Monday, April 9, 2012

In this blog, I'll be sharing some my (admittedly controversial) thoughts on Amateur (a.k.a."Ham") Radio licensing in the USA  and other issues related to Amateur Radio (and my operations therein) in general. 

But, first, some background….

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates Amateur Radio under US Federal Regulation Part 97.

I contend that most of what's contained in Part 97.1 runs completely counter to the "non-pecuniary interest" clause of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Radio Regulations, to which the USA is a signatory.  Therefore the ITU regulations are binding on the USA with the force of law.

To my way of thinking, the entire licensing and regulatory system the FCC has put in place for our Service in the United States is illegal under international law because it violates the basic spirit and intent of the ITU definition and regulations for our Service.

At the heart of this issue is the undeniable fact that the current content and comprehensiveness of our licensing system (particularly as it relates to our Extra Class License) in NO WAY matches the (additional) operational privileges one obtains by successfully passing our higher class exams.

In numerous ham-radio related on-line forums, I've continually asked those who would maintain our licensing system in its present form indefinitely to please explain what the fundamental OPERATIONAL differences are between the on-air privileges granted to a General Class licensee and those of an Extra Class licensee in our Service in the United States. 

So far, those requests have all been met with stony silence.

Could it be that (gasp!) there ARE none?

Indeed, by what reasonable standard can it now be deemed of absolute regulatory necessary that applicants for a full featured (i.e. "Extra Class") license in our Service NEED to know the complete contents of yet another (this time 600 page) license manual in order to successfully pass yet ANOTHER (this time 50-question) exam just to operate in the last few KHz of our HF bands?

I can't help but compare and contrast such needless regulatory overkill with the international (ITU) definition of our Service.  That definition simply says that ours is to be:  "A radiocommunication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, by duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest." 

Clearly, the drafters of that ITU definition (as reflected in the ITU rules they later wrote to support it) NEVER intended (nor do they even allow for) our Service's licensing systems to be used as a forced education tool for a government to ram higher learning down people's throats so as to fulfill some arcane social or economic policy goal. 

Indeed, in one of those policy goals outlined in the "Basis and Purpose" for our Service in the United States (FCC Part 97.1 (d)) says that a basis and purpose of our Service is for the "Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts." 

Would someone please explain where the "interested in radio technique solely with a PERSONAL aim" is in any of THAT? 

Or, to put it another way, precisely to whom do the benefits of such an "expansion of the existing reservoir of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts" as outlined in Part 97.1 (d) accrue?  Do they accrue to we as individuals?  Or, do they accrue (as I believe) to the US Government by fulfilling their own social and economic policy goals?

And if this is true, then isn't the continuation of all that "reservoir building" in the US Government's "pecuniary interest"?  If so, doesn't that activity ALSO now run completely counter to the "non pecuniary interest" clause of the ITU definition of our Service? 

I contend that such needless nonsense (along with most everything else contained in Part 97.1) injected a whole series of blatantly self-serving, US GOVERNMENT economic, social and diplomatic goals into our Service. 

I also contend that activity was (and remains) patently illegal under the international rules because such regulatory malfeasance fundamentally alters the basic intent of our Service as promulgated by our international regulators.  The latter's clear intent was simply for governments to provide a radio service where we "amateurs" could practice and experiment with "radio technique solely with a personal aim"…that is, for precisely NO OTHER PURPOSE than for our own personal enlightenment and enjoyment…NOT to fulfill some government policy wok's political or economic goals. 

So, once again, as I see it, the underlying legal flaw in our current licensing system (which many of our "incentive licensing forever" zealots wish to continually ignore) is that, back in the late 1960s (and at the behest of the ARRL) the FCC fundamentally altered  the fundamental international basis and purpose of the licensing system for our Service in the United States from a simple safety and operational VERIFICATION system into a vast pseudo-EDUCATIONAL system designed to not only preserve, protect and defend their own "Good Old Boy's Radio Club", but also to crank out hoards of people just like themselves…..budding PROFESSIONAL RF engineers. 

This wholesale hijacking of our so-called "amateur" radio service (and the FCC's (now clearly failed) attempts to turn us all into "professionals") was all accomplished in order to fulfill their own (and, by extension, the ARRL's) economic policy goals. 

Sadly, the FCC could do all that and get away with it back then because there were absolutely NO federal equal access statutes in the US Code at that point to stop them.  But, as I have also said in other posts (and, again, much to the chagrin of our 1950s-era "incentive licensing forever" zealots) those days have now LONG since gone the way of the dinosaur.

For, not only does such regulatory overreach run ABSOLUTELY COUNTER to the clearly "personal aim" and "self-training" intent of the ITU rules, it also now runs horribly afoul of a whole plethora of equally binding, 1990s-era, US federal equal access statues as well.

And, despite some people's frantic attempts to continue justifying the FCC's blatant regulatory overreach from that bygone era, our so-called "incentive" approach to licensing in our Service is now falling further and further out of compliance with a whole host of those other, equally binding US federal laws.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm absolutely NOT advocating that newcomers to our Service should not strive to learn all they can or take advantage of the lifetime of wonderful training opportunities it affords. 

I'm simply saying that it is absolutely NOT the FCC's job (as a US Government REGULATORY agency) to force "education" down people's throats BEYOND verifying those knowledges and skills that are MINIMALLY required to reasonably assure safe, courteous and interference-free operation on our bands. 

Indeed, as our Service provides us all with a lifetime of opportunities FOR such learning, I find it patently absurd that our FCC continues putting the "final exams" at the beginning of that lifetime of "self-training" rather than at the end.  To continually do so sends the clear message that "we want only OUR kind here" and that all others (i.e. the "amateurs" for which our Service is clearly intended internationally) need not apply. 

Unfortunately, for the last 50 years I believe it is precisely such systemically discriminatory, regulated snobbery that has kept thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of otherwise well qualified people out of our Service.  Today, amateur radio's very survival is becoming ever more questionable as we "old farts" continue to die off in ever-increasing numbers and potential youthful newcomers to our Service continue to look elsewhere to exercise their budding technical talents.

In fact, I firmly believe it is the younger generation's extreme distaste for ALL such regulated bigotry and baseless "hazing rituals" that today's youth STILL see in the licensing and regulatory systems for our Service that are the main reason why amateur radio in the United States remains so "out of touch" with the younger set. 

It's probably also why we remain consistently unable to attract large numbers of them.

Clearly, the days of such caste-like snobbery being enabled, underwritten and thenindefinitely perpetuated  in the licensing and regulatory systems of federal agencies in the United States are now FINALLY drawing to a close.  This is happening DESPITE our fundamentalist zealot's ever more frantic attempts to keep all that institutionalized bigotry alive and well in our Service.  Thankfully, today's FCC is no longer listening to any of them.

Indeed, it's precisely BECAUSE such leftover regulatory malfeasance from the 1960s no longer has any legal basis (either in the international rules NOR in current US public law) the plan for its eventual demise in the United States is already well underway.  The latest chapter in that plan was the FCC's complete elimination of an absolutely arcane Morse testing requirement for HF licensing back in 2007.

And, much to the obvious dismay of our ever-shrinking cadre of fundamentalist fanatics, my hunch is that there is MUCH more deregulation of our Service to follow.

And, also thankfully, those same fundamentalist "techno-snobs" will remain absolutely powerless to stop any of it

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