Monday, December 31, 2012

Once again, our "regulatory fundamentalists" are trotting out yet another half-baked reason for retaining an Extra Class license in our licensing structure. 

They say that for a license to be acceptable for the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations; (CEPT) agreements (which allow reciprocal licensing) the license must cover defined subject matter set by international agreements.  Therefore, they say, short of changing the requirements for a license to be acceptable for the purposes of reciprocal licensing (Not trivial, requires international agreement), something that looks very much like the extra class license is required.

To which I again say, "Hogwash!"

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 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/or 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 this blog is that the USA needs to stop focusing their licensing system on creating budding RF Engineers and, instead, make the questions on the US 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 Canada does right now with their Basic 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 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, indeed, make an "Extra Class" license totally irrelevant, and therefore absolutely unnecessary.  Which, in my mind, it already is.

This approach 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 us 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".

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Over and over again in online forums, I hear our "regulatory fundamentalists" insist that experience, knowledge and achievement should be acknowledged and rewarded in the form of a license to operate in our Service.

To which I say....."Horsepucky"!

What these clowns continually forget is that a license to operate in a publicly-owned, taxpayer supported radio service is NOT a "reward" for "good deeds".  Rather, it's simply the granting of privileges to operate after someone demonstrates a proscribed level of competency to do so. 


As I've said, all such "achievement" nonsense has absolutely NO place in a taxpayer-supported, government-administered institution whose regulator's sole authority is simply to regulate.  Clearly, the underlying goal of incentive licensing was to forcefully "educate" us with the aim of turning us all into budding RF Engineers. And THAT was done primarily so as to further a whole plethora of government social and economic goals of the day.  

Indeed, many of you may remember the "missile gap" of the 1960s when our government bureaucrats were throwing anything and everything at the wall to stimulate a countrywide effort to crank out hordes of mechanical, electrical and RF engineers. Obviously, "incentive licensing" in our radio service was made all the more palatable because of its relationship to the backdrop of the "missile gap" paranoia of the day.

But, it is also important to remember that, besides the "missile gap" being later shown to be overwhelmingly in the US's favor, all that nonsense happened NEARLY 50 YEARS AGO!  What possible regulatory purpose is still being the 21st indefinitely keeping all that "missile gap derived" nonsense fully in place today?  The Soviet Union has long since gone the way of the dinosaur, and most of our electronic components and equipment now originate from the Far East.

Clearly, the other underlying goal of all this "incentive" nonsense at the time was to line the pockets of the ARRL who, if memory serves correctly, were on the financial "ropes" at the time. Indeed, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the League has been cashing in on "incentive licensing" ever since by selling tens (if not hundreds and hundreds) of thousands of copies of their so-called "upgrade" materials along the way.

But the ARRL wasn't the only one pushing this nonsense at the time.  The "good old boys" at the FCC were clearly involved in it too. 

And all the while we hams continue to worship the FCC as some kind of "demi-God" from whom all blessings flow, they certainly won't see things "my way", "our way" or ANY way other than what the FCC, in their isolated "Ivory Tower" decides to do...or not to do.  And, as I've also said, their whole "petition" process is little more than a bureaucratic farce.  Most "petitions" end up in "File 13" if they in any way go against already established FCC policy.

Unfortunately, ALL of us seem to have collectively lost sight of the fact that the FCC is nothing more than yet another US Government regulatory agency.  And they have never been granted the statutory authority to set themselves up to "educate" anyone.

What's more, since we taxpayers pay their salaries, these overstuffed (not to mention overpaid) FCC bureaucrats all work for YOU AND ME and NOT the other way around.

Now, I don't know about you, but, from my own personal perspective, I highly RESENT being manipulated, controlled and, in effect, abused by a bunch of gormless government bureaucrats who remain seemingly hell-bent on using we hams (and prospective hams) as unwitting pawns to further their own social and economic policy goals as outlined in their Part 97.1…. particularly all that "maintaining and expanding a reservoir of trained operators and technical experts" nonsense.

In my book, ALL of that eyewash remains in DIRECT CONTRAVENTION of the "personal aim" and "amateur" spirit (not to mention the "non pecuniary interest" intent) of our International Telecommunications Union (ITU) regulators for our Service. And the FCC has been getting away with all of this internationally illegal foolishness for decades largely because US hams collectively 'bought into" all that nonsense in the first place and have continued to worship it all as "the Gospel truth" ever since.

Indeed, it's often been said that we don't get the government we deserve, we get the government (in this case the FCC) we allow.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

In recent years, many national amateur-radio-related lobby organizations (most notably the ARRL) have increasingly attempted to justify our continued, fee-free access to our frequencies based on our known ability to help out various rapid response organizations in times of emergency.

Unfortunately, that decision is now coming back to bite both them...and us...big time.

In many ways, we've become the victims of our own success.  That's because we've done such a good job with these activities (sometimes loosely called "EMCOMM"...short for "Emergency Communication") in the past that governments at all levels are now increasingly looking to the Amateur Service to provide their "standby" communications services "for free" without having to hire full-time people and put them on their own government payrolls.

Clearly, this flies directly in the face of amateur radio's supposed "non-pecuniary interest" underpinnings that's explicitly spelled out in both the International and federal regulations that govern our Service.

Obviously, we can no longer justify our Service's continued existence (not to mention our continued fee-free access to the increasingly valuable radio spectrum most of us now take for granted!) based solely on our "proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art" as Part 97.1 so loftily declares. 

The truth is that we haven't really done much of that "advancement" stuff in decades. 

Maybe that's because many of us have been so very busy "eating our young" along the way by obsessively insisting that younger people who might like to join us still endure systemically discriminatory "hazing rituals" arcane Morse tests and increasingly irrelevant, "achievement tests" over technologically ancient subject matter…LONG after such institutionalized snobbery served any useful regulatory purpose (if it ever did!) 

As a result, most of today's bright-eyed, tech-savvy youngsters are now looking elsewhere to exercise their budding technological talents.  And, what's left of what we call "Amateur Radio" has since become an increasingly irrelevant technological backwater in the grand scheme of things. 

Indeed, to the outside world, our Service now consists of little more than an ever aging (and therefore ever-shrinking) group of perpetually squabbling, "grumpy old men"…ossified old farts who remain absolutely hell-bent on keeping the rules and licensing requirements for our Service permanently stuck in the technological and sociological 1950s.

Unfortunately, lobby organizations like the ARRL…organizations that are doing their level best to represent our Service to international and federal politicians and regulators in a positive light…now have very little left with which to justify our Service's continued existence to those politicians and regulators.  And, like it or not, it's the latter folks who ultimately decide who gets what access to which slice of ever-more-scarce frequency spectrum.

Clearly, it now appears that one of the very last remaining jewels in our Service's "crown"…our so-called "voluntary" EMCOMM activities…has now become permanently "tarnished" as well...primarily because the use of amateur radio frequencies is supposed to be on a "non-pecuniary interest" basis.

Or, to put it another way, providing a semi-permanent, communications capability to a "for profit" hospital or other such organization hardly qualifies as "non-pecuniary" and turns the entire basis and purpose of our Service on its head.

Indeed, thanks largely to decades of ongoing regulatory obstructionism from our ever-aging (but still highly vocal) cadre of ossified Luddite curmudgeons, our Service's ultimate fate (in the form of a long, slow, painful death from lack of new blood) is now largely sealed.