Commentary on amateur radio, mobility, and spectrum policy
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
S 649 : Radio Spectrum Inventory Act
I posted this because I think Senate Bill 649 : Radio Spectrum Inventory Act (intro'd by Sen. John Kerry-Heinz, D-MA) is the first shot in a battle I've been predicting for some time; the application of populist politics towards spectrum management and allocation. You need only spend an hour tuning around with a decent all-band receiver to discover that the vast majority of spectrum is nothing but static. The real targets of this "spectrum socialism" are the big guns; broadcasters, the military, and even divisions of the government itself (such as NTIA) which has been "warehousing" spectrum for years while hypocritically requiring auction-winning licensees for cellular/PCS spectrum to demonstrate high levels of loading; i.e. subscribers.
Radio amateurs, I believe, are especially at risk from unintended consequences if this bill becomes law. I've previously blogged that many amateur radio frequencies are largely unused. Some amateur bands; such as 1.25m (aka 222 MHz) and 23cm (aka 1.2 GHz) are used only in certain regions of the US. (1.25m is popular in the Los Angeles area because 2m is so laden with bootleggers and jammers it's effectively become CB radio.) One reason for this is that the radio manufacturers are not selling equipment for these bands; the last 1.2 GHz equipment was the Kenwood TS-2000X which was introduced 9 years ago. Alinco is reported to be releasing a 1.2 GHz handheld, but that's not enough to drive adoption of the band. If the RSIA is an attempt to document usage of spectrum as a precursor to re-allocation based on purpose and usage, then 23 cm is one of the most likely targets for re-allocation once the limited use of that band becomes public knowledge. Our only hope is that the proximity of 23cm to radio astronomy likely precludes the allocation of that band to commercial use; but it could still be lost.
Equipment availability is one issue but at a higher-level the problem amateurs face with RSIA is simply that there are fewer radio amateurs than there were in the past; younger people prefer communicating via the Internet and if they do express an interest in amateur radio they're all-to-often turned off by the arrogance of a few hygiene-optional curmodgeons who tend to hang around at club meetings and hamfests complaining loudly and constantly about how the demise of Morse code testing will lead to the death of amateur radio; ignoring the fact that it's their own urine-soaked elitism that's probably a key element in keeping younger people from the hobby. So when faced with a trend towards populist politics and thus policies, a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the federal deficit may exceed $1.5 Trillion dollars, and huge swaths of amateur spectrum laying increasingly fallow as the number of amateurs continues to decline; the likelihood that the government will pull spectrum from amateurs and attempt to auction it off as a revenue source is increasingly likely. It's critical that we change the face of amateur radio (even if it means slaying a few sacred cows) in order to attract licensees or the day will come that some lawmaker will decide that it's politically low risk to start pulling spectrum from amateurs in order to pay off the deficit.