Instead of coming up with an entirely new license class, the ARRL is petitioning the FCC to expand the privileges of the Technician Class license. In particular, they are requesting "to provide Technician licensees, present and future, with phone privileges at 3.900 to 4.000 MHz, 7.225 to 7.300 MHz, and 21.350 to 21.450 MHz, plus RTTY and digital privileges in the current Technician allocations on 80, 40, 15, and 10 meters."
Furthermore, the petition included the following:
"The ARRL petition points out the explosion in popularity of various digital modes over the past 2 decades. Under the ARRL plan, the maximum HF power level for Technician operators would remain at 200 W PEP. The few remaining Novice licensees would gain no new privileges under the League’s proposal.
ARRL’s petition points to the need for compelling incentives not only to become a radio amateur in the first place, but then to upgrade and further develop skills. Demographic and technological changes call for a “periodic rebalancing” between those two objectives, the League maintains.
“There has not been such a rebalancing in many years,” ARRL said in its petition. “It is time to do that now.” The FCC has not assessed entry-level operating privileges since 2005.
The Entry-Level License Committee offered very specific, data- and survey-supported findings about growth in Amateur Radio and its place in the advanced technological demographic that includes individuals younger than 30. It received significant input from ARRL members via more than 8,000 survey responses.
“The Committee’s analysis noted that today, Amateur Radio exists among many more modes of communication than it did half a century ago, or even 20 years ago,” ARRL said in its petition.
Now numbering some 378,000, Technician licensees comprise more than half of the US Amateur Radio population. ARRL said that after 17 years of experience with the current Technician license as the gateway to Amateur Radio, it’s urgent to make it more attractive to newcomers, in part to improve upon science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education “that inescapably accompanies a healthy, growing Amateur Radio Service,” ARRL asserted.
ARRL said its proposal is critical to developing improved operating skills, increasing emergency communication participation, improving technical self-training, and boosting overall growth in the Amateur Service, which has remained nearly inert at about 1% per year.
The Entry-Level License Committee determined that the current Technician class question pool already covers far more material than necessary for an entry-level exam to validate expanded privileges. ARRL told the FCC that it would continue to refine examination preparation and training materials aimed at STEM topics, increase outreach and recruitment, work with Amateur Radio clubs, and encourage educational institutions to utilize Amateur Radio in STEM and other experiential learning programs."
Some things that come to mind:
1) The Technician Class license has become the de facto "Entry Class License" ever since the FCC stupidly (my opinion, please) eliminated the Novice Class license. The Technician Class license inherited the Novice HF privileges, but they were for Morse Code only. Since the Morse Code requirement was eliminated, it seems to make sense that the Technician Class license should now include some HF Phone. The League is NOT proposing to give Techs the same privileges that General Class licensees have - they're giving them about 1/2 (roughly) that the Generals get, so there's still an incentive to upgrade.
2) Personally, I DO NOT care for this part: "RTTY and digital privileges in the current Technician allocations on 80, 40, 15, and 10 meters." Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis know the affinity I have for CW and Morse Code operations. This feels like an attempt by the ARRL to further erase that mode from existence. It's bad enough when you're in a rag chew and you get blasted away by a digital signal by an existing General, Advanced or Amateur Extra Class licensee. Can you imagine the result of all of a sudden allowing 378,000 new users in to that space with new digital privileges? The Technician Class licensees represent the bulk of the amount of Amateur Radio operators in the States. I can easily imagine that the CW bands will become overly dominated by RTTY and other digital signals, with the sudden influx of so many licensees. And yes, I know CW is allowed anywhere - and it may result that we may have to resort to using CW in new and "unconventional" places - like the unoccupied frequency areas of the "phone bands".
3) I know that many Amateur Ops resent an established license class just being handed new privileges without having to do anything extra to earn them. Whether or not that is a valid feeling is not being discussed here. I'm just making note that the sentiment exists.
4) Many Amateur Radio Ops will probably claim that this is just another attempt by the League to drive up membership. In fact, the figures of new League membership and retention of old memberships is pretty dismal. They may have a point, they may not - that is open to debate.
Whatever your thoughts on this proposal, pro or con, remember that it's just a proposal for now. The FCC has not issued an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) as of yet; and if and when they do (they could always dismiss this before getting to that point), we will all have ample time for making our voices heard. But .........pro or con, make sure your voice IS heard, if and when the time comes. Don't leave it up "to the other guy", because that "other guy" may also be leaving it up to "the other guy" - which is YOU!
72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!