Entry level licence?

By   28 November 2019 20:32

There were times when there was only one type of amateur radio licence. One had to pass a technical exam and a Morse code test, because telegraphy was the standard operation mode. Later on, a separate licence became available without the Morse test and only gave access to VHF and up. My first exam was without Morse and I got the VHF and up licence. At the time, I started training Morse and passed the test in 1977 to get the full licence.

CB radio
During the 70’s, CB was illegal, but very popular. Our government could not contain the “problem” and started looking for options. It led to the decision to introduce an entry class licence, with 6 FM channels on the 144 MHz band. Only type approved transceivers, limited to these 6 channels, were allowed. No home made equipment. Prefix was PD. Exams were a giveaway. The government simply wanted to get rid of the CB stations and the amateur community took the toll.

The D class licence became immensely popular. Partly because many CB’ers were afraid of getting a fine, but I guess that the extended range compared to CB was also attractive, as well as a better imago.

The licence was temporary and valid for two years. The licensees were expected to “upgrade” to a regular licence, but that assumption was a huge fail. Many did not manage to pass the exams, as predicted. The government decided to extend the two year period with an extra year, but even a child knew that it was not going to work. Finally, the expiry was abandoned and the licences became perpetual.

Governments often introduce regulation but get trapped, because once it exists, it is very difficult to get rid of it.

At the time, the number of licensees grew like never before and many D class licensees became member of a ham radio society, also for the QSL service. Not wanting to lose members, the societies were putting pressure on the government to broaden the allowed spectrum and lifting the requirement of the type approved equipment. This process has been going on for years and today, D class (now N class) licensees have access to parts of the HF bands as well.

For many years, I have been advocating quality instead of quantity. Lowering standards is detrimental for quality and will not do any good on the long run. The societies do not seem to (want to?) understand this. They see members leaving and are anxiously trying to stop the erosion. Lowering requirements is one of their “weapons”. But those will backfire.

Some time ago, our administration rejected the idea of an entry level licence. I can only applaud this view. The minutes of a meeting between the administration and the societies also stated that our government sees ever rising pressure from spectrum users, especially mobile operators. An official gave a presentation and pointed out that we have to demonstrate our value for our society. They are willing to discuss the subject on a broad basis and I can only say that we should be glad with the good level of understanding between our government and the amateur community.

BUT: this credit is lost quickly. The minutes reveal loud and clear what the government wants to see and we should work very hard to improve our societal value or at least keep it.

In Belgium, a new licence class was introduced, between the full licence and the current entry level. The entry level became ‘lighter’ than before.

When looking at the other classes, it becomes clear that power limits for class A holders are extended to 1.5 kW without a special permit and class B licences will effectively be as good as full licences, because just a few bands (60 m and 4 m) are excluded. Microwave bands are not permitted for class B, but I doubt if any of them will care, because the microwave bands are practically dead (mainly as a result of abandoning the CW requirement). Class B is said to be equivalent to the CEPT novice licence. In other words: novices will be the new standard, because only a few will want to upgrade to full.

The Belgian situation illustrates the aforementioned trap. Once the entry level was introduced, the problem was luring and now it becomes clear that lowering standards is the result of adding an entry level licence class.

Looking at the outcome of the conference, the mounting pressure is evident. The demand for frequency bands has never been as high as it currently is. I expect this to intensify and WRC-19 is a sort of turning point in my opinion.

The very difficult process with regard to the 6 metre band proposal illustrates that it was not at all easy and it could have backfired. We have been lucky that our administration took the lead and granted the 6 metre band in 1988. Other European countries followed suit and one can say that the WRC-19 will not change much for many hams, even with a primary allocation.

The large number of footnotes illustrates that many administrations keep the door open to other uses. Because of the wavelength, 6 metres is very impractical for mobile phones and it is unlikely that the band will be of any importance for that application. This summer, I heard a digital signal that looked like OFDM and that may have been a broadcast signal. Broadcast (like) applications are a serious threat to the 6 metre band.

Time will tell how things develop. It was good to read that no new proposals were initiated. It is indeed better to avoid discussions about amateur bands and focus on defending the current status quo.