Monday, April 30, 2012

Any way you cut it, the US Federal Communications Commission is blatantly ignoring public law when it comes to regulating our Amateur Radio Service in the United States of America.

Indeed, these clowns seem to have forgotten that our federal and state laws are written for compliance by EVERYONE.... INCLUDING high-handed government bureaucrats who seemingly think they can continually ignore federal law and get away with it.    

Once these federal equal access laws that I have been citing in previous posts went on the books back in the early 1990s, our FCC bureaucrats should have looked at what the new laws very clearly said about redundant licensing requirements that serve no regulatory purpose in granting access to public resources…and then repealed all that nonsense!  They then should have put new regulations into place that complied with both the sprit and the intent of those new federal laws.

Unfortunately, to date...some 20 years later....NONE of that happened!

I also find it rather comical that some of the more vocal "crusty curmudgeons" in our ranks keep saying these reforms aren't "what hams want".  Yet, when all this "incentive" nonsense was first pushed down our throats back in the late 1960s, our FCC bureaucrats at the time didn't seem to care whether their proposals were popular with a "majority" of hams or not. 

Indeed, over the strong objections of even the ARRL regarding the final version of the regulations that later served as the basis for the FCC's wholesale hijacking of our Service for their own political ends (under the guise of "incentive licensing"), the FCC just went ahead and implemented them. 

Likewise, the FCC also didn't seem to care about "what we hams wanted", let alone the MAJOR impact it would have on both our own and many other radio services) when they enacted access BPL...a blatant, for-profit, regulatory assassination of a public resource which has since proven to be nothing but a HUGE RF polluter. Again, they just went ahead and implemented it with the cavalier bureaucratic attitude that "the hams (and others) will just have to lump it".

So, as I see it, there's a LONG track record of the FCC doing as they damn well please despite the very valid objections of our (and other) radio services.

But, regardless, the long needed reforms I'm now advocating are NOT something that should be determined by "plebiscite" or via their stupid "request for comments" farce anyway.  They were (and are) simply a matter of a US Government agency complying with the US Federal Code.  Period.

Indeed, back when I worked in the Federal Service, and when federal laws relating to government appropriations and disbursements were changed, we didn't take a "vote" or ask for comments from our "customers" as to whether our agency should (or should not) comply.  We simply re-wrote our regulations to comply with the new laws.  In some cases, we even set up mobile training teams to instruct those persons working at isolated locations in our agency who dealt with such issues in the "new way" of doing things.  I know this to be true because part of my job at the time was to go "on the road" to teach these courses.

And while our approach to such regulatory and legal issues was all very proactive rather than reactive, I will readily admit that some of those decisions were not always popular with our customer base.  But compliance with other federal laws was always paramount in our operation.

As part of their baseless defense of all this continuing nonsense, some of our "crusty curmudgeons" have also noted that the real reason I don't submit a formal proposal to change the licensing structure is that I know it will be overwhelmingly opposed in the comments, and FCC will therefore not act on it.

Northing could be further from the truth.

The "real reason" I'm not submitting a proposal is that I know from my own personal experiences that the FCC's whole "proposal" process is a farce.  And, in this case, it's absolutely not applicable anyway.  That's because there shouldn't BE a need for any such "petition" nonsense in order for a US federal agency to fully comply with its own federal laws!

Bringing the regulations for our Service into compliance with these new federal laws should have been accomplished LONG ago when all these federal equal access laws first came on the books.  Instead, generations of spineless FCC bureaucrats have simply "kicked the can down the road" and crossed their fingers in the fervent hope that nobody will notice these disconnects until such time as we all die off and amateur radio itself finally goes the way of the dinosaur.

The bottom line here remains that the ONLY way these FCC bureaucrats will now act on these issues is if they are financially FORCED into acting on them..."from above".

Indeed, as the columnist Thomas Sowell once so eloquently said, “You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that, for bureaucrats, procedure is everything and outcomes mean nothing.”

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Clearly, the move to drop all forms of Morse testing for a license in our Service in the USA has the "Morse testing forever" and "Regulated mode and license class-sub-band forever" crowd in a tizzy.

These Neanderthals keep insisting (via various Ham-Radio-related online forums and at other Ham Radio related gatherings) that Morse testing in the licensing system was the most wonderful thing since sliced bread and that the FCC absolutely needs to bring it all back so as to "preserve and protect the integrity of the Service".

That is, by trying to revive Morse testing for full privilege licenses, these clowns STILL want to force Morse...a single transmission mode among many that we use...down everyone's throats.

Unfortunately, those who are still desperately pining to keep regulated, mode and license-class based sub-bands intact are, in reality, preventing all of us from experiencing new communications modes as they come along.  That's because their advocacy for the "status quo", and "unless-it's-specifically-enabled-in-Part 97-then-it's-prohibited" approach to bandwidth regulation effectively prevents new.more advanced modes of transmission from ever getting off the ground.

This nonsense accomplishes absolutely nothing but to keep Ham Radio firmly stuck in the technological and regulatory "dark ages".  And, clearly, this is is precisely what these Neanderthals so desperately want.

Fortunately, as I've said, these clowns are no longer getting any traction with the FCC. 

In fact, the whole issue surrounding elimination of the Morse testing requirement because of changes forced by international agreements (the ITU made Morse testing for a license in our Service optional back in 2003) is eerily reminiscent of another issue in our Amateur Radio history.  At the time, it produced much the same reaction from a similar group of people who absolutely refused to accept inevitable changes to our Service..

The setting was the International Radiotelegraph Conference in Washington, DC in October and November of 1929.  It was at this conference that the remaining 70-odd nations of the world declined to accept the American (at that time) ultra-wide band plans for the Amateur Service.  Those agreements forced the United States to agree to reduce the frequency spectrum available to its amateurs by almost 40 percent.

However, as Clinton DeSoto in his 1939 Book "Two Hundred Meters and Down" wrote:  "True, there was some discontent.  A few perpetual objectors, a few chronic malcontents, a few congenital troublemakers, and a few sincere amateurs honestly convinced that they had been unjustifiably short-changed, refused to accept the new order of things.  But this was only a small percentage.  For the most part, amateurs simply went about their routine amateur radio, operating every day as much as was possible in that day, enjoying it all to the utmost, and not bothering themselves about situations beyond their control or active interest".

Friday, April 27, 2012

While I was engaged in conversation the other day with a US Ham, he noted that the Technician License seems to now have become a "destination license" for many.

I tend to agree.

That is, despite our so-called "incentive" licensing structure, the truth (which I'm sure the FCC "Gods" would rather we not advertise) is that nearly half (48.8 percent to be exact) of all US Hams have apparently told the FCC to stick their stupid "incentive" nonsense where the Sun doesn't shine.  That's because these folks (at last count, some 343,000 of them) seem to be quite content to remain licensed as entry-level Technicians.

I've also been told (by someone who has actually seen the information) that the ARRL has been doing some of their own "scientific" sampling as of late along these lines and their "scientific" data tends to track pretty closely with my "anecdotal" data. 

Indeed, their data very clearly shows a disturbing downward trend that, unless things quickly turn around and we begin attracting much larger numbers of youthful newcomers to our Service, our overall demographics start "tanking" in the out years.

But, once again, these scientific surveys are simply confirming what should be becoming blatantly obvious to anyone in our Service in the United States who still holds a license and has eyes to see and ears to hear.  Indeed, all one really has to do these days is to simply look around the room at the advancing age of the participants at various amateur radio-related gatherings to see these very clear demographic trends. 

Any way you cut it, participation in our hobby is down and we are, as a group, getting older.  What's more, once active bands (even during sunspot minimums) are increasingly less crowded.  Save for the occasional contest weekend or 75 meter net, overall, our bands are becoming ever more quiet as compared to just a few years ago. 

For example, how often have we called "CQ" with no results just before a contest into a seemingly "dead" band, only to have that band very quickly come alive with DX contesters once the contest began?  Try doing the same thing after the contest and you'll most likely get the same (dismal) results as before the contest.

A lot of the time, our bands are absolutely wide open.  It's just that there's fewer and fewer people actively operating these days.

Once active VHF and UHF repeaters, too, are falling increasingly silent…if they are even still on the air.  

Nowadays, the bulk of repeater activity occurs during "drive time".  The rest of the day, usually all one hears…sometimes for hours at a stretch and up and down the band…are repeater IDs.

Hamfests, too, are feeling the pinch.  Even the "granddaddy" hamfest of them all in the USA… the Dayton Hamvention…is attracting less and less participation these days.  I'm told by someone who has actually seen the final numbers that this year's Dayton participation was well under 20,000. Any way you cut it, this is an abysmal showing for an extravaganza that, in years past, has routinely attracted upwards of 35,000 participants. 

What's more, other, once very popular hamfests (like the Miami hamfest) have now gone the way of the dinosaur from lack of participation.  Countless other smaller 'fests have long since evaporated as well.

Now, granted, each of these trends, taken by themselves, would not be cause for alarm.  But when viewed collectively, they paint an (admittedly anecdotal) picture that our hobby is now dying a very slow, painful death.  

And, as I have noted in previous posts, we really have nobody but ourselves to blame for it. 

For decades now, we have been obsessively maintaining an absolutely arcane licensing and regulatory system for our Service in the United States that's been based largely on ego-stroking "exclusivity".  Unfortunately, all we now have to show for years of that narcissistic foolishness is an ever-shrinking brain pool of younger talent. 

Or, to put it another way, it now appears we've been very successfully (and very happily) "eating" an ever-larger portion of our "young" along the way. And, predictably, our Service is now paying a very high price for that FCC-sanctioned, ego-stoking nonsense.

Indeed, it may very well prove to be our "swan song".

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Like many of my fellow Hams, I, too, am becoming ever more disgusted with the "sour grapes" blather emanating from an ever-shrinking (but still highly vocal) minority of "crusty curmudgeons" in our ranks…people who are STILL royally peeved that the FCC has now (finally!) seen fit to start dismantling their highly discriminatory, 1950's-era "exclusive club" approach to licensing and regulating our Service.

I most often hear such elitist blather spewing from the mouths and keyboards of these Neanderthals in ever more obsessive rants that Amateur Radio in the United States is now somehow being "dumbed down". 

However, what these clowns seem to have (conveniently?) forgotten is that it was the FCC (at the ARRL's urging) who, in the 1950s and 60s, decided to "dumb UP" what USED to be a simple series of examinations for full participation in our Service.  As I've been discussing, the plan they ultimately hatched was called "incentive licensing" and its overall objective was to turn Amateur Radio into the "No Budding Professional RF Engineer Left Behind" Radio Service.

Sadly, what also seems to have been conveniently forgotten by these elitists is that, for several decades in our early years, our Service functioned just beautifully without having ANY technical requirements in our licensing system WHATSOEVER!

Back then, the US government's regulatory emphasis was based largely on demonstrating one's ability to communicate, NOT on demonstrating one's technical prowess to someone in authority.  We simply didn't need to.  That's because our contributions to advancing the state of the radio art were being clearly demonstrated for all to see on a daily basis by our collective inventiveness.

However, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the FCC (at the ARRL's urging) decided to hatch their stupid incentive licensing foolishness, they also (and I say quite needlessly) pushed the licensing requirements for full access to our Service in the United States WELL beyond those minimally required by other nations, not to mention those minimally required under the ITU rules that govern our Service internationally.

The system they concocted consisted of a "class-based" system with candidates being forced to successfully pass ever more comprehensive technical examinations (and Morse tests!) in exchange for access to so-called "exclusive" slivers of operating spectrum along with the chance to obtain an "exclusive" call sign.  Unfortunately, nowadays, even with the Morse tests having (finally!) gone the way of the dinosaur along with an ever-so-slow reduction in the number of license classes, this 1950s-era "incentive" system remains largely intact in the USA.

Thankfully, most other countries around the world never bought into this foolishness.  Even with only entry-level licenses, most Hams in other countries are allowed to operate with full frequency privileges using the maximum bandwidths allowed by the international regulations for our Service right from the start.  There are no regulated "sub-bands" or "sub-sub bands" based on license class and operating mode in most other countries in the world.

What's more, advanced licenses in these countries are usually only required for Hams who want to do some very specific things in our Service that need a higher level of technical or administrative expertise to successfully (or safely) perform. These include being able to run a repeater or club station, build their own transmitters "from scratch", run high power and/or give exams.

The official reason the FCC (and the ARRL) gave for hatching their incentive licensing stupidity at the time was to "improve the technical qualifications of US Hams".  This presumes such "improvement" was needed. 

Who made that assessment and how they arrived at that particular conclusion is anyone's guess.

However, my hunch is that a FAR more bigoted reason for this sudden change in policy at the time was really all about keeping the dreaded "riff raff" (otherwise known as "CBers") out of our Service at all costs.  Unfortunately, there's still a lot of enmity directed toward former CBers (and CB jargon) on our bands even today…over 50 years after the 11 Meter band was taken from the Hams and re-allocated to the Citizens Radio Service.

The ARRL and the FCC may have been able to get away with such blatant, government-sponsored regulatory discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s.  However, both organizations have now realized that such federally enabled, systemic discrimination has become patently illegal under US federal law…which is most likely why such arcane practices as multi-speed Morse tests and a dizzying hierarchy of needlessly comprehensive written examinations are now (slowly) going by the wayside.

However, sadly, there are STILL far too many crusty curmudgeons in our ranks who justify their own boorish snobbery toward ALL new (or would-be) Hams (particularly those who might have roots in that "other" radio service) by continually practicing their regulated elitism toward newcomers.  They reserve their particularly vehement catcalls and boorish behavior for anyone who didn't pass the exact same, overly comprehensive entrance and advancement exams as they did "back then".

The fact that relying on a licensing system to keep the "riff raff" out has been proven, over and over again, to be utterly ineffective at doing so doesn't seem to matter to this crowd.  All one has to do is look at the long list of 20 WPM Extra Class licensees who have since made their way onto the FCC's "scofflaw list" to find irrefutable proof of that fact. 

But, then again, when have facts ever gotten in the way of snobbery?

So, when newer Hams run into these boorish clowns on our bands (or in various online forums) it is important for those newcomers to remember that these loud-mouthed Neanderthals constitute an ever-dwindling minority of the active Hams in our Service.  That's because the FCC has now…officially…debunked all of their elitist, 1950s-era, systemically discriminatory "lid filter" ideas. 

But what's even more encouraging is that the vocal proponents of such regulation-sanctioned bigotry are, themselves, now dying off in ever increasing numbers. Posting their increasingly inane blather in various online forums and/or looking down their noses at newcomers in Ham radio-related gatherings remains their last, best (and possibly only) hope to stem the tide. 

But, fortunately, they aren't getting any traction there, either.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Many of our "crusty curmudgeon" Ham Radio Operators in the USA have repeatedly opined in various forums that letting 700,000 US Hams “loose” to operate anywhere on the HF Bands (and in whatever mode they so choose) would lead to anarchy in our Service.

The truth is that there are ALREADY roughly 60,000 Hams from Canada who are “regulated by emission bandwidth” (vice by license class and operating mode) and who have been quite regularly “running loose to operate anywhere” for going on several decades now.  What’s more, these nice folks have been operating this way for years (gasp!) RIGHT NEXT DOOR to USA with it's all its regulated sub-band (and sub-sub band) nonsense..

And the "sky" has yet to "fall".

Now, granted, the numbers of Hams in Canada are much smaller in comparison to those in the USA.  However, I think the fact that because nothing horrible has happened on the North American bands as a result of the way Hams have been regulated in Canada, it speaks volumes about the baselessness of the “paranoia factor” in the debates now raging south of the border over such issues.

As I have also noted in various other forums, I've come to believe that a lot of the regulatory issues US Hams are now grappling with are a direct result of the FCC’s decision (with the encouragement of the ARRL) to carve up the bands into smaller and smaller segments based on their myopic “Incentive Licensing” foolishness back in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

To my knowledge, nowhere else in the world are the Ham Bands as carved up as they now are in the USA.  Nowhere else in the world is operating spectrum meted out based on such a complex and confusing system of license “classes” based on an examination system of ever more comprehensive “achievement tests”.  It’s a licensing approach that now looks more like a college degree program designed by (and for) RF engineers than a simple certification system to help insure that a group of “amateurs” will not be a hazard to themselves or their neighbors, or become a nuisance to other Hams on the bands.

So, with this as a backdrop, my hunch is that both the FCC and the ARRL have now begun to (finally) see the error of their ways (spelled “overkill) from long ago.  And, they are probably now trying, ever so slowly, to start backing away from the mess they, themselves, created with Incentive Licensing.

Unfortunately, the system they created back in the 1950s (along with it’s accumulated changes and “changes to the changes” ever since) has now become so convoluted and inflexible (not to mention thoroughly entrenched) that I believe it’s going to be quite difficult (if not impossible) to fix it without scrapping the whole sorry mess that is Part 97 and starting over.

But, they need to do so with one basic difference.

Part 97 is currently written in such a way that, unless some particular mode or frequency of operation is specifically enabled, then it’s prohibited.  By contrast, the regulations here in Canada (as well as in many other parts of the world) are written in such a way that unless some form of operation is specifically prohibited, then it’s enabled.   I think the FCC needs to take a good, long, hard look at the simple way other governments in the rest world regulate their Hams to see if some simplification (or removal) of a lot of the “thou-shalt-not” eyewash in Part 97 might be a more productive (not to mention far simpler!) way to regulate.

I invite those who have never looked at the way another country regulates its Hams to point your browsers to:

http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/epic/internet/insmt-gst.nsf/en/sf05478e.html

There, you’ll find PDF files of our Canadian Radio Information Circulars…the RICs...and Regulation by References....RBRs.  Together, these 7 documents (two of which contain the question pools for Canada’s two Ham certifications) comprise Industry Canada’s “Part 97”.  I think even a cursory reading of these documents and then comparing their refreshing simplicity to all of the regulatory gobbledygook now contained in Part 97 will prove my point beyond any shadow of doubt.

What’s more, I strongly believe the obvious, stark differences between these two approaches to regulating are at the very heart of the current “regulating by bandwidth” mess that regulators (and rganizations like the ARRL) the USA have tried (and have so far failed) to grapple with in the past.

This is also why, unless radical changes are now made to Part 97, I believe US Hams will forever be stuck with a 1950s-era regulatory and licensing structure that has now long outlived its usefulness.

Over the years, US Hams (via the ARRL) have now gotten so used to playing “Mother May I?” with the FCC for even minor changes to the rules that when major changes are needed, other diverse (but firmly entrenched) interests in Ham Radio who now see their "turf" in any way threatened simply trot out “the rules” and successfully use them as a barrier to sorely needed progress.

Sadly, to many who are absolutely terrified of change, complex government regulations (like Part 97) simply make it easier for a relatively small group of people to have a far bigger (and far more negative) impact on needed change than their numbers would otherwise justify.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

There are a lot of US Amateur Radio operators who have been cheering the fact that the US licensed  ham population recently kipped over the 700,000 mark as of late.

However, that number alone is probably misleading.  That is, while our Service may appear to be "still growing" (as some folks myopically believe) according to the rest of the analysis derived from that same demographic, our numbers as a percentage of the US population as a whole actually PEAKED back in 1997.

And there's another thing missing from all the data that those who continue to say "all is well" in our Service like to banter about that I believe will eventually prove to be our undoing.  It's the fact that that nowhere in the public FCC database does it state the AGE of our current licensees! 

It is also important to remember that, because our US licenses are all on a 10-year renewal cycle, the demographics these folks are citing were only completely accurate ten years ago!  Who knows how many more of us have died, or have, for whatever reason, chosen to leave the hobby altogether since then?

My own (admittedly, purely anecdotal) evidence that we are on the cusp of a steep decline in our numbers comes from my active work as an accredited examiner in both the USA and Canada.  For the last several years, I have been able to count on the fingers of one hand the number of "under twenty somethings" I've administered examinations to for our Service.  I'm also getting the same feelings expressed by a number of other examiners with whom I regularly have contact.

Indeed, most of my candidates for a new license in our Service have been what I affectionately call "retreads".  These are folks who may have always wanted to get their ham licenses but, for whatever reason, were unable to obtain one until now.  And, not surprisingly, when asked, the vast majority of these folks say they were kept out of our Service by our collective, ongoing obsession with Morse testing. 

Another large group of people I test held a ham ticket at one time long ago, but life (in the form of job, family or income) prevented them from actively pursuing the hobby until now.  In the interim, they simply let whatever license they may have held lapse.

In both cases, most of the folks I'm administering tests to these days are now well into their mid to late 50s. Some are even well into their 60s or 70s. And the VAST majority of them are now retirees. As I have said, there is rarely an "under twenty something" in the lot. 

Now, don't get me wrong.  I think we should be more than happy to have these folks (back) in the fold.  And I welcome then all with open arms. 

But my own personal experiences are increasingly showing that we simply are NOT attracting enough YOUTHFUL newcomers to our Service these days to replace us ever-aging curmudgeons when we (and most of our predominantly older newcomers) are dead and gone.

The bottom line here is that, while our numbers may LOOK like we have "stopped the decline" and are now a robust and growing Service again, the (not-so-hidden) reality is that the (non-club) number of NEW licensees in our Service in the United States peaked in 2007 and has been on its way down ever since.  What's more, based on my recent conversations with the ARRL VEC folks, the median age of newcomers to our Service in the United States tracks pretty closely (around age 50) with those folks who are showing up on MY doorstep to take exams. 

My hunch is that these facts, when combined with (as yet unreported) declines in our ranks from death or lack of interest that are being masked by our ten-year license renewal cycle, our numbers are now poised to start dropping in the USA at an ever more increasing rate.  And I predict they will begin dropping like a rock in the out years as our ever increasing "silent key" rate overtakes and then eventually outpaces our "youthful newcomer" rate. 

Oh...and there's one more thing....

As I and others have repeatedly noted, when you drill down the distribution of licensees among our various license classes in the United States, it appears that more than 342,000 in our ranks now hold nothing more than a Technician license, while only 124,000 or so have "advanced" all the way to Extra Class. 

Or, to put it another way, Technicians now make up a whopping 49 percent...nearly half.... of the non-club whole, while Extra Class operators make up only about 18 percent of the total.

Those who were around in the late 1960s may recall that part of the ARRL's grand "sales job" behind the FCC's so-called "incentive licensing" nonsense back then was to create built-in (largely ego-based) regulatory incentives for ALL of us to feel the strong urge to educate ourselves and "upgrade" all the way to Extra Class. 

It simply hasn't happened, folks.

It would now seem that almost HALF of those in our current ranks have told the FCC to "take a hike" with their stupid "incentive" nonsense. Indeed, for whatever reason, today's Technicians have very clearly shown...by their overwhelming numbers...that they simply aren't interested in "upgrading"... AT ALL!

Indeed, in any other "educational" endeavor, a 18 percent success rate to the "top rung" of the ladder (an Extra Class license) would be considered a dismal failure.  Everywhere else, that is, but with the ARRL's and FCC's myopic attempts to turn the Amateur Radio Service in the United States of America into the "No Budding RF Engineer Left Behind" Radio Service.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

I find it interesting that the term "education" is not mentioned  anywhere  in the rules and regulations that govern our Amateur Radio Service internationally.  And any professional educator worth their degree will tell you that there is a vast difference between the content and comprehensiveness of the teaching-learning processes involved in "training" versus "education".

What's more, there is a huge difference in measuring academic achievement (which requires a far deeper working knowledge of the material examined) than simply testing to insure that someone is merely competent to perform a skill or a function. 

Unfortunately, right now, with their stupid "incentive licensing" nonsense, the FCC is trying to do the former and the latter.  In my humble opinion, they aren't doing a very good job of either.  And they and haven't been doing a good job for decades.

That's probably because the FCC has traditionally been staffed with a bunch of engineers and lawyers, not educators.  Indeed, most FCC staffers wouldn't have the slightest clue about the basics of human measurement theory and practice...or what's a legally fair and relevant (versus a legally unfair and/or irrelevant) exam if it hit them between the eyes.

But, regardless, the bottom line remains that the FCC's charter from the ITU and the US Congress is to effectively and efficiently put an examination and licensing system in place for our Service that provides just a reasonable assurance that we are minimally competent to safely and courteously operate our stations with the privileges granted.  Period.

Their job is absolutely NOT (and never has been) to turn us all into budding RF engineers.

Yet, somehow, training people to a minimum standard (consistent with safety and non-interference) in our so-called "Amateur" Radio Service in the United States of America has long since morphed into being "not good enough" according to some of the aging "crusty curmudgeons" in our ranks. 

As I've said in previous posts, clearly, the exam for our Tech license needs to be far more comprehensive that it is now.  However, there is simply no regulatory need for the Extra Class license to even be in the mix. Zip...nada...none.

Now, I suppose if you are already a graduate electrical engineer, the Extra Class license material would be a "snap".  But, once again, it's not the "easiness" or the "hardness" of the test material that matters in determining a US Government examination's validity.  It's the relevance of what's on that test to the (additional) privileges it grants that determines that examination's legality.

And, any way you cut it, friends, it simply does not require a working knowledge of a 600+ page Extra Class license manual and the successful completion of yet another 50-question exam (over material largely related to privileges that have already been granted to lower class licensees in the US system) to be found uniquely qualified and therefore competent to, for example, operate one's station at 14.024 MHz versus 14.026 MHz.

Unfortunately, for most of us, once we jump through all the FCC's stupid "Extra Class" hoops ourselves, there's no longer a felt need for us to want to change the system for the next poor slob who has to endure the same absolutely baseless, FCC-imposed, Extra Class "hazing rituals" that we all did. 

If anything, human nature being what it is, strong feelings of "I did it and so should you" take over and the end result is that absolutely nothing changes.

In fact, I remain convinced that it's this "I've got mine" social phenomenon that is one of the principal reasons why our Service has now devolved into the sociological and technological backwater that we have since become.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I often wonder if the people who seem to be perpetually "harrumphing" as of late about all the "dumb" questions now being asked by today's budding Amateur Radio Operators ever stopped to think how they got the answers to those same "dumb" questions when they were "growing up" in the hobby?

I don't know about you, but back then, the only way I got the answers to such questions was by spending hours (quite literally!) plowing through reams of ARRL publications, including the ARRL Handbook that was (and, to a certain extent, remains) written primarily for budding RF Engineers.

And if you couldn’t afford to buy all that written material for your own library, you (like me) may have been fortunate enough to have an "Elmer" or two down the street (or at work) whom you could go to for the answers to all those "dumb" questions.

Indeed, back then, one's "dumbness" was largely a private affair between you and (possibly) your local librarian or (if you screwed up enough courage to ask them) your long-suffering "Elmer". 

I also don't think it has ever occurred to those pompous bags of wind who are now looking down their upturned noses at such newcomers that when they were "growing up" in Amateur Radio, there WERE no such mediums as QRZ.com or E-ham.net (or Facebook, or Twitter…or even the Internet) where one could go to quickly ask all those "dumb" questions and get learned responses from so many (so called "experienced") people all at once. 

The truth is that the world of education no longer works the way it worked when we were growing up in Amateur Radio.  And, increasingly, the general public….that "universe" we draw newcomers to our hobby from…absolutely does NOT understand the technology they hold in their hands or have in their laps. 

Indeed, as Randy Ross, KI4ZJI questions in a brilliant op-ed piece he wrote for a recent QST magazine, when Dad calls Mom as he is driving home from work, does he (or his son or daughter) give any thought about how that cell phone actually works

Or, when a teen is sitting on a couch using a wireless laptop computer and looking at her friend's photos and comments on Facebook, does he or she take the time to really think about how they are being connected?

Probably not.

And the reason for that is that "radio" is no longer "magic" to today's youth.  To the contrary, "radio" has now become an integral, embedded part of the mainstream of our society.

As a result, we, as Amateur Radio Operators, need to finally accept the fact that such things as Facebook, Twitter, MSN, the Internet and cell phones (et al) are not just passing fads.  They ( and their progeny) are here to stay, and their integration into the rest of society…including their integration into ALL aspects of Amateur Radio, not just the technology part…will continue to accelerate. 

The bottom line here is that our cadre of ever-present "crusty curmudgeons" (those folks who seemingly walked both ways uphill (in a blizzard, no less!) to take their 20 WPM, Extra Class exams in front of an FCC examiner) need to stop trying to shoehorn newcomers (particularly youthful newcomers) into getting their answers to those same "dumb" questions in exactly the same way that they all did.

We must, as a group, accept and then embrace the fact that these youngsters are now exploiting these emerging technologies as the (often now preferred) way of getting their information…and that includes the way these (often youthful) newcomers learn about the inner workings of our hobby. And because of the new ways of garnering information that are available to them, the only difference is that their modern-day "dumb" questions are now often being asked publicly rather than privately.

As a result of this reality, the rest of us also now need to embrace these new technologies and continue to look for innovative ways to integrate them into Amateur  Radio.  For, if we don't do this, our hobby will continue to become ever more irrelevant in the face of the "competition".  

Or, as Randy rather bluntly notes in his op-ed piece, our hobby needs to now either evolve or it will die

This means that we now need to meet our newcomers (particularly the youthful ones) in the ways that they are most comfortable with and not the other way around. 

Indeed, and contrary what some "old tyme" CW ops would have us all believe, Amateur Radio has never been about forcing one mode of communications upon the entire world. We therefore shouldn't now be forcing our newcomers to address their "dumb" questions to us in the exactly the same ways that we once did, either.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Here's yet another chapter in my continuing rant against the FCC for perpetuating an "achievement-based" approach to licensing in our Service in the United States of American LONG after it became illegal under US Federal law.

Clearly, such "achievement" nonsense has absolutely NO place in a taxpayer-supported, government-administered institution whose regulator's sole authority is to simply regulate the airwaves.  By contrast, it is painfully obvious that 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. 

Some 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 country-wide 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 of that nonsense happened NEARLY 60 YEARS AGO!  What possible regulatory purpose is still being served today....in the 21st Century...by indefinitely keeping all that "missile gap derived" foolishness fully in place?  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 back then was to line the pockets of the ARRL of the day 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) of thousands of copies of their so-called "upgrade" materials along the way.

On numerous occasions, I've been encouraged to "petition" the FCC for the changes I'm advocating.  But, unfortunately, I've found (from my own AMSAT experiences) that 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.

Sadly, most US hams also seem to have collectively lost sight of the fact that the FCC is nothing more than yet another US Government regulatory agency.  And that agency has never been granted the statutory authority to set themselves up to "educate" anyone.  What's more, since US taxpayers pay their salaries, these clowns 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 nonsense about "maintaining and expanding a reservoir of trained operators and technical experts". 

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 internatinally 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.

Many hams have also attacked my ideas because they fly in the face of the notion that it would negate all the "work" they had to expend to get their licenses that they have somehow "earned" under the incentive licensing program.

The truth is that a license to operate in our Service isn't something to be "earned". Our licenses are granted after someone simply displays a specified level of competency. They were never in intended by the ITU to be "earned" as some kind of "reward" for a person's educational "achievement".  And there's distinct difference in how those two concepts are perceived by both our regulators and the licensee.

There have also been proposals before FCC to grant full privileges to non-Extras in recent years. In every case FCC has pointed out that the exams aren't that involved, and that if the hams really want full privileges they can just go pass the test.

All of which is simply an expression of yet MORE bureaucratic laziness on the part of the FCC for their apparent decision NOT to comply with other applicable federal laws as they relate to our Service.  There's simply no valid excuse for such blatant regulatory neglect that would pass muster in a GAO audit or stand up in any federal court of law today.

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 the US Federal Code.  They simply aren't doing doing so. Rather, the continue to hide behind the worn out excuse that the status quo is "what we hams want".  Obviously, what they interpret as "what most hams want" is what the ARRL TELLS them "most hams want", even though the League's (now slowly dwindling) membership constitutes only about 25% of all licensed US hams.  

25% isn't "most".

But, even so, if I had perpetuated such "half-baked" bureaucratic excuses as my and my office's 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, its 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 need 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. 

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

Under this scenario, NOBODY would "lose" their current operating privileges.  In fact, this approach would (finally) recognize the fact that there IS no fundamental 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 United States 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…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...except, of course, in the narrow little minds of those 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 would now become virtually identical…which, in reality, is what they already are.

Friday, April 20, 2012

I really have to laugh when I hear folks in various amateur radio forums perennially bitching, moaning and complaining about how our bands are always "too crowded".

Clearly, few of them have actually tuned across the LOWER portions of our HF Bands lately.  If they had (and were honest) I think they'd most likely find GOBS of empty spectrum space down there that was absolutely dead quiet and going begging. 

This leads me to believe that a lot of this so-called "problem" isn't that our bands are "too crowded".  Rather, the REAL problem is that there are too many rules (official and otherwise) that are carving up our bands into smaller and smaller chunks of horrifically over-regulated "turf".

As I and other hams have noted on numerous occasions in the past, there is more than enough spectrum space in our Service to easily accommodate everyone's particular passion.  The problem right now stems from a horrendously outdated, FCC-imposed, license-class-and mode-based band planning scheme that shoehorns US hams into their own little slices of walled-off "turf"…. separate little regulated fiefdoms that are still based largely on operating habits and mode preferences that were popular back in the 1950s and 60s! 

What’s more, because most HF Net Control Operators want to attract a lot of "customers" (particularly on 75 Meters) they tend to congregate their nets in the US General Class license portions of our spectrum.  Indeed, it is in these portions of the bands that most of the boorish behavior seems to be occurring.

However, what seems to perennially get lost in all these "isn't it horrible what we are seeing on our bands lately?" discussions is that such boorish behavior seems to only be happening in comparatively small portions of our bands...such as in the so-called "US General Class" portion of our 75 Meter Phone Band. 

We humans are social animals by nature.  So it really shouldn't come as a surprise that when more and more of us try and jam ourselves into smaller and smaller slices of over-regulated "turf", those attempts are bound to generate verbal "elbowing", catcalls, and boorish behavior as more and more people strive for dominance.  

Indeed, for the last 60+ years, our FCC has built our entire licensing system on anointing a chosen few in our ranks with "exclusive" access to artificially walled-off slices of frequency spectrum.  And now we wonder why we have seemingly endless "turf wars" and boorish, "I'm entitled" snobbery among many of those so anointed who actually bought into all that "I'm the greatest because my FCC license says so" elitism.

By contrast, most of the rest of the world's administrations regulate their Amateur Radio Services simply by emission bandwidth, NOT by license class and operating mode as we do. 

This means that, most everywhere else on the planet, governments have left it up to we hams to decide "how much of what goes where" on our bands.  It's only in the United States that our bands are carved up into smaller and smaller slices of FCC-regulated, sub-band (and sub-sub band) "turf" based solely on license class and operating mode...NOT on that turf's popularity!

What’s more, most everywhere else, differences in license class are based on safety and non-interference considerations (such as power output, being allowed to build transmitters "from scratch", or being the licensee of a repeater or club station) rather than on granting ego-stroking, so-called "exclusive" access to smaller and smaller slices of bureaucratically segregated frequency spectrum. 

What's more, as a direct result of all our FCC-imposed sub-band (and sub-sub band) nonsense, radio amateurs in the United States are perennially forced to play "Mother May I?" games with the FCC in order to shift things around as our collective interests and technology changes.  This, in turn, means that our horrifically outdated regulated band plans are always going to systemically lag behind emerging technology and societal changes.

Frankly, I believe all this ego-stroking, "turf based" band planning nonsense has also been a major contributor to our collective hesitancy to embrace new communications modes as they come along.  That's because those new modes often don't fit anywhere in our current, FCC-imposed "straight jacket".

The bottom line here is that, just as when office space is divided up into little cubicles, the end result is LESS usable space, not more.  It also breeds an ever-increasing human craving for more "elbow room"....a precious commodity that our currently (by regulation) horrifically chopped up 75 Meter Phone Band  never seems to have enough of.

To the contrary, all the while we continue to allow a government organization (the FCC) who could absolutely care less about what we do internally to still remain in charge of those "who and what goes where" decisions for our Service, our band plans will ALWAYS remain woefully out of date with technological and sociological reality.

And the horrific overcrowding, catcalls, boorish behavior and "frequency wars" we are witnessing on 75 Meters will continue indefinitely.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sometimes, I'm absolutely amazed at how totally oblivious many US hams are to the political and regulatory realities of the world around us.

Indeed, some US hams seem to arrogantly believe that we live in this little "spectrum bubble" and that our politicians and regulators are forever obligated to provide us frequency spectrum to play in "just because" we're somehow entitled to it.
Absolutely nothing could be farther from the truth.

I think the words posted on the Radio Amateurs of Canada's Web site sums this issue up best when they note that, "Amateur Radio exists as a frequency spectrum user because it qualifies as a Service. Its continued existence depends to a great degree not on the service it has performed in the past, or on its simple potential for service, but on what service it is performing now and will continue to perform in the future."

That is, unlike a lot of other hobbies like photography, fishing, collecting old stamps or automobiles, our ham radio hobby ALSO relies almost exclusively on our continued, fee-free access to an ever-more-scarce, shared finite natural resource.

It's called the radio spectrum. 

And, both by the laws of physics as well as by national and international laws and agreements as to how that spectrum is to be allocated and used, that resource has to be shared with not only well-heeled commercial interests, but also by government and military users as well.  ALL of these users (including us) are in  constant competition for a bigger slice of the "pie", or failing that, to simply hold on to the access that each of us now has.

This, in turn, means that we have to continually justify our existence to these politicians and regulators.  Unfortunately, a lot of that justification depends on how many of us are not just licensed, but are actually using the spectrum space allocated to our Service.  Unfortunately, when it comes to allocating scarce radio spectrum, "quantity" takes on a "quality" all its own.

It will be interesting to see just how much our rate of growth has slacked off this year (2012) as compared to last year (2011) and the year before that (2010). According to the latest published reports by the ARRL VEC, the largest influx of new hams in the United States in recent memory occurred in 2009.  However, our rate of growth in the United States since that time has started to once again go negative.  And God only knows how many more of us still have licenses but haven't transmitted on the ham bands in a dog's age!

What's more, the average age of the average ham in the United States is now pushing 60.  By all accounts, that number is now rapidly heading higher, not lower.  So, if all we are now attracting are aging "oldsters"...those persons who "always wanted to be a ham", or were hams at one time but who let their licenses lapse, or were waiting for the Morse testing requirement to go away...sooner or later we are eventually going to run out of  people in that demographic to replenish those of us who are now dying in ever-increasing numbers. 

Indeed, that's exactly what the ARRL's "newly licensed ham" demographics seem to now indicate.  The "pent up demand" for new licenses now that the Morse testing nonsense has gone away has largely cleared and the rate of acquisition for "newly licensed hams" are on their way back down again. 

As I see it, if that trend continues, at some point, the number of users in our Service will become so small that we will be unable to justify our continued access to our frequencies.  And once we loose access to our frequencies for lack of use, all these silly arguments over whether (or not) we should be tested for Morse or that only those who construct their equipment from scratch are "real hams" will all become quite moot.

By then, I predict our precious frequencies will have been taken away from us and given over to someone else.  And, without access to our frequencies, our hobby dies.

Now, I certainly hope I'm absolutely, dead wrong in all of these predictions.  However, unless these trends quickly reverse themselves and we start attracting (and keeping) far greater numbers of youthful newcomers to replace those of us who are now aging and dying in ever-increasing numbers, my fear is that my predictions are probably going to be proven right.

But, only time will tell.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I often find it absolutely ironic that some of the same highly vocal, "Super Patriot" types who are now clamoring to get the US Government "nanny state" off our backs and out of our daily lives are some of the same people in our ranks in the USA who now staunchly defend all of that very same "nanny state" nonsense when it comes to the way we are licensed and regulated in our Service.

Dare I use the word "hypocrisy"?

Such dogged persistence in the face of decades of deregulation of government licensing in other parts of the US Federal Government certainly suggests that those who STILL desperately cling to such beliefs are far less interested in “protecting” the educational and training aspects of the hobby than they are in searching for ANY excuse to keep newcomers (particularly, the dreaded CB "Riff Raff") from joining their government-enabled, "Good Old Boy's Radio Club".

In that sense, their "hidden agenda" is painfully obvious. And it would all be comic if it wasn't also so quixotically sad.

As I've said in another post, in many ways ham radio in the USA has now morphed into something more akin to a religion rather than "just a hobby" for some of us. 

And just like the Catholics who don't get along with the Protestants (both of whom absolutely want nothing to do with the "Bible Thumping" fundamentalists, who in turn, consider Mormonism to be blasphemy) so, too, do the "Contesters" hate the "Rag-Chewers".  Likewise, the "DX crowd" hates the "Net crowd" and our 1950s-era, 20 WPM, FCC examined "Old Farts" absolutely loathe our "No-Code newcomers"...particularly those who might dare confess they hail from that "radio underworld"...The CB Radio Service.

Unfortunately, because what we do is "without pecuniary interest", it's largely inner passion that drives each of us to pursue our hobby. And, as our own interest in a particular part of the hobby is what may drive our own passion for it, far too many of us have also now whipped that passion into an almost religious-like fervor.

Being passionate about one's hobby is fine. However, unfortunately, some of us have now become such passionate, "true believers" in a "One True Gospel" for our Service that unless EVERYONE shares that same particular passion for whatever part of the hobby is turning us "on" at the moment, then those persons who don't are somehow not going to be "saved" and/or will never be able to enter into the "Blessed Inner Kingdom" of Amateur Radio and be deemed "real hams".

I also strongly believe that the same religious-like fervor that's now being expressed by their respective "true believers" in various Internet forums (not to mention on the air and at club meetings) has now become a massive "turn off" to potential (primarily youthful) newcomers to our Service.

That's because such folks often take one look at (or read) some of the arcane nonsense our "regulatory fundamentalists" and "operational purists" are blathering on and on about in these various venues and then (rightly) decide they want  absolutely nothing to do with a hobby whose 1950s-era government regulations  still underwrite such seemingly endless internecine battles, arrogant intolerance for the interests of others, and the outright bigotry that all too often pervades the "people aspects" of our wonderful hobby.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Here's yet MORE of my thoughts on the US licensing system for Amateur Radio.

Most of the foreign hams I know look at the US licensing system for our Service as a joke.  But that's primarily because, rather than basing differences in license classes on one's demonstrated ability to operate an amateur station safely and without interfering with other hams (or other services) with the privileges granted, all our system really does is grant ego-stroking "exclusivity" to different slivers of politically walled-off frequency sub-spectrum.

They also look at the 60-plus pages of "thou shalt not" enabling eyewash in Part 97 and laugh.  That's because Part 97 is written in such a way that, unless something is specifically enabled, then it's prohibited.  Conversely, in most other countries on the planet the implementing rules for our Service are written in such a way that, unless something is specifically prohibited, then it's enabled. 

The latter, largely "hands off" regulatory approach requires FAR less bureaucratic gobbledygook to administer than the seemingly endless "thou shalt not", and "Mother may I?" enabling overkill that now thoroughly permeates our Part 97. 

But, most of all, the foreign hams I know shake their heads in amazement (followed closely by disgust!) at our seemingly obsessive need to create and maintain ever-more irrelevant "hazing rituals" that award ever-more irrelevant ego-stroking "badges of honor" in order for someone to be deemed a "real ham".

As I've said, in most other parts of the world, a ham license is simply viewed as a lifetime "license to learn" obtained by completing one or more exams that simply test basic safety and non-interference competencies.  Unlike ours, those licensing programs have NOT been turned into a government-sponsored "college degree program" where achievement-based "Merit Badges" are awarded to people so they can have a piece of paper to prove to others that they are somehow "better" than everybody else.

As I've also noted our licensing system is illegal because the knowledge and skill  requirements for a full-featured (a so-called "Extra Class") license in our Service are an absolutely "unnecessary regulatory barrier" (to use the FCC's own legal term when they dropped the Morse testing requirement) to people gaining full access to our internationally allocated frequency spectrum.

But, I suggest those of you who are still unsure of where I'm coming from to not take my word for it.  Rather, I suggest you now go through the questions in the Extra Class question pool... one by one...all the while asking yourself: "Does this question pertain to operational privileges that have ALREADY  been granted to Technician or General Class licensees?" If the truthful answer to this question is "yes", then the next question you should be asking yourself is:  "Why is this question even a part of the Extra Class examination pool in the first place?"

What's more, for those questions that DO somehow relate to the specific operational activities that require an Extra Class license, you might then ask yourself what, if anything, that question has to do with  safely and courteously operating in the last few KHz of our HF bands.  That is, what overriding regulatory NEED  is fulfilled by an applicant having such "extra" knowledge that yet another, 50-question exam is required in order for them to be granted access to those last few, so-called "exclusive" slices of radio spectrum?  

Or (as is most frequently the case) is the requirement for all that "extra" knowledge simply part and parcel of some arbitrary decision made long ago by some gormless, 1950s-era, FCC bureaucrat to artificially wall off portions of our internationally allocated Amateur Radio frequencies so as to try and motivate people to learn more about RF theory and practice by stroking their egos? 

What's more, and while you are going through this exercise, it is also important to remember that the FCC has always been nothing more than a US Government-funded, taxpayer supported REGULATORY agency.  They are NOT (and never have been) chartered as a college or university and have never been granted any legal authority (or professional certification) either by Congress or the Executive Branch to set themselves up as one. 

So, would someone please explain where in the International rules for our "self training" Service does it say that such "achievement-based", so-called "incentive" nonsense is  required … or even allowed … under international law…as part and parcel of a licensing system for our Service?

Indeed, and as I've noted in a previous post, the truth is that, if the content and comprehensiveness of our Extra Class exam were confined to strictly examining only those additional operational privileges given solely to Extra Class licensees (as a myriad of US equal access law now dictates it must be for such federal license grants) about the only thing left that could be legally examined is where the new Extra Class sub-band limits are and how one goes about requesting an Extra Class call sign. 

But, even the procedure for requesting a different, so-called "exclusive" Extra Class call sign is accomplished when an applicant fills out his or her application form for an examination to upgrade!  And that activity happens even before they sit down to take the exam! 

What's more, when it comes to administering exams to others, keep in mind that General Class licensees can also now serve as Volunteer Examiners in the United States.  So, a requirement that one possess an Extra Class license in order to be able to give exams doesn't wash either.  Indeed, the only reason an Extra Class license is required to administer exams to other Extra Class applicants is because the "Extra" license class still exists in our Service.

So, as I've said, my hunch is that if the FCC and the VEC question pool committee were following both the spirit and the letter of US federal equal access law, they would be very hard pressed to even  come up with  50 questions for the Extra exam if those questions were limited solely to the added operational privileges an Extra Class license grants in our Service. 

All of which, in turn, once again begs the obvious question I've been asking of the "Incentive Licensing" crowd for the better part of the last 5 years:  What overriding regulatory NEED is served by even having a so-called "Extra Class" license in our Service in the first place?  Clearly, it serves absolutely NO useful regulatory purpose and never has.  

As a result, making the possession of an Extra Class license a hard and fast requirement for full frequency access in our Service becomes is an "unnecessary regulatory barrier" for ALL people….not just those with disabilities…because it prevents them from gaining full access to frequency spectrum that they already own and support with their tax dollars for no valid safety or non-interference-related reason. 

That's why such nonsense is "systemically discriminatory".  And, contrary to what some in our ranks have suggested, US equal access law does not require that someone actually be discriminated against for such activity to be ruled illegal.  Rather, ALL that IS required under these laws is that it can be proven (either by administrative review or in a court of law) that a SYSTEM of rules, regulations or requirements exists in a public agency that are either arbitrary, duplicative, and/or unnecessary and that, taken together, prevent people gaining full access to the benefits of (in our case) a federal program. 

So, once again, I ask:  How can asking questions contained on an Extra Class exam that pertain to knowledge and skills that are required to safely and courteously exercise operational privileges that have ALREADY been granted to lower class licensees be anything BUT arbitrary, duplicative and unnecessary?

Now, obviously, what I'm suggesting here borders on blasphemy to some people who have, for decades now, based a good chunk of their own self-worth on their sacred, 20 WPM, FCC Administered Extra Class licenses.  But, then again, I also know that the death of dogma is the birth of enlightenment and that EVERY scientific or social advance worth having first began by outraging the conventions (and those religiously guarding them) at the time.

And, contrary to what some people reading here might think, my goal in this (now rather lengthy) discussion has never been to change minds.  I well recognize that our resident "true believers" who are desperately trying to hang onto the last vestiges of the "old order" are not about to be seduced by facts.  

Indeed, it is quite useless to try to reason such people out of what they've never been reasoned into in the first place.

Rather, my goal in these ongoing posts has been to simply share my learning and personal experiences with some other country's FAR more equitable regulatory and licensing systems for our Service so as to allow people in the United States to make their own comparisons about the reams of needless regulatory overkill that's STILL contained in our FCC Part 97…as well as the licensing system it underwrites…and then draw their own conclusions.

Hopefully, such "food for thought" will help prevent people (particularly newcomers to our Service who might be reading these words from swallowing whole that same, horrifically entrenched, 1950's-era "exclusivity" hogwash that FAR too many "crusty curmudgeons" in our Service would love dearly for newcomers to keep blindly accepting as "just the way it is" without question.  

Clearly, and as I've noted in numerous other threads in other forums, for such people, indefinitely preserving all of that now highly illegal "incentive licensing" nonsense has absolutely nothing to do with preserving the "traditions" of our Service and everything to do with providing a continuing regulatory basis for stroking their own over-inflated egos. 

Unfortunately, the sad truth that such persons would like us all to forget is that the FCC (at the behest of the ARRL and in DIRECT contravention to the ITU rules) deliberately built a system of regulated bigotry into our Service back in the 1950s and 60s when they added a whole plethora of ever more baseless entry and advancement barriers to our licensing and regulatory system.

And while the ARRL and others at the time cleverly disguised their chicanery as an attempt to "improve the technical qualifications of hams" (their words), there is no longer any doubt that those barriers were ALL put in place to further bolster the League's own publishing coffers as well as to segregate ordinary citizens (i.e. the vast unwashed "them") from the mainstream of a taxpayer-supported,  public radio service that was conceived in the international rules specifically FOR such ordinary persons…that is…"persons interested in radio technique solely with a PERSONAL aim and without pecuniary interest." 

Indeed, as I have already shown by citing the simple contents of the ITU definition of our Service, ours was NEVER meant to be a "professional" radio service with full frequency access based on applicants completing an ever-more irrelevant series of highly structured, professional-grade "achievement tests" as we STILL do in the United States.  Rather, internationally, ours was SUPPOSED to simply be a radio service made up of AMATEURS…that is…people interested in learning about (and using) radio for their own personal enjoyment and enlightenment.  

In other words, our Service was specifically designed to be a vast, unstructured "sandbox" where NON-technical hobbyists could experiment and learn about RF theory and practice "just for the fun of it".

Yet, sadly, and up until very recently, BOTH the ARRL and the FCC have been desperately trying to indefinitely preserve, protect and defend all that ego-stroking "incentive" nonsense by championing layer upon layer of highly structured, "pseudo-professional", systemically discriminatory overkill in our licensing and regulatory systems in DIRECT contravention of the ITU rules...and now...US federal equal access law.

But what is even MORE sad is that, up until very recently, precious few individuals have dared muster enough courage to label such entrenched systemic discrimination for what it is:  An absolutely needless (and therefore illegal), regulatory scourge on our Service.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

As I have shown, the standards for entry and advancement into the Amateur Radio Service in the United States were needlessly "dumbed up" nearly a half-century ago.

But KEEPING those entrance requirements into our hobby "not so easy" LONG after that "dumbed up" approach had outlived ANY semblance of usefulness (while also keeping a stupid Morse test as a mandatory requirement for full access to the mainstream of our Service) well into the 21st Century has clearly been disastrous to our long-term health.

Sadly, I believe the seeds of our Service's ultimate destruction were largely sown back in the mid 1950s and 60s when the FCC (at the ARRL's behest) hatched their stupid "incentive licensing" foolishness…a licensing system that was developed with a plethora of built-in barriers that were specifically designed to keep the "wrong people" out of our Service.

While such official regulatory elitism may have arguably kept some of the "wrong" people out of our Service over the last half-century (but apparently not enough as Mr. Hollingsworth (the FCC's one-time amateur radio "enforcer") has attested), such systemically discriminatory FCC foolishness has ALSO now managed to keep far too many of the "right" people out as well...at least in enough numbers to sustain our Service going forward.

Sadly, if they know anything about it at all, most non-Hams now view Amateur Radio in the United States as an elitist radio Service populated by an ever-aging cadre of crusty techno-bigots with an obsession for quaint, tube-type equipment and who demonstrate on a daily basis (in various public forums) that they are completely out of touch with social and technological reality.  As a result, our Service has now become increasingly unattractive to younger newcomers.

Thanks to the handiwork of these elitist snobs, I fear that our fate as a Service is now largely sealed.  And, ALL the endless blather about the "easiness" or "hardness" of our current exams becomes simply another exercise in "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." 

Unfortunately, whatever hope there MAY have been for our hobby to REALLY grow and flourish in the United States in the years ahead has long since been effectively dashed by the ongoing work of the "Morse testing and incentive licensing for ever" clowns and their willing accomplices in the ARRL and FCC.

As I've said, the good news is that these overly vocal Neanderthals are now dying in ever increasing numbers. The bad news is that, as a DIRECT result of their efforts, our wonderful hobby is now slowly shrinking right along with them. I fear that it will whither away and die unless action is taken NOW to stop that trend.

Thankfully, the FCC (along with many other such agencies in other countries) are now (finally) undoing what they (and their willing accomplices in the ARRL at the time) set in motion years ago… turning a basic competency test for a Ham Radio license into an unneeded series of "achievement tests". 

Over the years, this "achievement" oriented approach to government licensing has helped the ARRL and others sell a gazillion dollars worth of printed manuals, books and other such “upgrade” materials.  Unfortunately, perpetuating this fraud into the 21st Century has now all but institutionalized the concept of incentive licensing into our hobby in the United States.  

That is, not only have some of us forgotten that this is still supposed to be “amateur” radio; some of us have now forgotten that we have forgotten that it’s supposed to be “amateur” radio!

As I've said, many of the unwitting proponents of incentive licensing who also bought the FCC/ARRL’s fraudulent bill of goods years ago are STILL trying their level best to hang onto their dying dream.  This fact is evidenced by all the passionate comments expressed here and elsewhere about, for example, the horrible “dumbing down” of the FCC tests, bringing back CW tests for Extras (or even HAVING an “Extra Class” license in the first place)!  

As it has oft been said, requiring proficiency in the Morse Code in order to obtain a Ham Radio license these days is much like having to demonstrate how to shoe a horse in order to get a driver’s license.  And keeping that license requirement alive into the 21st Century is nothing more than a government-sponsored hazing ritual. 

And, speaking of a driver’s license, why is it that I STILL don’t need to know how the fuel injectors, transmission and brake lights all work on my car in order to obtain one?  

Maybe that’s because my personal driver’s license, along with many other government-issued, private licenses that I’ve carried in my pocket over the years all have licensing structures that are set up to simply measure basic competencies.  That is, they simply require me to demonstrate to a competent government authority that I won’t be a hazard (or a nuisance) to either myself or others while exercising the privileges of my license.  The real learning comes much later, usually with years and years of actual on the road or (in the case of Ham Radio) “hands on” experience.

I’ve always found it interesting that most of these other government license structures also don’t require that I go back and take yet another "achievement test" in order to drive my vehicle farther away from home, for example.  Granted, state and provincial driver license structures all require another series of tests if I want to drive a larger vehicle (or one for commercial purposes).  But, even here, the requirement for another test is for safety reasons…not just for increased knowledge for knowledge’s sake. 

Think about it!  Who has ever heard of an "Extra Class Driver’s License" to drive a passenger car?

Sounds ludicrous, doesn't it?  

In fact, it’s about as ludicrous as requiring that I have an Extra Class Amateur Radio License in order to have full privileges and operate anywhere I want to on the Ham Bands!

I think Rich Moseson, W2VU, in his “Zero Bias” editorial in the January, 2006 CQ Magazine illustrates this point quite clearly.  He talks about the “University of Ham Radio” as a college of sorts where learning is going on every single day.

However, in this “university” there are no grades, no tests, no papers, and no deadlines.  If a “course” doesn’t suit you, you can “drop” it at anytime without penalty.  If you want to declare a “major” you can do so, simply by delving into a particular aspect of Ham Radio with gusto, sometimes becoming a leading expert in the field.   Others (like me) choose to learn a little bit about a lot of things.  This, my friends, is where the real “learning” takes place in Amateur Radio.  It certainly doesn’t come from cramming for yet another stupid FCC test!

The truth is that those of us who REALLY want to learn more about electronics and RF theory are going to do so, regardless of the “easiness” or “hardness” of the test(s) we have to take to get our initial Amateur Radio licenses.  Which, in turn, makes the whole concept of “incentive licensing” something of an oxymoron.

I’ve often wondered how many of us who are, for example, overjoyed that drawing schematics has once again been made a requirement in the testing structure for amateur radio licenses in the USA are also the same ones who couldn’t now draw one from scratch to save their soul.  And how many more of us will admit that, even in the time of “incentive licensing”, we simply learned enough about electronics and RF theory to pass the test(s) and then promptly forgot it all?

While it is certainly true that Ham Radio has launched careers, I believe that those with a passionate interest in electronics and RF theory will always find a way to advance those interests regardless of what they are forced to learn to pass an FCC test.  That’s because, as Rich has so eloquently noted in his editorial, a passionate desire to learn and master such things ultimately has to come from within. 

That is, while an interest in Amateur Radio may have provided the initial spark for some of us to get up off our finals and get our noses in the books, the continued, passionate desire to learn all we can about such things doesn’t come simply by passing a series of ever more difficult achievement tests for the FCC.

Sadly, all incentive licensing has done for Amateur Radio been to create a “caste system” within the hobby, a system that, even to this day, is still chock full of meaningless government-sponsored hazing rituals and achievement tests that have absolutely nothing to do measuring our real learning.  That is, beyond the basic exams, all these “incentive” tests have ever measured is one’s innate ability to decipher a series of dots and dashes by ear, and/or how well someone can memorize ever more complicated formulas and information for an exam.  Period. 

Put another way, over the years, all that incentive licensing has really succeeded in doing has been to separate us from ourselves.

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.”