BE Informed No. 3.5
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John B. Johnston W3BE
Our ham radio is an internationally recognized hobby. It
is comprised of millions of amateur operators worldwide who are supposed to know how to cause and allow amateur stations to
transmit properly. We utilize electromagnetic radiation technology that respects no political borders. We are subject to minimal
domestic and international regulation. A working knowledge of the relevant rules and timely application of that knowledge
is essential to not endangering anyone, to not disrupting any other radio communications, and to utilizing our precious spectrum
in an orderly and meaningful manner.
Q. How did amateur radio come about?
A. As radio technology began its emergence at the dawn of the 20th Century, our
pioneering advocates successfully argued that tiny segments throughout the radio spectrum be set aside as non-commercial preserves
for exclusive use by persons interested in self-training, intercommunication, and technical investigations carried out
by amateurs, i.e., duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary
Q. So, what happened?
A. In the early 1940s, our amateur service
community contributed to our World War II effort a very-much needed resource of telegraphers and radio technologists. We also
had to give up all of our radio allocations for the duration.
In the early 1950s, over the strong objections of amateur service community organizers,
our regulator rewrote its rules with the intent of providing an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed
in five principles. Those expectations still reside in Section 97.1 even though the action commitment may be suspect.
It also established a government-managed Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) that is supposed to utilize Section 97.5 amateur stations and Section 97.105 control operator on shared/appropriated amateur service spectrum. All of our amateur spectrum was subsequently opened to RACES.
Q. When did ham radio change direction?
A. In 2005, our U.S. amateur service community
organizers re-directed their constituency ambitions toward the general citizenry. In RM-10870, our Section 97.519 volunteer-examiner coordinators petitioned our regulator to make our Section 97. 301 amateur service radio spectrum available to as many citizens as possible. When the FCC denied the petition and confirmed our status quo, our VECs reacted
by abruptly replacing the Element 2 question pool with a far less-comprehensive edition. The result has been exceptionally effective in changing our demographics - our citizen-Technician
Operator class now comprises about half of our amateur service community and in time could become dominant.
2012, moreover, our regulator reported to Congress that it expects us to be an alternative to the commercial communications infrastructure impacted by an emergency. This
alternative infrastructure is the network of amateur radio operators and their stations that relay messages, build and maintain
repeater stations and repeater networks, operate HF message networks to send messages greater distances than are practical
with mobile or transportable transmitters, and develop new technologies to improve the reliability of these networks.
Note that our regulator did not deem the potential
for amateur radio being of sufficient value in emergency response situations such as to warrant additional allocations of
radio spectrum for that specific purpose. Nor did it open up any government spectrum for amateur stations to utilize for doing
such government work. Nor did it withhold any of our amateur service spectrum allocations from this activity. Our amateur
service communications, in effect, became but secondary on our own spectrum.
Furthermore, it made available our amateur spectrum to Section 97.103 station licensees or Section 97.105 control operators for the purpose of participating on behalf of employers in emergency preparedness or disaster readiness tests or drills and
operational testing immediately prior to such tests or drills.
Q. So why wouldn’t all hams want to comply with the rules?
A. For one thing, some don’t know about or care what the rules
say. For another, some may consider Part 97 to be inconvenient to comply with and sluggish in staying contemporary.
Q. Why should we even bother with rules?
A. Here’s our core argument: Our hobby has long enjoyed an enviable reputation
of being a legitimate, relatively untroubled, lightly regulated, radio service - wherein we can be counted on to participate
in the rulemaking process and to comply with those rules. That has been one key to obtaining the vast privileges that we enjoy
Until the advent of the
government emergency response and disaster communications protocols came along, our ad hoc communication systems were not
regulated as such. Amateur radio systems were assembled from our Section 97.5 amateur stations that depend upon every participating Section 97.103 station licensee and Section 97.105 control operator making timely decisions and causing actions based upon their VE-certified ability to perform properly the duties of an amateur
It is us, therefore,
who we must depend upon to make sure that our stations are in compliance with the rules. It is fundamental, therefore, that
a preponderance of our amateur service community should be amenable to regulation and self-enforcement, starting with a comprehensive
understanding of our regulator’s rules for our amateur services. We should, moreover, strive to prove in our over-the air communicating that our amateur service is still worth its valuable
spectrum allocations that it utilizes.
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August 28, 2016
Supersedes all previous editions