Rant from Riverton: It's about ARRL's numbers.. and "Tyro"-mania

The §1.401 Inbox in the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System occasionally gets blessed with Petitions for Rulemaking regarding amateur radio.  Everything from license class restructuring to people upset because they lost the opportunity to get an extra class call sign is tn there.  Very few see the light of day, be assigned an RM number and get on the public notice for a 30 day comment period.   Two ham petitions recently did.  

One was filed by the ARRL moaning about how the hobby is supposedly dying and for the sake of emergency communications, we need to make the pot sweeter by allowing Technician class amateurs the ability to rag chew on three HF bands as well as expand their CW privilege on HF to use other digital modes.  The other petition wants to create a new channelized amateur radio service giving a slither of the 430 MHz band for a CB-like channelized amateur service.  All while displacing ATV and coordinated point to point control links in the spectrum that the Tyro camp is trying to take.  

As I mentioned in REC's ARRL and our Tyro comments, we need to balance the survival of the hobby, support radio's integration with science, techology, engineering and math (STEM) especially with more women and girls entering the hobby and the ongoing learning that is obtained in association with amateur radio's incentive licensing system.  

In this latest petition to change the Technician class privilege, the ARRL is pretty much putting their hands up and gives up the shop.  I can see them next making all Techs and Generals the same as Extra class, completely obliterating the incentive license system.  I know this argument is going to be the "well, I had to do it this way so you should too" attitude but when I was much younger, there were reasons to covet the next license class thus inspiring you to upgrade. 

I entered the hobby right at Novice Enhancement and was excited about the 10m and 220 privilege.  I lived in Southern California and we were at the peak of a very active cycle so there was a lot to do on 10m and 220.  Of course, the ability to use 2 meters and to use the ATV repeaters in Southern California with the 434 MHz input was something I really wanted to do.  Plus, I wanted a new call sign.  Having a 1x3 call sign sounded much better than a 2x3.  So, I upgraded to Technician a few months after earning my Novice ticket. 

Time would pass and now, I wanted to do voice on the HF bands, especially 20 meters.  My big barrier was the code.  I studied the theory and thanks to the Gordon West tapes, the 13 WPM code.  At the time, Southern California had multiple test sessions to pick from in a day. I went to my first exam, the first thing in the morning. I think it was the San Fernando Valley club at the Red Cross in Van Nuys.  I passed the 3(A) written test but I missed the 1(B) code test.  I got my CSCE for the written and moved on.  Later that day, my repeater club had a VE session.  I attended that session to have a do-over of the 1(B).  This time, I got it on the 10 questions. 

So, by the end of the day, I had my General.  A few years would pass.  I was living in the Victor Valley area at the time and decided to take the next step, the dreaded Element 4(A) test.  At the time, this was 50 questions of hardcore theory.  I would study that book and use computer programs to test my knowledge.  I have to admit, it took me 8 (eight) test sessions to pass my Advanced, but I got it!  At the time, I was not even set up for HF so I was not able to use the new Advanced privileges.  I did apply to the ARRL and got my VE card so I could test Technician candidates.  

Fast forward over 20 years later.  I would eventually move east and settle here in Riverton, MD.  I was able to set up HF again.  I had a FT-857D that was a gift from an ex so I strung up a wire and despite the massive amount of electrical noise I was getting, I was back up on HF again.  I would eventually install a GAP Titan vertical multi-band antenna which was located clear of the house and did not have the noise problems I had on the wire.  The bug had bit again.  When I used to be on HF in the past, it was mainly for DX, nets and contests. I guess I didn't have patience for an HF rag chew.  Then, despite my Advanced HF phone privilege, it seemed like the "good" DX was in the Extra subband.  I had also befriended a local contract broadcast engineer here on Delmarva who was a VE.  So, just a bit less than 30 years after receiving my Novice ticket, I finally made the big jump to Extra.  I could have done it sooner, but I had a lot of things going on in my life.    Oh yea, as a bonus, I treated myself to a 2x1 call sign, KU3N.  Not a bad reward for hitting the pinnacle.

But regardless, I did it.  I'm done with testing.  No higher to go, at least in the Amateur space.  But during the time I was going up through the ranks, it involved operating experience (such as using 10 meters as a Novice and Technician) and a lot of study and practice test taking.  Every step along the way, I was motivated to learn more and that increased learning not only helped me pass the examinations, but it gave me some of the basic groundwork for what I do now, especially in the fields of FM and shortwave propragation.  If I was given a wide assortment of bands to ragchew on from the get go, I probably would have been less motivated to move forward. 

This proposal tells me that the ARRL is only interested in bringing warm bodies to the hobby.  These bodies may join ARRL, especially if they have a phone privilege on HF which will make it easier to achieve DXCC, which requires ARRL membership in order to receive.  The Technician restructure would also be a boon to Kenwood, Yaesu, Icom, Alinco and Flex as it will result in more new HF rig sales from the get go.  Technicians would still be locked out of 20, 60, 160 and the WARC bands but with the way 20 has been lately, is that even an incentive, especially for a non-contester/paper chaser? 

I can see the logic behind adding HF digital modes to Technician licenses.  This will encourage experimentation into the evolving digital modes. This is hand-on experience that is more consistent with the promotion of STEM subjects.  Phone is a much older technology and does not need any real new advancements.  Plus, even if HF digital modes are added to the Technician class license, there will still be an upsurge in HF transciever sales.  Hearing QSOs further up the dial knowing they can't legally join them should be motiviation enough for Technicians to study for their General ticket.   This is why I went on record right away to support the ARRL's petition to allow Technician class licensees access to HF digital modes only and not support expansion of HF phone privileges to Technicians. 

For the sake of the ongoing education of our next generations of hams, I encourage amateurs, especially ARRL members to not allow the League to give away the shop while giving up the educational aspect of the service.  Please join me in supporting the expansion of digital modes on HF while keeping HF voice an incentive to further upgrade.

I had also gone on record in deep opposition to the Tyro license class.  The nature of the service is not necessarily Amateur Radio and the spectrum requested will have significant impacts, especially in metro areas like Southern California to incumbent users.  We had a big shuffle of control links after losing 220-222.  Let's not do this again.  After I opposed Tyro, I did receive a document from the petitioner better describing the license class proposal.  As I mentioned, many parts of the country, except in some metro areas, VHF and UHF spectrum is fairly underutilized, especially 220 MHz.  The current Technician class license, which has enough pairs for repeaters can easily achieve some of the goals of the Tyro class without having to invade existing links and ATV for a segregated personal communication service.   I'm sorry, I can't support this, at least not on the amateur spectrum.  

Please make sure your voice is heard by commenting on RM-11828 (ARRL proposal) and RM-11829 (Tyro), even if you disagree with my positions.

Thank you for keeping the torch burning for future generations.

73 de KU3N