Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Here's yet more on my continuing rant with the FCC over the way they license amateur radio operators in the USA.

Those who know me know that I've lived and worked in a number of other countries in the world and I currently hold amateur licenses in three of them. And while many countries around the world DO have multi-tiered licensing systems for our Service like the USA, most are based on safety and non-interference considerations rather than relying on ego-stroking "incentives" to induce "pseudo-education" as ours does. 

So, once again, ALL I'm advocating here is that the content and comprehensiveness of our US amateur radio exam structure match the various privileges it grants.  

Right now, it very clearly doesn't.

Indeed, in its present form, the exam for our Technician license is NOT comprehensive ENOUGH.  It routinely grants high power and "from scratch" transmitter and amplifier construction privileges to people who have not (yet) demonstrated they have enough knowledge and/or experience to know how to do those things safely, courteously and without also causing harmful interference to other hams or other services.

On the other hand, our Extra Class exam goes WELL BEYOND what the ITU (not to mention common sense!) dictates is needed for someone to operate his or her station in such a safe and courteous manner.  As a result, THAT license class (and indeed the Advanced Class as well) serves NO useful regulatory purpose under the ITU rules...the international rules that serve as the ultimate authority for the FCC's Part 97.

Why  is this so?  It's because such higher-class licenses in our Service in the United States simply grant "exclusive" access to frequency spectrum (as well as high power construction and operating activities) that have supposedly ALREADY been examined on our General Class exam!

As I see it, the glaringly apparent legal disconnect in our current licensing system in the USA is that those operating privileges that have been specifically reserved for higher-class licenses (i.e. those privileges that have been artificially withheld from today's Technicians, Generals and Advanced Class licensees) bear absolutely NO relationship to their potential to cause serious harm to ourselves or others, or to cause harmful interference to other hams (or other services). 

And it is THESE operational and safety considerations that most other counties on the planet DO use to differentiate one license class from another in their amateur services.  As a result, THEIR exams are usually based on technical and regulatory COMPETENCY considerations, rather than on simple educational "achievement".

As I noted earlier, Canada's simple, two-tiered license system DOES withhold specific OPERATIONAL privileges from their lower-class licensees based on criteria that DO revolve around operational NEED, as well as safety and non-interference considerations.

The current Canadian "Basic" exam (the exam for their lowest class certificate) is equivalent in content and comprehensiveness to our Technician and General Class exams PUT TOGETHER.  Once applicants pass that pretty comprehensive (100 questions!) exam with a score of 80 percent or better, Canadian hams are then allowed to operate ANYWHERE on our bands with that one Basic, "issued for life" license.

The kicker, however, is that these so-called "Basic with Honours" Certificate holders, are STILL restricted to running 250 watts of power or less.  They also CANNOT hold the license of a repeater or club station, construct transmitters "from scratch", or give exams.  Indeed, unlike our US exam structure which allows even "wet-behind-the-ears" Technicians to do all these inherently more risky things from day one, under the Canadian system each of the latter privileges are SPECIFICALLY reserved for those who successfully pass yet another, FAR more technically comprehensive, 50 question,  "Advanced" exam.

But, even so, the Canadian Advanced exam is NOT a broad, education-based "achievement test" like our Extra Class license purports to be. It's also NOT a test of "knowledge for knowledge's sake, either…something that is better left to a college or university degree program. 

Indeed, Industry Canada believes that such "education" is a private matter best left up to we hams to decide for ourselves how much (or how little) we want of it. Industry Canada also leaves it up to we hams to decide for OURSELVES "what goes where" on our bands.  That's because, in Canada, (like most everywhere else on the planet) hams are routinely regulated by maximum emission BANDWIDTH rather than by license class and emission mode as we are in the United States.

So, in that sense, Industry Canada well recognizes that a ham license is simply a lifetime "license to learn" after candidates demonstrate the requisite MINIMUM skills and knowledges required to keep both us and our neighbors safe and our signals from causing harmful interference with the privileges granted. It's NOT a series of Boy Scout "Merit Badges" obtained only after completing an irrelevant series of ever more difficult "hazing rituals".

As a result, the Canadian Advanced test covers ONLY that technical and other material that is SPECIFICALLY RELATED to that small handful of added (primarily OPERATIONAL) privileges granted exclusively to Advanced Certificate holders. This makes BOTH the Canadian Basic AND Advanced exams FAR more legally supportable as valid examination and licensing tools under Canada's equal access statutes because they are DIRECTLY tied to specific operational NEEDS.

This also means that, for Canadian hams, a so-called "Basic with Honours" Certificate (granted by a mark of 80 percent or more on the Basic exam) offers all the mainstream privileges most people will ever need or want in our Service.   So, it should come as no surprise that most Canadian hams hold just a Basic Certificate in one form or another…and are happy as clams with it.

Usually, the only people who feel the urge to take the test for an Advanced Certificate in Canada are those who want to do that very small handful of VERY SPECIFIC and FAR more potentially hazardous, interference-prone, or legally contentious things in our Service.

This may also explain why all of our "badge of honor" and "my license is better than your license" snobbery that seems to run rampant in our Service in the USA is (refreshingly) absent in Canada, and indeed, in most other Amateur Services throughout the rest of the world.

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