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ATA Radio Alert Program

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a rule that all VHF radios be narrow banded by January 1, 2013.  This was an effort to provide more communication bands as the existing wide band frequencies were getting very crowded.  This rule essentially doubled the number of frequencies available for transmitting and receiving voice communications.

The trucking industry in Alaska responded to this rule by beginning to narrow band all their radios and during that process realized that many of the radios in use also had cross frequency or pirate frequency problems.  A VHF radio can only be used on a frequency or frequencies authorized by license from the FCC or by a written agreement with an FCC license holder for that frequency or frequencies.  Since there are many trucking companies that operate in Alaska that are properly licensed to operate their own company frequencies, the prospect of entering into individual written agreements between all these companies seemed to be an insurmountable task.    Looking for a better way, the Alaska Trucking Association (ATA) and its member companies began to talk with ProComm, one of the largest radio communication companies in Alaska to figure out how the industry might best deal with this issue. 

The ATA decided to apply for license to operate up to twelve (12) channels.  Recently, FCC approved the license application and with that license in hand, ATA is announcing its plan to operate an ATA Alert channel, an ATA Hail channel and 10 ATA Chat or Talk channels on the business band portion of the VHF frequency range.  This plan provides ATA member companies, and other truck operators willing to participate in this plan, with a channel to communicate an emergency or other road hazard, a channel to “hail” another driver and direct the other driver to one of the 10 ATA Chat channels. 

ATA consulted with the State of Alaska, Department of Administration, Department of Public Safety, Alaska State Troopers, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities as well as with the Transportation Communications Coordinator at the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO).  Each of these agencies was helpful in advising ATA and helping with license applications and other operational advice.  

As a result of this early coordination, the State of Alaska agreed to be a co-licensee on the ATA Alert Channel enabling emergency and hazard communication with the Alaska State Troopers, Alaska DOT&PF/Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit and other agencies that can assist in an emergency or have need to know of a hazard on the highway.  Plan participant drivers can also report hazard notifications to other drivers along the way. 

Aves Thompson, Executive Director of ATA said, “This is an excellent example of private and public sector problem solving.  We had an idea and State and Federal agencies assisted to help us make it happen.  For that we are grateful.  We believe this plan will provide a legal way for truck drivers to fill a communication gap that will help to achieve one of ATA’s top goals of promoting highway and driver safety.”   

Contact ATA at info@aktrucks.org or visit www.aktrucks.org          

Alaska Trucking Association, Inc.
3443 Minnesota Drive ∙ Anchorage, Alaska 99503 ∙ Phone (907) 276-1149 ∙ Fax (907) 274-1946
www.aktrucks.org
The authoritative voice of the trucking industry in Alaska

If you got it, a truck brought it…      

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS about the ATA Radio Alert Program

Q.        Why is ATA going to all this effort and expense?

A.        The FCC mandated a change in the band width of two-way radio transmissions for VHF and UHF licensees; and announced their intent to vigorously enforce the mandate.  Companies who intended to comply quickly realized that the frequencies in use by Alaska truckers were not only wide band, but some were not licensed at all.  Compliance then became about changing the frequencies shared by all companies statewide to legal frequencies.  ATA has developed a plan to move the entire industry to new, legal, common channels.  Since a plan was necessary, ATA members chose to solve other communication problems at the same time.  Most important among those was the issue of safety.  Currently a distressed truck or a hazard alert has to run the gauntlet of possible frequencies to try to find another truck in range.  Additionally, if an ambulance, Trooper, or DOT officer is in-bound to a scene there is no way to communicate with them about location or conditions.  This plan establishes an Alert Channel where emergencies and hazards are reported.  This frequency will be licensed and programmed in  AST and DOT radios to facilitate communication with them.  Second, a Hailing Channel where initial contact can be made and then the conversation be directed to an ATA Talk Channel.  Organization of the frequencies that reserve frequencies for each type of use ensures that there is a clear channel for emergency and hazard transmissions separate from other channels for routine operations.

Q.        I've heard Alaska is exempt from the FCC narrowband mandate.

A.        That rumor is false.  There are no exemptions for VHF and UHF anywhere in the US.  Some Licensees applied for and were granted an extension of time but all must comply with the mandate.  Those who were not specifically granted an extension are in violation of the FCC Rules and Regulations as of January 1, 2013 and are subject to enforcement actions including equipment seizure and monetary forfeiture (fines).

Q.        We've been using two-way radios for decades and have never seen the FCC.  Why should we change what we are doing now?

A.        With the recent change in the law, the FCC has said they will vigorously enforce all rules.  The penalties are very high and fines can be as high as $112,000.00 per radio.  Some may be willing to bet the future of their company on not getting caught but in this high profile circumstance, it would be wiser to accept the change and move on.

Q.        Are there other reasons to change to the ATA Radio Alert Program?

A.        Yes.  When you think about the purpose of the new plan, the implementation of a commonly used safety channel plus a self-managed structure will ensure that necessary communication is relevant, organized, and effective.  The fact that it is legal removes the risk.

Q.        How will the FCC ever know if we are not compliant?

A.        Most people are caught when someone reports them but the FCC has very sophisticated scanning equipment.  Imagine the Enforcement Officer sitting at the weigh station, truck stop, or the side of the road, scanning transmissions, and taking down DOT numbers.  All licensees are in an online database.  Your license (or lack of license) is apparent in less than two minutes.  Radio equipment may be examined at the borders to insure compliance with the rules and regulations. 

Q.        I have a Kenwood TM-281 that is VHF. Can I put the ATA frequencies into that radio?

A.        No.  The FCC has separated the VHF band into sections and allocated some for Amateur (HAM), some for business, some for Public Safety, and so forth.  The TM in the model means that radio was manufactured as an Amateur (HAM) radio - originally only capable of transmitting on the approved HAM frequencies.  If it is possible to put VHF land mobile frequencies into it, it has been illegally modified or “clipped”.  The FCC does not allow the use of land mobile frequencies in a radio that is not type accepted by the FCC for land mobile use. (such as the Kenwood TM series).  Additionally, most HAM radios do not support narrow band operation, which could make it difficult to communicate with radios that are operating narrow band in compliance with the new FCC rules.  Because of these reasons, ATA does not authorize the use of these radios under this agreement.  Unfortunately, this radio would have to be replaced.

Q.        I am a licensed HAM operator and I can continue to use a HAM radio.  Why dont truck drivers just get licensed for HAM frequencies? 

A.        There are two problems with using HAM radios for trucking communication: First, since you are a HAM operator, you know that  in HAM radio, the operator is licensed (rather than the frequencies in land mobile). To use HAM radio, every driver would have to be licensed prior to using the radio. This is completely impractical for business purposes.

Second, regulations prohibit the use of HAM frequencies for “pecuniary” (commercial) purposes - like commercial transportation safety.

Q.        What is the difference between a VHF land mobile radio and a CB?

A.       The technical answer is the VHF is an FM (frequency modulated) land mobile radio that uses a higher frequency than CB and is primarily line of site (where the signal follows the curvature of the earth in a "line of sight" until it dissipates).   Further the VHF land mobile radios may be licensed to operate at much higher output power than a CB and, basically, power equals distance.

The CB is an AM (amplitude modulated) radio and power is limited to only two watts which severely limits its effective range.  AM is vulnerable to most kinds of noise like ignition, power line, lightening etc.  Amplitude modulation goes up to the ionosphere and bounces back down, bounces up, bounces down, and continues around the world in this fashion.  In CB jargon, this is called "skip" and that's what it is doing.  CB signal may not be received by an operator two miles away but be very clear in China.  Skip can actually be strong enough to interfere with local communications.  CB may be used by anyone and the potential for conflicting users and its technical disadvantages make VHF land mobile a much more useful tool. 

 The ATA plan uses FM radios in the VHF business band which has a much higher power output, a much clearer transmission and reception.  The VHF business band is much better suited for use in this application. 

Q.        Other people may be proposing alternative plans, why should I participate in ATAs ATA Alert Program?

A.        No plan solves the communication problems unless it is a universal plan where everyone can share the same frequencies.  ATA was approached as a sponsor and ATA agreed to do the work required by the FCC to develop and maintain this plan.  Others may choose to try to turn this into a competition for their own reasons.  However, since the ATA member companies joined together nearly a year ago to participate in creating the ATA plan, and are committed to using it, up to 80% of the trucks on the road will be using these frequencies.  Another plan with different frequencies will prevent drivers on different plans from communicating with each other.  It would be a shame to create obstacles to communication when someone will invariably need help in an emergency.  It would be a tragedy if the closest truck to you in an emergency was not on the same frequency plan.

If there are legitimate factors the ATA Work Group overlooked in the plan they have devised, it would be better to improve the ATA plan than to compete with it.  In the end it does no good to transmit if there is no one there to receive your message.  

Q.        Will these frequencies work in Canada or the Lower 48? 

A.        No. Canada has a different frequency plan than the US.  The ATA frequencies are licensed for use in Alaska only and may not be used in other states under the ATA’s license.  Licensed frequencies to use across Canada must be obtained by contacting Industryre Canada.  The Canada regulatory group has determined that narrow banding is not required where no frequency congestion exists in Canada.   Note that the radios used in Canada and the US must meet the regulatory requirements of the country in which they are used.  Some radios are accepted for use in both the US and Canada but others are not.  If you have questions about Canadas  rules, please contact: 

Q.        But will my narrowband radio work in Canada if I have a Canadian license as well?

A.        Your narrowband radio will work on the wideband frequencies for which you have a Canadian license. Your radio will sound “softer” or not as loud to a Canadian while their radio will seem to be louder.

Q.        Do I have to be an ATA member to participate?

A.        No.  There are a number of really good reasons to be a member that you should consider carefully but there is a non-member fee schedule so all companies can participate.  The ATA goal is to share the cost of creating and managing a group of common use frequencies that the Alaska trucking industry can use to ensure that safety communications are effectively prioritized.

Q.        What do I have to do to participate in this program? 

A.        To lawfully transmit on frequencies covered by this agreement, users must have their own FCC license for these frequencies or enter into a sharing agreement with the ATA to utilize ATA’s license.  ATA will issue a

"Shared Use Agreement" to companies who accept the terms and conditions of use.  To participate, contact ATA by e-mail at info@aktrucks.org or by phone at 907- 276-1149 and ask to talk to someone about the plan. 

            ATA will send you a blank copy of the agreement.  You will fill out your name or company name, the name of the responsible party and the number of radios to be used in this plan.  You, or the responsible party, will then sign the agreement, calculate the fee, attach a check, or if a member, authorize a charge to your account and return the agreement to ATA.  ATA will process your application and return a signed agreement to you.         

Q.        I am an ATA member and my trucks will be cutting over to the new lineup.  What do I need to do to make the transition?

A.        We asked Linda Peters, Co-owner and General Manager of ProComm Alaska, who has been instrumental in the creation of this program, how companies might efficiently transition large fleets to new programming.  The following is her response:

“The most important consideration when you have decided to make a move of this magnitude is to create a plan than ensures the least possible interruption of communication.  In the case of the concurrent cut-over of multiple companies, the period of time between the first radio to “move” and the last radio to “move” represents time where drivers can’t communicate.  This is frustrating and dangerous.  It’s critical to complete this transition in the least amount of time. 

To prepare for the transition, there are a number of steps:

Start the Shared User Agreement process by contacting ATA.

Have all drivers report the truck number, model number, and serial number of all radios in their truck . Compiling a list by truck or location will be essential in executing the plan.

Be certain to include any “base station” equipment that may be used in offices or terminals, and spare equipment in storage.

Combine the list and send it to your service provider for determination of whether each radio is:

Capable of narrowband (12.5 kHz), analog, VHF emissions.

Has at least 16 channels.

Has at least one channel of priority scan.

It is advantageous if the radio is capable of transmitting with 45 watts or more because power equals distance. 

Replace any radios that are not capable of the above.

 Determine which will need altered installations (not all radio models have interchangeable power leads).

Determine whether you will include company frequencies, whether you want them in the scan list, and then have the code plugs prepared.

Talk to your service provider about the plan to reprogram your fleet and get on their schedule.

Communicate thoroughly to all stakeholders and you may want to have backup communication plans in place during the cut over. Execute!"

Q.        When will companies begin to use the new frequencies?

A.        ATA has planned a cutover period of August 15, 2013 through September 1, 2013.  This allows time to get the word out, make the preliminary preparations before the August date, and two weeks to execute the changes.

Q.        I have a general question about the plan, who should I call?

A.        Please call the ATA office at 907 276-1149 and ask to talk to someone about the ATA Alert Radio Program.

Q.        I have a technical question about the plan, who should I call?

A.        Please call Linda Peters at ProComm at 907 563-1176 or call your service provider. 

 

 Alaska Trucking Association, Inc.         Office:    907 276-1149
3443 Minnesota Drive                              Fax:   907 274-1946
Anchorage, AK 99503   info@aktrucks.org     www.aktrucks.org

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