Monday, April 16, 2012

Here's yet MORE of my thoughts on the US licensing system for Amateur Radio.

Most of the foreign hams I know look at the US licensing system for our Service as a joke.  But that's primarily because, rather than basing differences in license classes on one's demonstrated ability to operate an amateur station safely and without interfering with other hams (or other services) with the privileges granted, all our system really does is grant ego-stroking "exclusivity" to different slivers of politically walled-off frequency sub-spectrum.

They also look at the 60-plus pages of "thou shalt not" enabling eyewash in Part 97 and laugh.  That's because Part 97 is written in such a way that, unless something is specifically enabled, then it's prohibited.  Conversely, in most other countries on the planet the implementing rules for our Service are written in such a way that, unless something is specifically prohibited, then it's enabled. 

The latter, largely "hands off" regulatory approach requires FAR less bureaucratic gobbledygook to administer than the seemingly endless "thou shalt not", and "Mother may I?" enabling overkill that now thoroughly permeates our Part 97. 

But, most of all, the foreign hams I know shake their heads in amazement (followed closely by disgust!) at our seemingly obsessive need to create and maintain ever-more irrelevant "hazing rituals" that award ever-more irrelevant ego-stroking "badges of honor" in order for someone to be deemed a "real ham".

As I've said, in most other parts of the world, a ham license is simply viewed as a lifetime "license to learn" obtained by completing one or more exams that simply test basic safety and non-interference competencies.  Unlike ours, those licensing programs have NOT been turned into a government-sponsored "college degree program" where achievement-based "Merit Badges" are awarded to people so they can have a piece of paper to prove to others that they are somehow "better" than everybody else.

As I've also noted our licensing system is illegal because the knowledge and skill  requirements for a full-featured (a so-called "Extra Class") license in our Service are an absolutely "unnecessary regulatory barrier" (to use the FCC's own legal term when they dropped the Morse testing requirement) to people gaining full access to our internationally allocated frequency spectrum.

But, I suggest those of you who are still unsure of where I'm coming from to not take my word for it.  Rather, I suggest you now go through the questions in the Extra Class question pool... one by one...all the while asking yourself: "Does this question pertain to operational privileges that have ALREADY  been granted to Technician or General Class licensees?" If the truthful answer to this question is "yes", then the next question you should be asking yourself is:  "Why is this question even a part of the Extra Class examination pool in the first place?"

What's more, for those questions that DO somehow relate to the specific operational activities that require an Extra Class license, you might then ask yourself what, if anything, that question has to do with  safely and courteously operating in the last few KHz of our HF bands.  That is, what overriding regulatory NEED  is fulfilled by an applicant having such "extra" knowledge that yet another, 50-question exam is required in order for them to be granted access to those last few, so-called "exclusive" slices of radio spectrum?  

Or (as is most frequently the case) is the requirement for all that "extra" knowledge simply part and parcel of some arbitrary decision made long ago by some gormless, 1950s-era, FCC bureaucrat to artificially wall off portions of our internationally allocated Amateur Radio frequencies so as to try and motivate people to learn more about RF theory and practice by stroking their egos? 

What's more, and while you are going through this exercise, it is also important to remember that the FCC has always been nothing more than a US Government-funded, taxpayer supported REGULATORY agency.  They are NOT (and never have been) chartered as a college or university and have never been granted any legal authority (or professional certification) either by Congress or the Executive Branch to set themselves up as one. 

So, would someone please explain where in the International rules for our "self training" Service does it say that such "achievement-based", so-called "incentive" nonsense is  required … or even allowed … under international law…as part and parcel of a licensing system for our Service?

Indeed, and as I've noted in a previous post, the truth is that, if the content and comprehensiveness of our Extra Class exam were confined to strictly examining only those additional operational privileges given solely to Extra Class licensees (as a myriad of US equal access law now dictates it must be for such federal license grants) about the only thing left that could be legally examined is where the new Extra Class sub-band limits are and how one goes about requesting an Extra Class call sign. 

But, even the procedure for requesting a different, so-called "exclusive" Extra Class call sign is accomplished when an applicant fills out his or her application form for an examination to upgrade!  And that activity happens even before they sit down to take the exam! 

What's more, when it comes to administering exams to others, keep in mind that General Class licensees can also now serve as Volunteer Examiners in the United States.  So, a requirement that one possess an Extra Class license in order to be able to give exams doesn't wash either.  Indeed, the only reason an Extra Class license is required to administer exams to other Extra Class applicants is because the "Extra" license class still exists in our Service.

So, as I've said, my hunch is that if the FCC and the VEC question pool committee were following both the spirit and the letter of US federal equal access law, they would be very hard pressed to even  come up with  50 questions for the Extra exam if those questions were limited solely to the added operational privileges an Extra Class license grants in our Service. 

All of which, in turn, once again begs the obvious question I've been asking of the "Incentive Licensing" crowd for the better part of the last 5 years:  What overriding regulatory NEED is served by even having a so-called "Extra Class" license in our Service in the first place?  Clearly, it serves absolutely NO useful regulatory purpose and never has.  

As a result, making the possession of an Extra Class license a hard and fast requirement for full frequency access in our Service becomes is an "unnecessary regulatory barrier" for ALL people….not just those with disabilities…because it prevents them from gaining full access to frequency spectrum that they already own and support with their tax dollars for no valid safety or non-interference-related reason. 

That's why such nonsense is "systemically discriminatory".  And, contrary to what some in our ranks have suggested, US equal access law does not require that someone actually be discriminated against for such activity to be ruled illegal.  Rather, ALL that IS required under these laws is that it can be proven (either by administrative review or in a court of law) that a SYSTEM of rules, regulations or requirements exists in a public agency that are either arbitrary, duplicative, and/or unnecessary and that, taken together, prevent people gaining full access to the benefits of (in our case) a federal program. 

So, once again, I ask:  How can asking questions contained on an Extra Class exam that pertain to knowledge and skills that are required to safely and courteously exercise operational privileges that have ALREADY been granted to lower class licensees be anything BUT arbitrary, duplicative and unnecessary?

Now, obviously, what I'm suggesting here borders on blasphemy to some people who have, for decades now, based a good chunk of their own self-worth on their sacred, 20 WPM, FCC Administered Extra Class licenses.  But, then again, I also know that the death of dogma is the birth of enlightenment and that EVERY scientific or social advance worth having first began by outraging the conventions (and those religiously guarding them) at the time.

And, contrary to what some people reading here might think, my goal in this (now rather lengthy) discussion has never been to change minds.  I well recognize that our resident "true believers" who are desperately trying to hang onto the last vestiges of the "old order" are not about to be seduced by facts.  

Indeed, it is quite useless to try to reason such people out of what they've never been reasoned into in the first place.

Rather, my goal in these ongoing posts has been to simply share my learning and personal experiences with some other country's FAR more equitable regulatory and licensing systems for our Service so as to allow people in the United States to make their own comparisons about the reams of needless regulatory overkill that's STILL contained in our FCC Part 97…as well as the licensing system it underwrites…and then draw their own conclusions.

Hopefully, such "food for thought" will help prevent people (particularly newcomers to our Service who might be reading these words from swallowing whole that same, horrifically entrenched, 1950's-era "exclusivity" hogwash that FAR too many "crusty curmudgeons" in our Service would love dearly for newcomers to keep blindly accepting as "just the way it is" without question.  

Clearly, and as I've noted in numerous other threads in other forums, for such people, indefinitely preserving all of that now highly illegal "incentive licensing" nonsense has absolutely nothing to do with preserving the "traditions" of our Service and everything to do with providing a continuing regulatory basis for stroking their own over-inflated egos. 

Unfortunately, the sad truth that such persons would like us all to forget is that the FCC (at the behest of the ARRL and in DIRECT contravention to the ITU rules) deliberately built a system of regulated bigotry into our Service back in the 1950s and 60s when they added a whole plethora of ever more baseless entry and advancement barriers to our licensing and regulatory system.

And while the ARRL and others at the time cleverly disguised their chicanery as an attempt to "improve the technical qualifications of hams" (their words), there is no longer any doubt that those barriers were ALL put in place to further bolster the League's own publishing coffers as well as to segregate ordinary citizens (i.e. the vast unwashed "them") from the mainstream of a taxpayer-supported,  public radio service that was conceived in the international rules specifically FOR such ordinary persons…that is…"persons interested in radio technique solely with a PERSONAL aim and without pecuniary interest." 

Indeed, as I have already shown by citing the simple contents of the ITU definition of our Service, ours was NEVER meant to be a "professional" radio service with full frequency access based on applicants completing an ever-more irrelevant series of highly structured, professional-grade "achievement tests" as we STILL do in the United States.  Rather, internationally, ours was SUPPOSED to simply be a radio service made up of AMATEURS…that is…people interested in learning about (and using) radio for their own personal enjoyment and enlightenment.  

In other words, our Service was specifically designed to be a vast, unstructured "sandbox" where NON-technical hobbyists could experiment and learn about RF theory and practice "just for the fun of it".

Yet, sadly, and up until very recently, BOTH the ARRL and the FCC have been desperately trying to indefinitely preserve, protect and defend all that ego-stroking "incentive" nonsense by championing layer upon layer of highly structured, "pseudo-professional", systemically discriminatory overkill in our licensing and regulatory systems in DIRECT contravention of the ITU rules...and now...US federal equal access law.

But what is even MORE sad is that, up until very recently, precious few individuals have dared muster enough courage to label such entrenched systemic discrimination for what it is:  An absolutely needless (and therefore illegal), regulatory scourge on our Service.

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