Tuesday, August 10, 2010

ARRL says help protect the $pectrum!

The radio spectrum is a finite and increasingly valuable resource. Mobile broadband providers are willing to pay almost any price for access that they can sell back to the public. Yet, who can put a price on a community, devastated and cut off by natural disaster, being able to communicate reliably when normal channels have failed? What is the dollar value of a young person being inspired, by his or her hands-on experience as a radio amateur, to pursue a career in science or engineering? On a more personal level, what is the enrichment that Amateur Radio has brought to our own lives worth to each of us? 

Think of how much we owe to those who came before us, who made certain that Amateur Radio would survive and flourish after they were gone. We can never repay them – except by doing the same for future generations.Every day, ARRL volunteers and staff work tirelessly to protect our spectrum access.....

In 2010 ARRL launched a newsletter, Spectrum Defense Matters, to keep members information on issues related to the protection of Amateur Radio frequencies.

But again it's really only a sales pitch to round up some extra donations. More importantly (to me anyhow) is how can we get more stuff on the air. How do we get hams out of the wood work, and get them to try new things?

Back in 2005 the HSMM working group prepared two recommendations for Board consideration:

-A new all-digital license scheme to attract Internet-savvy technical individuals to ham radio, and
-A frequency bandwidth plan that will allow for adequate digital development of Amateur Radio into the 21st Century.

Improving and Expanding Amateur Radio in the 21st Century

50 years ago, amateur radio service gave its licensees access to wireless voice communication services that were otherwise unobtainable and trained people for careers in industry. It should be doing the same for today's wireless communication but isn't. This is a proposal for a 21st century novice license oriented towards HSMM. It would change amateur radio somewhat, but would ensure its existence by attracting younger users and make it more relevant to today's technology. First, let me explain why new novice licenses are needed.

The current Amateur radio licensing system assumes that everyone wants HF access and they proceed along an upgrade path to get it. License classes are hierarchical. However, there are several groups of users within the ARRL that have different interests. Some are interested in having the best HF station and contesting or chasing DX. Others are interested in weak signal communication using portable stations on the microwave bands. One large group is interested in personal communication and emergency communications with VHF and UHF repeaters. Another group is interested in digital communication using computers. The "one size fits all" arrangement does not serve any group well and creates unnecessary contention among groups.

If license classes were organized by area of interest and new hams just picked the licenses that fit their needs, each license could better fit the interests of each ham. Rather than acting as an unnecessary impediment that is shrinking the ranks of the hobby, licenses could encourage new growth. Licensing that fits user needs could be more restrictive for HF spectrum where the number of users that can be supported is small and become less restrictive as the frequencies go up and large numbers of users can be accommodated.

Many amateur HF users prefer the traditional form of FCC regulation with highly structured bands and a Morse code requirement for their portion of the spectrum. The existing license structure largely fits their needs. However, hams interested in buying HTs and using voice repeaters face a lot of examination requirements that are unnecessary for their purpose. They should have a simpler license where they learn how to set up a limited station and agree to certain operating procedures and frequency ranges. This would encourage new membership and build the pool of emergency communicators.

Hams who want to set up repeaters or do high-power weak-signal communication on the VHF and UHF bands require more knowledge as they will be setting up larger, more complex stations. The current license examination system with an exam that stresses design requirements and RF safety fits these needs. However, a new license class for HT users would benefit the radio clubs setting up and maintaining repeaters by providing more members.

Those interested in computers and digital communication are under-represented in amateur radio ranks. They are technophiles as we are, but the current system does not serve them well. This is disturbing, as digital communication is the future. In particular, amateur radio should encourage the participation of those interested in software as all electronic communication now depends upon it. There should be a license class where they agree to certain frequency ranges and non-interference provisions. This type of license would expand the use of new technology, make the learning experience of amateur radio more relevant to ham's personal lives, increase the use of our microwave bands and allow the development of and experimentation with new high-speed multi-media applications. It also assists us in supporting public safety, health and welfare agencies during times of emergency as the majority of the information that must be communicated becomes digital.

This new license wouldn't be called a "novice" license (as that might discourage its use) but a "digital communication" license and would......

After consolidating to three license classes, I think a digital license class like what was presented is a great idea. I'm all for something radical in this hobby.

Ten years ago a survey conducted by the ARRL Technology Task Force, of League members and other amateurs revealed that the number one interest in new technologies was in high-speed digital networks.

Today, you hear nothing from the Technology Task Force. But still plenty about how the ARRL needs money, and how hard they are working to protect spectrum. (Note: TTF is in hiatus due to W4RI's retirement)

The economy is in the toilet, instead of money can we see some other ideas on how to protect the spectrum by encouraging new uses?

Just a thought...


Anonymous said...

There's no hacker in her right mind who would want to be called "Internet savvy". There's no such thing anymore-- we're surrounded by the internet to the point where Grandma is on Facebook. No one's impressed because someone set up a wireless router from Target in their room.

Honestly, instead of a "digital class", I'd like to see one license class for everyone, more along the lines of the old general radiotelephone operator exam. You should have to know your stuff and still have to study to pass-- and when you pass, it should be enough of an accomplishment that you get some respect for doing so. If everyone passes because the answers are all available in a book that costs $10.95, there's no cred to be gained in becoming a ham.

BTW, geeks live for street cred. Check out these badges from DEFCON. I bet they don't have those kinds of toys at ARRL board meetings.

The geeks are out here. Make amateur radio a geek-worthy hobby, and we'll not only make use of the spectrum, but we'll fight to the death to keep it.

goody said...

I think the BPL crisis proved that any technology or commercial interest with enough money or political pressure will steamroller over amateur radio, regardless of how much money we throw into the defense of our spectrum. The ARRL made a valiant effort, but in the end it was market forces that killed BPL, not our efforts. Looking forward, I think in the next 20 years we will likely lose spectrum above 2 meters, regardless of what we do.

As much as ARRL talks the talk when it comes to technical advancement, it doesn't walk the walk. And I'm normally an ARRL proponent. They continue to support the dinsaur known as NTS, they rubber-stamped standards-abhorrent and architecturally flawed Winlink as our primary messaging system, stood by when proprietary technology-laden D-STAR became our de facto digital voice and data system, and have let the plug-and-play 802.11 world pass us by.