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".

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