Winter 2010 Issue


Repeaters: Open or Closed?

By Bob Witte,* KØNR

The FCC recently reaffirmed the legitimacy of closed repeaters by dismissing a petition to modify Part 97 of the FCC rules to eliminate closed repeaters. In this column, we’ll take a look at this controversial issue and try to explain the FCC’s actions.

What is a Closed Repeater?
The ARRL website (<>) gives us this simple definition: Closed repeater—a repeater whose access is limited to a select group.

Sometimes called a private repeater, a closed repeater is intended to be used only by a specific group of radio amateurs. How this exclusivity is enforced varies, but usually includes a strong dose of social pressure. In other words, if you show up on a closed repeater you are likely to be verbally encouraged to find another repeater. (The amount of politeness in the delivery of this message tends to vary dramatically!) Closed repeaters may also employ some technical methods to keep unwanted users out, including various forms of tone access (CTCSS, DTMF, DCS, etc.). However, keep in mind that the use of tone access does not necessarily mean the repeater is closed. Years ago, the use of CTCSS was often associated with closed repeaters, but these days many open repeaters use tone access to avoid a variety of interference problems.

For closed repeaters that are supported by a formal organization, repeater usage is usually limited to club members only. Membership eligibility may be tightly controlled (such as requiring sponsorship by current club members), or it may just require an application with payment of dues. Another common model for a closed repeater is for a few individuals to collaborate on putting up a repeater and make it available to only their social group. In this case, being “in the group” can be very informal.

There are varying degrees of “closed” when it comes to repeaters. For example, many open repeaters choose to keep special features such as autopatch operation or repeater linking restricted to members only. Some closed systems will go ahead and operate “open” during an emergency situation. Some closed repeater groups are open to adding new members to help support the cost of the repeater system, while other groups prefer to limit membership to the core group.

Why Closed Repeaters?

There are a number of reasons why groups or individuals decide to make their repeater systems closed. The most common reason seems to be the idea of keeping particular types of individuals and operating styles off the repeater. One closed repeater system states this clearly on its website with the motto “no scum bags.” If you dig deeper into this, you may find that these repeater licensees have had trouble in the past with certain repeater users spoiling the use of the repeater for the larger group. Ham repeaters are more than just pieces of radio gear on a hill; they have a social aspect to them. Over time, groups that hang out on a repeater tend to develop acceptable patterns of radio operation for that repeater. Like-minded operators are attracted to the same repeater systems and tend to have compatible operating habits.

Some repeaters sit quiet all day long except for a few short calls and a scheduled net or two. Others are known as ragchew machines and get a lot more use. Some systems are dedicated to specific ham interests such as ARES, RACES, DX, etc. In most regions, a new ham gradually figures out the personalities of these repeater social groups and migrates to one they find to be comfortable. Now imagine some of the ragchew-oriented folks getting on a repeater that has users who prefer a quiet channel and you can see some conflict. If that’s not enough, toss in some diversity of political and social views and it can get ugly. With a closed repeater, the group attempts to actively control who is allowed on the repeater and keep things operating the way they prefer.

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