One of the basic principles of amateur radio established by the FCC is that you cannot use it for monetary gain. The FCC calls this “pecuniary interest”, which includes any financial benefit for you or for your employer. But like many important rules, there are a few exceptions.
In Part 97.3 (4), the amateur service is defined as:
(4) Amateur service. A radiocommunication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.
This is a very important rule that the FCC has implemented. Without this, we could see the amateur bands being overrun with business interests. For example, a taxi cab company could require all of their employees to get their Technician license and use 2m equipment to do their dispatching on the ham bands.
In Part 97.113 (3), the FCC goes on to define certain prohibited communications and also provides a few carefully selected exceptions:
(2) Communications for hire or for material compensation, direct or indirect, paid or promised, except as otherwise provided in these rules;
(3) Communications in which the station licensee or control operator has a pecuniary interest, including communications on behalf of an employer, with the following exceptions:
(i) A station licensee or station control operator may participate on behalf of an employer in an emergency preparedness or disaster readiness test or drill, limited to the duration and scope of such test or drill, and operational testing immediately prior to such test or drill. Tests or drills that are not government-sponsored are limited to a total time of one hour per week; except that no more than twice in any calendar year, they may be conducted for a period not to exceed 72 hours.
(ii) An amateur operator may notify other amateur operators of the availability for sale or trade of apparatus normally used in an amateur station, provided that such activity is not conducted on a regular basis.
(iii) A control operator may accept compensation as an incident of a teaching position during periods of time when an amateur station is used by that teacher as a part of classroom instruction at an educational institution.
(iv) The control operator of a club station may accept compensation for the periods of time when the station is transmitting telegraphy practice or information bulletins, provided that the station transmits such telegraphy practice and bulletins for at least 40 hours per week; schedules operations on at least six amateur service MF and HF bands using reasonable measures to maximize coverage; where the schedule of normal operating times and frequencies is published at least 30 days in advance of the actual transmissions; and where the control operator does not accept any direct or indirect compensation for any other service as a control operator.
Let’s look at the exceptions that the FCC has allowed for. Item (i) was recently added to the FCC rules with the intent of allowing for usage of ham radio for emergency purposes. Let’s set that one aside and look at the other three exceptions, which are pretty easy to understand.
Exception (ii) simply means that it is OK to tell other amateurs over the air that you have ham-related equipment for sale as long as its not done on a regular basis. The intent of this rule is to allow hams to offer equipment for sale as long as they don’t do it as a business.
Exception (iii) ensures that a teacher on the job in a classroom can use ham radio for teaching, without violated FCC regulations.
Exception (iv) could be called the W1AW loophole, because it is intended to allow ARRL employees to be able to serve as control operators of the ARRL club station (W1AW) when transmitting bulletins and code practice. There may be other organizations that take advantage of this exception…but I don’t know of any.
Now back to exception (i). You may recall that 97.403 says:
No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.
This basically says “don’t be constrained by the FCC rules when providing for the safety of human life and protection of property.” For example, an unlicensed person could use ham radio to make an emergency call if no other means of communication was available. Another example might be an employee of a hospital emergency room could use ham radio for communications to support hospital operations during an emergency.
A conflict with the rules developed when an FCC licensed ham radio operator used ham radio during disaster preparedness training events while an employee of a hospital. While this is preparation for an emergency, no emergency existed at the time. Therefore, this use of ham radio was interpreted by the FCC as using ham radio for the benefit of the radio ham’s employer. In other words, the radio ham had a pecuniary interest. This became a very hot topic and ultimately resulted in the FCC adding exception (i) to the rules so that disaster preparedness and training drills can be conducted even if they are for the benefit of an employer. This specific example involved a hospital employee but the same principle applies to fire fighters, paramedics, police, park rangers, etc.
So there you have it: amateur radio operators are not allowed to receive financial compensation (pecuniary interest), but there are a few carefully chosen exceptions.
73, Bob K0NR