Friday, July 27, 2012

Well, our "regulatory fundamentalists" are arguing once again that Amateur Radio is alive and well. 

As proof, they cite such nonsensical "evidence" that during medieval times jousting was a popular sport. However, because of changes in real-world warfare techniques, the sport fell out of favor with the general public. Yet, even today there are jousting clubs and associations for the few who remain interested in the sport. They say that Amateur Radio is no different.

The problem with this logic is that jousting clubs (and sailing clubs and a whole host of other groups that promote re-enacting such quaint holdovers from our past) aren't also sitting on several tens (if not hundreds) of billions of dollars worth of finite (and therefore, ever more scare) RF frequency spectrum…spectrum that many well-heeled commercial interests would love dearly to get their grubby mitts on at any opportunity.

And while nostalgia is a wonderful pursuit, I invite anyone reading these words to cite any convincing evidence that obsessively maintaining all the 1950's-era obfuscation and gobbledygook in the regulatory and "incentive licensing" system for our Service in the USA has helped to justify our continued fee-free access to all that valuable radio spectrum we currently occupy.

As I've noted, the sad truth is that we haven't pulled our technological weight in Amateur Radio in years.  That's because, as a Service, we have elected to remain firmly stuck…technically, sociologically and administratively…in the far distant past. 

I also find it ironic that our regulatory fundamentalists continue to demand the same old, tired and totally worn-out approaches to regulating and licensing for our Service that might (?) have worked in the 1950s, but are now horrifically out of date.  But, then, in the next breath, they have the nerve to wonder why we aren't attracting young newcomers to our ranks. 

Continuing to myopically apply yesterday's rules and regulations along with half-century old (not to mention long since outdated!) approaches to licensing in our Service at a time when everything we touch is increasingly digital "plug and play" makes absolutely no sense to me at all. 

And obsessively expecting today's increasingly instant-communication-savvy youth to "salute smartly" and then blindly comply with such abject foolishness from a bygone era as proficiency in Morse code and a series of written "achievement tests" over increasingly irrelevant technical material that goes well beyond that required internationally is simply ludicrous. 

It is, by definition, ill behavior.

Unfortunately, and as I've noted on other occasions, it will probably take at least another generation or two for the last vestiges of the “CBer paranoia” and "I had to do it and so should they" elitism that is clearly evident in the posts of many of our "regulatory fundamentalists" (and still all too prevalent in our Service as a whole) to completely disappear.  In fact, as I've said on numerous occasions, I firmly believe that the aging and eventual death the older generation of Hams will be an essential element in the progress of our hobby

That is…if we can manage to hang on as a separate Service for that long. 

That's because death very effectively takes care of all the crusty curmudgeons from a previous generation who are absolutely petrified to let go of old, fallacious ideas (like Morse code testing along with all the other bogus “lid filters” that are largely still intact in our license and regulatory structure) that were never really based in any operational need under the international rules, let alone reality. 

I frequently like to quote Max Planck, one of the greatest physicists of the Twentieth century, who once commented that, “Innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents.  What usually happens is that its opponents gradually die out, and the growing generation is familiarized with the new, innovative ideas right from the beginning.” 

Thankfully, there's a whole new generation of leaders in the ARRL and FCC who are now at hard at work and trying their very best to undo the systemically discriminatory mess their predecessors created of our licensing system back in the 1950s and 60s.  

However, judging from all the "sky is falling" blather that's still being posted in various ham radio online forums about the death of Morse testing and the "dumbing down" of the examination system (a system that I say was needlessly "dumbed up" in the late 1950s and 60s), it would appear that the FCC's progress to date is very much tweaking the noses of the remaining elitist, 1950s and 60's era techno-nerd contingent in our ranks. 

Sadly, there are still FAR too many people in Amateur Radio in the United States of America who would love dearly to keep all that regulation enabled, "I'm better than you" systemic discrimination firmly in place. And, judging from some of their boorish remarks aimed squarely at me in may of  these same online forums, it appears these people are totally oblivious to the fact (or, more likely, could selfishly care less) that their continued collective elitist intransigence and steadfast refusal to let go of the past is what's now helping to make our Service increasingly unattractive to today's youth…the lifeblood of our Service going forward.

As I've said, the only question now remaining is whether or not such ongoing de-regulation and systemic change will happen quickly enough in our Service to also reverse the continued hemorrhaging of our ranks (and the resulting silence on our bands) before the commercial interests completely hijack our frequencies for lack of use.

Only time will tell. 

But, unfortunately, most likely this "old geezer" (I'm 61) will be LONG dead before anyone reading these words learn whether these modern day FCC efforts to turn this mess around will have been successful…or not.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It seems these days that a number of hams (and a number of ham radio-related organizations like the ARRL) are pounding the drum that one of the main reasons we exist (as a separate radio service) is to provide emergency communications (EMCOMM) in times of disaster. 

Specifically, they cite a long laundry list of fundamental purposes for our Service as outlined in the FCC's Part 97…specifically Part 97.1…. which state in part that:

"The rules and regulations in this Part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:

(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.

(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communications and technical phases of the art.

(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.

(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill."

Now some will also argue that these rules provide us with the ultimate authority of why we exist and what we are supposed to be doing.


The ULTIMATE authority for what we do is not contained in FCC Part 97!

Rather, it is the International Telecommunications Union (the ITU) that establishes and maintains the Amateur Radio Service in the International Radio Regulations.  As the United States is a signatory to the treaty that established the ITU, those rules have the force of law in the United States.

Sadly, few US Hams realize that ALL of these "other" reasons as to why we exist are not present in the International definition of our Service.  Our own FCC has ADDED them all.  And, to the best of my knowledge, this long "laundry list" of words defining our Service exists nowhere else on the planet.

Specifically, the FCC's "particularly with respect to emergency communications" verbiage (along with all that other nonsense about "expanding an existing reservoir within the Amateur Radio Service of trained technicians") as spelled out in our Part 97 is absolutely and completely absent from the ITU's definition of our Service 

As I've noted before, that definition (in Article 1.56 of the ITU rules) simply states 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"  (my emphasis added)

Would someone please show me where it specifically authorizes (or even allows) EMCOMM or "technician reservoir building" activities in any of that?

It seems to me the FCC very clearly "muddied the waters" back in the mid 20th Century when they added all that EMCOMM verbiage (along with their "expanding pool of trained operators, technicians and electronics experts" eyewash...nonsense they also no doubt used to justify their so-called "incentive licensing" foolishness) to further define who we are and what we do.

However, by turning our Service into something that goes well beyond both the spirit and intent of the simple ITU definition of why we exist...on a number of fronts...the predecessors of today's FCC who wrote all that garbage into Part 97.1 were the ones primarily responsible for laying the groundwork for most (if not all) of the current EMCOMM controversy about the blatant pecuniary interest implications of such activity.

And all of that "building a reservoir of trained technicians" nonsense simply gave more cannon fodder to those elitist techno-snobs who have been desperately trying (unfortunately, with some success) for the last half-century to turn our Service into the "No Budding RF Engineer Left Behind Radio Service"...a notion that also runs completely counter to the "solely with a personal aim" intent of our Service internationally.

Clearly, what our own gormless FCC bureaucrats (and their ARRL handlers) apparently forgot (or ignored) way back then is the fact that sometimes, less really is more.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Well, it seems to be happening again.

This last weekend, despite what could only be described as horrible HF band conditions (due to a recent solar flare and the resulting Earth-directed CME) the bands were alive with users....for the IARU DX contest.

And, as with past contests, once the contest was over (at 1200 GMT on Sunday) the HF bands went absolutely silent again.

To me this is yet more anecdotal evidence that while our license numbers are supposedly "way up" as of late, there are fewer and fewer active hams on our HF bands.

Indeed, the percentage of Technician licensees appears to be remaining permanently stuck at just under half of all who hold a ham license in the USA.  And the number of "upgrades" from that status to General and Extra appears to have now peaked and is once again heading downward.

As I've said, these are all indicators that our Service is poised for a steep decline in our numbers as we "old farts" die off and we continue to turn off (or turn away) youthful newcomers with our insistence on keeping our licensing requirements permanently stuck in the technological "dark ages."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

There once was a time when developments in the realm of amateur radio were relevant in relation to the rest of the world.

Indeed, back in the "good old days" of  ham radio, a young person might become interested in the technology of radio and their first steps in that venture may have been as a radio amateur. Through building and experimentation, this neophyte might eventually make a living as a radio and TV repairman, or find work as an electronics technician. They might even follow a path to becoming an electronics engineer developing new methods and hardware for commercial or military communication.

Back then, there was often a thread of commonality between an amateur radio enthusiast's hobby and their vocation. Radio amateurs were on the cutting edge of discovery and experimentation and these developments were closely mirrored in the non-amateur world.   In fact, what this person was doing on the workbench in their ham shacks was often a step or two ahead of what they did for their employer.

But at some point in the flow of space and time, amateur radio reached a critical crossroads. It could proceed in one direction… into the future… or choose the other direction that involved a long and circuitous route back into the past.

Unfortunately, we've collectively chosen to jettison the future and remain firmly mired in the past.

Consider carefully the position of amateur radio just prior to encountering this crossroad. We had pioneered FM radio at VHF and UHF and had blanketed the countryside with repeaters such that an operator with a handheld radio could make contact with others far outside his or her line of sight.

In addition, we had also worked out the protocols and network topology necessary for passing data over the air at rates comparable to landline methods of the age. And we had our own fleet of satellites that pioneered new methods in space communication as well as low-cost spacecraft construction and launch. 
Future developments in the non-amateur world of radio from that point included cellular technology and the transmission of higher speed data over the air.

But, since that time, commercial applications for broadcast radio and television have changed radically and now include largely digital methods. Military applications for secure battlefield communication use satellite and terrestrial means like mesh networking for voice and data transmission, which, in turn, now makes  passing quasi-military traffic with SSB voice via the Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) a quaint anachronism. Our homes, restaurants and coffee shops are now bathed in RF transmitted data that keep our mobile devices connected to the Internet.

Clearly, none of these “new” technologies would have been even the least bit foreign to today's radio amateurs had we taken the path to the future. Potential (youthful) newcomers of today would have been encouraged to become involved in our hobby as it could very well lead to a rewarding career in one of many growing and lucrative technical fields – just like in the earlier days.

The sad truth is that none of these new technologies passed us by because we weren’t intelligent enough to have adapted to the rapid changes thery produced.  Indeed, I believe we hams could have lead that revolution. Remember, we ham radio enthusiasts were, at one time, the proto-geeks on the planet!

The bottom line here is that technology didn’t abandon us.  Rather, we have voluntarily chosen a path that has now led us back to the past.  In many ways, we've become the "Radio Amish".  And in so doing, all we can do now is sit by and watch the future of RF telecommunications march ahead....without us.

As I've been saying over and over again in these posts, I believe we chose this backward looking path because the future involved radical changes (primarily to our achievement-based licensing system) that would have seriously challenged the old dogmas.

For example, the egos of the old "crusty curmudgeons" who could pound brass at 40 WPM would be seriously diminished in this new advanced radio world while the young, pimply faced kid with the computer connected to his radio would be put on a pedestal among his peers.

Clearly, to the "old farts" who were firmly in control of the ARRL and other such "legacy" organizations of the day (themselves mostly "40 WPM CW men") simply couldn't let that happen. The prospect of youngsters (particularly those who hailed from that "other" radio Service (CB)) taking over the ham radio airwaves with their "funny sounding digital burps" and "CB lingo" was deemed to be far too threatening to this crowd. As a result, the welcome inclusion of such newcomers in our ranks automatically became absolutely unacceptable to the status quo.

Of course, there are still a few facets of our hobby that require a mastery of some higher tech methods. For example, it would be difficult to argue that bouncing a radio signal off the moon and then receiving the echo back from thereabouts isn’t one of the more challenging things that hams do. But consider how many amateurs are active in that pursuit and you must conclude that it’s a small fraction of even one percent of all licensees in our Service.

It’s much easier…trivial in fact… to toss a wire over a tree limb and make a 40-meter CW contact.  So, far more of our ilk simply choose to do that instead of bouncing their signals off the Moon.

Indeed, low-power enthusiasts, (QRP) have spent decades trying to make the point that HF communication is possible with practically nothing at all. That you or I could whip up a two-transistor transceiver in a single evening (and actually make radio contacts with it!) is widely seen as the magic of radio among those in this camp, However, that activity really only serves to make the point that they have embraced the simplest, lowest elements of RF technology and have absolutely no intention of moving beyond it.

Unfortunately, by electing the path to the past, we've also decided that the entertainment value of amateur radio has become far more important than the rapidly expanding field of communications technology. 

For example, consider the many ways that we have now made two-way radio into a "game".

We chase DX until all of the countries of the world have been "worked" and then we spend hours (and considerable "official" effort) figuring out how to invent new ones. Weekends are dedicated to non-stop operation with the goal being to earn the most points. We make radio contact with others and then trade post cards back and forth (via "snail mail"...and the even slower "bureau" system!) to prove that we actually did it. Certificates (wallpaper) of all kinds are offered for contact with specific stations or during specific events, etc.

And, of course, the lingua franca of amateur radio remains the Morse code.  

Even in the 21st Century, those who are proficient in CW (Morse) are seemingly more valued in the "pecking order" of ham radio than those who are not. In the larger world RF telecommunications, Morse has become an absolutely dead language that has long since proven to be nothing but a quaint reminder of the early days of radio.  Yet, a working knowledge of Morse still serves as a powerful totem for an entire belief system internal to the hobby.

Clearly, in selecting the path back to the distant past, we have collectively decided that nostalgia is far more important than innovation.  As a result, we must now depend upon nostalgia to drive future growth.

Thankfully, with a whole crop of "baby boomers" now hitting retirement age, this may help us out in the short term as those who "always wanted to be a ham" (or were hams at one time and let their licenses lapse) return to the fold.  But such an approach is completely unsustainable over the longer-term.  As I've said, even twenty years ago, the average age of the average ham in the USA was pushing 60.  It may even be significantly higher than that by now.  Indeed, a whole host of anecdotal and other indicators are also now starting to show that we are ageing and dying faster than our numbers are being replaced by youthful newcomers..

Sadly, ham radio has become much like an old trading post on a lonely stretch of Route 66 somewhere out in the Arizona desert. That is, you may stop to admire the wooden Indian, the old time gas pumps and the soda machines that still offer up glass bottles rather than aluminum cans. You snap a few pictures, buy a few trinkets for your niece or nephew and spend a moment warmly remembering what the Old West was like long ago.

And then you get back into your modern-day automobile and return to the real world.

Now, none of this should diminish the enjoyment that ham radio enthusiasts derive from our unique hobby. And, like many others, I, too, enjoy many of the activities noted above (DXing, contesting, etc.) There are also many people in the world who still enjoy building old steam engines, restoring antique cars, sailing boats by the wind and making butter by hand. Technology doesn’t always improve the quality of life and it has many unintended consequences.

But reality also demands that we acknowledge ham radio's place in the grand scheme of things, particularly when the lifeblood of our hobby....ever more sought-after frequency handed out based largely on the services we provide to mankind.  This is why I continue to serve as an officer in AMSAT, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation.  At least in that pursuit, our experimenters are still trying their very best (despite the FCC's over-regulated "sub-band and sub-sub band" nonsense along with the US State Department's ITAR stupidity) to push the state of the radio art forward. 

However, when it comes to amateur radio as a whole, we are no longer of the same ilk as those who innovate and invent.  Sadly, it’s been decades since we last put a noticeable dent in that universe!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Our ever-shrinking cadre of "regulatory fundamentalists" continues to argue that our licensing system's main purpose is to keep the "riff raff" out of our Service while turning us all into budding RF engineers.

I counter this elitist nonsense by saying that it should make absolutely no difference when (or to what level) a person acquires the skills and knowledges to become a ham radio operator.  As long as they posses enough knowledge and skills to operate their stations safely and courteously with the operating privileges granted, the rest, should be down in the "details"

Again, it is important to remember that our Service is, by international definition, "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."

To me, the "self-training" part of that definition strongly implies that such learning is meant to be a lifelong pursuit.  It should not consist of a series of artificially created "goals" (complete with Boy Scout-like "merit badges" used as ego-stroking "incentives" for "advancement") that serve no other regulatory purpose than to further the political and economic policy goals of a group of gormless government bureaucrats.

Rather, the licensing requirements for our Service should do nothing more than assure some minimum standard of technical and regulatory competence (consistent with safety and non-interference) that are directly applicable and relevant to the (added) privileges granted.


This means that the rest of the "details" involving any further acquisition of knowledge and skills beyond these minimum standards should be left entirely up to we hams to decide how much (or how little) of it we wish to then pursue.

This also means that the underlying goal of our licensing process should be to open up our ham bands (again, consistent with the minimum standards of safety and non-interference) so as to get newcomers actually on the air and acquiring those knowedges and skills in a "hands on" way rather than continuing to place "needless regulatory barriers" (as the FCC calls them) in front of people seeking full frequency access to our Service.

As I've said, clearly, beyond the General Class level, all that our current licensing system does right now is force "achievement" down people's throats while at the same time creating the (long since discredited) illusion that by making our advanced tests "harder", that activity alone will somehow keep the "riff raff" out of the so-called "exclusive" parts of our Service.

Unfortunately, despite being proven over and over again by those in authority (today's FCC) to be nothing but paranoid bunkum, the lingering perception that our licensing system forms the last remaining "line of defense" that somehow keeps the "wrong people" out of the mainstream of our Service still stubbornly persists among far too many US hams.

And it's the indefinite perpetuation of all such elitist snobbery that I firmly believe is now largely responsible for killing what's left of our wonderful hobby.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Clearly, the lazy bureaucrats at the FCC aren't now doing the job we taxpayers have directed them to do...which is to fully comply with the ITU regulations and changes in the US Federal Code.  

They simply aren't doing so.

And they continue to hide behind the worn out excuse that the status quo is "what we hams want".  What they interpret, as "what most hams want" is what the ARRL tells them "most hams want", even though the League's membership has never been more than about 25% of all licensed US hams.  

25% isn't "most".

But, even so, if I had perpetuated such "half-baked" excuses as the sole reason for non-compliance with the rest of the Federal Code at any time during my 20 years as a US Government comptroller professional, I would have been fired on the spot.  In my estimation, such bureaucratic laziness now goes well beyond simple regulatory malfeasance to the point of being blatant, benign neglect of a duly authorized radio service.

Any way you cut it, that's criminal.

This becomes particularly true when the FCC could very quickly (and, I believe, very easily) get rid of a huge part of the blatant systemic discrimination in our licensing system and all without changing anyone's license class or reissuing anyone's license.

In fact, if they really wanted to, they could do it all with just a simple stoke of a pen.

All the FCC would need to do is simply remove all the artificially regulated sub-bands (and sub-sub bands) on HF and then grant anyone holding a General, Advanced or Extra Class license identical operating privileges.  At the same time, anyone could apply for any available call sign under their so-called "vanity" call sign system.  It would be "first come, first served".  Which is as it should be anyway.

This would also allow all of our bands to revert back to their underlying ITU maximum emission bandwidth criteria, which is, as I've said, the way most other countries in the world (like Canada) already do it.

What's more, under this scenario, nobody would "lose" their current operating privileges.  In fact, this approach would (finally) recognize the fact that there IS virtually no operational difference between the operating privileges now granted to a General Class licensee and those of Advanced and Extra Class licensee in our Service in the USA today.

And, of course, this would also mean that it would once again be left up to we hams to decide "what goes where" on our HF bands, just like we now do on our VHF and above bands.  This is something we have, by the way, already been doing…. for decades.  
And that "sky" has yet to fall.

The only thing the remaining Advanced and Extra class license holders would now have under this new system would be "bragging rights", which, from a legal and regulatory standpoint, are largely irrelevant anyway.  That is, of course, irrelevant except in the elitist minds of that ever-shrinking minority who have been using their Advanced and Extra Class licenses as US Government permission to look down their upturned noses at everyone else in our hobby.  Under this new plan, all of that snobbery would now lose its US Government sanctioned underpinnings.

But, operationally, all three licenses...General, Advanced and Extra Class...would now become virtually identical…which, in reality, is what they already are.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Far from giving us (as some of our "regulatory fundamentalists" note) a lot of "freedom" to do such things as operate with high power and built transmitters from "from scratch", it would appear the FCC really doesn't trust us (with our meager "incentivized licensing" knowledge) to actually build and operate transmitters that won't cause harmful interference to other hams or other services.

If they did, then why does the FCC now have to "certify" every piece of commercially built amateur radio transmitting equipment before it can be offered for sale?

Perhaps this is also why most other countries in the world (including, as I have noted, Canada) expressly prohibit their lower class licensees from building transmitters "from scratch" and also limit them to using only 250 watts of transmit power unless and until they take another, far more comprehensive exam over material that is directly related to those specific privileges.

Indeed, all one has to do is look at the latest question pool for today's Extra Class license to see just how completely redundant it is. It's absolutely, chockablock full of questions relating, for example, to satellite, EME and meteor scatter operation, slow and fast scan television operation, formats for submitting DX contest logs, APRS, digital HF Packet operation, and a whole lot of other (redundant) questions relating to privileges that have already been granted to lower class licensees.  That is, even lowly Technicians, can (and do) operate on our satellites, bounce their signals off the moon and meteorite trails, use APRS and…(gasp!)…even participate in contests!

So, once again I ask: Why are all of these questions reserved for the Extra Class exam?  Shouldn't they be on the exam for the Technician license if all those privileges are granted to Technicians?

And if you still think I'm "blowing smoke" on this issue, I suggest you all download your own copy of the latest Extra Class question pool ( bottom of the page) and see for yourself the kind of absolutely redundant, primarily Technician class hogwash it contains. 

Clearly, such nonsense is yet more evidence (as if we needed any) that our stupid "incentive" licensing system, puts the "cart before the horse"…and always has.  It really doesn't measure much of anything, except  perhaps on how to take multiple choice examinations. 

By any measure, the current licensing system for our Service in the USA examines the wrong things at the wrong points in the licensing cycle.  As a result, it does an absolutely miserable job of making sure 'wet behind the ears" newcomers aren't going to maim (or kill) themselves or their neighbors, and/or cause harmful interference to other hams (or other services) while operating.  

The whole damn system is running "open loop"….and…as I've already discussed, is now systemically discriminatory (spelled "illegal" under US equal access law) to boot. Or, to borrow a phrase from a certain political campaign from not too long ago:  It's the system, stupid!"

That's because our US licensing system delays a fully comprehensive examination of what many people would call "essential" operating skills until one self-selects to take an exam for the Extra Class license…. a license that, as of late, only 17-18 percent of all US hams now hold.  And, as I've shown, there's absolutely NO direct relationship to the questions on the Extra Class exam and the added privileges it grants. 

Zip. Nada. None.

Any way you cut it, my friends…that's nuts!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Some in our ranks will argue that the there still is a regulatory need for the Extra Class exam because for a US license to be acceptable for the CEPT agreements allowing reciprocal licensing, the license must cover defined subject matter set by international agreements.

Once again this argument doesn't hold water, either.

First of all, the CEPT is NOT a "treaty" requirement, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the ITU regulations.  Rather, it's a separate agreement among several (primarily European) countries to recognize each other's licensing systems for the Amateur Radio Service.  As a result, a CEPT permit must, by design, default to the most stringent licensing requirements of the lot…including those that still require a Morse test for access to the HF bands.

What's more, I don' t think the CEPT consortium's "non-recognition" of some of our US licenses is related so much to the number of exams we have in our "incentive" system, as much as it has to do with their relevance (or lack thereof) and their comparability to most of the rest of the world's licensing systems for our Service.

As I've said, most other licensing systems in the world specifically withhold operating privileges from lower class licensees based primarily on safety and non-interference considerations rather than on rewarding "exclusive" slices of artificially walled-off sub-spectrum to higher class licensees.

Indeed, what I've been advocating in these forums and threads is that we in the USA need to stop focusing our licensing system on creating budding RF Engineers and, instead, make the questions on our exams actually match the operating privileges those licenses grant.  Right now, that isn't happening.

And if this approach leads to a more technically comprehensive (i.e. "harder") exam "up front", then SO BE IT!

In fact, that's exactly what Industry Canada does right now with their Basic exam exam that ALL Canadian hams must now pass in order to get ANY license for our Service in that country.... even for VHF and UHF operation.

I know from my own personal experience (from administering them) that the 100-question Canadian Basic exam is a whopper of a test that not everyone passes the first time...or the second...or the third…or even the fourth!  You actually have to "know your stuff" to pass it.  And, with 100 questions pulled out of a 900-item question bank, I've also found that it is extremely hard (if not impossible) for candidates to simply "memorize the test". That's probably because the Canadian Basic exam is roughly equivalent in content and comprehensiveness to our US Tech and General exams put together.

But, even so, there's still a difference.

That is, rather than focusing on testing obscure parts of our hobby that few (if any of us) will ever need to know about (let alone use!) that Basic exam focuses specifically on examining only those skills and knowledges that hams will absolutely "need to know" in order to keep themselves (and their neighbors) safe and/or from causing harmful interference to other hams or other services.

What's more, unlike our current US Tech license (based on successfully completing a horrifically un-comprehensive, 35-question exam) that grants high power operating and transmitter construction privileges from day one, holders of the Canadian Basic certificate are STILL limited to running only 250 watts of power.  Basics also cannot build transmitters "from scratch" (kits are OK) and they can't hold the license of an in-band repeater or club station, or give exams. To do those things, they need to pass yet another, 50-question exam over much more technically oriented subject matter.

That is, unlike our General and Extra Class exams that simply ask more obscure questions about subject matter relating to operating privileges that have (in most cases) already been granted to lower-class licensees in the US system, the Canadian Advanced exam is anything but yet another "achievement test".   To put it bluntly, it's a big-time toughie over a whole lot of new material!

However, even though it is a much more comprehensive and technically oriented exam, it still focuses on examining only those added technical knowledges and skills that Advanced certificate holders absolutely need to know to keep themselves and their neighbors safe (and themselves from causing harmful interference) while exercising those newly granted (high power and repeater-enabled) privileges.

The bottom line here is that candidates for licenses in our Service in Canada are examined NOT based on their "achievements" or with an aim to "educate" them into becoming budding RF engineers.  Rather, Canadian licensed candidates are examined on what they absolutely need to know to do certain things in our Service based primarily on safety and non-interference concerns…and nothing more.  

And before some in our ranks once again accuse me of trying to breed "mediocrity" in our Service, please understand that I am NOT advocating that we "water down" our US exam structure any further!

To the contrary, what I AM advocating is that we need to "front end load" our examination requirements and then subsequently examine only those things that we all know (from our own experiences) are specifically required keep ourselves and others safe while also helping to prevent us all from becoming a nuisance to other hams or other services.

Such an approach would also make an "Extra Class" license totally irrelevant, and therefore absolutely unnecessary...which, in my mind, it already is.

This approach also gets the FCC out of the "education" business (where they absolutely don't belong and where their "incentive" system has proven to be a dismal failure in that regard) and back into simply examining candidates for basic (and advanced) technical and regulatory competencies that are specifically relevant to what we actually do…on the air…as modern hams.

Or, to put it another way, this approach gets our examination system back into the business of examining skills and knowleges based on "need" rather than for some obscure modicum of educational "achievement".

That's not advocating "mediocrity" in our Service (or creating a "No Ham Left Behind Radio Service")!  Rather, it's called examining for the right set of needed technical and regulatory skills at the right times in our ham radio "careers".