores a passing grade on all examination elements needed for an upgrade or new license?
A. Photocopy all examination documents and forward them to the FCC for processing
B. Three VEs must certify that the examinee is qualified for the license grant and that they have complied with the administering VE requirements
C. Issue the examinee the new or upgrade license
D. All these choices are correct

Three VEs must sign the CSCE, and complete other documentation to certify that the examinee is qualified for the new licence, answer B.

This includes signing the NCVEC 605, and the VEC's session records.

E1E12 [97.509(j)]
What must the VE team do with the application form if the examinee does not pass the exam?
A. Return the application document to the examinee
B. Maintain the application form with the VEC's records
C. Send the application form to the FCC and inform the FCC of the grade
D. Destroy the application form

The form should be returned to the applicant, answer A.

E1F01 [97.305]
On what frequencies are spread spectrum transmissions permitted?
A. Only on amateur frequencies above 50 MHz
B. Only on amateur frequencies above 222 MHz
C. Only on amateur frequencies above 420 MHz
D. Only on amateur frequencies above 144 MHz

This is on ham bands from 222 MHz, and up, answer B.

Amateurs aren't allowed to "spread" across other services' spectrum.

E1F02 [97.107]
What privileges are authorized in the U.S. to persons holding an amateur service license granted by the Government of Canada?
A. None, they must obtain a U.S. license
B. All privileges of the Amateur Extra Class license
C. The operating terms and conditions of the Canadian amateur service license, not to exceed U.S. Amateur Extra Class license privileges
D. Full privileges, up to and including those of the Amateur Extra Class License, on the 80, 40, 20, 15, and 10 meter bands

The conditions of the visiting Amateur's licence applies, but cannot exceed those of a US Extra, answer C.

For VK hams, removing power limits and similar conditions is one reason to gain a US licence.

E1F03 [97.315]
Under what circumstances may a dealer sell an external RF power amplifier capable of operation below 144 MHz if it has not been granted FCC certification?
A. It was purchased in used condition from an amateur operator and is sold to another amateur operator for use at that operator's station
B. The equipment dealer assembled it from a kit
C. It was imported from a manufacturer in a country that does not require certification of RF power amplifiers
D. It was imported from a manufacturer in another country and was certificated by that country’s government

This is an amplifier bought used from one Ham, and sold to another Ham, for use in their station, answer A.

This is not about safety, so overseas certifications are not recognised.

E1F04 [97.3]
Which of the following geographic descriptions approximately describes "Line A"?
A. A line roughly parallel to and south of the border between the U.S. and Canada
B. A line roughly parallel to and west of the U.S. Atlantic coastline
C. A line roughly parallel to and north of the border between the U.S. and Mexico
D. A line roughly parallel to and east of the U.S. Pacific coastline

This line is south of the US-Canadian border, and is intended to prevent interference with stations in various services in Canada, answer A.

E1F05 [97.303]
Amateur stations may not transmit in which of the following frequency segments if they are located in the contiguous 48 states and north of Line A?
A. 440 MHz - 450 MHz
B. 53 MHz - 54 MHz
C. 222 MHz - 223 MHz
D. 420 MHz - 430 MHz

Operation in proximity to the southern, or lower, bank of Canada provinces is subject to some restrictions, including a prohibition on operation in the lower portion of 70 cm, 420 to 430 MHz, answer D.

E1F06 [1.931]
Under what circumstances might the FCC issue a Special Temporary Authority (STA) to an amateur station?
A. To provide for experimental amateur communications
B. To allow regular operation on Land Mobile channels
C. To provide additional spectrum for personal use
D. To provide temporary operation while awaiting normal licensing

This allows experimental communications, outside normal Amateur regulations, answer A.

I believe tests for newer bands, such as 60 metres were conducted under such a system.

E1F07 [97.113]
When may an amateur station send a message to a business?
A. When the total money involved does not exceed $25
B. When the control operator is employed by the FCC or another government agency
C. When transmitting international third-party communications
D. When neither the amateur nor his or her employer has a pecuniary interest in the communications

These are messages to a businesses where neither the ham, nor their employer, gains financial benefit, answer D. This does allow things like ordering a pizza via a repeater's 'phone patch facility.

To some extent, these communications are less necessary due to the widespread availability of cellular 'phones.

E1F08 [97.113(c)]
Which of the following types of amateur station communications are prohibited?
A. Communications transmitted for hire or material compensation, except as otherwise provided in the rules
B. Communications that have political content, except as allowed by the Fairness Doctrine
C. Communications that have religious content
D. Communications in a language other than English

Amateurs are generally prohibited from receiving compensation for operating, answer A.

Teachers, and some public officials involved in brief exercises are exempt, as are ARRL employees conducting transmission of Morse practice and information bulletins.

The Fairness Doctrine was a requirement for broadcasters to dedicate some portion of airtime to controversial topics, and to provide a degree of balance in discussing these. This was repealed under Reagan, allowing the current spate of "fake news".

E1F09 [97.311]
Which of the following conditions apply when transmitting spread spectrum emission?
A. A station transmitting SS emission must not cause harmful interference to other stations employing other authorized emissions
B. The transmitting station must be in an area regulated by the FCC or in a country that permits SS emissions
C. The transmission must not be used to obscure the meaning of any communication
D. All of these choices are correct

All these restrictions apply, answer D.

E1F10 [97.201]
Who may be the control operator of an auxiliary station?
A. Any licensed amateur operator
B. Only Technician, General, Advanced or Amateur Extra Class operators
C. Only General, Advanced or Amateur Extra Class operators
D. Only Amateur Extra Class operators

It is Technician, and higher grades, answer B.

Remember, there are still Novices, with very limited operating privileges.

E1F11 [97.317]
Which of the following best describes one of the standards that must be met by an external RF power amplifier if it is to qualify for a grant of FCC certification?
A. It must produce full legal output when driven by not more than 5 watts of mean RF input power
B. It must be capable of external RF switching between its input and output networks
C. It must exhibit a gain of 0 dB or less over its full output range
D. It must satisfy the FCC's spurious emission standards when operated at the lesser of 1500 watts or its full output power

They must meet the FCC's spurious emission standards at 1500 watts or its full output power, whichever is the least, answer D.

Congratulations, you have now completed the Regulations section. On to: Operations 1 - Satellites & Amateur Television

You can find links to lots more on the Learning Material page.

Written by Julian Sortland, VK2YJS & AG6LE, May 2022.

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