Thursday, January 14, 2010

The cuckoo in the nest

The January 2010 issue of CQ Magazine arrived here yesterday. My attention was caught by a news item that one US state or county had received federal funding for a network of D-Star repeaters that would be available for regular amateur use when not in use for emergency communications. This will presumably be regarded by some as a win for amateur radio, getting a repeater network for nothing, but to me it looks too much like consorting with the enemy.

I know that a lot of my readers, particularly those from the USA, disagree with my views about emergency communications and amateur radio. To make it clear, I have no issue with amateurs using their skills and equipment to assist emergency services on an ad-hoc basis, just as any public-spirited person would use any skill they possessed in an emergency. But I do not believe that amateur radio and emergency communications can coexist all that comfortably - see Larry W2LJ's comments about Haiti and the foxhunt for one example - and I disagree with amateur radio being promoted as a volunteer emergency communications service as the ARRL is doing. I don't believe that getting the numbers up by encouraging people with no interest in any traditional ham radio activity to obtain licenses has any benefit to the hobby.

My American friends explain to me that the amateur bands are valuable spectrum space and being able to point to their use for emergency communications is one way to prevent their being sold off to the highest bidder. But I think this is being unduly alarmist. Real estate is also valuable but we have public parks and national parks set aside for recreational use and protected from development. Surely a good enough case can be made for reserving some small segments of spectrum space for use by private individuals for recreation, experimentation and self-training, as well as ad-hoc emergency use?

The idea that amateur bands could be sold off seems neither more nor less likely than the idea that government agencies, having paid for an amateur repeater network, then decides to keep it for emergency use exclusively. The step after that could be the sectioning off of segments of bands for emergency use only, to keep casual users from interfering with them.

I hope emcomms does not turn out to be the cuckoo in the nest for American radio amateurs. For what happens in the USA tends to have an impact on the rest of us.

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