Monday, March 22, 2010

Giving up the fight

Back in December I wrote that the RSGB had set up a Spectrum Defence Fund to enable radio amateurs to contribute towards the cost of a legal challenge to the UK spectrum management authority's failure to take action over the interference caused by power line networking devices. Pleased to see some positive action being taken I made a donation and also posted links on my blog and website to encourage others to do the same.

Today I noticed, at the end of the RSGB Annual Report, the statement that "following advice from the Society's solicitors ... it was decided not to proceed at this time with any legal action." So the RSGB has given up the fight and I have removed the links to the Spectrum Defence Fund from my website so that no-one else wastes any money on it.

Although PLT devices are a killer for any radio amateur unfortunate enough to live next door to one, it is clear from the noise at my own station and the comments I received from others with a similar problem that PLT is just the thick end of the wedge. A far greater number of short wave enthusiasts are having their enjoyment of HF ruined because of rising noise levels from a multiplicity of devices that individually would not be particularly intrusive. Whilst it is possible to track down and do something about a PLT installation, eliminating the noise that most of us in urban areas now experience from all directions would require the willingness of all neighbours to co-operate with finding the interference-generating devices and agreeing to replace them. This isn't likely to happen. I fear the battle to keep the short wave bands free of interference is over and ham radio is a lost cause.

The only place to enjoy HF radio nowadays is out in the country, which unless you happen to live there means operating portable or mobile. The question is whether only being able to operate portable or mobile is enough to maintain most people's enthusiasm? Although I recently enjoyed operating from my car on a couple of fine afternoons, it is no substitute for being able to go into the shack on a wet day or a winter evening and have a tune around and make a few contacts. I find I am turning on my K3 less and less often these days and when I do I often turn it off again soon afterwards without making any QSOs.

Will ham radio will still exist in ten years' time? Many former short wave and FM radio stations now broadcast over the internet rather than the airwaves and I suspect that an increasing number of ham radio operators will end up doing the same. They will get worn down by the losing battle against electrical noise and antenna restrictions and be forced to swallow their objections and switch to online "virtual ionospheres" like QSONet and HamSphere (shown above) where there is no QRN. You only need to visit the HamSphere site to see the number of amateur license holders that have taken this step already.

The RSGB's apparent acceptance that it can't fight even a clear case of interference to short waves is clear evidence that this is a war we can't win. Final surrender is just a matter of time.
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