Monday, October 19, 2009

Why do we have amateur radio?

The reasons why people become hams are myriad, and a full understanding of that is probably beyond the scope of this post; if you want to read more on this, perhaps see this older post of mine. But that's not what I'm going to talk about here. Rather, I'm going to talk about why the government continues to let us play with radios, when countless other entities are continuously clamoring for more spectrum.

The FCC recognizes five purposes to the amateur radio service (and the NCVEC expects you to know at least three of them for the Technician test):

  1. Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
  2. Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
  3. Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communications and technical phases of the art.
  4. Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.
  5. Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill.
It's occasionally difficult to explain how the routine activities of most hams fit into any of these five categories. VHF repeater ragchewing, for example, doesn't seem to fit well into any of these; at best it's got something to with the reservoir of trained operators, but if you've ever listened to a group of VHF ragchewers, you'd be hard-pressed to consider them "trained operators". And one thing amateur radio is absolutely not intended to be is a routine substitute for cell phones or email or any other such service. Amateur radio services are not intended to be used for passing messages for the general public, except when no other alternatives are available; this is why ARES and other emergency communications groups often use the motto "When all else fails..."

Far too often hams seem to forget that their license is granted to them by the government on the condition that they use it, at least some of the time, in the furtherance of these purposes; at the very least, we should not act contrary to these purposes in our amateur radio activities. If for no other reason than that if we don't at least make an effort to reflect the government's interests in amateur radio, it'll get harder and harder to justify our special privileges with them.

This post has been brought to you by pool questions T1A02 and T1A08.