Amateur Radio in the 21st Century

 

Prepared by Jim Wiley KL7CC, with assistance from other members of the committee working on changes to the US Amateur rules in response to changes in the international regulations that occurred at the World Radio Conference, 2003.    It is intended as a way to help fellow Amateur Radio operators understand some of the thought processes that led us to where we are today.  It is not a statement of the way things will end up, but rather it is simply a plan, subject to change and improvement.   It is, in a word, someplace to start.   Should any of these ideas actually reach the stage where a formal petition for rule-making is filed before the FCC, we encourage you to file comments either in support or in opposition, as you see fit.

 

While there are of necessity some references to the NCVEC  (National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators) within this document,  it must be made clear that this document does not in any way reflect official NCVEC policy, and has not been approved by their leadership. Some of the statements herein are individual in nature, some represent the collective views of the committee as a whole. Whichever viewpoint is being expressed at the moment, we are sure there are other opinions on these same issues. Again, one of the primary purposes of this document is to start a discussion.  We hope all of you who take the time to read this will think about what ham radio means to you, and how you got here, and where you would like to see our hobby go in the future.  We ask you to think not of just your own small corner of ham radio, but the hobby as a whole, without prejudice, without favoritism, without jealousy.  Before you jump up and shout, think about the way things should be, or could be, looking forward to the future, not backward to what has gone by.   Do not ignore tradition, but at the same time, try to expand your thinking to encompass what is yet to come.  Think about what we actually need to move ahead, and what might be best left behind.          

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Hi.   What follows is a discussion of what we are trying to accomplish, and why.   If you will take the time to read this, then think about it overnight, before formulating a hasty reply, I suspect that you might find yourself in agreement with most, if not all, of the issues we are addressing.   If you still disagree, make sure it is for the right reason, after thoughtful consideration of all the different points, and not just because some of the things herein are new ideas or come as a surprise.  

 

First, an “Executive Summary” – in other words, the high points.  If you are interested in more detail read the expanded text that follows. 

 

Executive Summaryproposals for changes to the US Amateur Radio licensing structure

 

I.                     Elimination of the Morse code requirements.   Discussion of the pros and cons of the proposal, some reasons each way, a few facts, a few anecdotes, and some things to make a person think.  In summary, an idea whose time has come, and no one loses anything.  CW remains legal, just not a requirement.  And, as we will show, it simply does not work as a ”filter” to keep “riff-raff” out. We have already filed this petition, as there was large majority agreement at the NCVEC conference that this action should be taken immediately.   This petition appears on the FCC web site as RM-10787.

 

II.                   Creation of a new entry-level license.  How this would fit into our present licensing structure, and why we need to do this.  If our hobby is to continue, we must attract new people.  Where to start, who do we target, how do we modify the exam structure to accomplish this?  How do we make ham radio attractive to these people? What are the alternatives?

 

III.                 Restructuring our HF bands to accommodate changes brought about by WARC 2003 and the addition of a new class of license.  How to make better use of presently sparsely populated HF “novice” band frequencies.  Increasing the size of the most popular HF phone bands.

 

IV.                 Closing discussion.  What’s next? What other items could be addressed, and what timetable are we talking about here? 

 

     __________________________________________

 

Discussion in detail:

 

First, who is this committee, this “Gang of Four”?  Who are these people, and who elected them as “God”?  

 

They are the NCVEC “Rules Committee”.  This group of  4 persons consists of:  Fred Maia, W5YI, John Johnstone, W3BE,  Scott Neustatder, W4WW, and myself, Jim Wiley, KL7CC.  Fred, the committee chairman, and founder and former owner of the W5YI Group (the 2nd largest VEC), has been active in ham radio for many years, and is very familiar with the regulatory process. John is a retired FCC employee.  He actually wrote most (if not all) of the “Part 97” section of the FCC rules that govern Amateur Radio.  John also has a monthly column in World Radio magazine.  Scott is the head of the NCVEC Question Poll Committee.  Scott is the one that edits and approves all of the questions that appear on the exams.  An employee of a very large Aerospace firm, Scott is a professional engineer, and that rarest of persons, a for real “rocket scientist.”  I am the new kid on the block, replacing Bart Jahnke, W9JJ, who runs the ARRL VEC.  Because of possible conflicts of interest, and because the ARRL has not formulated it’s official position on these issues, Bart asked to be excused from this project.  I was asked to serve for many reasons, but mostly because of my initial presentation of and continuing involvement with finding a way to accomplish VEC testing in remote areas of Alaska.  As it turned out, I was also elected Vice Chairman of NCVEC at this same conference.  The committee was chosen by vote from all of the NCVEC members present at the July 2003 conference, and was charged by the NCVEC with the task of developing a petition to be submitted to the FCC requesting that the code testing requirement be dropped from the present rules.  They were also asked to investigate other related issues that might naturally be connected with this action.   

 

Some of the thought processes, and the reasoning behind them:

 

Lets consider the matter of the Morse code.  Even before anything else, keep in mind the fact that every person on the committee that drafted the NCVEC petition, now known as RM-10787, to remove the Morse code requirement, and also every person on the committee that is working on the new entry level license, is a “20 WPM” Extra class licensee.  And, most if not all of them would list Morse as one of their favorite modes, if not indeed the favorite mode. My own favorite modes, in order, are Morse, AM Phone, SSB, and VHF FM.  I also operate occasionally on other modes, such as RTTY, packet, satellite, and I am thinking about learning how to use PSK31.  DXCC?  Yes, about 200 officially, with another 60 or 70 worked but not submitted yet.  Most of them were on Morse Code.  One of our committee members, Fred, W5YI holds DXCC- CW only. Another, Scotty, W4WW holds 5 Band DXCC and has been on the DXCC Honor Roll.  John, W3BE, uses CW almost daily, using it for traffic handling and chasing DX.

 

So, there are no “Morse code haters” on the committee.  There is no conspiracy, no secret agenda, no kickback from the manufacturers, no “black plan” from the ARRL, no anything.  Just some guys that want nothing more than to see our great hobby prosper for the next hundred years, or longer.  

 

Will dropping the Morse requirement remove a “filter” that keeps out poor operators, “CB Radio” types, scofflaws, and so on?  I think not.  Listen to 75 meters on any given evening, or 20 meters above 14300 during the day, and all too often what you hear is a cacophony of indecent language, illegal operation, intentional interference, music, poor sportsmanship, you name it.  And every one of those characters passed a code test! Whether it was 5 or 13 or 20 WPM, they all passed a test.  Some filter, huh? 

 

Will removing the Morse requirement let in some “bad apples”?   Yes, it will.  But I firmly believe the number will be very small in comparison to the gain our hobby will receive from decent, law abiding, talented, and enthusiastic new hams.  Just as letting code free new hams on to our VHF bands has not, for the most part, resulted in chaos, the same will be true of our HF assignments.  It will be up to us, as the “experts”, to guide newcomers, passing on the traditions of our hobby, the skills and operating techniques that make up a ham that we can all point to and say “that is a good operator”.

 

Will Morse code go away?  Probably not in our lifetimes.  Remember that Morse code is still the easiest way to get on the air, the most effective means of communicating under poor conditions, and where most of the DX will still be.   We are not making Morse Code illegal; we are just making it equal to any other mode that hams might enjoy.   We don’t have special tests before a ham can operate SSB, or RTTY, or SSTV, or any other mode, so why for Morse code?  When most operators (admit it, it’s true) operate voice or data. 

 

Morse will probably retain most of it’s exclusive band segments, at least for now.  We are not addressing this issue at this time. This may change in the future.  Several countries no longer have exclusive segments, but depend instead on voluntary band plans.  In fact, our 160-meter band works this way today, with surprisingly few problems.  

 

Remember that when Ham Radio started, Morse code was all there was.  It wasn’t even CW – we all used spark gap transmitters!   One of the justifications for Amateur Radio, from the government’s point of view, is that we continue to lead, or at least follow closely behind, advancements in the “state of the art” of electronic communications.  That means advancing, not standing still.   And by the way, the only reason there was ever a Morse requirement for Amateur licensing in the first place is because of spark transmissions.  It was necessary for amateurs to understand the code so that they could be told to stand by in case their transmissions were interfering with critical government traffic, perhaps involving safety of life.  Spark, by its very nature, covers up a lot of frequencies – thus putting everyone, hams and government alike, effectively on the same channel. 

 

By the way, most hams use the terms “CW” and “Morse Code” interchangeably, but if a person were to be picky, they are not the same.  CW means “Continuous Wave”, or a continuous, unmodulated signal.  Spark emissions used a “damped wave”, with a “high decrement”, rich in harmonics and with wide sidebands, which caused great amounts of interference.  CW transmissions, on the other hand, are restricted to a single frequency, or at least to a very narrow range.  Morse code, as used in most Amateur Radio situations, involves keying a CW transmitter on and off in specific patterns, which we recognize as letters, numbers, punctuation, and other symbols.  However, to simplify things and save on space, I will also use the terms interchangeably, as most Amateur Radio operators do in everyday usage.

    

Will we lose something because we will no longer have the knowledge that all hams can at least understand and send CW, even if very slowly?   Maybe, maybe not.  You would be surprised at the number of applicants I see that actually want to learn CW – they think it will be fun.  There’s a novel concept – someone learning a skill because it is fun, not because the government says you must do it.

 

Well, OK, that is all well and good, you say, but are there any reasons we could offer that might support the idea of removing the Morse testing requirement, and what are some of the expected implications? 

 

Obviously, removing the Morse test requirement will make it easier for thousands of interested persons to join our hobby.  There are many, who for whatever reason have a real, not imagined, problem with learning the code.  Call it stage fright, a psychological block, hearing problems, poor recognition skills, whatever you want; there are indeed those who literally cannot master the code, no matter how hard they try.   Lazy, you say?  Anyone can make it to 5 WPM, you say?  They just don’t try, you say?   Apparently you have not participated at hundreds of exam sessions.  I have.  I have seen grown men and women with tears in their eyes, frustrated, angry, sometimes back next time, sometimes giving up on ham radio altogether.  Where’s the gain in having someone give up? 

 

Are you proud that you “made it”?   Can you not find something that another person can do that you would find extremely difficult if not impossible?   Could you win the Tour de France bicycle race – even if you trained every day for the rest of your life?  Could you invent the Laser?  Could you paint the Mona Lisa?  Not that painting a work of art or riding a bicycle has all that much to do with radio, it’s just to point out that while you may have been able to master the code with some degree of success, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has the same ability as you.   I would argue that the ability to master the code has no apparent connection with how “good” a ham a person is.  What we want, I think you will agree, is someone who will respect our traditions, follow the rules, bring enthusiasm and vigor to the hobby, and make a positive contribution. 

 

So, who’s to say that mastering Morse code skills makes a better ham?  I would not be so arrogant as to think such a thing.  Every time I get to feeling superior, I look around, and guess what?  - - - I can find someone who is better at something, anything, than me.   I can also name several individuals that I think are in one way or another “better hams” than I, better operators, better engineers, better at some aspect of our hobby than me.  Might that be true with you too?  

 

CW is a great mode.  It’s fun.  I enjoy it.  And, it’s time to move on.   We no longer require applicants to draw schematic diagrams, demonstrate how to neutralize a triode vacuum tube amplifier, lots of other things.  Lets be gentlemen and give CW a decent, respectful, wave.  Remembering our old friend, but looking forward, not backward.  Morse code will live forever.  As long as someone cares about the history and mystery of early radio, and lots of hams do, CW will be around.    Like anything else, when a person finds he or she has a need to use Morse code, they will learn it.   Want to work DX, or QRP, or weak signal VHF, or Moon-bounce?  Better learn the code, or you won’t have a very satisfying experience.  

 

Are we “dumbing down” amateur radio?  Are you kidding?  Have you looked at the new Extra class tests?  Could you honestly say you could pass one, picked at random, “cold”?  I couldn’t, at least not without some serious study of the books.   I have been licensed since the late 50’s, went through all of the steps, starting at Novice, and getting my Extra in the 70’s.  Even had a “First Class” commercial radiotelephone, with both the radar and aircraft endorsements – passed all the elements in one sitting, missed at most 3 or 4 questions on any given section – a couple were perfect.  And, except for the Novice, did this while sitting in front of the FCC themselves, no less.   Never flunked a FCC code or theory exam. Never.  So what?  That and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee.  I learned about ham radio from my peers, from watching and listening, not from tests.

 

Will ham radio turn into CB?  No, it won’t.  In the first place, CB is essentially an unlicensed service. Secondly, there are still the written exams, and add to that peer pressure from other hams, and the fact that hams must use call signs, instead of “handles”, and there is just no comparison.  It isn’t even an “apples and oranges” argument – it’s more of an “apples and cement mixers” discussion – there just isn’t any common ground between the two services.  Hams will literally refuse to talk to someone without a call sign – and a call sign removes the anonymity of CB.  Break the rules on the ham bands, and you will get caught, and fined or even sent to jail.  We even have an “enforcer”, in the person of Riley Hollingsworth, of the FCC’s enforcement division.  Riley and his helpers do an excellent job of keeping the ham bands clean, and his efforts in cooperation with Amateur Radio volunteers, such as the ARRL’s Official Observer corps, do the job.  Yes, he knows about the problems on 75 and 20, as well as elsewhere – and he is working on them as you read this.   He has a problem common to all law enforcement types – he has to follow the rules, and the violators don’t – but he will catch up with them in the end, trust me on that. I have visited with Riley one on one, and listened to him speak.  He is a great guy, funny, personable, very sharp, and dead serious about his job. I surely wouldn’t want him mad at me! 

 

OK, what about that new license class – why in the heck are we even thinking about it at all? 

 

Let me give you a chill.  Think, seriously, for a moment what this means:  For every ham under the age of 20 we are attracting, 2 (or more) hams over the age of 50 either die or leave the hobby.   Hmmmmm.  It shouldn’t take a genius to see where that is going.  In 10 years, we may not even have ham radio.    Wait! Wait!, you say, I’m only 45 (or whatever age you are), and I’ll be around longer than that.   Great – but there might very well be no ham radio. 

 

Why?  You think I’m kidding, right?   What is the fastest growing sector of our economy today?  The answer is Information Technology (IT).  And what does IT need to succeed and grow?  Interconnection, that’s what.  And increasingly, wireless interconnection.  And what does wireless interconnection need?  Spectrum.  Radio spectrum -- Lots of it.   And who has lots of spectrum, most of it unused?  Go to your bathroom and look in the mirror.   That’s who.  Now, what happens to that spectrum when (not if) you become a silent key – and there is no one to take your place?  What happens when there are so few hams that we become insignificant?  What happens when there are so few hams that manufacturers can no longer afford to amortize the engineering costs needed to bring you a new radio? 

 

Oh, pardon me – you always build everything from scratch?  Great!  Who, exactly, are you going to talk to?   Most of the rest of us opt for the practical approach, and purchase a rig from one of the several companies that cater to hams.  If there are no manufacturers, then there are no new rigs.  Hard to carry on a QSO if no one is there.

 

One of the primary goals of the new license we are going to propose is a true entry-level ticket.  Limited power, limited frequencies, but still useful, with enough of the essence of Amateur Radio to attract beginners and show them what lies ahead when they upgrade. Simpler exam.  WAIT!  - - WAIT! - - WHAT WAS THAT??!! 

 

Yes, I said simpler exam.  Hopefully 20 questions.  Aimed at a young person aged 12 or more.  That means a 6th grade education.   Also fits teens, high schoolers, home schoolers.   You know, fresh ideas, new blood, people that can actually see their radios without having to put on glasses – what a concept!   20 questions, simple enough to get someone started in a responsible way, pointed in the right direction, all that stuff. 

 

That sure sounds like “dumbing down”, doesn’t it?  Keep reading.  

 

Here is what we are thinking, and some of the rationale behind it.  We, however, don’t have all the good ideas, in fact we may not even have most of them, so input from others is welcome.   Make that rational input.  Invective and obviously impractical stuff will get filed immediately in 13. 

 

First consideration: Lower power.  2 reasons.  First, everyone at the recent NCVEC meeting expressed concern about letting brand new hams loose with 1500 watts of VHF or UHF.  That’s dangerous, no doubt about it.  Cook your neighbor’s cat type stuff.  Not funny.   So, we are thinking about a license that allows enough power to be useful, but not enough to be unsafe.   It turns out that 50 watts above 24 MHz and 100 watts below 24 MHz allows hams to operate without having to worry about RF safety issues or evaluations.  Transmitters at those power levels are presumed safe.  If there are no RF safety issues, then there is no need to ask questions about those issues, and we can have a smaller exam.  Second, those power levels represent the vast majority of commercially manufactured (or kit) radios offered for sale.  The 100-watt HF set is everywhere, and very few VHF/UHF mobiles exceed 50 watts.  Yes, some sets run more power, but the overwhelming majority meet the 100W HF / 50W VHF standard. 

 

Another idea:  Restrict radios (for this license class only) to a maximum of 30 Volts on the final stage.  Why?  30 volts is the generally accepted point that defines the split between low and high voltage.   Virtually all-solid state sets use less than 30V on the PA stage, most being, of course, 12 volts.   Less chance of an inexperienced ham injuring him or herself.  Oops – no vacuum tubes!  OK, we know that.  Also lets out lots of used gear.  We know that too.   All a ham has to do is upgrade, and the restriction goes away.  However, to upgrade, he or she must pass another test, which involves, among other things, RF safety questions, power safety questions, and other appropriate stuff.  Remember that we are aiming this entry-level ticket at 12 year olds.  Do you have kids?  Grandkids? Wouldn’t you be happier if their new radio had very little chance of harming them?    I would.

 

Remove some of the math.  Remove some or even most of the “radio law” type questions.  Instead, require applicants to sign a statement that they have read the Part 97 rulebook, and that they have a copy (available for free via web download).  Yes, some of the applicants will “skate” - and not read it when they signed that they did.  But, most will, and even among those that don’t, eventually, probably sooner than later, they will get around to it.  Some never will.  That’s human nature – we’re not looking for saints, just people that can become productive hams.   The 35-question exam is shrinking.  20 questions seem in reach. 

 

Take out one or two more theory questions.  We’re not making engineers, at least not yet.   Put in a couple of additional practical questions about operating your radio.    A poke here, a cut there, and we’re done.  A 20-question exam that covers all a beginner really needs to know.   Finish up with a few words about how to find the information needed to advance one’s skills, how to find an “Elmer”, and how to find more about the hobby on the internet.

 

By the way – the Novice license of old, the one that many of us used to get started – was a 20 question exam. For most of it’s existence, the Novice exam had no questions about antennas,  propagation,  feed lines, or most of the other questions that the present “entry level” exam has.  Yet, somehow, a great many hams who entered via that license became active, productive, vital members of the Amateur Radio community.  How could that have been possible? 

 

Take a moment to think back.  I’ll be willing to bet you didn’t just drop out of a tree all ready to go, knowing everything that you know about ham radio today, did you?   It took time; study, listening to other hams, all the rest, to get where you are today.   Were you nervous on your first contact?   Did you get over it?   Did you make a couple of dumb mistakes; maybe even accidentally violate the rules once, or maybe even twice?   These people will too.  It’s called learning.   

 

What do you think is better for our hobby – lots of enthusiastic newcomers, or an ever-declining number of increasingly older hams?  Answer the question honestly, not just in light of your favorite band getting more crowded.   And another thing – if the bands get more crowded, doesn’t that help make a case for increased spectrum?  And guess what? All those new hams vote (or will soon enough), and Congress pays attention to numbers.  Numbers become very important when we are in competition with commercial interests for spectrum space.  And maybe the prices of new radio gear will decline, if manufacturers can spread fixed costs over a larger sales base.  And maybe some brand new manufacturers will be encouraged to bring something to market.   Will that be bad?   

 

OK, now we’ve got a brand new ham.  Whether we call them a  “Communicator”, or some other name, what’s next?  Where are they going to operate?  Are you going to get run over by a horde of newcomers?   Help! I’m sinking in a sea of QRM! 

 

Ahem.  We have a plan.  It probably won’t turn out to be exactly the way things come down, but it’s a start.  Someone else may very well come up with a better suggestion.  That’s OK, too. 

 

Whatever we come up with, it will have to fit within the FCC budget.  This probably means that in all likelihood what will happen, assuming that the idea of a beginner’s class license is even accepted at all, is that they (the FCC) will juggle the existing 3 classes to accommodate the new structure.   Technician will change from what it is now to the basic license.  It may be named “Communicator” or simply left as Technician.   Let’s assume it gets the name “Communicator”.  All existing Techs will be upgraded to General.  Assuming that the Morse requirement is removed first, our opinion is that most of the Techs will take (and hopefully pass) the element 3 exam as soon as they can, thus becoming General class licensees.   Remember, that before the changes that created the present no-code tech, the General and Tech exams were identical.  Only the code separated them, and even there it was only the difference between 5 and 13 WPM.    All Advanced licenses will be upgraded to Extra, and if there are any remaining Novice tickets out there, they will become “Communicators”.   Now we have 3 classes:  (1) Communicator,  (2) General, and (3) Extra. 

 

The exams will be adjusted to combine element 2 and 3 into a new element 3, probably with a 50-question exam, using the existing pools. Element 1 (Code) disappears.   A new Element 2 is created, which becomes the Communicator exam.  Element 4 remains as is, or maybe becomes even harder, in the event we (all hams) indicate that the extra exam should really be a test that “separates the men from the boys” (apologies to the YL’s - JW).  Many would agree that this is already the case, and that no changes are required here.

 

Kind of sounds like a bunch of folks are going to get something for free, something that you might have worked hard for, doesn’t it?   How can we justify this?  Well, maybe it won’t happen that way at all.   Maybe instead of “instant upgrades”, the Techs will have to pass their element 3 exam or be downgraded to Communicator licensees, and Advanced licensees will have to pass element 4 or be downgraded to General.  That goes in the face of our desire to have this whole thing take place with no net loss to any existing licensee, but if enough people object to the idea of “free” upgrades, then there is one alternative (but probably unlikely) solution.  Another is to continue the Technician and Advanced licenses “as is”, until they upgrade.  Maybe even make upgrading mandatory for renewal.  Using that plan, they will all either upgrade or disappear within 10 years, with no further effort on the part of the FCC.

 

OK, now the license classes have been tuned up, and the exams adjusted, what’s next? 

 

We need some place where these new licensees can get their feet wet, where they can participate in Amateur Radio in a meaningful way.  All of ham radio, not just local repeaters.   What we need is a few spare kilohertz.   I wonder where we can find some?  New band?  Probably not.  So, what do we have that can be reworked to fit our need?  How about the present HF novice bands?   

 

Suppose, just for a moment, that a petition got filed requesting that the FCC make the following changes:  Take the present HF Novice bands on 80, 40, 15, and 10 meters and reassign them to voice operation.  Move the corresponding phone segments down by the appropriate amount.  Change the segments open to various classes of license to fit, and let the new “Communicator” licensees have access to the HF bands in 50 or 100 KHz blocks.  For example, and this is just an illustration, 40 meters could end up looking something like this:

 

7000 – 7025  Extra, CW and data only

7025 – 7100   All classes, including communicator, CW and data only

7100 – 7150   Extra, all modes

7150 -  >7250   Extra and General, all modes

7250 – 7300   All classes, including communicator, all modes

 

Similar adjustments would be done at 80, 15, and 10 meters.   Actually, 10 meters is already pretty much set and ready to go.  We might do only 50 KHz on 15 meters, leaving the other 50 as a “DX window”.  There could be, or not be, consideration of allowing communicators on the other HF bands (160, 30, 20, 17, 12).  Not too sure what to do about the new 60-meter band yet.  Have to think about that one for a while.  Perhaps we start here (with 80, 40, 15, and 10), and after a few years experience, revisit the issue and decide whether granting access to parts of the other HF bands is a good idea or not.   Time will tell.

 

In other words, what we will have done is to “slide” the phone bands down the equivalent amount of the former novice segment, and allowed the new communicators access to the top 50 KHz of the voice band. Traditionally, higher-class licensees have been given access to the lower frequency segments within a band, and this would remain true.  No one loses anything!  Generals and Extras get some new phone bands, even former Novices, (now upgraded to Communicator) get more room in the CW segment, and access to a portion of the phone band.

 

Communicators operate with their 100-watt limit, General and Extra can use 1500 if they wish.  Again, no one loses!  No hassle like many of us remember over “incentive licensing” all those many years ago.  If a “Communicator” wants to run more power, he or she simply upgrades to General, and away they go.  We  (hams in general) might decide that voluntary power restrictions in the “communicator” segments are appropriate, but time will tell.  That is another issue, not part of the 3-part plan we are working on.

 

VHF and UHF privileges would be given to the communicator licensees.   We are suggesting 50 watts max for the bands 50 to 450 MHz inclusive, with no operation on the higher UHF or microwave bands.

 

An alternative solution, which has been adopted in other parts of the world, would be to grant Communicators the same frequency privileges as Generals, but with the lower power limits discussed above.  The United Kingdom has implemented this approach in their Foundation license, which has become the fastest growing license in the UK’s history.

 

Will anyone have any problems with these proposals?  Of course.  Inevitably, it will turn out that someone’s favorite net is in the “communicator” area.  Maybe the net members will decide to move, maybe they will stay where they are and attract hundreds of new members.  Someone’s favorite spot will suddenly turn out to be open to new modes.  OK, so what?  Where does it say that anyone is given exclusive rights to one particular spot or another?  Pretty much every radio available today has a VFO.  Use it.  You might even meet a new friend or two.

 

How about those who feel insulted that these new hams are gaining “free” access to bands that “they had to work hard for”.   Excuse me?  Do we recognize that times have changed and move on, or not?  Following that argument to it’s logical end, isn’t it reasonable to say that if the newcomers have to learn the old stuff before they can have a license, then the existing licensees should have to give back their tickets until they could show they had mastered all the newer techniques too?  Wouldn’t that be fair?  I’m sure it seems reasonable to a newcomer.  Sauce for the goose, and all that, right?  

 

A timetable:

 

As we all know, several petitions requesting that the FCC remove Morse code testing have been filed. Depending on how soon a NPRM is issued, assuming it is at all, then we have to wait while they slog their way through the rule making process.   One of the things that will happen is that comments, both pro and con, will begin to accumulate.  After a several weeks or at most a few months, and assuming the majority of comments are in favor of eliminating the code as a licensing requirement, then we plan to file for a waiver asking for an immediate end to code testing.  Obviously, this can only be done if there are enough favorable comments on file for the FCC to justify granting such a waiver.   The actual change in the FCC rules will still be in progress, but if we can show that there is enough interest, and that such a waiver will be beneficial to Amateur Radio as a whole, then there is a good chance it would be granted.

 

Very soon (a few days at most) after the Morse requirement disappears, assuming it does, then we plan to file for the creation of the “Communicator” license, as detailed elsewhere in this discussion.  We will follow the same procedure as before, filing a petition for a NPRM, and starting the clock on that issue.    Assuming the comments on that issue are also favorable, after a reasonable time has elapsed, we will file a petition to upgrade Techs to General, and Advanced to Extra, as explained earlier. 

 

We will probably not be able to accelerate the creation of the “Communicator” license, since it would involve a complete restructure of the present system, but in case that option should become available, we would likewise pursue that end.

 

Next, once the “Communicator” proposal started to look like it would become reality, we would file another petition asking that the Novice HF assignments be re-allocated, also as per the previous discussion.  We would further ask that the re-allocation take place at the same time as the implementation date of the new license, so that those who passed their tests would have a place to operate.

 

In all cases, because this is a multiple step process, useful information will be gained as each part moves forward.   This is actually a benefit, because we may very well find that some of the present ideas need revision before being submitted.  

 

All this will take some time, perhaps spanning several years.  Mixed in with these proposals, but not part of them, will be the issue of how to best implement other changes to the amateur regulations that came out of WRC-2003, such as the 40 meter readjustment.  These issues have their own timetable, of course, but those issues and the topics discussed in the possible petitions mentioned here do interact to varying degrees.    

 

In other words, nothing is going to happen next week, and everyone will have ample time to offer his or her own suggestions as to how to proceed.   There will be no “rush to judgment”.   All the present actions have done, or can do, is to get something out there for consideration.  There is absolutely no guarantee that the FCC, or the ham community at large, will accept these proposals.  

 

You have heard a lot about what we are planning.  Now, how about some of the things we are not addressing at this time: 

 

We are not addressing the issue of reallocation of bands or sub-bands, either by mode or license class, with the sole exception of using the former Novice CW sub-bands on 80, 40, 15 and 10 meters to create working space for new Communicator licensees.  By the way, don’t forget that this adjustment will create more phone space for General, Advanced, and Extra operators at the same time.  And, in the case of 40 meters, when the WRC-2003 re-allocation adds another 100 KHz the band in regions 1 and 3  (that is to say, adding 7100-7200 to the present 7000-7100 world wide Amateur allocation), there will be a 100 KHz phone band overlap all ready to go!

 

We are not suggesting that the CW sub-bands, or the exclusive CW bands for Extra licensees, be eliminated or otherwise adjusted.  Again, with the exception of Novice CW, we are not proposing any change whatsoever to the present band plans or allocations.  

 

We are not addressing the issue of the relative split between General, Advanced, and Extra allocations at HF.  

 

We feel that these issues are best dealt with only after some period of experience with both the proposed new license and a completely code free licensing structure give us more insight on the best way to proceed.  This intermediate stage may take a while to properly evaluate.  These issues may be best addressed at the time that reallocation of the 40 meter band  (per decisions made at WRC 2003) takes place.  According to the present schedule, that is not likely to happen sooner than 5 or 6 years from now.   By that time, we will have accumulated enough data to tell us whether additional adjustments are in order, or not. 

 

OK, there you have it, the “master plan”.    Will it actually turn out this way?  Probably not.  Just as there are thousands of hams, there will be lots of suggestions, pro and con, about which is the best way to go.  When (and if) a petition is filed, and a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) is posted, offer your comments and suggestions.  The FCC will consider all sides before changing anything.  If a majority of comments indicate that hams want thing to stay the way they are, then that’s what will happen.  If hams want change, and their arguments make sense, then that’s what will happen.  In almost no other country in the world are the governed given the chance to affect the rules that do the governing.  Use that power if you wish.  But don’t just sit there and complain if you don’t act. 

 

A few final words:

 

There are no black helicopters. 

 

This is not a plot by ARRL or Fred (W5YI) or anyone else to sell more books, antennas, radios, or (fill in the blank).  Yes, ARRL will gain some new members, the W5YI group will sell a few more books, and possibly some of the manufacturers and vendors will peddle a few more sets.  Is this bad?  How?  It looks like growth of our beloved hobby from here.   By the way, did you know Fred sold his company some time back?  He does not particularly stand to gain anything from this effort, nor do any of the other committee members. Do you suppose the committee members just want to see our wonderful hobby prosper?   Wouldn’t that be an odd reason for doing what they are doing?

 

Just thought you’d like to know.  Thanks for taking the time to read this somewhat long explanation, and in the truest sense, 73.

 

Respectfully submitted by Jim Wiley, KL7CC

 

With assistance from Fred Maia, W5YI, and Scott Neustadter, W4WW 

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