Friday, April 13, 2012

Many people who don't agree with my (admittedly radical) position on the US licensing and regulatory structure for our Amateur Radio Service in the United States often ask me what professional credentials I have that allow me to declare that the current FCC system for doing so is illegal.

To those same persons, I have repeatedly admitted that I'm not a lawyer.

However I also tell them that I did work around and with enough government lawyers during my some 20 years in the US Federal Service (The US Air Force) to have a pretty good idea what kinds of questions one can legally ask applicants on government-sanctioned tests and what one can't.

Once again, the "easiness" or "hardness" of our tests isn't the issue.  Rather, it's the fact that their "applicability" and their "relevance" to the specific (additional) privileges they grant are now so clearly out of whack with current equal access law in the United States. 

There is also absolutely NO doubt in my mind that our current licensing system was designed at a time (back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s) when many (if not most) Radio Amateurs manufactured their own equipment and when the US was faced with a huge "technology gap" with the Russians.  When the US Government made it national policy to throw millions of dollars in tax money at any and every so-called "educational endeavor" that they could lay their hands on in an effort to "catch up" with our enemy back then, Amateur Radio became a perfect vehicle to carry out that national policy. Hence their addition of words like "expansion of  a pool of trained technicians and electronics experts" as one of the purposes for our Service as spelled out in Part 97.  

However, by doing so, I remain convinced that our Government ALSO violated the spirit and intent of the ITU's "no pecuniary interest" clause as spelled out in the basis and purpose of our Service in the ITU rules

At that time, maybe the ends justified the means.  But doing so still doesn't make what the FCC did back then any less a violation of the international rules for our Service. And, perpetuating all that nonsense into the 21st Century simply makes the situation even more illegal.

As I've said, since the FCC enacted their "incentive licensing" foolishness over 50 years ago, there's a whole plethora of equal access laws that have come on the books in our country.   Any way you cut it, erecting unnecessary, overly technical systemic barriers to full and open access to taxpayer-supported, federally administered public resources like Amateur Radio is simply no longer legally sustainable under today's US Code. 

That's primarily because, like it or not, today's surface mount technology has now turned MOST of us into "appliance operators". We also no longer need to know everything about "what's under the hood" to operate our stations safely and courteously.  Personally, I'm certainly not about to attempt repairs on the various components contained in my latest rig…primarily because they are now so horrifically small that I can no longer SEE what they are to work on them!

Sadly, the delusion that many in our ranks would dearly love for the rest of the "unwashed" masses (particularly newcomers) to continually buy into is that the content and comprehensiveness of the tests in our licensing system USED to be completely sufficient to cover all the knowledges and skills needed for the privileges they grant. 

The facts that I have outlined in these and other posts clearly show that our tests have done neither.  And they haven't done so for going on 50 years now. Indeed, the myth that ANYONE who passed an Extra Class exam "way back then" was instantly qualified and knew everything there was to know about our hobby at that shining moment is simply hogwash. 

Ours is a self-teaching hobby, and getting a license to operate on our bands has always been simply the BEGINNING of that learning process…NOT the end.

It is also crystal clear by their actions to date that the FCC has (finally!) realized this fact as well.  And they have essentially washed their hands of trying to cram rote, pseudo-learning down our throats (or up various other orifices of our bodies) a single test question at a time.  And, primarily because of the threat of lawsuits that it would now create, I firmly believe they aren't about to take ANY of that responsibility back. 

To me, this means that the FULL responsibility for creating and upholding any
"standards" in our Service going forward has ALREADY been dumped back into our collective laps…which is where I firmly believe it should have been placed all along. 

Yet, FAR too many in our ranks are STILL obsessively pining (in vain) for the FCC's government testing structure to keep providing such standards, even though the FCC largely abrogated that responsibility DECADES ago. 

Unfortunately, our testing structure as now devolved to the point that the only people who CAN'T pass any (or all) of the FCC's so-called written "incentive" tests are people with genuine physical, learning or other disabilities. 

And THAT, my friends, is why perpetuating all this government-regulated snobbery into the 21st Century has now become blatantly illegal under US law.  

Today's federal equal access laws make it VERY clear that federal agencies can no longer legally maintain federal licensing and qualification systems that contain "unnecessary barriers" (to use the legal term) to such person's full access and participation in public programs like Amateur Radio.  And any way you cut it, making such people successfully complete tests that are chock full of questions that have absolutely NO direct bearing on the specific privileges they grant (so as to attain full access to our Service) IS an "unnecessary barrier".

Unfortunately, all the so-called "incentive" licensing system for our Service has ever really done over the years is to breed a most hateful idea at its very core. That idea is exclusion: the "othering", if you like, of the vast unwashed masses who have yet to successfully complete a series of largely baseless (and therefore ever more systemically discriminatory) "hazing rituals" in order to be deemed "real hams" with full privileges in our Service.

And, sadly, there are far too many crusty curmudgeons remaining in our ranks who would keep the "liturgy" of our licensing system EXACTLY the same for our Service as it was "way back when".  To them, Ham Radio has now become akin to a religion, complete with all of its ever-more fanatical (spelled "intolerant") sacred rituals and other such pious nonsense…including, I might add…deliberately refraining from helpfully assisting newcomers when they clearly could benefit from our learning.

I have often said that it may very well take another generation or two before the people who perpetuate such baseless dogma to completely disappear from the ranks of our Service...along with all the licensing and regulatory overkill that STILL underwrites their ever-more out-of-touch, elitist blather.

That's because, as Professor Doctor Max Planck, winner of the Nobel Prize for physics and one of the greatest physicists of the early 20th Century once said, “Innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents.  What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and the growing generation is familiarized with the innovative ideas from the beginning.” 

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