New ARRL Entry Level License Survey

The ARRL is floating a new entry class license proposal. I think they are headed in the right direction on this one. I do not agree with some of the possible outcomes. We have a chance to comment on this in a survey at: http://www.arrl.org/license-1.

Please read this and think it over before you file your survey. The Tech class was intended for VHF/UHF experimenters and emergency communicators. It worked to involve many new hams, especially after it became the "Codeless Tech". Growth spurts that resulted from that slowed. The reason may have been limited access to HF, but to some, the HF bands are not the "holy grail" of amateur radio that it was thought to be. The Novice class was deleted back around 2000. The thinking was that now the 13 WPM code requirement for General was deleted, the General class was the new entry level license for HF. That concept worked well for a number of years. In fact, there is still growth in the hobby that continues after the elimination of the Morse code testing. Just not at the rate ARRL wants. They are right, the average age of hams needs some younger members, to keep it going.

But the real issue is that ARRL only attracts less than 20% of the EXISTING hams. ARRL needs to do something to make ARRL membership more attractive, and quit aggravating the existing hams. I believe that ARRL actions in HF band planning have alienated many. Some of us feel that we need to start a "Spectrum Defense Fund" to hire powerful lawyers (like Booth, Ferret and Imlay) to fight each destructive new ARRL HF band planning initiative. Some of us did organize an "ex parte" filing to oppose ARRL on RM-11708 or WT 16-239. ARRL should subject these rogue initiatives to peer review within their own organization, for example, by the DX Advisory Committee. Better yet, put the DX Advisory Committee IN CHARGE of all future HF related FCC filings. A small group of aggressive Emergency Communication focused people were able to hijack the HF band planning committee, resulting in the mess we see in RM-11708, now WT 16-239, and RM-11769. Another outsider, Whedbee, filed another action, RM-11769, which sought to merge Novice/Tech/General and Advanced/Extra; FCC just recently dismissed that with predjudice. FCC had already stated its policy on that matter when reviewing the license classes during the no-code filings. I think this recent ARRL "new entry level license" is in response to that restatement of good consistent FCC policy. Overwhelmingly, hams rejected that portion of RM-11759 (which also seeks to take 50 KHz of 75 meter phone and give it to DATA for all licensees, including Novice/Tech). This "dumbing down" of amateur licensing was primarily to promote the use of ham wide band digital modes for commercially available internet email. I predict (and hope) that when FCC makes a NPRM or WT move on RM-11759, this is "DOA" dismissed with prejudice. That means, do not bring this up again, FCC will not even assign it an NPRM number. See my other articles and FCC filings on this subject.

ARRL should make membership more attractive to EXISTING amateurs, and not alienate them with a barrage of unpopular HF FCC filings. I am not alone in saying this.

There are several blog postings by KB6NU that I agree with. Get started here: http://www.kb6nu.com/rotary-may-have-the-answer-to-the-arrls-membership-woes/

That having been said, the ARRL now is requesting a review of license classes and a new entry level license with HF privileges. I can agree with some of this. Included maybe is a tinkering with Tech. As a VE who had to cope with half a dozen flavors of Tech, I hope they leave Tech alone. I hope they give existing Novice ops the rest of their 5 year term an ultimatum to take the new HF entry class exam, or non renewal at the expiration of their existing license. Upgrade or else, 17 years or more is enough to learn a little more and pass general. Novice was ONE year non renewable when it was created, and that was too short. It was raised to 2 years, then 5. That was OK. But it should never have been made renewable in the first place. The same should go for this new entry level class license, whatever it is called. I favor a return to the old system of class A, B, C, etc, instead of some of the ridiculous names we are currently using. W2OY might like that, too.

Most importantly, young people will want to play with digital. I hope they do. There will be some legitimate Emergency Communicators who want to use SSB and digital. That is great also. But the purpose of an entry level license with no renewal is to grow amateur radio, not make a commercial use of it, such as Winlink free HF email for those who are too cheap to pay for commercial satellite internet service.

The most relevant question I am compelled to pose on this whole issue is: "Are you in favor of further dumbing down amateur radio?" And, to what purpose? Will it make amateur radio more like CB or family radio service? Is that what you really want? To save amateur radio, do we wish to destroy it? Or can we transform it by this process? Amateur radio, after the ending of code testing, has showed consistent growth. This growth rate is not large, but it is significant. There are complaints about the increasing age of the new hams; perhaps many are retirees who are adopting the hobby, but we ARE getting older as a group. How do we attract young people? Let us not belittle the abilities of qualified young people by underestimating them. Do we need to make something less than Technician level skills, or do we need to create a new "Technician Level" license for HF?

My son passed his Novice at age 8. He got high score in the very last ARRL Novice Roundup for Western NY using a Viking II and an HQ-180. He passed his Tech at age 10. When his Saturday cartoon shows had interference from a Wisconsin TV station, he went to the 2 meter FM radio and worked some distant stations. The next year he passed his General - WITH 13 WPM CODE. If a dedicated youngster with some practical hands on experience can do that, why can't the current crop of potential hams do the same? My son was an example of someone who was not a prodigy, just an average kid, who was able to attain General class at age 11. In the beginning, Technician class had to pass the same written elements that General did; the only difference was 5 WPM vs 13 WPM Morse code. To RENEW a General class license, you once had to submit a log page showing recent activity; I wager a lot of the existing Novice class licensees could not pass muster on that criterion. Do we really need a bunch of "zombie" licenses out there that lost interest, just so we can claim large numbers? Do we really need to reduce the requirements? Keep in mind that in the past, it was possible for a Novice class operator to construct from a handbook his own transmitter. In fact, my son did just that. On Thanksgiving weekend, he asked to build something. I handed him the 1944 ARRL handbook, a piece of pine shelving, and an empty cardboard box. We gathered the parts from my shelves in the basement for a 6L6 oscillator transmitter. He built it, on a piece of wood, "old school" breadboard in two days. On the weekend, he talked to most of the US east of the Mississippi River. Granted, today most people do not choose to build their own complex equipment, but many QRP operators do. Our radio club has sponsored a crystal set building project for kids at the local science center. That is how I got my start, a crystal set kit. Once I progressed to Short Wave Listening with a Regen set, I was hooked. SWLing is not what it used to be, with the BBC and Radio Australia and most other interesting programs shutting down, acknowledging that the internet is the prime source of media. Will short wave listening or communications attract the next generation of hams?

We most certainly DO need to reach out to the next generation of "makers". Perhaps a technically inclined middle school student would be interested in amateur radio for a robotics project. Many people used to obtain a Tech license for more effective control of a model airplane, and never considered voice contacts on ham radio. Does this new license promote that kind of use of amateur radio? Do they need HF to accomplish their goals, or is VHF/UHF exactly what they need? Our perception of the "glory days" of HF amateur radio back in the late 50s (record sun spot cycle) may not be what young people of today are excited by. They now have portable devices capable of chatting with anyone (anywhere on the planet), even sending photos and text. Not so long ago, a 2 meter repeater with an autopatch was a compelling demonstration of technology; many repeaters do not even offer a phone patch any more. Why would the idea of limited communicating at much slower speeds at an intermittent connection (due to sunspots) appeal to them?

The target audience for the entry level HF license would likely be a budding "maker". He will be building something or adapting an existing device to his needs. Software defined radio is just such a medium, with the opportunity to experiment with the hardware and software. To succeed, we must target our licensing to appeal to that person.

Many young folk are avoiding the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) curriculum. Why? Perhaps they have seen what happened to their parent's generation who got into that trade. I suggested to my own son that he might NOT want to pursue a technical trade, because after age 45 no one wants to hire you, especially since it can so easily be outsourced, and sent offshore. A lawyer friend makes a comfortable living at my age, doing wills and property transfers; he is probably not going to try a case before the Supreme Court these days. I have a friend age 40, degree in computer science, still burdened by student loans, that is struggling with survival at selling stuff on EvilBay gathered from garage sales. Some others I know are still trading in the stock market and making a decent living. You do not have to search very far to find people who regret choosing the technical trades. Is it even possible to con the savvy young people of today into the STEM pursuits? In the end, you probably work at what you love. If you enjoy technology, you might choose a career there, even if it lands you a job as a Walmart greeter at age 50.

Is the FCC likely to act positively, or dismiss it, already having stated there are too many classes of license? FCC dumped multiple petitions recently to merge Advanced/Extra and Novice/Tech/General. They seem to support "incentive" licensing. They also are not inclined to revisit decisions they have already ruled on. FCC has been barraged by a number of "nuisance" filings, often from "frequent filers" whose hobby seems to be filing frivolous and injudicious petitions ABOUT amateur radio, not DOING amateur radio. FCC seems to be weary of such activity (as are the rest of us). So after the survey and petition, they are not obligated to issue an RM, since the Novice license has already been abolished, with the idea at that time that the Tech IS the new ENTRY LEVEL. I believe that FCC should not issue RM's so easily, especially if the outcome has already been determined in previous rulings, unless there is a demonstrated need for modernization. The FCC's limited resources should be focused on more essential activities.

So, here is how I am answering the survey: NO change to TECH (due to increasing license class confusion for Tech+ and the many flavors that we had to sort out in the past). HF bands for new license: 80, 60 (for Emcomm types), and 10 meters. Why should an ENTRY level license have more privileges than TECH? 30 questions, no less, especially if newer digital modes are granted to entry level. If we are attracting "makers" they should have sufficient ability to make something. 50 watts max; that way, it is not required to get into complexities of RF safety question pool. Grant BOTH (narrow band only) digital and voice to entry level on shorter range HF bands. This should attract younger people interested in digital, without risking commercialization of the hobby. Interference from inexperience should not propagate world wide to the extent it causes more problems. Unique entry level call signs. NON RENEWABLE, 5 years, to ensure upgrade, and flush out "zombie" licenses (like many of the existing Novices). NO repeater control, beacon, automatic control (especially interfacing with the free email ACDS mailboxes), or space station control. ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION TO THE INTERNET IN ANY WAY. This is ESSENTIAL to prevent the hobby from being hijacked by a commercial use of it, by people who will never assimilate into the general ham community. To promote genuine Emcomm use, channelized 60 meter use should be allowed, but NOT access to new VFO band on 60 meters; it is beyond the level of beginner to avoid interference with primary users of 60 meters. We dare not risk an incident which besmirches the overall reputation of amateur radio in this environment, which has been sterling so far.

MY EDITORIAL RANT, CHANNELING WAYNE GREEN: So go file your survey. You do not have to be an ARRL member to do so. And when your ARRL membership renewal package comes in the mail, think long and hard about it. I have been an ARRL member for over 40 years. This time, I may decide to pull the plug for good. Or run for director, and try to fix it. You should give it some thought, too. I hope you will decide to run, to change the culture at ARRL. Better yet, start another organization which DOES represent us, and better serves the needs of the amateur community. ARRL had legitimately had to raise costs of their paper QSL system, due to rising costs. Some other moves caused unjustified criticism of ARRL. But there are some of us who are not pleased with the recent rash of ARRL FCC actions (and those of notorious "nuisance petitioners"). If ARRL is upset about "broken windows" (a recent editorial in QST), possibly they could lay off throwing rocks at the rest of us (the 80% non members) who like HF the way it is, OK?

PUBLIC SERVICE EMERGENCY COMMUNICATOR CLASS LICENSE PROPOSAL: To address the ARRL's emphasis on "Emergency Communications", I propose a NEW ENTRY LEVEL CLASS LICENSE: "PUBLIC SERVICE EMERGENCY COMMUNICATOR". This would be open to any active duty or reserve military. It would also include any government first responders such as police, fire, Ambulance, US Forest Service (Firefighters), Merchant Marine, Coast Guard, Hospital Emergency Room, Ambulance and EMT people, Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other disaster relief personnel. This should also include possible evacuation or relief supply delivery people like selected Commercial Aviation (evacuation), Helicopter pilots, or other government employees involved in disaster response. NO AMATEUR TESTS would be administered. There would be basic technical skills needed to operate a channelized type accepted radio, and install an effective antenna, and know proper voice (proper phonetics) and digital operations. Two or three letters from commanders or government officials would be required at the time of issue, and again to renew in 10 years, to confirm continued activity. To get your first issued license, attend a basic 6 hour class similar the motor vehicle licensing or hunter safety classes. This could be organized similar to amateur volunteer examiner procedures. However, this would not be an "Amateur Radio" license, nor would it share the amateur spectrum. Special calls using W/K/N/A, "PS" for public service, and a sequential number would be issued. The FCC should still control the licensing, so that if some misconduct is detected, there is a permission to revoke as a penalty. While dual licensing for amateur and the new license could be permittted, there should be no overlap of frequency or operator privileges. This would ensure that only professionals who know the emergency relief delivery systems are in charge of communications. Appropriate background checks, if desired, would be under the supervision of the authorizing organization. QST could be renamed "EMCOMM MONTHLY". Any minimal technical or amateur editorial staff could be transferred to CQ magazine or an ARRL amateur journal spin off. Encryption would not be an issue. Being paid for participation would also be OK, since active military and other government employees would be the users. Amateur radio operators who are already part of the cadre of emergency communicators could help configure the new volunteer corps for maximum effectiveness. WHAT DO YOU THINK? Does this not solve a number of problems?

FAIR AND BALANCED. HERE ARE SOME OTHER DISSENTING OR INTERESTING VIEWPOINTS, FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:

Articles on The ARRL draft HF Band Plan Proposal,
FCC RM-11708, and related subjects
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