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.

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